Survivor Kaoh Rong Pre-Game Cast Assessment: Going, Going, Gondol! (Includes Overall Rankings)

GondolBuff

Welcome to the Beauty Tribe, or as I like to call them, the Other Guys!

Okay, okay, that’s usually a little unfair, but beauty itself always felt like the arbitrary “third genre” to make it a three tribe season. True, beauty is possibly the easiest of the three to spot in theory, but it’s all subjective regardless seeing as sixth-member beauty tribesmates have included a proudly garish-dressed black gay man and now a fifty-something tiny gay Asian man. Now, I know what you’re thinking- what would outliers like Brice and Tai have to do with a tribe about beauty?

I’m going to say that it’s because Brice is a social worker and Tai is an earth angel who you could easily point to as examples of “inner beauty” as well as being godalmighty adorable as well (as you will see with Tai Trang). This goes to the larger point- brawn is hard to really manipulate as a concept. Brains, a little easier, but still not much- it still falls into street smarts over book smarts. Beauty as a concept is possibly the least justifiable or universal element of the three. I know LJ’s 55% head of hair does it for some people and Joe Anglim’s 2000% head of hair does it for others but through my screwy eyes I do not see the people on either beauty tribe as the hottest people in their own season.

You might be getting my point by now- Beauty feels like an arbitrary concept because no two people view it the same. You ask a crowd to pick the six who lift the most, you’ll probably get at worst a differential of one or two people. Boom, brawn. You ask a crowd to pick the six hottest and you could get thirty different groups between twenty-nine different people. At this rate, you could call this “Brains, Brawn, Potpourri.” In this situation, “Team Abercrombie and Fitch” is “Team What’s Left”. These six feel like the six they can’t brand, but are vaguely attuned to American beauty standards, so here you go.

Time to meet our six lovely bachelors!

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Tai and Gwendolyn Smith 4-2013 adjusted

Name: Tai Trang

Age: 51

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: San Francisco

Occupation: Gardener

Yes, this one gets my rose. Alright, this has been a lovely game of The Bachelor, see you others later!

I originally wanted to describe Tai Trang as stunt casting, which I feel would be offensive to label someone with no celebrity background and no special physical conditions as a contestant (artificial legs, hearing differences, etc) but I have to say, between 72-year-old-Joe being cast at all and someone with as unique and diverse a background as a gay 51-year-old Vietnam War immigrant who hosts community gardens and participates in gay pride parades and AIDS Life Cycle Rides and all kinds of awesome stuff, being put on the beauty tribe presumably just for being so freaking awesome… honestly, I mean it in the best possible way, because I don’t think it’s weird to have someone who looks like this on a Beauty Tribe.

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Especially someone who looks like this.

When I say “stunt casting” I mean it as both a condemnation of the homogenization and age-bias of recent casting combined with the fact that casting someone like Tai is so unique especially to this era of Survivor that it feels more like a statement than casting Scot or Caleb. I appreciate little about Camboredia but I appreciate that Survivor’s audience looked past surface details and voted in a pretty diverse, aged-up cast into the game. I didn’t expect nearly as many people of color and not-young castaways to be voted in by the public over a litany of white possibilities- whether it worked out or not, I respect that. While Kaoh Rong was cast and filmed millennia before Cambodia, it also airs afterward, and the idea that someone like Tai Trang is a Survivor contestant feels like fanfiction that I’d write. (And I do. And shut up.)

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me trying to praise Tai Trang for being old, Vietnamese, gay, and more beautiful than Peter Baggenstos. This is me just happy that someone can be old, Vietnamese, gay, more beautiful than Peter Baggenstos, and still be cast. Because let’s be clear. Not only is Tai Trang’s cultural and life experiences the cocktail for a truly unique and engaging character, but it’s one I am just so happy got cast- it’s the kind of casting that should light the wigs of CBS’ core audience on fire but at the same time he’s someone that any sane person can’t object to- he’s got so many angles that I think anyone can relate to a little of him, no matter how extreme his circumstances.

I feel like everyone else has sang Tai’s praises because he’s such a cast showstopper. That’s not about to make me stop, but the exterior is really bold enough to draw people in. Everything I mentioned makes him literally unlike anyone else. I acknowledge that everyone is a unique individual but I would not be shocked if Alexis and Morgan had similar lives until they wandered into the taco stand where Lynne Spillman was. I could not think of many people that Tai even comes close to in Survivor. He’s got Cao Boi’s Asian immigration and age, but also has the seasoned experience and awareness of society and community that current-day John Carroll has. The closest Reality TV entity I can compare to Tai Trang is legendary TAR team Oswald and Danny, and even that’s like a 40% match at best. Why bother comparing him? That’s the joy of Tai. He’s gonna bring something very different.

You’ve heard me ramble on about just how much it speaks for itself that Tai Trang is awesome, unique, inclusive casting. His bio backs this up with a casket full of life experiences, and his video is almost brain-dizzying with just how many words Tai can spill out in the span of two minutes with a giant, giddy grin on his face. That leads one to ask, he might be great for however long we get him, but how long do we get him?

