The tribe has spoken. And by “the tribe”, I mean me.
Returnee seasons of Survivor can be difficult when you’re a relatively new viewer like me – there’s so much lore and cult of personality in this game that if you didn’t see someone’s original season, trying to follow them upon their return is like walking in halfway through a David Lynch film and trying to keep up. I find myself in quite a fortunate position with the upcoming Survivor: Cambodia because almost everyone is from a season that I’ve seen (even if, in the case of Kimmi Kappenberg and Jeff Varner, they’re from a season that I literally started watching yesterday) so for once I feel like I’m in a position to judge them all. Oh, who am I kidding, I always feel like I’m in a position to judge them all, it’s just that on this occasion I might actually be able to back it up. So let’s look at the viewer-selected cast for Survivor: Cambodia in ascending order of how excited I am to see them back. My intention is to base this entirely on prior on-season performances, with some allowances made for noteworthy things they might have done in their time off, but since I haven’t really watched anyone’s official pre-season interviews for this time around, I won’t be factoring those into my judgements. So here we go:
20. Jeff Varner (Survivor: Australia, 10th place)
As I said above, I have only seen one episode of Survivor: Australia but even so I already feel like I’ve had my fill of Jeff Varner. Sorry Jeff.
19. Kelley Wentworth (Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, 14th place)
When Kelley Wentworth was the sixth castaway voted off her season, there was a feeling among some fans that she could have been a good player if given the chance, and that perhaps she was making great moves off-camera that never got shown. Somehow, in a fandom game of chinese whispers, this now seems to have become “Kelly Wentworth was definitely a top-tier player who made all these amazing moves that they never showed”, and I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I’m actually one of the few people willing to defend San Juan Del Sur as an above-average season, but narratively it was all over the place and the focus seemed to fall on different players from one episode to the next, so I’m pretty sure if Kelley had done anything interesting, they would have shown it. That’s not to say she can’t be brilliant and compelling this time around, but right now I have no reason to feel excited for her return.
18. Monica Padilla (Survivor: Samoa, 7th place)
Survivor: Samoa is one of the two seasons being represented here that I haven’t seen at all, but Chris assures me Monica didn’t do anything important anyway.
17. Andrew Savage (Survivor: Pearl Islands, 10th place)
Should’ve been Lill.
16. Keith Nale (Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, 4th place)
Keith was fun in San Juan Del Sur, constantly berating his own son and being Goddess Natalie’s unwitting pawn. But I’m not really sure there’s any real need for him to come back, other than to fill a specific casting demographic. He’s not much of a gameplayer, and I doubt he’s got any better in the last 12 months.
15. Spencer Bledsoe (Survivor: Cagayan, 4th place)
I make no secret of the fact that I’m hardly Spencer’s biggest fan; I consider him to be the most overrated player in an overrated season. But he was always going to be back for this one, and I’ve made my peace with it. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, mind.
14. Vytas Baskauskas (Survivor: Blood Vs Water, 10th place)
I know it’s a bit rich to watch as much reality TV as I do and complain about attention whores, but Vytas’s need for validation from the viewing public was always kind of exhausting. Plus he was the first jury member to do that annoying “I know everyone else is voting for the winner, so I’m throwing a random vote to this no-hoper so they can get second place” shit at final tribal council, and I can never forgive him for setting that precedent. Even if he was voting for Monica Culpepper, who is a neat lady.
13. Peih-Gee Law (Survivor: China, 5th place)
I haven’t seen Survivor: China either, but Jeff Probst hates her for some reason and so that’s only ever going to endear her to me.
12. Tasha Fox (Survivor: Cagayan, 6th place)
I actually liked Tasha the first time round, partly because she kept the amazing trainwreck that was J’Tia around way beyond her natural life expectancy, and also because she was kind of a challenge beast in the later stages in the game. I’m just not sure if that’s anything that she can really replicate under different circumstances, and also – and this is the one exception to my rule about not bringing in pre-season interviews – Trish Hegarty gave an interview where she took every opportunity available to point out that Tasha thought she was the shit and everyone hated her, and I will always side with Trish over Tasha because Trish was AMAZING.
11. Ciera Eastin (Survivor: Blood Vs Water, 5th place)
SHE VOTED OUT HER OWN MOTHER! Again, I feel like the legend of Ciera Eastin reflects how good people wanted her to be rather than how good she actually was most of the time, but I’m happy enough to see her again. However, I am going to have to insist that her voice should be dubbed over by Katie Collins throughout.
10. Shirin Oskooi (Survivor: Worlds Apart, 8th place)
Shirin was one of the big characters of last season so of course I’m happy she’s back, but if I’d had my druthers she would have had a few seasons off in between. I think it would have been good both for her gameplay and for us as viewers to avoid fatigue. That said, after her avowed Survivor fandom proved so unpalatable to her fellow contestants on Worlds Apart, I am looking forward to seeing what happens when she’s surrounded by 19 people who take this as seriously as she does. (Well, 18 people and Kelly Wiglesworth.)
