Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“Survivor‘s not meant to be a comedy routine.”
– Cochran, Survivor: South Pacific
Here’s a riddle for you: What do a zombie, a flip-flopper and two train wrecks have in common?
They’re all part of a new cast of “favorites” on Survivor: Caramoan (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET on CBS), the new season that matches 10 new competitors against some of the worst players in the show’s history. Game on?
Survivor may be the only competitive event on earth where being awful makes you an all-star. Brandon Hantz and Erik Reichenbach share the distinction of literally making the worst moves ever when they both sacrificed individual immunity right at the endgame, and were immediately blindsided.
John Cochran ruined his own game – as well as his entire tribe’s – with a horrendous flip. Francesca Hogi was first off. Corinne Kaplan would have lost a jury vote to Phillip Sheppard. Brenda Lowe‘s alliance betrayed her. Andrea Boehlke shambled along as part of Boston Rob‘s zombie army. Even Dawn Meehan – a paragon of normalcy in the lunatic asylum of the Favorites tribe – had an early-season breakdown.
How did Malcolm Freberg slip into this casting net that only dragged for bottom-feeders? Gazing around that island on day one, he must have wondered what he did so wrong. Remember – nobody had seen Malcolm’s season, himself included. Even he made a catastrophic, head-slapping move when he didn’t guarantee Denise a deal at the Philippines final four.
Where’s Jim Rice? Where’s Marty Piombo? For the love of God, where’s Jane Bright? They were big characters … and also big players. It’s like this cast was specially selected to only include the very worst. You were disqualified from coming if your Survivor IQ was above a flatline.
The producers, of course, know exactly what they’re doing. Even the show’s promos are set to the tune of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” The more shouting matches there are, the more emotional cataclysms, the more cultural moments the show creates, the more people Tweet. And the greater the odds that a clip winds up on The Soup.
Bad Means Good
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. Survivor is a TV show, not a political convention. Bring on the crazy. It’s unreasonable to compare this season to some idealized memory of what the show once was: 16 strangers who stop being polite and start getting malnourished. Let’s get a cast full of Phillips out there communing with their ancient ancestors and misquoting the Bhagavadi Gita. Could you ask for better television?
Furthermore, lunatics can create big challenges for a strategist. It’s easy to play a game against someone who’s behaving rationally. How do you manipulate a person whose only allegiances are to camera time and the voices in their head? We could see the emergence of a Survivor super-genius.
And some players really need a second chance to mature. Parvati Shallow wasn’t Parvati her first time out. I could see Brenda or Corinne or Dawn doing something ferocious. I’ve long argued it stunts new players to be cast on a tribe with returnees. How might Cochran or Francesca fare without Ozzy or Boston Rob overshadowing them?
Oh – and the fans? Does anybody really care about the fans? They’re like the gladiators thrown into the lion pit: there to be eaten. As horrible as the favorites are, there’s no comparison between watching a few seasons on television and in-game experience.
Of course, it’s always possible for someone to pull a Running Man (the Schwarzenegger movie, not the dance move) and beat the favorites at their own game. If it’s going to be anyone, my money’s on Reynold Toepfer. He has a kind of Malcolm-ish vibe – strategic, athletic, and social. It didn’t hurt that he gave me a shout-out in his “Survivor memorable moment.” See below.
Pre-season Fishy for Reynold! Because it’s gotta go to somebody!