Like your grandmother’s lasagna or your first trip to Amsterdam, a good season of Survivor brings a lot of initial confusion and skepticism before slowly revealing the right amount of interesting ingredients and layering enough excitement and wild twists to turn into something you may soon find yourself craving.
Anything with a cast of 20 people can be overwhelming at first, but unlike a show like Game of Thrones – where even the showrunners probably can’t name all the characters – or The Wire – which with each new season essentially introduced a new group of key cast members – you go into a season of Survivor knowing you don’t have to bother learning about the flotsam that isn’t of interest and gets little screen time. They’ll be gone in a matter of weeks.
With exactly 10 of the 20 cast members remaining on the current Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites season, and the two tribes having merged a week ago, now’s a pretty good time to take stock of what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong and what’s to come prior to the May 12 finale. It’s hardly too late to jump on board – the midway point is generally where things start to get particularly interesting – and with alliances fluid from week to week and often from minute to minute, a knowledge of the season’s backstory isn’t really necessary.
But here’s one anyway.
WHAT’S WORKED: Having a pair of easy-to-dislike douchebags. Reynold and Eddie, two twenty-somethings who think they’re god’s gift to women, aligned from the beginning with who they felt to be the most attractive ladies on the island. Shockingly, that didn’t work, and they’ve since realized every female they’ve aligned themselves with has punched her ticket home. The best part is that despite their outwardly fratty, bros-before-hoes demeanor, they’re detestable in such different ways. Eddie lacks the intelligence to formulate his own strategy, so he aligned himself with his fellow super, super good-looking buddy. His mistake was that Reynold, while confident in nearly everything he does, is nothing more than a smarmy windbag who couldn’t organize a raid of his own refrigerator let alone a shift in tribal alliances.
WHAT HASN’T WORKED: Casting three people who may be mentally unstable. There are off-putting parts of many reality TV shows – every minute of Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, Mob Wives, The Real Housewives of Anywhere on Earth, My Strange Addiction, My 600-Pound Life, Joe Millionaire, anything involving Honey Boo Boo, Bridalplasty and Temptation Island come to mind – but Survivor has generally felt a step above the dregs of voyeurism. Unfortunately, it nearly crossed the line in this installment by casting Shamar, an Iraq war veteran with some rage/laziness issues who was clearly dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and – for a second time(!) – Brandon Hantz, who’s almost certainly bipolar – something CBS probably should have known since it also happened in his FIRST TIME on the show. Hantz’s tirade that included emptying his tribe’s rice and beans in the sand out of spite and then threatening to attack Phillip – No. 3 on this list, who we’ll address separately – resulted in the first elimination without going to tribal council in the show’s history. Bravo, CBS. Cast as many controversial figures as you want, but please keep the mentally unfit members off the show.
WHAT’S WORKED: Cochran. Every time the surname-sporting, 130-pound soaking wet law student who appeared previously on Survivor: South Pacific has been on screen has been the highlight of that particular show. Underutilized in that first season, Cochran has become the unquestioned star of Survivor: Caramoan, showing an incredibly apt approach for breaking down the game while providing enough highlight one-liners to make Yogi Berra blush. After learning his tribe would get to repel down a waterfall upon winning a reward challenge this week: “I barely leave my apartment … I barely leave Twitter.”
WHAT HASN’T WORKED: Hidden Immunity Idols everywhere. I’m fine with having one somewhere on each tribe’s beach at the start of the game. What I’m not fine with is these things appearing again after they’re played. There should be 2 HIIs to begin with, and if they’re played, they shouldn’t be put back into circulation. Also, hiding them in the crevice of the largest tree on the island seems to have turned a bit predictable.
So who’s going to win? It’s incredibly tough to say considering the best combination of physical strength, a strategic approach and likeability (Malcolm) nearly went home Wednesday night and seems to be on the wrong side of the numbers game. As discussed on this outstanding podcast with Chuck Klosterman and host Jeff Probst, Survivor tends to be a game that rewards the middle class, those who can chip in, not raise a ruckus and fly slightly under the radar. Here’s who remains, along with an estimate of their chances to hear Probst declare them the sole survivor a month from now while wearing his best rugged, double-breast pocketed shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
In no particular order:
SHERRI: (16/1): This fast-food franchisee seemed to be emerging as a potential threat prior to the tribes merging due to her ability to handle some big personalities, and she recognized that with more favorites left than fans, she could wind up being lost in the shuffle. She’s aligned with Phillip, Andrea, Brenda, Dawn, Erik and Cochran, but as the lone fan among that group it may only be a matter of time until she leaves. She’s of little threat to win individual immunity challenges.
