I think I should get the obvious out of the way first- it’s an honor and a privilege to be asked to write the Survivor articles for RTV Warriors. This might sound like a trite opening, but let me elaborate- I’m so glad I got to write articles for this particular season, and especially this particular cast. I conversed with the people in charge here about the site’s intentions, which was to shine a light on the less supported, more out-there characters. So, just our luck, we get Survivor: Koh Rong.
In the pursuit of a more professional, literary writing style, I’m going to hold back on the heart emoticons and smiley faces, but just imagine they’re littering this post, because this is the kind of cast that I dream of, especially for this venue. Keep in mind, I don’t love 100% of this cast- there’ll be a few I tear into- but I love the idea of this cast and this season. With Cambodia (Second Chances) dominating the conversation and elbowing its way past the already filmed and prepared Koh Rong, this season has the feel of a lost season, of archive tapes buried under hype and fan voting.
This cast is no exception- I don’t really see any stars in here, and that’s a compliment. Everyone has even ground, and no one feels so outlandish that they shouldn’t exist. Everyone in this cast feels like people that would either get underedited on a typical season of Survivor, or flame out early, and that’s fascinating to me. It makes me hopeful that despite some other things heard about this season and the concerns of it being pushed aside for Second Chances (which I could have done without, personally- knowing the cast too far in advance I was more hyped for Koh Rong than Cambodia) that this will be a very character-driven season full of unique, nuanced characters.
I’m extremely curious about where this cast will end up. To me, it’s not enough to guess what place everyone will end up in, who becomes the fool blindsided, who gets medevac’d, who wins the game. I’m dead curious to see where this cast of leftovers ends up in the legacy of this season and the legacy of Survivor in general. I want to know who these people are as characters, and I want to imagine how we’ll remember them this time next year when we’re waiting for Season 34.
Indulge me on this, and I’ll get started on this cast.
Today, we’re doing the Chan Loh tribe, aka the Brains Tribe. These posts will take one tribe on at a time because I’m in a state where I kind of have to take my time, but I promise to make up for this by being ridiculously, obnoxiously thorough. I don’t want to just decide who’s good at Survivor, I want to decide what kind of character we should be in for.
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Occupation: ER doctor
He looks like Obama, kind of, with a different face. Okay, done. I’m not the first to make that observation, and I will not be the last. Here’s the thing, though- from the sound of his video, that’s his defining characteristic. Not because he sounds or acts like Obama, but because this is something that clearly bugs the life out of him. For a full minute or so, he rants about people comparing him to Obama while he does his work as an ER Doctor (presumably the reason he is on the Brains Tribe- either because he’s an ER Doctor or Lynne thought she scored Obama for a season).
I’d imagine this gets annoying when you’re trying to save their literal lives, but it’s such a bizarre record scratch for his video. Imagine if I stopped writing about Peter and spent a full two paragraphs writing about people commenting that I look like Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, which I might be the only one to care about . This is something that clearly bugs him beyond belief.
Therefore, it’s that ramble that I get stuck on as well. Peter strikes me as someone who’s more than a little too concerned about how others see him- even on a purely aesthetic level. Handsome, intelligent male doctors already have quite the interesting rep on Survivor. Immediately, Mick and Marcus come to mind. Arguably, their reputation is that they started off seeming like they could back up the self-respect from their occupation, but by the end they’re either getting outwitted by Crystal Cox or losing a jury vote worse than Russell Hantz.
I get the feeling that Peter is not long for this game and that he’ll complete the trifecta of bumbling doctors, going before the merge hits at his own hand. He’s too focused on what others think of him and what he thinks of himself, but the focus is in the wrong areas. He thinks he’s incredibly intelligent and a super-doctor, but I don’t think he realizes he also comes off as the guy who looks at himself in every reflective surface he passes. I think people will tire of him quickly.
Yeah, I’ve lingered on one part of his bio for the entire time, and for what it’s worth, the rest of it is traditional, likely misplaced self-assuredness. But to be fair, that’s what he did as well. I’m just a moth to the flame-out.
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: Sausalito, California
Occupation: Ice cream entrepreneur
As someone from Portland, Oregon, which is perhaps the hipster mecca of the known English speaking universe, I feel like I’ve seen the Neal Gottlieb types quite often. His backstory is quite interesting- he started an ice cream business a decade ago and over that time he’s actually made it quite successful, though Three Twins Ice Cream still isn’t putting Ben and Jerry’s out of business. It’s the type I’d imagine I could find at my local New Seasons (which, if you don’t know, is our even more expensive and off-brand Whole Foods here in Portland, because of course we’re too cool for just Whole Foods).