Well, Arin Hanson might not have come out of the (expletive deleted) drawing Mozart, but considering Tai Trang was on a boat for eleven days in the open sea with his family to escape communist Vietnam with eleven siblings after god-knows-how-long’s worth of sustaining on limited food in a war zone, he’s started off the idea of survival on a hell of a leg. However, as much as anyone, the surface level is the first you read, especially on a beauty tribe. Tai is tiny, his glasses are almost as thick as his forearms, he’s fifty-one, and he’s on a tribe with Anna Coulter- I mean Khait- and Caleb Reynolds. If you are worried, you are probably correct.

Tai has a lot going for him- he’s clearly got experiences with natural resources, he’s very engaging in community settings, he’s got humility and the ability to survive a lot. It’s Kaoh Rong and fifty-percent of the cast probably did not make it home for Second Chances, but I think survival-wise Tai can hack it, and he can blend in. I just can’t pretend it’s not gonna be an uphill battle just to surpass that first impression. Still, like any god-fearing true American, I will be rooting for him for every moment he’s on screen.

Hell, if we can get Tai Trang cast for a Survivor season, hopefully things keep on the up and up.

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Name: Anna Khait

Age: 26

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: Brooklyn, NY.

Occupation: Pro Poker Player

This photo is the most characterization I could find for Anna Khait.

So Anna Khait has a reputation on twitter. I could go into that but, to quote Todd in the Shadows, I’m not here to review her Twitter feed. The only twitter feed remotely worth reviewing is Joe Del Campo’s kind, snarky, but effervescent nice old dude twitter, which yes I could do a more thorough review on than Rolling Stones could do on Young Thug’s latest album. If I could summarize it, imagine if your friend spent an hour having normal conversation then randomly blurted out inane political shit that clearly could not freaking wait for even the ball on New Years to drop then went back to normal.

Yeah, I’ve already hinted that this person being on a tribe with young woman-respecting heartthrob Caleb Reynolds is making me very pessimistic about the future of this tribe. The only hope I see for that pairing is a Neutral Box or very well placed earworms. With fantastic contestants like Helen Glover, who had a career as a Conservative radio host, I would be loath to judge a contestant for their political views alone, but most contestants give me more than that, and Anna gives me little-to-nothing outside of fear for the future of this tribe. I mean, Anna Khait is… existent, to put it nicely. She’s one of two poker-related presences on Kaoh Rong, though Khait has a reputation for being a pro player. I gotta be honest, though. Liz is more interesting to me. I prefer the robot to the mannequin.

Anna Khait does nothing for me as a character if I am being 100% frank. To be fair to myself, this isn’t just because her personal life makes me want to travel back in time as a Tai Trang meatshield- I mean, in Worlds Apart I’d not have guessed Will Sims II would have come off worse than Mike Holloway Jr. Anna as a character can probably stick to just boring me, but I cannot see anything more than that. Her bio video could easily function as a “Obama sings hip hop” mashup of every other boring bio ever. The “You Didn’t Build That” song of Kaoh Rong. She doesn’t trust. It’s a social game. She meets a lot of people. She wants to be liked. She is gonna do x strategy and y strategy. She’s filler. Sorry.

Her text bio is more of the same. She’s gonna be like Parvati because of course she is. I don’t even feel like I need to go on from there- anyone who’s spent a week in the fanbase knows those people who roll their eyes at x pretty woman in an upcoming season comparing themselves to Parvati. I don’t personally hate that, but it does come with the fact that people who wanna be Parvati get Parvati as well as… well, Jeff Probst. I don’t mind the fact that oh no the recruits and casuals will take my spot because if I get cast CBS will probably have many problems of its own. Yet, Anna Khait is probably the single most recruit-iest recruit of all. I think her bio may have literally been copied and pasted Frankenstein-style from many others to create absolute filler for the season after Mellisa McNulty dropped out again. I predict a mid-jury, nothing-of-note performance and I anticipate her being the second-most notable Anna in Survivor History. I doubt we’re gonna get much worse than this on Gondol.

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The punchline is Caleb Reynolds.

It will be the last time we laugh for awhile.

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Name: Caleb Reynolds

Age: 28

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: Hopkinsville, Ky.

Occupation: Army Veteran

When he vacuumed up the side of his face, I can only presume his brains were taken with it.

Big Brother was never a show I really got into, and it was a show that was hard to respect… but, wow, even as someone who bitched and moaned through the RI-Caramoan phase of Survivor (sans the magnificent rooster-buffalo-monkey goddess known as Philippines: Rise Of The Stapler) I have just nothing but pity for the audiences of Big Brother for Seasons 15 and 16. Season 15 was one level of bad- rampant racism everywhere and genuine ugliness that you’d find sprinkled in between scenes of One World, but from the nightmares of my friends heard through the valleys of 2014, Big Brother 16 is more like if Survivor: Worlds Apart led to a Final 6 entirely of a still not-at-all-positively-tinted Axis of Evil, after mercilessly axing and embarrassing all of the Nagarotes, Shirin, and Mike on the way out. Only, replace Tyler with Heidik, add in Colton, and make it so Rodney doesn’t vote out Lindsey after slut shaming her, but because Lindsey wouldn’t have sex with him. This is the secondhand experience BB fans that I have as friends have related to me in recent years. I could start a charity for these poor people.

