While Survivor is definitely an unpredictable game with a lot of luck involved, it's remarkable how often history repeats itself. A whole heap of parallels can be drawn between past seasons, players and scenarios with a sense of déjà vu quite a common viewing experience. Today New Zealand Ozlet Nick Chester explores the trends from past returning player seasons and lays out what valuable lessons the second chance cast should have learned going into Survivor Cambodia.
As we rapidly approach the start of Survivor: Second Chances, it is interesting to think about what the mind-set of these players will be. In between campaigning to get on the season, setting their own personal affairs in order, mentally and physically preparing to be starving on a deserted beach, and, lets be honest, do a bit of pre-gaming with other contestants, players would no doubt have been thinking about if they get on, how are they going to ensure they can actually win the season? I’m sure if they had time to do any research, looking into the results of All Stars and Heroes vs. Villains, as well as potentially Micronesia, Caramoan and Blood vs. Water would have been beneficial. Playing the game with returning players is different – there is an adjustment in how these players think about the game, and the learning curve is no longer there. The game will begin the moment they hit the beach – and in all likelihood, have started long before that anyway. So what lessons do previous returning player seasons teach us that season 31’s cast could learn from?
Watch out for non-threats
What do Amber, Sandra, Parvati and Cochran have in common in their winning season? Mostly that they were not really viewed as strategic or physical threats heading into their winning season. Even Tyson gets a little of this after he injures himself in Blood vs. Water. The consistent line is that these are not players who were early targets. Returning player seasons do become a bit of a peeing match to see who is the most powerful, and big physical threats often go early. In All Stars, the likes of Rob Cesternino and Richard Hatch suffer premature exits. In Heroes vs. Villains, its Stephanie, Tyson, Tom and Rob. Alpha males cant stand the competition and look to remove each other as quickly as possible. This leaves non-threatening players to sit back and watch the bloodbath, knowing that by the time they become a target, they probably already have a strong alliance and a good degree of control.
How does this impact on Cambodia? Players such as Ciera, Monica and Kelley Wentworth could be easy to forget as the likes of Terry, Savage, Jeremy, Spencer and Joe look to assert their dominance. A player like Ciera is particularly dangerous if she gets to the merge as she instantly becomes even less threatening and can make it to the final 5 with little effort – suddenly become a huge jury threat and can pass on by with a tight alliance or a well timed immunity win. The alpha males of the season may do well to put their need to take each other out aside and work on getting rid of these long term threats early. They often are also the short term challenge liabilities, so it all works well in their favour to remove them earlier. It will be interesting to see if this lesson is learned, or if history will repeat itself again.
Put aside old rivalries
Really want to surprise your competition? Put aside those old rivalries from your last season and work with an old enemy. Its the last thing anyone will expect. The old saying about its better playing with the devil you know than the one you don’t is very apt; Jerri may have improved her position by working with Tina instead of cutting her off early, or Penner could have improved is position by sucking it up and aligning with Parvati and Ozzy. Francesca certainly didn’t help her situation in Caramoan by targeting first Phillip and then Andrea, whilst Andrea herself was able to work with Phillip and play a more impressive game because of it. Of course there are examples where it has worked – Amber and Alicia used their former connection as Outback cast members to form a tight bond in All Stars, Parvati and Ozzy also worked together – but ultimately it didn’t last, perhaps only Dawn and Cochran have bucked the trend, put aside past differences and worked all the way to a successful conclusion together. Of course the opportunities are ripe in season 31 – imagine the unlikely scenario of the ex-Cagayan players teaming up. No one would expect this, and thus it could make for a really useful and surprising alliance. Jeremy and Keith could likewise form a tight and unlikely alliance based on their former knowledge of each other and seeing Kimmi and Varner work as a team would just be so unexpected. Will it happen? Almost certainly not. But in a season where everyone thinks they know the others based on their previous time in the game, forming such an alliance would be really very useful indeed.
Ditch old friends…or at least appear to
Similar to the scenario above, returning players often fall back in line with friends from past seasons, to their detriment. This can often end in betrayal, as experienced by Kathy at the hands of Boston Rob, or by Ethan at the hands of Lex. However, it can also lead to you being targeted by others. The strong connections made by the Micronesia favourites was certainly a topic of conversation in Heroes vs. Villains, with JT very wary of Cirie, Amanda and James, and prepared to jump ship and vote with Tom and Colby to get rid of Cirie. Friendships are dangerous enough in Survivor, without fairly clear evidence that they are based on months or maybe even years of communication since playing. Where does that leave our season 31 players? Spencer and Tasha would be well advised to stay out of each other’s way, and if they do intend on working together, keep it very low key. The same can be said for Ciera and Vytas, Jeremy and Kelley and Joe and Shirin. In this situation, it has to be tempting to want to play with people you know within the game. Pre-game or even early alliances are fine, but you are basing these on people you know from TV or at Survivor events over the years – in the game, with a million dollars on the line, I have to image these players will want to gravitate to areas of comfort. This could spell trouble for many and being overly familiar with allies from former seasons could spell trouble. So its best to keep your distance – and if you do intend on working with old friends, be careful to be inconspicuous.
