Welcome back from a long summer Probstphiles, we are in for the first Quarter Quell (Hunger Games Spoiler Alert within) in Survivor History. Season 25 leaves the comfort of Samoa and Nicaragua for the first time in a very long time – in fact, Season 18 in Tocachins was the last time the show ventured anywhere else. But here we are in the Philippines. Fun personal story – this one pretty much describes the lack of attention I gave to my studies in college. I had to write a research paper in my senior year on American imperialism in the Philippines. I procrastinated through a beer-stained haze for many weeks and did my usual last second cram to bang it out. However, in the days before spell check (yeah, I am that old), I wrote about American imperialism in the Philappeans. That’s right. All over the paper, the cover page, everywhere, I misspelled the place the paper was about. Still got a C+ somehow.
Anyway, the show returns with some stunt casting and a new way of bringing back some old friends. Following in the footsteps of Rob/Russell and Coach/Ozzy, the show now brings back three former players. However, instead of iconic players such as those four, we go more conceptual. There have been several Survivors whose adventure was cut short thanks to an injury or illness, but not because of a choice to quit. This season, three of them get another shot at the prize. Over the years, these players have been evacuated from the show:
• Season 2 – Michael fell into the campfire
• Season 8 – Jenna quit to see her dying mother (I count this one)
• Season 8 – Sue quit after accusing Richard of sexual abuse (yeah, I’ll count it too)
• Season 12 – Bruce had intestinal blockage
• Season 14 – Gary had allergies to many bug bites
• Season 16 – Jonathan punctured his leg
• Season 16 – Kathy started to have a breakdown
• Season 16 – James sliced open his finger
• Season 18 – Joe injured his leg
• Season 19 – Mike had a concussion
• Season 19 – Russell passed out from dehydration
• Season 24 – Kourtney broke her arm
• Season 24 – Colton had intestinal issues
Of this group, many of the candidates for return are not really all that interesting. Does anyone even remember much of Gary and S19 Mike? Last season’s injuries happened to recently for production, or else surely Colton would be back. The only ones I think would have been deserving of return for varying reasons would be – Michael, Jenna, Jonathan, Bruce, James, and Russell. And I have had enough of James – much less a fourth go-around. Lucky for the show, they got three of the other five to come back. As much as I would like to see Jenna come back – her All-Stars return ended too soon and for tragic reasons – she did win already, so it is not too awful to have her stay home with Ethan. And Bruce was cool, but not all that memorable.
What we get are the returns of Michael Skupin, Russell Swan and Jonathan Penner to the beaches of Survivor. Cool. All three really got screwed by their injuries – especially Skupin and Swan. If you recall back to Australia, we were heading for the merge and Skupin’s Kucha tribe was in the lead and poised to go to the merge up 6-4. This was the second season and the Pagonging of Pagong in Season 1 was repeated this season (with the exception of the ousting of Jerri in the middle of the S2 Pagonging) post-merge. It is safe to say that if Kucha led 6-4, Ogakor would have been decimated. Colby would be a footnote, and Top Shot would be hosted by Rudy. Amber would not have been on All-Stars, and Rob would be married to Kim Powers. And Skupin would be a million dollars richer.
In Samoa, Russell Hantz dominated that season and became a CBS reality show franchise. However, after the first few episodes, it was Russell Swan who was poised. He was the clear leader of Galu, and Hantz’ sabotage of his own tribe had led to a massive Galu lead before Swan passed out during a challenge and scared the living beejeezus out of Probst. Galu went to the merge leaderless, but up 8-4. Swan would never have let the mutiny on Erik happen and at that first merge vote, Natalie would have been gone, and I think Swan would have been in great shape to move on (unless he became the target of Hantz’ 2nd idol, and was unable to prevent that blindside).
Penner is another story. Let me just say, first and foremost, that I am an unabashed Penner fan. He is up with Boston Rob as two of my favorite Survivors ever. He played one of the most interesting games of Survivor ever in Cook Islands – where he was both hero and villain from certain points of view of the viewer. And hated by all members of both tribes. What was incredible was that it all came down to a split second decision when he mutinied with Candice. To me, the villain there and in the season was always Candice, not Jonathan. But she got brought back as a Hero in S20. Go figure. Well, Jonathan got backed into a corner where if, at the merge, he didn’t flip tribes he was a goner, but if he did, he was likely a goner in a couple of votes later. His talks with Yul were some of my favorites.
In S16, he was in a decent place where after the fans and faves intermingled he was in a nice alliance. Then he got hurt. Is it unfair that he gets a third chance, but Bruce, Mike, etc. only got one? Perhaps. But he’s Penner. And he makes good TV.
In addition to our three returnees, we have two bits of stunt casting as well. Former National League MVP Jeff Kent takes his place on Survivor. For those who are not baseball fans, Kent was voted the best player in the National League in 2000, and he played the game for 17 years. He was most famously a teammate and adversary of Barry Bonds. Kent finished his career with 377 home runs and a career .290 batting average and is a strong candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the best second basemen. Now he’s playing second fiddle to Jonathan Penner.
Joining Kent is Blair Warner. That’s right, actress Lisa Whelchel has been a longtime fan of the show, but we all know her . as the beautiful, spoiled rich girl on “The Facts of Life.” No word yet if Tootie, Jo, or Natalie will be her family visit if she gets that far.
Of the interesting show tidbits this season, the tribes will be split into three, presumably to both account for the three returnees and to halt the growing trend of First Day Five-Person Alliances dominating the season. Also, the hidden idol will be in plain sight. This is actually barely a change when you think about how easy it is to find them.
So, without further ado, our new (and old) crop of Survivors. As always, the bio info is courtesy of the CBS Survivor website and the Dalton Ross gallery on Entertainment Weekly website.