Survivor: Mamanuca Islands Legacy Assessment (Mana From Heaven Pt. 1)

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Yeah, who’d have thunk it, I’m back! I can’t make any promises about the on-season, but I can tell you that, by Jesus, I am gonna try if it kills me. At the very least, I want to do some pre-game assessments because this cast is… very, very interesting, the type I can’t let go untouched. It’s a weird mix of legitimate legends, some moderate stars, some people that I could see being brought back in the future, and some people that I am very surprised are there. It’s not all Ambers, but it’s not all Jerris either, and the gulf between players like Sandra and Sierra is as vast as it could get. As you can see, I have to discuss this.

Still, I think seventeen-thousand journalists are chronicling their pre-game interviews and standings and predictions with regards to this cast. I would be throwing my article into a pile of many with more talent and/or notoriety than I if I talked about the future, so instead, I want to go into the past. Not just what their game was, but how it could translate into S34.

Note: I will not be going by the pre-game votes, and while some have released interviews that, if I have read them, have weighed on my mind a good bit and my perception of them in the future, that won’t be the focus, because they have not all been released for Mana and I don’t want to cheat or regurgitate facts from smarter sources. This is about then, and how it translates to now.

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So far, everyone seems to be gravitating towards the Mana Tribe (aka the one in red; you’re totally forgiven not knowing this as I just learned it too). As far as I can see, that tribe is insanely star-studded. I mean, I could do without a couple but it has some people I could talk for hours about. This is gonna be me dipping my toe in the wading pool when it comes to writing again- the legends of these players speak for themselves and talking about how they could do in the future is a lot easier than trying to get people to care about CeCe pre-season.

I guess I don’t really have an excuse now, do I?

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Hali Ford

Season: Worlds Apart (30)

Placement: 11th/18th (7-4 Vote)

Time Lapse Since Last Season: 2 Years

“Worlds Apart was a nasty season” seems to be a statement that goes without saying, but even before… all of that really nasty unforgivable drama and the psyche-gotchas of the post-merge, it was surprisingly negative. Masaya was mad at So, Joaq and Carolyn were mad at Shirin and Max, Nina was mad at Jenn, Jenn was mad at Vince, Escameca was just a big mess of mad- it was all very negative, and the few positive characters were either eliminated mid-season or told someone they had no soul and family.

A decent bit of negativity can keep the seasons spinning, but too much is suffocating, and none of the characters here seemed to hit that Courtney Yates or Tyson stride where their negativity was funny or entertaining despite ourselves. I think what made this season so insufferable was that everyone there was so angry at each other that even during Mike’s run I think the groups who didn’t seem to hate each other could be listed on one hand.

Enter one of those positive characters, Hali Ford.

Hali had moments of frustration and unhappiness, but she always dealt with it with grace and understanding, which is what I remember most about her. When Nina was upset that Jenn didn’t invite her skinny dipping, she said that she didn’t think Nina would want to (while Jenn went in confessional and mocked Nina for complaining too much). When Shirin was depressed that the New Nagarote made clear that they couldn’t stand her, Hali was the one to be honest about their grievances but never too harsh. When the advent of Dan being a tremendous shit went from being “laughably bad” to “unamusingly awful” Hali spent that TC making references to the Revolutionary War after she was the one to name the merge tribe “Merica”. Sadly, it was her last stand, and I can’t help but notice the correlation between her going home and the season starting to become irredeemable.

On top of her niceness, though, Hali was kind of weird. Adorably weird, thankfully, the kind no one had a problem with. A lot of people blame the “bikini babes” for being boring gameless wastes of space, which I don’t think is any more the case than any other archetype, but Hali was a standout because while she was pretty, she was also intelligent and very unusual, and those quirks added to her. From her imitating the crabs she was trying to catch, surfing being very notably her #3 passion in life, her whole “Merica” thing, and her set of rules being “just be a decent person”, Hali manages to fit in a lot of goofy, sweet character moments into her airtime on screen and in secret scenes, and in a dark season that was a welcome relief.

I get that they usually “Parvati” characters with some potential into every returnee season and I am glad that this one is Hali. A lot of the contestants could use a little more water to grow, or are fun while they were shown and oft forgotten, or blank slates we need to see more out of. Hali fits in the second category to some extent but I am happy she’s here, as she was a star character of Worlds Apart as far as I am concerned.