That way-worse-Rodney is who we have here. There are similarities in that in the darkest parts of the season we groveled to them for comedy- Rodney with his #DamnBirthdayMan fits and Caleb for apparently being something called Beast Mode Cowboy or something. They’re also meatheads on the surface, but I could hear an argument about how Rodney was actually a clever strategist. He’s got some moves, I could acknowledge that. Caleb seems genuinely… maybe dumb is too easy a term. He’s very egocentric. Rodney pouts about losing Joaquin and wants revenge but he also gets out of his own head enough to manipulate Dan into feeling how he wants to feel. I’ve never gotten the impression Caleb’s brain, even if it could do quantum physics, could get further than he and his penis half the time.

Still, this is just what I’ve heard coming in. Let’s see where one year later finds our Beast Mode Cow… no. Caleb Reynolds of Big Brother Sixteen.

“Personal Claim to Fame: Defending my country in war and bringing my troops home safely to their families.”

Big Brother Fans… help me out here. I don’t wanna make assumptions. Did Caleb actually, on his own, bring his troops home safely to their families? Was he like Rambo? Because if so, I’ll give him respect for that. Otherwise, it seems like he’s taking credit for a touchdown he didn’t score because his team won a game. Like I said with Sarg, who I also am not exactly clamoring for autographs from, serving in the military is something to respect because it is never remotely easy. Still, I never got the sense that Sarg saw military as just Sarg being awesome. I don’t think he struts around like a peacock with dog tags to get attention, but you ask him, he’s proud of it, and good on him. But Caleb makes it about him and what he did, and that sends off all the wrong signals.

It’s really hard to try and be positive about Caleb, because to do so, I’d need to believe he’s experienced personal growth over what was likely a small span of months after he experienced reality TV show levels of fame that desperately pumped up his persona to keep the last five viewers of Big Brother 16 on their screens despite basically creating the Mikayla Babylon Whore incident. (Again, secondhand recollection.) I just don’t get that sense. If I never heard of Caleb Reynolds until today, I’d watch his video and see Ben Browning. He hunts. He’s strong. He’s cocky. He’s Southern. He’s a buffer Ben Browning. Ben Browning is not a Survivor entity you want to emulate, though if Tai Trang bent his ass over his knee Jaison-style and had him railroaded out of the game I would appreciate his existence a hell of a lot more.

The sense I get out of Caleb is that he wants attention. He talks about working at Lowe’s and being a personal trainer the way Drake talks about traffic on the way home- because apparently that Big Brother money and fame has changed his life (what the hell does fourth place get, a gold star and a ticket to Hometown Buffet?). Him having 300,000 followers on Twitter is a worthy life achievement. He wants to be the guy on the beach that makes people laugh, even if it means hurting himself. This also ties into the personal claim to fame that made me uncomfortable- Caleb’s life has Caleb as the star and he’ll sign his autograph whether you like it or not.

So how does Caleb do on Survivor? The initial inclination I have is that I want him to fail. I don’t get a good impression of him. I certainly don’t expect him to win, that’s for sure. I’ve said this already, though- I gotta give everyone a fair shake, and even if I don’t think Caleb has made anything out of what he’s given to give me a reason to root for him, I don’t think he’s going early unless we get really lucky with a lightning strike. Potentially volatile politics? Anna’s got him on that. He’s plenty strong and with the right crowd he can make them laugh or swoon. RHAP Blogger Nick might tail onto him quick, but that’s one person, and Nick might have his own problems. Sure, he trails Big Kahuna as the second classiest Caleb in Survivor History and he has not convinced me he’s not gonna torment my eardrums on screen as long as he’s available, but it’s like the inverse of Tai. There’s some things that naturally goes in favor of Caleb Reynolds that doesn’t for most people, and it’s just obnoxious that reality TV is always there to catch that for us.

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Name: Julia Sokolowski

Age: 19

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: Boston, Mass.

Occupation: College Student

Well, it’s finally happened. After all these years as a fan, it has finally happened. The first contestant ever younger than myself has become a contestant on Survivor. We skirted the edge of Baylor, but Julia is nearly a full two years younger than I, born in 1996 to my 1994. This is fascinating to me because it’s the first time one realizes they’re in the demographics of a group of people they are super into- though in my case it might just be one demographic and no others whatsoever.

Julia being my birthday crossroad character makes me especially interested in what she’ll bring, what with it being the first time I am older than a contestant I am currently discovering. I just rewatched Nicaragua in the past few weeks, and I’m currently 21 like Fabio. It made it easier to relate to him in some ways- the highly emotional relation to family and inability to filter his sense of right or wrong included- but I got to watch that knowing that he was going to win, which if you guessed that from the beginning, I like and envy you. Julia’s a blank slate, but even more notable, she’s 19.

19 has not been a kind age to Survivors. 21 seems to be the cap of respectability, and only barely so. 19-year-old Survivors include Brandon Hantz, someone who clearly had his own far-beyond-his-reach struggles, and Natalie Tenerelli, who probably said as many words in this paragraph over the entire extent of her 39 days in Redemption Island. Obviously, the Julia connection is presumably closer to Nat Ten than it is Brandon Hantz, but I think there’s plenty of room for her to surpass the stereotypes set by someone who appeared by many to be young, naive, and not of high intelligence.

“SURVIVOR Contestant You Are Most Like: Natalie Tenerelli because she was a young, female player”

…Julia. Sis. I’m trying to help you here.

