Bringing back "Old School" Survivor players is so in right now. Since the return of Mike Skupin in Philippines, we have seen Gervase, Tina and Aras all return from long layoffs in Blood vs Water, along with a large number of old school players in Cambodia. Of course we will all have our own personal favourites who we would love to see return, but you have to give special mention to John Carroll and Neleh Neilson from Survivor: Marquesas who have launched a social media campaign to get noticed for their own second chance. I have to give them credit for their tenacity and being prepared to so boldly put their claim out there. I have always been a massive fan of all things Marquesas, and so I would love to see this happen. So consider Ozlet Nick Chester, on board for the plan. Here's ten reasons he gives why the return of John and Neleh would be so sweet.
10. Marquesas Needs More Representation
It’s hard to believe that such a great season as Marquesas has only featured two returnees. Kathy was on All Stars and Boston Rob’s incredible Survivor legacy started on the beaches of Maraamu all those years ago. But so many great characters have never been seen again. Whilst I would love to see Sean, Tammy, Hunter or Gina return, John and Neleh are two I think would really shine on a second appearance. They embody so much about what was great about Marquesas – the spectacular rise and fall of John as leader of the Rotu 4, to Neleh spearheading a movement to bring him down and take power herself, in what was essentially the first ever Survivor power shift after the merge.
Marquesas is such an important season in the show’s history and it’s kind of sad that more of its stars have not returned. As two of the major characters in making the season what it was, John and Neleh really would be welcome additions on a future season. An all-star season called “Survivor: Legends” has often been discussed by fans, presumably featuring legendary strategists and successful players. But in terms of creating the legend that Survivor is, and helping it flourish well past 30 seasons, the Marquesas players are right up there and John and Neleh could fit well on such a season.
9. A Return of More Old School Era Players
Bringing back players from early seasons seems to be something of a fad right now for Survivor producers, with three of the last four seasons featuring returnees including players from the very beginning. And it’s easy to see why. Skupin, Gervase, Tina and Jeff Varner have all produced great TV in their respective returns – in large part because of the long layover since they played last meaning they have had a lot of time to think about what happened on their first time playing, and how they could correct those mistakes. It’s crazy to think that half of the Outback cast have returned now and a large degree of Borneo players too. Teresa from Africa was on the second chances ballot and sadly missed out – it seems Marquesas is the best untapped well of all. If Survivor producers want to continue down this line, John and Neleh should be at the top of any list they make going forward.
8. The Chance for New Nicknames
In terms of second chances, let’s forget strategy and votes for a minute and consider the atrocious nicknames both John and Neleh had in the first season. “Johnny Pots and Pans”? “Sweet Pea”? Oh dear, that’s not good. We really need to do something about that. Perhaps John can hope for the last name treatment from Probst? Maybe we could get some assistance from the Specialist to create appropriate nicknames for these two players, to give them a more badass appearance and create more mystique around them. Letting Gabriel Cade nickname all the members in your tribe was a mistake, but one that is easily corrected.
7. Interaction With Jeff
And speaking of Jeff, I would love to see these two go up against a 2015-era Jeff, rather than the more tame version they experienced in 2001. I’m sure Jeff had his scary moments then (John talked about how Jeff was so unhappy with the final tribal council that he insisted on shooting the whole thing again), but Jeff is now a much more terrifying prospect, with his role as executive producer and all-round dirt digger to create tension and blow-ups at Tribal Council. I can see the interaction between John and Probst to be particularly fun, as John is unlikely to back down, but also has probably learned to be somewhat more subtle than his first appearance on the show. Neleh meanwhile would be an altogether different prospect for Probst to deal with – her happy and calm demeanour may well make Probst’s head explode in a fit of rage, as she is able to hide her true intentions. Seeing these players cross swords with Jeff again is a compelling thought indeed.
6. To See Former Enemies Reunite
I know that over the years, the Marquesas cast have maintained a close bond and still talk regularly. John has said he still keeps in contact with many of the cast, but none more so than Neleh. The two have become very close and talk frequently. This is interesting considering the rocky road they had during the season, where John takes Neleh’s loyalty somewhat for granted, before she turns on him and then he ultimately votes for Vecepia to win instead of Neleh.
The fact they have become close in the years since makes for a really interesting angle to the relationship, which if they were to come back together could lead to quite an intriguing story. In some ways, it would almost be like a Blood vs. Water dynamic, where the two are thinking and planning together, but may have to turn on each other to win, if required. The idea really is compelling, and I think it adds to the rich tapestry of Survivor where former allies-turned enemies in the game become friends outside it, only to potentially be back as rivals in the game again.
It’s also interesting to look at how often former rivals team up when they return together in a subsequent season. Short answer – it hardly ever happens. Dawn and Cochran is one potential example, and Dawn found it hard to put aside her mistrust for Cochran. Seeing how these two very close friends worked together in the game, and who would turn on each other if required gives the idea of them returning together even more potential.
5. Sure-fire Entertainment
One thing you can pretty much guarantee with John and Neleh is that you will be thoroughly entertained. What we know about both of these players is that they give good confessionals and are fun to watch. John especially has spoken very eloquently about Survivor over the years as well as having a clear understanding about the game. John’s downfall, whilst probably not very enjoyable for him to watch was also great TV and the producers did their best to make him look foolish with the whole “rooting for my success” comments.