9. Jeremy Collins (Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, 10th place)
Even as I write this I find myself thinking “have I ranked Jeremy too high?”, and maybe I have, but the fact remains that he was one of the big characters for the first half of San Juan Del Sur, to the point where I was convinced that the winner had to either be him or Josh, and then they both got voted off in consecutive weeks shortly after the merge. So his was a story that always felt kind of unfinished, and I need my closure.
8. Joe Anglim (Survivor: Worlds Apart, 10th place)
Remember in Survivor: Philippines when we all thought Malcolm was super dreamy and the nicest guy alive and then he came back for Caramoan and it turned out he was a big schemey schemer and they’d just hidden that side of his personality in the edit? Well, since Joe is basically Malcolm Redux, that’s what I desperately want to happen for him this time around too. It’s probably a long shot, so I will content myself if he just wants to be dreamy all over again, that’s fine too.
7. Kimmi Kappenberg (Survivor: Australia, 12th place)
I’m already on the edge of my seat waiting to find out where she’s going to masturbate this time.
6. Terry Deitz (Survivor: Panama, 3rd place)
Terry was so horrific on his original season that I’m super-excited to see him again. An alpha-male challenge beast who rode his way to the end thanks to an absurdly powerful early version of the hidden immunity idol, and was absurdly petty all the way along. (Who can forget that time he tried to accuse Aras of cheating mid-challenge, prompting Aras to sing-song “SOMEBODY CALL THE WHAMBULANCE! TERRY’S CRYING ON THE COURSE!” back at him?) Ten years down the line, I imagine he’s not quite the physical threat that he used to be (and of course, this is a very different game now), so I’m interested to see if Terry has it in him to play another way. My money’s on “no”, but it’ll be fun to see. Also, considering how much Terry loathed Aras, I’m intrigued to see what sort of relationship he’s going to have with Vytas.
5. Stephen Fishbach (Survivor: Tocantins, runner-up)
Okay, so I haven’t seen his season either, but he’s a cute nerd. I’m not made of stone, guys.
4. Woo Hwang (Survivor: Cagayan, runner-up)
I love Woo. Woo is like sunshine. He was so gloriously uncomplicated during his first go-round that he had the chance to win easily by going to final tribal council with Kass, but took Tony instead because he was convinced he could beat him too and win honourably. Oh, Woo. Also, he gave us that iconic moment in the auction when he was watching Jefra eat her prize of guacamole and he decided to live vicariously through her, purring “get a fat dip of that guac” in the most hilariously sexual way to the horror of everyone in a five-mile radius. Also also, look at him. He’s not exactly an eyesore, is he?
3. Kelly Wiglesworth (Survivor: Borneo, runner-up)
Look at her face! Doesn’t she just look thrilled to be here? Kelly W. Iglesworth’s total lack of interest in being here at all has been giving me life ever since she got selected for this season. I don’t know how on earth this even happened – she lives in the middle of nowhere, has no internet connection, and barely even watched her own season, let alone any of the ones that came after it – but I’m positively giddy at the thought of an iconic original Survivor – the rat from Sue Hawk’s “snakes and rats” speech, no less – returning to the fold. I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s going to be like, but I kind of hope she does just spend the whole time milling around in the background and makes final tribal again because everyone else forgets to vote her out.
2. Abi-Maria Gomes (Survivor: Philippines, 5th place)
So thoroughly unloved by castmates and viewers alike during her season, I never dreamed that Abi-Maria would get invited back, much less somehow manage to get a place on a season cast by viewers. But here she is! Abi-Maria was always an interesting character to me because on the show she seemed like a miserable, spiteful grump straight out of an Enid Blyton boarding school story, but in her post-show interviews she seemed to have a sense of both humour and embarrassment about how she came across. I never expected that she’d get the opportunity for a do-over, but now that she’s got one, I can’t help hoping that she’s every bit as awful as she was the first time round, because it really was brilliant.
1. Kass McQuillen (Survivor: Cagayan, 3rd place)
Hand on heart, I have never loved a Survivor villain like I love Kass. She delighted in bringing chaos everywhere she went in Cagayan (so much so that she earned the nickname #CHAOSKASS), throwing spanners in everyone’s plans even if there was no apparent gain in it for herself – just the knowledge that she’d fucked up someone else’s game was enough for her. Kass is a classic stirrer, and if her Twitter is anything to go by, very little has changed since she left the show. I know she’s not going to get very far – the only person even remotely foolish enough to trust her is Woo, and he’s already played with her once so even he’s not that stupid – but however long she lasts to completely mess up everyone else’s hopes and dreams will be a gift.