It’s kind of unfair that people like Julia would limit Julia to being like Natalie Tenerelli, one of the most widely mocked Survivors out there, because I think she’s sharper than that. For one, her WPM is easily at least 500% that of her predecessor. For another, Julia has been a Survivor superfan since she was five, which holy god was still not long enough to make her a day one fan and guys I am so old just call up the Funeral Home. She applied the day she was legally able to, so she’s not as crazy as Frosti, but, that’s still something to be able to hop from the playpen into the big leagues the second it was available.

For another, Julia has a nice chunk of school-excursion-related life experience. I’m not saying she’s Tai Trang, but she goes for it. She taught English in Tanzania and really went for the grand tour of the area, hiking the base of K2 and camping with the Masai. To some, this might seem like the equivalent of a young privileged person taking selfies from a cultural experience to put on her fridge, but I get more than that from her. For one, you put me in a hospital room for two days and I’m busting open windows to get out on Day 3- someone her age doing long-term relocation for a cause over so long a time is impressive to me. Second, these are things she’s done, but also things that happened to her. She describes it as “getting to do these crazy, outdoorsy stuff”, which shows that the experience was at the very least equivalent to her. Take notes, Caleb.

That’s not to say that Julia comes without naivete. I feel like the leap from viewer to player was done without a second thought. She says she’ll be underestimated, which I could cosign on, but she says it’s because people won’t see her as outdoorsy despite her living in Vermont and enjoying outdoor sports and getting dirty, which is really about a tenth of a percent of what actual Survivor survival demands, especially in Kaoh Rong, the final resting grounds of five hundred CBS participants. She’s got good camping qualities- definitely better than mine and probably several actual cast members- but I think survival is gonna hit a lot harder than she anticipates.

Still, survival’s only part of it. The sense I get from Julia is that she’s young, and in some ways unaware of just what is impressive and what isn’t to others. However, I also get the sense that this a is a genuinely upbeat, endearing human being. Whereas former youngest living Survivor Baylor showcased a more bratty, combative side of youth, Julia seems like the iron-fisted optimism of youth. More Young Blood by the Naked and Famous than #Selfie by the Chainsmokers. I think she’ll hit rough times but I see people keeping her around as the lovable young sister. That’s where I think the underestimation comes in- if she gets past the beginning people will underestimate her because she’s a 19 year old woman who talks extensively about the time she killed a cow in Africa, but I think they’ll also like her enough to see her as someone they wouldn’t mind losing to in the right circumstances. I think she’ll learn the qualities to do well in Survivor come from within- just like beauty itself.

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Name (Age): Seen above near the soul-consuming eyes

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: Redondo Beach, Calif.

Occupation: Personal Trainer, And Not In The Least Proud Of It

Back in 2014, a young lad named Spencer Bledsoe was announced for the 28th season of Survivor, also themed around brains, brawn, and beauty. Spencer was on the Brains tribe and immediately launched fireworks with his biography, which was loaded both with fandom references and, more notably, extreme douchy cockiness. I think myself and anyone who expected a weird thing called honesty from pre-game material went into Cagayan writing off Spencer as fodder, and were surprised when the cockiness evaporated not long into Episode One where he took up the role as the straight man on a tribe of people who barely passed psych eval.

Call it instant humility in the face of impossible circumstances, call it delayed reaction since in many ways his Cambodia game subtly tied together the strings of his Cagayan buildup. For me, who has seen how Spencer generally conducts himself when not facing what Survivor is actually like, I see it as one very specific thing- hype buildup. From the moment Spencer was seen as remotely possible as a contestant, Spencer was hustling hard to convince casting that he was something he wasn’t. I get that because he had a shot at a million dollars and, to quote a wise (and very real) woman, people kill for less than that. However, that made his character both a relief when Cagayan started airing, and his entire pre-game shtick kind of annoying because in retrospect it either had to be clearly transparent or embarrassingly sincere. If I were Probst I would never have apologized for saying Spencer had zero chance of winning the game. That’s what Spence wanted us to think and we bought in like suckers who didn’t know it was possible to lie like that.

I bring this up because I do not think we need to be worried about Nick Maiorano fooling us. The guy… he’s trying very, very, very hard to be as evil and cocky as possible. It is not working, but if I’m being honest, I kind of love him for it. It’s kind of adorable. He goes H.A.M. and while it’s not convincing his commitment to the act is strangely admirable. He sells out his career within ten seconds of his video, and he doesn’t let up since. As it pertains to Nick as the character we’ll see, it’s 99% irrelevant, but it amuses me more than it offends me, because I can’t take it seriously. If this is the Nick we get, holy damn, you’re gonna make Max Dawson look like the more upstanding fanbase alumni turned contestant.

This is going to be a different sort of writeup because I’d put money on the fact that there’s no way Nick Maiorano is as bad as he looks in his pre-game material. I’ve read a sample of his work with Rob Has a Podcast as an article writer, and yeah, you get plenty of the snarky “honest asshole” type he tries to portray himself as, but you also get him just being kind of a dork. Either way, once you’re on Survivor for long enough, shticks- whether as a writer or character- generally go away pretty quickly whether you want them or not. Someone like Coach can pull it off, but Coach also passes his own lie detection tests, so there’s a point where acting stops and delusion begins. Nick Maiorano is not a Coach. He doesn’t live his character, he does it as a part-time career.