Neal immediately strikes me as interesting because as of his bio picture I feel like he’s already spent three weeks on the island. Part of it is the fact that, according to his video, he’s put on a little extra flab. That’s one of the more traditional mild overthinks of a-little-too-smart Survivor contestants- I don’t know if anyone’s actually made a difference by putting on extra flab, but I guess if you own an ice cream company, work it girl. I get a sense from Neal that he is a bit of an overthinker and overspeaker- his bio is overloaded with detail as if he’d prepared it for months. A little pretentious at points in his video, but in a way that’s self-aware without being the type to use the “honest asshole” excuse.
There’s a few red flag sentences in his bio that do sort of put me off of him, whether it be overstating or saying mildly pretentious things. “I am not much for heroes…” (too cool for that?) “giving a great deal back and inspiring others through my version of the American dream.” (Okay, examples?) “ I would take a big comfortable bed with high thread count sheets, a down comforter and lush pillows to facilitate good nights’ sleep” (I don’t even think Aziz Ansari overthought his bed that much).
Again, I do think he means well, and he probably has a lot of positives to him. I think someone can be pretentious but still be a good person- I can’t hate on someone who hiked the highest mountain in Uganda to plant the rainbow flag out of protest at the top. In-bio, of particular note is his mention for “Inspiration in Life” after he drops the “too cool for heroes” schtick- his Uncle Larry, who doesn’t come across like a superhero as much as a real human being with real emotions and specific quirks. That singlehandedly might have endeared me to Future!Erik Reichenbach. I think when he gets out of his own head and is real, he’s quite likable.
As for his game, he just has to not overthink things. I think he’s at the perfect middle of his tribe if he can keep his wits about him. Not crazy enough to be ostracized or weak enough to be cut, but not necessarily strong enough to keep a target or endearing enough to be a social goddess. I think Neal will go far, but to win he’s gotta put some effort into it to break from the pack. As a character, I think that he can go down as someone unique, but either as someone quirky and likable, or someone annoying in a very specific way. Personally, I hope for the former.
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: Reading, Pennsylvania
And here we have the star of the season. Not Debbie herself, though it could be the case. That swimsuit. It is simultaneously the best and worst decision made by a Survivor contestant ever. It invokes a different type of Survivor as it certainly has the Eye of the Tiger. That, or she’s a fan of 30 Seconds to Mars’ later work.
Debbie’s swimsuit highlights what is clearly Debbie’s biggest personality trait- she’s a liiiiittle out there, and she knows it. The comparisons to Coach started pouring in the moment she was revealed by Redmond, kickstarted by the spoilermeister himself. It’s not hard to see why she comes off as bizarre- her occupation is listed as being a chemist, which is a fun occupation itself, giving her mad scientist vibes. However, a little off the beaten path you’ll find that her list of occupations is longer than Barbie.
- Hawk Mountain 1st Class Ranger
- Caretaker to Nuns
- Fitness Trainer
- Bowling alley owner
- Civil Air Patrol Communications Officer
- Model under the retroactively awful screenname “boston terror”
- Autumn leaf magnet
- Possibly present at the crucifixion of Jesus
- Dragon tamer
- Possible white collar criminal
I might have made some of these up- I’m pretty sure she wasn’t actually a fitness trainer. On paper she sounds incredibly bizarre, and I get why she warrants the comparisons to Coach. However, in her bio there’s one thing she does that makes it hard for me to compare her to Coach. That is- she does it herself.
A big part of what makes Coach and his type work is the lack of acknowledgment that they are maybe just a little itty bit bizarre. If you know you’re probably a little kooky, the biggest similarity to prime Coach is gone and you are too self-aware for your own good. That’s not to say Debbie won’t be a fun character, but it makes me concerned we’re in for Not-Coach Tryhard #3593. Hopefully this isn’t the case- her background is fascinating in its extremes, and I love how much one can wonder what’s bullshit and what’s not.
Thankfully, her self-awareness as being “Coach. Period.” in her bio is offset by her also sounding like one of those Facebook friends who think they’re the deepest person in the world when they’re really just boldly stating things that everyone thinks but don’t think they’re special enough to quote themselves as. Amongst her Michael Scott type quotations is a distaste for “The idolization of garish, repugnant and supercilious people-like the Kardashians” (so edgy) “Money, because poverty sucks and money equals power to a point” (I enjoy how she backed out of that statement at the end) and “apathy-don’t just talk about doing it, do it and help make the world a better place” (that can’t NOT have been taken off of a photo on someone’s FB wall, seriously). See, when it comes to being delusional, it’s the little details, not the big picture, and the little details of the bio statements make me more eager to see her revolutionize the world than her being, like, the Dalai Lama’s personal gardener.