Get rid of the new kids on the block
Another remarkable consistency of returning player seasons is the success of the most recent returnees. With Caramoan as the only exception, players from the most recent season to air have all made it to at least the final four. Rupert in All Stars, Amanda in Micronesia, Russell in HvV and even Monica in Blood vs. Water (no S25 or S26 players were in the cast). What does this mean? Well, its probably in large part because their games are the most memorable to other players. Perhaps they feel they know them better than others that have not been on their screens in some time. Or perhaps these players are just more tuned into their surroundings, having experienced it more recently than anyone else. Whatever it is, these players have a high success rate and need to be watched quite carefully. Almost half this cast come from the last 3 seasons – that’s a fairly sizeable chunk and if history repeats itself, you can probably expect to see these players feature in the end game. Unless the players from older seasons are conscious of this fact and do something about it. It would be fair to say that most if not all of these recent players are pretty decent threats for various reasons and if given a chance to go far in this game, will do so. Players from the more “old school” seasons have a big incentive to work together and get rid of eth young whipper snappers.
Never underestimate desperation
Perhaps apart from the original All Stars seasons, returning player seasons have been marked by the kind of desperate urge to win by many players like no other season. From the three amigos and Parvati’s double idol plays to the women convincing Erik to give up immunity, returning players are tenacious and will fight to the bitter end, never giving up. Many will see this as their last chance to win Survivor, and a return appearance by players who failed to win on their first attempt is only going to create hungry, more desperate moves. Those who are returning from seasons that featured a Pagonging (and there actually aren’t many) better be aware that things will not be as straightforward when a group or individual goes down in the numbers. Many of these players also have their own experience of playing scrappy and doing whatever it takes to advance, so we can expect this to continue as the game goes on. This certainly also seems to have spill over effect on the jury – juries in All Star seasons tend to have a very strong focus on the gameplay, and can be more bitter than others (All Stars is certainly a good example of that). Players in this game will need to be more aware of the level of desperation to do well – there is basically no one in this cast who wants to be dragged along, make the jury or a family vest – no one is really here for the experience, they are here for the money.
Expect idols to be found, played…and re-hidden
All Star seasons have so far had a very high rate of turnover when it comes to hidden immunity idols. Since the idol was introduced to the game, each season has an average of 2.95 idols put into the game. For the four seasons featuring at least half returning players that had idols, this rate jumps to 4.25. That’s quite a difference – people find and play idols with seemingly reckless abandon in these seasons and producers are only too happy to keep replacing idols in the game. Think about Caramoan, where idols were on what felt like a revolving platform, with Malcolm and Reynold each finding and playing 2, finally ending with Andrea being voted out with hers. Heroes vs. Villains was no different, with a quarter of the cast finding an idol at some stage. Of course a large part of this is that the finders of idols are often people outside the main alliance (Jason, Malcolm, Reynold) so they have a much greater need to play them. Blood vs. Water was a much different game with Tyson finding and controlling how idols were played. But generally, if history repeats you can be sure we will see lots of idols found, played – and ultimately replaced to start the whole game again. This is something to keep in mind for these players – they will have to be on their toes.
Expect the unexpected
Whilst we can look at history of previous All Star incarnations of Survivor, its worth remembering exactly how unusual this season’s premise is. Players have known for weeks in advance of playing exactly who the rest of the cast is – we all have. This is true for other All Star seasons as well, but the pre-game strategy talks this time have played out in various podcasts and interviews, and of course the exact make up of the cast was unknown until the day they left. All this means that things will be pretty different this time – and its also likely to create an incentive for Survivor producers to throw a few twists at the players. These guys had better be ready for anything and everything – more than ever before, being able to adapt will be key to doing well. In other words, the history lessons are fine, but being able to think and act in the moment depending on their surroundings will be vital to the player’s eventual chances of winning. Hopefully it makes for a great season over the coming months.
What do you think is the most important lesson from previous returning player seasons? Any other lessons you think were missed? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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