ANDREA (6/1): Andrea was portrayed as little more than a pretty face on Survivor: Redemption Island, yet flew under the radar enough to make it to the final five. It didn’t look like much had changed in Caramoan until this week’s episode, when she took it upon herself to 1) flirt with Eddie to get intel from what looked to be an Eddie-Reynold-Malcolm-Michael alliance, and 2) engineer the ouster of Michael while planting enough seeds of doubt to make it look like Malcolm was going home. That caused a concerned Reynold to hands over his Hidden Immunity Idol to Malcom, flushing that out (at least until it inevitably reappears in a tree trunk). She’s a threat to win any sort of endurance challenge, as evidenced by her near-miss in the water this week.
PHILLIP (25/1): Phillip can’t go home fast enough for my taste or the other nine remaining cast members. But this delusional “former FBI agent” who continually refers to himself as “The Specialist” has, by being completely insufferable and annoying, positioned himself to go deep in the game. Everyone recognizes that he’s not a legitimate threat, and since he seems to think he’s the puppeteer who’s calling the shots, it makes sense to keep him around. For nearly anyone who remains, taking Phillip to the final two – where nine jury members determine their fate – is the best way to win, since NO ONE will vote for Phillip there. He’s a moderate threat to win challenges as long as it doesn’t involve running or moving of any kind.
DAWN (20/1): Dawn made it halfway through the game on Survivor: South Pacific before being booted, and nothing about her seemed to cry “favorite,” since, as far as I can tell, she was memorable in no way. Yet here she is, last week pushing Andrea to follow through in the attempt to send Malcolm home, so she clearly has a strategic bone in there someone when she’s not fighting back tears for being away from her “six amazing children.” If the previews for next week’s episode are any indication, though, it looks like Downer Dawn makes a return – which may make her ouster somewhat inevitable. She’s of little threat to win any challenge.
COCHRAN (7/1): Is it weird to call Cochran America’s sweetheart? For the nearly 10 million people that watch Survivor each week, it’s quickly becoming true. Cochran hasn’t exactly flown under the radar – he won an immunity challenge last week – and seems to be legitimately strategizing in camp each week, but here’s his problem: he may be TOO well-liked. Going to the finals with Cochran would be like being nominated in the same Oscar category as Jennifer Lawrence. All eyes would be on him, and no one would vote against him.
ERIK (10/1): America’s favorite ice cream scoop made it to the final five on Survivor: Micronesia, showing a least a little more personality than in the edit of the current season, which has made him as dull as America’s favorite ice cream flavor. He’s readily admitted he has little interest in playing the game, but drifting along and being borderline invisible – if what the viewer sees is actually accurate – isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s also wiry and athletic enough to win a challenge down the stretch to keep himself in the game.
BRENDA (8/1): The female version of Erik, who you wouldn’t have even known existed up until she so dominated the holding-your-breath challenge in this week’s episode that Eddie had to swim over to either tell her she won or pronounce her dead. I didn’t see Brenda on Survivor: Nicaragua, and I don’t believe she’s had one on-air confessional this season, so it’s fairly impossible to guess how far she might make it. She’s doing a great job floating around thus far, though, and is a serious threat to win another endurance challenge. UPDATE: Brenda did have to speak prior to going on the show a second time.
MALCOLM (15/1): One of the best survivors to ever play the game, Malcolm is also participating in his second straight season after finishing fourth on Survivor: Philippines. He managed to escape a nearly impossible situation in that season, making it as far as he did after his original tribe had the game’s first four people voted out, and he has his work cut out for him here. Malcolm has tried to make bold moves the past two weeks only to see two perceived allies get the axe, and now he’s left with the Brothers Douchebag and little else on his side. What he does have going for him is a HII that no one knows about and the ability to go on a run in challenges – he won two late last season when he likely otherwise would have gone home, and almost certainly would have won had he not slipped in the final challenge.
EDDIE (3,000/1): The less intelligent half of the Caramoan bromance, Eddie really has an uphill climb. He’s trying to flirt his way into an alliance with Andrea, but even attempting to come off as the hot, vulnerable fireman didn’t seem to work. Andrea’s no dummy, and any sort of acceptance of Eddie’s advances from this point forward surely will only be a strategic move. Eddie may have wised up a bit since the beginning, when his sole purpose on the island seemed to be getting into Hope’s pants. He only had a week to make that happen, though, as the hottest person on the island (Eddie’s words) only made it to Day 7, tragically ending the shallowest romance in Survivor history.
REYNOLD (35/1): Reynold may not win $1 million playing Survivor, but he has a great future as a contestant on America’s Next Top Snake Oil Salesman. His future in this game, though, isn’t very promising. He could have at least made a deeper run had he not given up his HII to Malcolm in a tribal council panic last week, but now that’s out the window. I suspect he’ll try to pull Erik, Phillip and Cochran into some sort of all-male alliance in a final move of panic, but that’s bound to go over about as well as Corrine’s attempt at a power play two weeks ago. He is a threat to win challenges, but it’s going to take quite a run to get to the final three.
So who makes the final three at this point? I’ll go with Andrea, Erik and Phillip. At this point, though, the only people that would surprise me to see live on that Los Angeles soundstage are Eddie and Reynold.