Most aptly, and something I actually see as being pretty astute, she says her inspiration in life is Tia Torres from Pitbulls and Parolees. This reflects a lot of what I see in Debbie- damn her age and her gaudy bikini, she is gonna be tough as nails out there. Will she win? I cannot see her social game being good enough to support a Debbie Wanner win, like, at all. But I also don’t think it’ll be because she’s weak, but perhaps because she’ll be cripplingly headstrong. Either way, Debbie’s type of character works best with significant failure, so that’s what one should hope to expect as a viewer.
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Occupation: Social media marketer
Expys are everywhere on Survivor. For those wondering what an expy is in relations to Survivor- Survivor has a set of stars that are reality TV royalty, some that even can be named by normal TV watchers who just browse through Survivor like any other show. When Survivor isn’t busy casting Rob Mariano and Ozzy Lusth on as many seasons as humanly possible, they’re desperately trying to recreate them. However, at a certain point, there seemed to be a wall hit where the character archetypes borrowed from stopped being new. However, as of the season filmed before this one, there was one new character that I think that, for better or worse, loved or hated, became iconic very quickly. And already, I think we have Shirin Oskooi’s first attempted expy.
That’s not to say that Aubry is a Shirin clone any more than Joe is an Ozzy clone outside of “hot-long-hair-challenge-omg” (Though it’s rather frightening how similar the two ladies’ voices are despite their starting at opposite ends of the nation). There are some similarities- both are openly nerdy and look the part, both are “no-collars in a white collar world” types who work in technology and outreach. Both are clearly fans of the game and their personal details they share are memorable little moments that seem to indicate something good.
Character-wise, that sets up Aubry to at least be interesting, because to be honest we never really had a Shirin before, and even had the drama that made Shirin memorable not occurred she’d still be quite a unique figure, especially for female characters. However, that is a double-edged sword because Shirin was not particularly fantastic at the game either time. Personally, I don’t care whether or not Shirin or Aubry are good at the game, but it keeps me from rushing to an Aubry pre-game winner pick.
Still, Aubry’s bio is filled with a litter of little gems that you couldn’t make up, but that don’t overwhelm the character set up for her. She differs from Shirin in that I think she realizes she’s maybe a little bit of a weirdo, but likes doing things her own way. She’s confident in that, which is admirable. This is the person whose claim to fame was graduating from Brown with honors after convincing advisors to let her do a children’s book about manatees over a 50-page thesis, which, by God teach me your secrets. She has an obsession with crayons, wanting to bring them for “art therapy sessions” and because they smell good. She’s aware that she’d be a jester of the tribe, which to an extent is true of Neal and maybe even Debbie. The difference is, I think Aubry embraces that wholeheartedly, and her quirks are natural because of it.
If anything really makes me optimistic about Aubry’s survivor experience, it’s this quote: “I love SURVIVOR. Since I was 15, I’ve watched. As complicated as the game is, there’s something so simple, authentic and raw. I have deep respect for the timelessness and evolution of the game.” This is amazing to hear. Too many people go onto Survivor as self-professed superfans thinking about triple cross frontsides. Aubry nails it in that as much as there’s been evolution, “simple, authentic, and raw” are always going to describe the game.
I think Aubry might clash with people who take them too seriously, but if she can keep the human element of Survivor in mind, maybe in between Crayola therapy sessions she can find herself as a good center to the tribe. Hopefully she can leave the show as the weird yet lovable sweetheart she looks poised to be.
Joseph Del Campo
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: Vero Beach, Florida
Occupation: Former FBI agent
Move over, Anglim, we’ve got America’s new favorite Joe in the making!
(Warning: Prepare for me to almost exclusively use his last name- not out of a Probst sort of favoritism, but because an FBI agent with the last name of Del Campo sounds like a character I’d make up)
I think many eyebrows were raised when we saw Joe Del Campo’s age. Joe’s the first septuagenarian to be cast since Rudy Boesch himself. People above their 50s are rarely cast for Survivor anymore- the oldest you generally get is the 40-something mom or the occasional quirky Keith type. So it’s certainly a bit of a jaw dropper to have someone of 72 years of age- tying the record Rudy set and never gave up in Season 1- on a Survivor cast for season 32.
People of a certain age in Survivor being cast always come with a set of external questions. Will they last? How will they be perceived? Will they be victim to generation gaps? Will they say off-color things? Hell, all of these questions were asked of the most recently famous grandparent-aged contestant Keith Nale, who is still young enough to be Del Campo’s son. This is the type of age we literally haven’t seen since the beginning.
That makes it more pertinent to know, who is Joe Del Campo?
The answer is: pretty normal.