So what truth can we pick from Nick’s bio? One theme that I found that connects from both his most immediate example of RHAP blogging and his biography is that he values one skill over any other, and prides himself on it just as much. This skill is “listening” in the broadest sense of the term. He doesn’t even feel a need to actually listen- just look consider it. This guy might be on Beauty solely because he thinks appearances matter as much as reality. Well, that and he is actually pretty hot.

Nick Then:

“Be a listener. That’s it. Notice I didn’t specify that you need to be a “good” listener. Meaning, you don’t have to retain information. Reason being is most people don’t even know how to pretend to listen, let alone listen well. Which means all you have to do is APPEAR like you’re listening and people will be eating out of your hands.”

Nick Now:

“Personal Claim to Fame: I’ll always be a better listener than you. Meaning, I listen to people better than you do, I’m more interested in people than you are, and I accept people more than you do. And yes, sometimes I pretend to do these things, but at least I pretend, whereas you just check out and are narcissistic.”

Surprisingly, I have to agree with him. A lot of Survivor and its understanding of dishonesty lies in the sell. To sell lies or acceptance of other’s truths, you need to make them feel involved, and listening, intently or no, does that. This is what made him a proponent of Trish during Cagayan, and he takes those same principles to his own bio. Still, that’s not gonna be enough for him. I do think he’s making up almost all of the arrogance and attitude he Jackson Pollocks all over the bios and videos, but I do think that to an extent he has a higher expectation of his own skills than he probably has earned.

Here’s the thing about Trish of Cagayan- even if you told me that she faked care in every conversation we could ever have, Trish also establishes her own identity. She drops weird dorky parental slang lines, she mimicks cat-fights, she flies off the handle sometimes, but most importantly, she talks back to you. She creates a dialogue. She got people to think she cared, and to like her enough to let her put out those fires of Tony’s, because Trish to them was a real person. Nick doesn’t seem to know he needs a dialogue to succeed. Once he’s done listening to people, he’s left himself with nothing really worth talking about.

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Name: Michele Fitzgerald

Age: 24

Tribe Designation: Beauty

Current Residence: Freehold, N.J.

Occupation: Bartender

I have a friend named Dabu. That’s not his birthname, but it’s what he told me to go by. You might have heard of him because he talks everywhere a Survivor dialogue can be found and he talks non-stop. He’s the type who writes ten-thousand page pieces on characters he likes to convince us they are the reason God exists. This season, he chose to hype Michele Fitzgerald, someone that honestly made little impression on me, for two reasons, and two reasons only. This was bizarre to me, because while he had at least seven-fifty words on how Caleb could stand to be medevac’d, only two one-line concepts were enough to rank Michele at #1 for his pick to win and just below Tai and a couple of others as his favorite current character.

One: She is from Freehold, New Jersey, hometown of Bruce Springsteen. I think she could have Sarg’s bio and still get Dabu’s support for that.

Two: She is 80% Kim, 20% Sophie.

Needless to say, out of anyone, Michele was going to have to be last, because I was going to have to completely re-evaluate this woman to understand what Dabu was going on. That all going on, the first thing that my eyes caught was the answer “Parvati” to contestant one is most like. This was not going well until I read why she chose Parvati.

“She was able to read people and form alliances that took the spotlight off of her. She took respectable chances, never silenced herself to get further, and dominated in challenges.”

I doubt I’ll be shocking many who actually know me when I say that I am not a fan of Parvati, but even moreso, I am not a fan of Parvati’s legacy of her being literally just the biggest slut on Earth who’d dry-hump a cactus to get something in her. In her notable games, her unimpactful first game aside, Parvati’s skills revolved around socially uniting alliances and keeping them personally motivated while not directly stealing control. I imagine her evil cackling over the idea of destroying the inferior men as motivation to keep the Black Widow Brigade hyped even at its most fractured. In her third game, she found her back against the wall, through a mixture of reputation and poor off-screen planning. Rather than lay down and die, she scrapped for every second she got in the game, able to use items, challenge prowess, social manipulation, and absolute brevity to get from a miracle save at 15th to a respectable second place. I have many problems with the Black Widow as a player, but I think Michele gets good marks for getting at least a solid B+ in Parvati 101 as opposed to Anna Khait’s cliffnotes that she passed off as an essay.

I think this shows that on a fundamental level Michele at least knows surface details of what makes Survivor go around in its own solar system. Still, it’s a solar system you’re looking at from Earth unless you’re smart enough to navigate through it. Luckily, many of Michele’s answers strike me as grounded, even if not the most entertaining. She’s also an unabashed Harry Potter fan, which adds a level of nerdy dimension beneath what seems to be a pretty composed force- she claims Harry Potter was her first crush with an embarrassed laugh and cue-trip in her video, giving her some self-awareness. She’s also a Survivor superfan and has been for the same amount of time Julia has, meaning that she, like most of America at the time, got picked up during Australia. As for extracurricular activities, she’s done environmental work in Thailand and seems to have lived an active, adaptable lifestyle.

Michele’s a bartender, and I feel like she’s the kind who gets a lot of numbers and probably too many drunk flirtations. Part of this is her physical beauty, which makes sense given the tribal designation, but I get the sense that Michele is the type of bartender who gets engaged with people in a way that’s a few inches outside of typical comfort zone. She seems like the person who takes the conversation up one notch- enough to make it feel real, but not too much to make it feel like a pressure test. She seems down to Earth and engaging. She doesn’t strike me as the most unique person ever to be cast on Survivor but if I had to pick one person who interests me enough for thirty-nine days worth of casual conversation, Michele would be my pick.