With the idea of “Parv-ing”, there’s a preconceived notion that them posing no threat means they have no target. Ever since the All-Stars endgame consisted of a bunch of mid-tier washouts and Rupert (who felt even smaller than half of those) and the Final 2 of Micronesia was Parvati and Amanda, everyone thought that no-names could go on to be legends or at least successful. Still, that’s died down a lot recently. In Blood vs Water Monica Culpepper may have made it far but I don’t think she ever got the respect a fellow player of her stature has achieved. In Cambodia, Monica Padilla was voted out at her first tribal and Wentworth had to play two idols and raise hell to make it past twelfth.

I think to some extent the game is starting to sniff out and snuff out lesser threats (or they just hate people named Monica). Since this season has a few WTF picks (including Monica [Culpepper]’s own husband) I don’t know if it will be as much of a target especially with Sandra, Tony, Aubry, and Cirie around the corner, but the theme of this season may have a few people snubbing their noses at people like Hali.

Still, if there’s one thing Hali is good at, it’s integration. I think she’ll not only be sheltered at Mana, but quite beloved as well. Her weaknesses, however, are making it in the minority, as she tends to not see things coming from there, or have the sway to pull things off, and in a larger tribe I hope she gets that sway. Most importantly, she has to win the respect of the jury as a game changer in 34 after leaving as less than one in 30. I hope she goes out there and makes people respect her.

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Jeff Varner

Seasons: Australian Outback, Cambodia

Placements: 10th/16 (5-5), 17th/20 (4-1)

Time Lapse Between Seasons: 16 since AO, 1.5 since Cambodia*
*Remember, Cambodia filmed before Kaoh Rong

Until the end of Worlds Apart I don’t think Jeff Varner was remembered all that well. For the fifty million or so that saw Australia and then never tuned in again, he was the pretty snarky Kucha that went home at merge and was kind of sneaky. For the “casuals” he was pretty quickly forgotten in favor of other returning Australian stars like Jerri and Colby, and other seasons’ stars like Ozzy and Rupert and Russell- I don’t see any posts crying out for Jeff Varner to play again. For the hardcore fans he was mentioned a little down the “underrated stars” and “which one-timers deserved to come back” threads. Funnily enough, a returnee season of one timers is exactly what was coming up.

I think Varner’s campaign and Cambodia stint are the most memorable parts of his legacy, so I’ll start with Australia since that feels like a different lifetime. He was memorable for being a “schemer” and a hardcore strategist ahead of his time, but I have always thought that his inability to read the room really stuck out. Though Kucha had two really easy boots, I cannot ever see Jeff gaining traction there. Skupin (aka the literal worst Survivor in the world) getting medevac’d I think helped him as the trio of Lis/Rodger/Skupin were at the center of Kucha and I can’t see him getting in with Nick. Luckily he managed to bypass that with one of the single stupidest moves ever in stepping down for peanut butter despite being the only Kucha with past votes. Seriously, I am so glad that Cambodia codified that as a canon bad move.

I have always found Australian Varner to be oversold as a player. I mean, he had potential to really stir up a season, true, but people thought the past vote tiebreaker was his only hurdle to being the first Brian Heidik. Even later on, people still held him in high regard, but then, Cambodia was announced, and Varner was on the list to vote back in. Really, I have to say, he ran an ace campaign. He was funny, self-effacing, a fast talker, and he had a story of playing for his relatives who were suffering from cancer. He may have been the tenth placer of a season fourteen years old at the time, but I’m not surprised he made it on, and during Cambodia, he changed… none of my perceptions, really.

I tried, I really did. To his credit, he was even funnier and more fast talking than he was in Australian Outback, and his mid-life crisis confessional had some real heft, especially since between then and now he aged fourteen years and was the first returnee I can think of to really physically show it- the two Varner incarnations look like different people. As a character, I have to admit I enjoyed him. As a player, though, he was oversold by an entirely new generation, more than I knew was possible for a fourth boot.

Varner had a lot of control and effectively tried to move people around to benefit him, but I think he perhaps got a little too into his control. He had a habit of making unsupervised decisions that benefited him strategically but left him few allies socially, allies that he generally found expendable in large part due to his deliberate avoidance of ties. Considering he was the one behind the pre-game alliances and abandoned it entirely in the Vytas vote, I consider him a big overplayer.

This is especially true in the case of him trying to talk to Wiglesworth after the swap and getting caught almost immediately, which effectively killed his chances of working with Tasha and Savage. True, it’s hard to say what could have happened as his elimination reason was tied entirely into his foot injuries, but I can’t imagine he would last long without it- at best he places around where the Witches did.