Del Campo’s a former FBI agent and a private eye. Despite such a bold type of career, he’s very soft spoken and normal, in a traditional but not closed-off sense. Things important to him are being in good physical shape, seeking out adventure (he was off the coast of Somali on a yacht four or seven years ago- that was a lot of fun) and being challenged. When Survivor cast Del Campo, I think they were making sure they got someone whose capability would overshadow their age.
Still, that leaves the social game up to interpretation, for age reasons or otherwise. However, I don’t think Del Campo will struggle there either. In both his video and his bio, he comes off as down to Earth to the point where he almost seems boring in comparison to his firecracker tribesmates. He describes his career in very plain terms (he was in the Navy, came off not wanting to work behind a desk, then saw a presentation by an FBI agent and got interested in the career) and describes his goals and inspirations in the same way. (His inspiration in life is St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, because “no child is denied treatment on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay” which is equally sweet). In this way, he’s like Rudy- he doesn’t have the same crass bluntness or wry sense of humor, but he is very straightforward. In all respects, he seems like a nice guy. Not too full of himself, not too deep in personal values to climb out. He just is.
So can Joe Del Campo beat expectations? You know what, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes. I think even with all the fear and the concern about this season, especially through the spectre of a 72 year old, I think Del Campo makes it pretty far. Does he win? I’m not as sure- his skills as a player don’t make themselves readily available. Is he gonna be the best TV? Eh, I’d imagine he’s probably on the more boring side of his tribe, but probably on the more pleasant side as well. I think he’ll be a comforting watch and I look forward to seeing his capabilities.
Tribal Designation: Brains
Current Residence: New York, New York
Occupation: Quantitative strategist
Out of anyone in the cast, I get the sense that Elizabeth Markham will probably come out as a traditional Survivor big character, and probably would be reasonably notable in any cast. She checks a lot of the boxes that good pre-game picks usually do. She’s not the usual suspects for the type who are perceived do well (usually male leader types) so there’s less fear for them being a decoy. She has a position associated with strategic intellect (a fast-growing Blackjack card counting team, as well as being a programmer around the stock market or some techy wizardry), she has an ear for social justice and hates bigotry, she compares herself to Parvati, she really just hits all the “correct” answers in her bio.
And it’s because of that, I really have no clue what to make of her as a character. Hell, she took classes in game theory- math in relation to strategic games. The subtext is in the forefront- Elisabeth Markham might be the series’ first actual gamebot. Everything in her bio and video is about her as a player.
I’ll be honest- she kind of scares the tar out of me. I think she’ll probably play really well. This isn’t a Garrett type thing where he equates being jacked and watching the show with being an expert. Elisabeth knows the nuances of the social game as well as the prevalence of the strategic game. If I were making winner picks, she’d probably be it. But as it stands, I have no clue what kind of character she’ll be- or if she’ll be a good one.
Chan Loh as a Tribe
Chan Loh has an… illustrious history to live up to as the Brains tribe. Luzon, the prior Brains tribe, is one of the few modern legend tribes, and what are technically probably all the wrong reasons for those who love strategy and hate fun. Infamous for having possibly the most explosive premiere, Luzon imploded in the span of two legitimately jaw dropping hours where Garrett stole power, voted out someone over a vendetta, then promptly proceeded to play everything so badly that keeping someone who destroyed food, couldn’t do a puzzle, built awful shelters, and did everything else wrong was actually the RIGHT move because it was clear he was building everyone else up to be below him.
This sort of zero sum chaos put Luzon on the map and made its three merge players locks for Cambodia (where two of them continued the streak by becoming joint none-fer jurors), and it’s clear where the infamy comes from. In Luzonian Kass’ own words “For the brains tribe, we’re not very smart.”
So, in comparison to Luzon, where does Chan Loh stand? I don’t think it’ll be the same kind of trainwreck. It’s got more sane, less chaotic people on it. Despite Peter being a potential time bomb and Debbie’s under the surface insanity, I think people are more gathered and together on this tribe, and they understand nuances over the idea of strategy just being a hammer with the words “Big Moves” on it. That’s not to say it’ll be conflict free. I think the conflict will be over personality. Neal’s neuroses, Aubry’s quirks, Debbie’s career choices, Peter’s affirmation, it’s setting up some pretty dynamic conflict. However, unlike Luzon and more akin to Escameca, it’ll be much more self-contained and probably only come out when the claws have to.
First tribal boot: Debbie.
Big character: Neal
Probably boring gamebot mastermind: Elisabeth.
Adorable UTR sidekick: Joe.
Random internet favorite: Aubry
There’s Chan Loh for you! I’ll be back soon with my piece on the Brawn tribe, To Tang. Like its namesake drink, it’s bright orange, and there’s definitely a lot of tang to it. The Chan Loh tribe seems pretty mercifully conducted, but we’re gonna hit some real highs and lows with the Brawn tribe.