So, 80% Kim, 20% Sophie? Depends on how you view Kim and Sophie. Dabu insists she has the “big sister Kim Spradlin is every woman’s friend and is cool with all the guys” traits which probably had more influence on her game than the big-moves-o-tron Kim Spradlin we saw on TV. I think it’s that attitude that gave Kim control over twelve people in the final thirteen- the harmlessness they saw counteracted the cunning she hid. Add to it the 20% of Sophie’s down to Earth frankness and aversion to flashy bullshit in exchange for things that work (at the same time taking out her social rockiness that held her back at times) and, yeah, I can see it. I don’t see Michele as the daughter begotten of the almighty Bruce Springsteen or the next big strategist, but I would put her down as someone who could pull off a win as easy as anyone. The talent-pickings and longevity of the Gondol tribe doesn’t strike me as something to put money on, but if I did, Meeshfitz would be getting all of it from these six.

(Way to waste the betting reference on the one female this season not associated with gambling, Cameron.)

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Gondol_tribe

Gondol as a Tribe

I hope I don’t break anyone’s hearts by saying that Solana, the beauty tribe of first BvBvB season Cagayan, was not that great of a tribe. Strategically, they had little to offer and despite being split between alliances were summarily Pagonged between tenth and seventh, which led to longest lasting beauty Jefra Bland lasting the fewest days of any final tribesmate, just barely matching Ulong’s Stephenie Lagrossa- a sad fact considering Ulong made merge with 8-1 numbers and Solana made merge with 4-4-3. The closest thing to a strategic entity given to us was sentient cardboard cutout L.J. McKanas, whose only acts were wasting an idol and being used and tossed by Tony. Everyone else was made to look irrelevant, idiotic, or just not even caring. As characters, they were little better, having one of the lowest tribal confessional averages out there and not producing any real stars- the closest thing to an appreciated character being Morgan McLeod, essentially a Dollar Tree version of Heidi Strobel.

Compared to Solana, the Gondol tribe has little to go but up, and to its credit it’s easy to gather reactions from these six in particular, some notable exceptions aside. In some ways, I could make my six character type predictions “the LJ, Jefra, Jeremy, Morgan, Brice, and Alexis” and come out clean, but in others I don’t think these people are quite that indistinct. I also don’t think they’re going to necessarily have more likable characters or more capable strategists than Solana, but at the very least I think Gondol will be memorable.

The future of Gondol’s reputation will probably be decided faster than either other tribe based on first impressions alone. Who bonds? Who fights? Who is left in the cold? I can see it going the same way as Solana, with the standout character’s weakness being used against them and an alliance of less entertaining people running things- especially if you think people like Anna and Julia will tolerate Caleb more than most sane people will. However, if I were to look at any dichotomy or pairing, it would have to involve Nick.

He’s in some ways the biggest question mark, but being a reality TV blogger for at least a short while with a pretty famous website (making the fact that I’m covering him at all unspeakably meta) he knows Caleb probably better than most who are distant from Big Brother. Whereas most might see the casting of Caleb as a sign of good character if they didn’t own a TV or computer, Nick might know better. However, because Nick has an overly heightened sense of self-confidence, Nick might not handle it properly, potentially handing the beast the game. I think that’ll be the battle that decides the success of Gondol, but as I said, the only one I think that has winner qualities is Michele, and I think she’s got a good chance. She just has to surpass those she’s been cast with.

First Tribal Boot: Julia

Big Character: Nick or Caleb

Strategic Mastermind, or However Close You Get Here: Michele

Irrelevant UTR Sidekick: Anna

Trainwreck: Caleb or Nick

Random Internet Favorite: Tai

———-

Kaoh Rong Cast Rankings As A Whole:

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Alright, now that you’ve worked through three essays about each distinct tribe, I won’t mess around with your valuable time anymore. I’ve gone through each of these eighteen cast members, whether I particularly wanted to or not. I’ve given my best guesses strategically and my best hopes as far as entertainment. I’m gonna jot down a quick ranking for each, and (if you’ve ever played an online Survivor game of mine you know how true this is) we can all come back and laugh at me later for being so desperately, desperately off.

Strategic Rankings:

18: Scot Pollard. The celebrity curse isn’t always a sight of being dead in the water, but I also don’t think Scot has much else going for him. He doesn’t seem overburdened with ingenuity or social charisma, and I don’t see how much he can contribute to the tribe that others can’t. I don’t think he’s necessarily the worst player, but I see the least possibility of success out of him.

Predicted Finish: The Cliff Robinson treatment- early swap boot.

17: Caleb Reynolds. Because Caleb Reynolds. He can get further than most but the amount of ways to die out here are longer and dumber than Australian train safety ads can ever explain. I cannot see him clearing every hurdle in Survivor land but I also can’t see him being dragged along as he was in the Big Brother house.

Predicted Finish: If it’s not by Nick’s own hand, it’s either a merge boot or a finals goat.