Going into Game Changers, my thoughts are that he places far higher than he logically should. His reputation isn’t much of anything compared to a lot of the big targets of the season. However, if I were playing, I would have Varner on my radar way before Cirie. It’s funny that in Cambodia he mentioned looking for a spyshack watching him, as I think he is similar to Tony. The thing to fear about Tony is that he could get further ahead by stomping on everyone, including his own allies, and Varner has that in spades. However, Varner also has potential longevity from not being a target that the ever-feared Tony does not- more time to screw up your game. Still, I think it is entirely possible that he could suffer an injury or just be flat disastrous to keep around to earn him a third pre-jury boot. If he doesn’t get it, though, he could really hurt people.

Early on in Survivor, people claimed he could have been the second Hatch. Here, I see a second Marty.

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Ciera Eastin

Seasons: Blood vs Water, Cambodia

Placements: 5th/20 (3-0), 10th/20 (3-2-0)

Time Lapse Between Seasons: 3.5 since Blood vs Water, 1.5 since Cambodia

Guys, did you know… she voted out her mom! And she made #bigmoves! But if you don’t make #bigmoves, she says you aren’t even playing the game! Also she’s like Probst’s one female friend, or will be after he gets the hint that Parvati is sick of his shit. Okay, yeah, the jokes about Ciera are prevalent and she’s become a walking punchline to the point where she gets zero credit for anything whatsoever. To be fair, I myself am not looking forward to her on Game Changers- if Cambodia was part of the evolution of her arc, then it coming to bloom at Game Changers could be nightmarish. What I think is often forgotten, however, is that Ciera ended Blood vs Water as a bona fide legend.

If you watched live you wouldn’t think that to be the case- she was on the outs of an all-male Day One alliance and was by far the weakest member of her tribe. I think Tadhana tanked a challenge or two entirely because of her. Yet at the same time, you could see flashes of brilliance seep through- such as her impromptu splitting the votes on John in case Rachel had the idol- and her choice in allies was very important to her. The “voting out her mom” thing has been overplayed to a joke, but we oft forget that as heavyhanded as that may be, Ciera did give a few confessionals saying that if her mother returned from RI the first time that it would hurt her game. At the time, the season seemed to revolve entirely around everyone’s fear that this could merge into a bunch of single-entities with two votes, so Ciera saying that loved ones can hurt your game was relieving.

Above that all, Ciera had a story going into Blood vs Water that was largely repealed in Cambodia because Cambodia has no time for 75% of its cast having personal storylines. More importantly, it was a story and an archetype we have never seen before- despite being in her early twenties, Ciera already had two children that she birthed in her teen years. Not only was she a teen mom, she was a teen mom and the daughter of Laura Morett, who in Samoa claimed that it wasn’t a woman’s place to lead church and recently tried to run for political position in Oregon in a breathtakingly conservative campaign, because preaching is too much for a woman but political standing is not. I’ve seen people compare Ciera’s oft-mocked conversation to vote out her mom to another difficult conversation- her telling her mother that she was pregnant. I hate to admit it, but I see it.

This type of story gave her quick definition to the audience, and the way she played (hard, desperate, clawing and fighting to get in a winning position) helped others latch on to her even as she was a challenge awful-person. Eventually she became a plucky underdog who was willing to risk it all to get a step ahead and inexplicably made it to the finale. We can debate her game all we want (though I give her more credit knowing that Hayden and Caleb insisted on voting out her mom when they all could have turned it on Tyson) but the fact of the matter is, she put her money where her mouth was and put herself in the line of fire to scrape and claw ahead, and this made her a genuinely big deal, as big as any of the other stars from that era.

Her game in Cambodia is a shorter conversation because Cambodia generally does not do depth. I think the right to memeify Ciera came from this season where she herself was treated as a one-note meme, and her attempts to make big moves felt more superfluous and put her in a compromised position, but in the waves of the Cambodia it took an idol play and a broken split to take her out. However, it was comical how almost all of her airtime was related to playing the game, to the point where her first words after her vote-out were “well played, well played”. Yet at the same time, it was also sad, because in Blood vs Water she had a human (if hamfisted) edge.

In Game Changers, will that change? Well, hopefully so in the human department, but I don’t see that changing. Sure, the hardcores meme the shit out of her and mock her, but in other audiences she is doing the right thing, especially in the eyes of Probst. Over time, she loses a lot of that realness she had before, and I think “play the game” will even surpass “she voted out her mom” as her legacy when she plays about thirty more times. As for her game, I think she knows enough to learn not to take others with her, but I place my bets on her self-destructing easiest. I remember her picking a fight with Savage when Kass was the head target which put the split on her as well and made her public enemy #1 after Kass was gone. I think that even as she grows older and a little wiser, she will take her own advice and big move herself to the bottom.