Neleh also had a lot of fun moments on the show – not just in terms of gameplay but also when she is on the dinner reward with Pascal and offering her half eaten mint to the rest of the tribe. She somehow managed to make “Oh my heck” a thing and if Marquesas had been on in 2015, Neleh would have been at the centre of a number of hashtags for sure. But if you really want to hear these two talk about Survivor in an entertaining way, I would recommend listening to the Survivor Oz commentaries on Marquesas, where both feature and have lots of great stories to tell. All this leads me to believe that a return to Survivor will be entertaining with John and Neleh.
4. They Will Play Hard
One thing you have to say is that if these two got another shot, they are unlikely to waste it sitting in the background, doing nothing. Both have a history of making moves in the game to further their own ambitions – and whether you think “making big moves” wins Survivor or not, it sure makes for good TV. Consider that its only season 4 – there is a tribe swap and John’s alliances are 5-3 up on the old Maraamu tribe. He makes the huge move to vote out Gabe, who has almost single headedly won a number of challenges for Rotu, but doesn’t have much interest in the strategic element of the game. John move sin to get rid of him.
And of course John is the victim of Neleh’s big move to take control of the game at the final 9. This all happened at a time when people made early allies and just stuck with them regardless – you didn’t do these sorts of things! Imagine how they would play now, where moving between various allies and often forming new voting strategies every vote. These two are already ahead of the curve, so would fit into this really well. You are unlikely to see the same kind of rustiness displayed by other old school players on a return – these guys get the game and did so 14 years ago. Bring them back and you will see fireworks. That’s not to say they will definitely be successful – but whatever they do is likely to be incredibly entertaining to watch.
3. Redemption for John
It really is surprising that John Carroll has never returned to Survivor. It’s definitely true that there are more memorable males in the show than females, so the men really have to be stand out characters to get an invite back. All Stars was always going to be a tough one to get back onto, and with no returnee seasons really until season 16, I kind of get why we haven’t seen John again. But now the gates really are open to returnees, and quite frankly, John embodied the very idea of second chance. He was the very first victim of a power shift in the game, and the coconut chop challenge that led to his elimination is one of the most notorious moments in Survivor history.
On that alone, he should have been in the mix for season 31, and he was arguably a much better contender than some others that made the cut and even won the votes. John quite clearly has unfinished business with Survivor, he wants to play and would be compelling TV. I see so many great reasons to bring him back. It would be fascinating to see what he learned from the first time round and how he looked to correct his mistakes. And, of course as is always the case, it would be interesting to see what new mistakes he made as well. His case to come back is a strong one, and he covers all the bases. He loves strategy, is good at challenges and gets along well with people. But he also showed in Marquesas that he has a fiery side (he would say this was his Irish temper) and this means he isn’t a boring game-bot either. I think the strong desire to play within him means he is likely to produce great TV. I see no reason to wait any longer to see John on Survivor again.
2. An Older and Newer Neleh
Perhaps even more compelling than John, is Neleh’s claim to return. The Neleh who played in Marquesas is now a very different person – she is in her mid 30’s, married, with a young family. Neleh’s whole perspective on the game will have changed. Arguably the biggest problem Neleh had the first time around was a lack of self-awareness and how others were perceiving her. She could come off as unaware of how annoying she was, and how people felt she was ungrateful.
I think a lot of this can be due to her youth at the time, and inexperience with people who lived in other parts of the country, had various ages and backgrounds and she simply didn’t know to deal with them. Let’s not forget that Neleh must have done something right – she came within 1 vote of winning – something that 99% of players couldn’t match. But this must have been agonisingly close for her, and her inability to come across as genuine or take ownership of her game cost her – again, probably mostly due to her age and naivety.
Neleh has something to prove – that second place wasn’t a fluke, but actually a warm up for a second appearance. I always think it’s fascinating to see old school players return and be completely different people – Jeff Varner is probably our best example but even then he was just a more intense version of his outback self in Cambodia. Neleh is genuinely interesting because of the life experience she will now have, coupled with her Survivor experience. However, the same bubbly and happy Neleh is still there – it’s just combined with a bit of real world hardness that would make her so interesting to see play again. And we know that production does seem to struggle with bringing back returning women that they feel are interesting (I disagree, but that’s a story for another day). The possibilities for Neleh are really fascinating – it could make for really interesting TV.
1. They Could Actually Win
Often when players are brought back for a second or third shot at the game, you know before they even start playing that they won’t win. They are there for entertainment purposes – they make good TV but have no shot to win. Think of players like Phillip, Coach 2.0, Russell or Skupin. All interesting TV in their own right, but potential winners – no, I don’t think so. Survivor: Cambodia has (at the time of writing) been really interesting because so many players are there to win and not just sitting back and letting the game come to them.
The past actions of John and Neleh lead me to believe they are very much players who could win. Neleh’s game almost was a winning one – she will know that a few modifications could result in more jury votes, and to come that close and not win would be a huge motivator. As discussed above, John also is a big strategist but also understands the need to adjust his game to ensure all allies are accommodated and feel important in order to stop them flipping. I could easily see either of these players fulfil their potential and win the game on a return appearance, and when I think of players I want to see back, they all share this capacity. “Characters” are great on a regular season and often set up unintentional road blocks to success for others, but when it comes time for All Star games, I want the players to really be active and in it to win it from the start. John and Neleh fill this requirement in my mind. The both could win – and this makes them very high on my preferred list of returning players in the future.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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