16: Cydney “Cyd” Gillon. In some ways, I might have been harsh on her, but I still hold that her Rocky-esque comments about women are bad signs no matter how she came to those conclusions or how female she is. More importantly, I think she’s probably the worst built for the environment she’s going to land in. Kaoh Rong could easily chew her up and spit her out, no matter how strong she is, just on body science alone.

Predicted Finish: The earliest medevac, probably less than two weeks in.

15: Debbie Wanner. It’s starting to become Survivor tradition that a middle-aged, generally forty-something woman loses the jury vote no matter what the circumstances. I don’t think this will be particularly hard for Debbie to do. I don’t think she’s irredeemably crazy but she does strike me as somewhat pretentious, and her quirks will probably enforce negative sides of her as opposed to positive. Still, I think she climbs out of the “borderline impossible” territory into “unlikely” territory.

Predicted Finish: Second place, getting one or two jury votes.

14: Kyle “Sarg” Jason. I am banking on him being very different than his dangerous Russell-praising comments imply. If he can harness the admittedly impressive parts of Russell’s game and not try to actively kill a tribe in the middle of Cambodia, I think he’s got some solid personal qualities that will shine through and get him a little further.

Edit: I just discovered on Twitter he claims to Russell that he made Russell singlehandedly famous again. The ability to out-delusion the prince of delusional arrogance makes me loath to put him any higher. He might be a spiritual #18.

Predicted Finish: A no-nonsense early boot or late jury, no in between.

13: Peter Baggenstos. I feel like I might be the only one online who doesn’t expect great things from Mr. Baggenstos, but I still stand by him being too much like the overly confident and persona-centric Mick-of-the-day to bump him up high. I think more than anyone I have room to be very wrong here, but I just can’t see him pulling it off. Just in case, though, I’ll hedge my bets.

Predicted Finish: Shock early game boot that half the audience sends hate mail over. That, or two terms in office that half the audience sends hate mail over.

12. Anna Khait. Will exist for awhile, then not.

Predicted Finish: Uneventful mid-jury boot.

11. Tai Trang. His future will be almost certainly decided by how he lands in the early game. If he can scramble his way out of the initial hurdles, he will be unstoppable. However, he is so radiant that, for better or worse, even post-merge eyes will be on him as either a possible jury threat or just another hurdle to their games. He’s gonna have a rough road, but I don’t see it as flaws in his game as much as just the factors of life.

Predicted Finish: 16th, or 4th.

10. Nick Maiorano. He could severely impress me if he gets his head out of his ass and acts proper, but your mileage may vary on whether or not his real self will be much better than the persona he’s trying and failing to sell. Keep an ear out for him.

Predicted Finish: 16th, or 4th.

9. Alecia Holden. It’s all or nothing for Alecia- she could become completely irrelevant if she doesn’t work to make herself an entity. She’s got potential to stick it out, but the case for her to win is gonna take some doing. I think she’s a cool-sounding person but she’s gotta sell that to people anticipating Blonde Mactor #43209.

Predicted Finish: Booted just after Anna Khait.

8. Aubry Bracco. She could veer annoying, but I think her lightheartedness will serve her well on this tribe rather than hinder her. I think she’s fortunate that, some exceptions aside like Peter, not as many people take themselves that seriously on Chan Loh. She’ll likely fit in just fine.

Predicted Finish: 5th place goddess.

7. Joseph Del Campo. Despite his age, the word I’d use to describe Del Campo is subtle. He seems like probably the most ordinary, straightforward, yet not cripplingly boring person here. Will he be compelling enough to motivate people, or have sharp enough strategic instinct to turn tides he may need to? I’m not completely sold, but I don’t think he can be resigned to early boot, which personally makes me happy.

Predicted Finish: 7th Place.

6. Julia Sokolowski. I think she’s most likely to slip under the radar the furthest and I think she’ll get people to like her, but it’s respect she has to earn. If she doesn’t come off as a young barbie who thinks hiking the base of Kilimanjaro is equivalent to a Nobel Peace Prize, she can do that. Otherwise, she’ll probably make it to Day 39 with a less than impressive strategic showing.

Predicted Finish: Final 3, but leaning more towards 3rd than 1st.

5. Neal Gottlieb. The guy has a lot of good personal qualities, and beneath a little bit of bluster he seems to have heart. He might come across as too acerbic for some but also someone who’s willing to work with most anyone. I think his mind’s also in the right place, he just has to make decisions with his head as well as his heart.

Predicted Finish: Merge boot with a cult following

4. Jennifer Lanzetti. I think a decent amount of character bias has leaked into my strategic ranking, but I’ll put my cards on the table, not too many people here strike me as real gameplay juggernauts. Therefore, someone with a solid head, a tough as nails outlook, and who seems genuinely pleasant and self-aware like Lanzetti can probably skate by pretty well. She just has to know who she’s playing with and how to play them.

Predicted Finish: Finale, outside chance to win, but at the very least leaves with respect.

3. Elisabeth Markham. Huh! Dethroned! I made my share of “inevitable Elisabeth victory” jokes, but having the bias of hindsight of the two weeks between writing Chan Loh and this final writeup, as much as I think she’s got the skills to play a great traditional Survivor game, I’ve taken a look at the rest of this cast. I think Liz’s weakness might be that she expects a game of sharp, normal people in traditional Survivor circumstances, and this season won’t allow for that sort of inadaptaibility. On paper, she’s probably the best, but she’s got a lot of bad weather and crazier people to deal with. Can she? Probably. Will she? I don’t know if they’ll let her.