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Malcolm Freberg

Seasons: Philippines, Caramoan

Placements: 4th/18 (3-1), 9th/20 (3-3-3 to 6-0)

Time Lapse Between Seasons: 4 since Philippines and Caramoan

It feels like so long ago, but about four years back the fanbase fell into Malcolm-mania.

Sure, he may not have won the Philippines fan vote, and he may have barely won it over someone who didn’t exist for all but three episodes in Caramoan, but trust me when I say that he was legitimately a Survivor superstar- a “golden boy” who was also a superfan and a strategist with a smooth tongue.

Philippines was a watershed season- we have had three to four bad seasons (depending on if you ask Dalton Ross) where there was little movement, the big characters were often forced and/or crossed a number of lines, the small characters barely existed, returnees infected two of the seasons while guzzling airtime, and moments to tune in over were few and far between due to the often static nature of the game. Philippines shook that up first with a dying tribe to care about, some legitimate shakeups to the game, complete with a power shift all while having returnees that were main characters but never overwhelming ones, leaving room for some newbies to become stars like Lisa, Denise, Abi, and Malcolm.

Malcolm himself would say he expected to be the villain, but in both his seasons found himself to be in the underdog role that made that near impossible. In Philippines he ended up on the doomed Matsing Tribe, which right from the get go was a strange mixture of incompetent and sympathetic, and went down to two members in four rounds. In this time, Malcolm showed surprising emotion, because it is rare that a “golden boy” is in this type of situation, and his vulnerability set him apart.

When he switched over to Tandang, I can see why he was thinking he was a villain, as he showed a lack of care to the others there and a desire to use them for his own game, but even during that, that was never the attitude that he had towards Denise. Again, he stood out for that, but also because his gameplay acumen was quite high. He may not have always made the right move, but he was willing to make not only big, but precise moves. I think that’s what a big move needs but many people forget- it needs to have a purpose and needs to be carefully done, not just thrown around like a sack of Probst-pleasers.

Arguably, what killed Malcolm’s game was a lack of that precision- he cockily kept his idol to himself at Final 5, the last time to use it, when Denise was the target and he had immunity. That started the snowball effect with Denise that he felt she was expendable, and eventually led to her joining with the other two to vote him out.

Since he was such a big presence there, however, Malcolm was immediately brought back for Fans vs Favorites 2, as one of the few actual favorites. He was brought back very quick too, after two weeks of downtime, and you can see how it affected his game. Namely, while he was still capable of making big moves, the precision was gone with time. I can see why- we saw him start to lose that after thirty-six days because at that point I think his mind was mush. Over fifty near-consecutive days would see that precision turn into dust. After around the merge, he found himself again an underdog, but his moves to attempt to change that were very sloppy.

People bring up the “hold up, bro” tribal a lot, but it goes unspoken that Malcolm tried to take Reynold’s idol in an attempt to split him out of the game, and the alliance had none of that, which solidified to him that he was on the outs. The triple idol play was fun, but his fatal flaw was announcing who the target was, which helped the alliance in charge breathe easy and stop scheming against each other since Fillup! was expendable. Hell, even at the auction he slammed 20 down for some beer, which would have made him ineligible for the idol clue if the alliance really gave a shit since they still had splitting numbers. At that point in the game, Malcolm’s precision had really worn out and he was booted shortly thereafter.

I see his Caramoan game not at its core a bad game, but with a number of sloppy mistakes that I would chalk up to only having a day left in Philippines and then almost immediately jumping to Caramoan. Since that exhaustion is gone, I don’t see those mistakes coming back for Mamanuca. I also think that he fits right in the B-level of threats- people’s eyes will bug out at Cirie, Tony, Aubry, etc, which gives Malcolm breathing room, especially coming in as a non-controversial challenge beast whose only common denominator is the other tribe’s Andrea.

When it gets to the point where you would expect Malcolm to be booted, I don’t think he will be; namely, because what Malcolm is great at is making people like him. He never loses his cool even when being strategized against- prime examples being when Lisa found his idol and Andrea prevented him from finding another one. He may vent in confessionals but he’s charming and sarcastic to their faces. I think this gives Malcolm the opportunity to make the early merge with an alliance of people who would think twice before turning on him.

Malcolm is someone I expect to do well in this game, though he may not be my winner pick. As long as he sticks to his Philippines type of game, he would do a lot better. It was a miracle he survived there as long as he did; can lightning strike the same place twice?

To Be Continued…

Yeah, I have finished the whole Mana article but looking at it, it is scarily long, so to spare your eyes and bandwidth I will cut it in half. The rest of the writeups aren’t as long as this, so trust me, you’ll have it easier from there. To find it, just click my name when it’s posted, or click this. Cheers!

 

 

 

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