Predicted Finish: Wins, or gets the Brenda/Jeremy placement of shock merge boot.

2. Darnell Hamilton. Okay, this is very largely the bias of the fact that this guy just charms the socks off my feet, but I think in a season like this Darnell was built to do well. I don’t get vibes of antagonism or aggression from him even in his cockier, snarkier moments. I see someone charismatic enough to worm his way into a lot of allegiances, flexible in a “hell, why not” sort of way enough to change plans when demanded, but also won’t be seen as a strategic threat, because I don’t necessarily think he has the strategic chops of more than a few above him, though he’ll certainly do fine. I just think in this season, likable, flexible people with decent strategic intellect will do better than the overthinkers.

Predicted Finish: Pre-Finale Boot once it’s realized he has way more of a shot than credited for.

1. Michele Fitzgerald. Well, congrats Dabu, you won me over. By process of elimination, Michele seems the most fit for the game. I think part of it is what she does know, but a large part of it is what I don’t think she’ll do that much of the rest of the cast will. She won’t medevac, she won’t be self-centric, she’ll read and adapt to others, she won’t paint an x on her chest, and she won’t take people for granted. Combine that with above average capabilities to win people over strategically and socially, and Michele probably does well for herself, especially on a tribe she’s miles more capable than at Survivor.

Predicted Finish: Likely winner.

———–

Character Ranking:

Just to set the record straight. I’ve gnawed into excruciating detail (probably moreso for you than I) about who in the cast I like or dislike. I’ll keep the descriptions short and just give a final verdict for those of you clearly dying for my opinion.

  1. Anna Khait. All I have to go on is a nothing bio and a troublesome social media presence. You could probably pick someone more engaging from a random crowd.
  1. Caleb Reynolds. Because ew.
  1. Scot Pollard. Because yawn.
  1. Kyle “Sarg” Jason. I know you got a heart in there, just act on it and don’t play up the douchebag role. You didn’t make Russell famous again, as much as I wish he was actually irrelevant until you woke him from his slumber. Focus on Kyle, not Sarg.
  1. Cydney Gillon. You’re clearly a strong, strong-willed woman and I appreciate that. Just please do the same for others.
  1. Elisabeth Markham. I don’t have anything against Liz, she just doesn’t do much for me character-wise.
  1. Nick Maiorano. If he’s Dr. Jekyll, yes. If he’s Mr. Hyde, get lost.
  1. Debbie Wanner. Be as fun as your bathing suit, not as tedious as your preachy bio.
  1. Alecia Holden. Holding out for a badass athletic heroine here. Bracing myself for Sierra Dawn Thomas 2.0.
  1. Peter Baggenstos. I’m still prepared to laugh at his downfall personally, but I won’t cry if he doesn’t- he’s engaging enough to suitably fill many roles.
  1. Joseph Del Campo. I teeter between pleasantly quiet and passably boring with him but I’m still highly curious to see what he can do as a character.
  1. Michele Fitzgerald. I think she’s one of the cooler people here, but that doesn’t necessarily mean riveting TV, but I expect her to at least pass the bar by some decent distance.
  1. Julia Sokolowski. She seems cute and quite nice, and I think she’ll be a nice, if understated, presence.
  1. Aubry Bracco. Hopefully she forges out her own identity as a character and provides some nice relief from what could be a painful season.
  1. Tai Trang. I really love that he was cast, but I’m still scared he won’t be around long enough to fulfill his destiny as a bona fide legend. He’s got a great chance of rocketing up to #1 easy.
  1. Jennifer Lanzetti. I think she’s a genuine badass with the right mix of dorky and awesome to make her incredibly appealing. I hope she has a lot of fun, because I don’t think Kaoh Rong will be the hardest thing she’s gone through.
  1. Neal Gottlieb. Neal’s the type of character who can go many ways and I’d like him no matter how they paint him. He’s got a bit of a shell around him built up of irony and sarcasm, but I just can’t see him as anything but a bowl of soft serve. I see why some see him as likely arrogant but I’ve got high hopes for him.

His Majesty #1. Darnell Hamilton. Cool as hell, a great subtle backstory, and endless potential, I don’t see being a dud in Darnell’s future in the slightest.

———–

And That’s a Wrap!

Alright, after three and a half long articles, all that’s left to do is wait for the season! I’ve alluded to having some tricky circumstances to untangle in regards to writing articles, so I’ve had to make a plan to deal with some quick turnarounds so you don’t get last week next week. No matter what excuses I could throw at you, I took this job, right? I’m gonna be writing the Survivor articles and I’m gonna crank them out when they’re needed. Thankfully for all involved, you likely won’t be getting five-thousand words at a time.

My current plan is to write two articles a week- a smaller debrief of what-the-hell-just-happened on the episode- eulogizing the eliminated and comparing them to my theories, and their journey strategically and storywise in a nutshell. Hopefully these will make it by Friday at the latest. After that, I plan to post a longer article detailing the storytelling qualities and cues in the episode itself that can lead us from the past to the future- because, really, as much as Survivor is a strategic test, it all ties into the story that they wanna tell us. That’s the roots I want to dig into.

Thanks for sticking with me for this long- we’re gonna have some fun times ahead.

-Cameron

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