Survivor: The Philippines hasn’t even started yet and it’s already looking like an interesting season. For those of you who haven’t seen the cast list, there will be three tribes this season, each with a group of six. The Matsing Tribe will have Russell Swan (45), Angie Layton (20), Malcolm Freberg (25), Zane Knight (28), Roxanne Morris (28), and Denise Stapley (41). The Tandang Tribe will consist of Michael Skupin (50), Lisa Whelchel (49), Artis Silvester (53), Abi-Maria Gomes (32), Roberta Saint-Amour (27), and Pete Yurkowski (24). The Kalabaw Tribe will have John Penner (50), Jeff Kent (44), Sarah Dawson (28), Katie Hanson (22), Carter Williams (24), Dana Lambert (32).
It’s already been said that the producers decided to use three tribes this season in the hopes of preventing five-person alliances that were formed on the first day from dominating the season. From over here, it looks like “Mission accomplished.” The only way such an alliance could take over is to completely dominate the Immunity Challenges– and that will probably be easier said than done. On a traditional nine-person tribe, the alliance would have plenty of wiggle room, as they could lose up to four Immunity Challenges before they started having to eat their own. A five-person alliance on a tribe of six would end up cannibalizing itself after the second loss.
Then there’s the tribal swap to think about. Let’s say Penner’s tribe is the dominating one, as they’ve got Jeff the ball-player. At the swap they’ve got all six people, and five of them have formed an alliance, while the other two tribes are down to five and four people. As a result of the swap, Penner’s tribe is split into thirds, with two members apiece on the new tribes. In order to have a shot of staying in the game, they will have to form new alliances with at least one other person. Whether they can do this depends on who their new tribe mates are and how well they get along with them. Penner can be snarky and Sarah has admitted to the same trait. They need to be with people who like that type of humor; otherwise, they could be in trouble. Dana has admitted to having never swum in the ocean before; if she blows a water-based challenge for her tribe, don’t expect her to linger. Given all this, it doesn’t seem likely that a five-person alliance formed on the first day will make it to the merge, much less to the end. Even if three or four members of such an alliance end up together after a swap, they still won’t be able to protect allies on the other tribes.
On the other hand, an elder alliance could easily form. Of the eighteen contestants, nine are over thirty — and it stretches probability to think they will all be early boots. At least some of them will make it to the merge. Michael’s tribe could actually start off with an elder alliance in place as he, Artis, and Lisa are all over forty. To ensure their control over the tribe, they will need just one more person. This could bode ill for Pete, who is the “baby” of the tribe and a wanna-be alpha male. If he butts heads with his elders, he could find himself voted off much earlier than he expects. In fact, all three tribes seem to have at least one strong older male on them, which makes this an unpromising season for the younger guys– at least for the ones who fantasize about running things.
For an elder alliance to control things after the merge, at least six of them would have to get there. The three returnees, Jeff, and Artis all look as if they have the physical prowess to get to the merge. Penner can annoy people, but he is also fairly smart and should know enough to dial down the attitude. To take control, these five men would need to work together and with Denise, Lisa, Abi-Maria, and/or Dana, depending on which of these are left. It’s also admittedly possible that either of the two thirty-somethings would throw in with the younger crowd.
Russell’s tribe looks like the most problematic. It consists of him and fellow elder Denise, the wanna-be alpha male, Malcolm, two Holy-Rollers, Roxanne and Zane, plus Angie, the youngest of the cast. If this doesn’t sound like a combustible mixture I don’t know what does. The fact that Roxanne and Zane both list Brandon Hantz as their favorite Survivor could mean they will be very out-spoken about their faith. Unless the others are similarly religious, they could drive their tribe-mates nuts. It also probably means that neither would know strategy if it was staring them in the face– and will howl with righteous indignation when they are back-stabbed and sent packing. (I kind of wish the producers would stop casting uber-religious people, as they almost always have trouble accepting the reality that playing Survivor well will inevitably mean that they will have to violate their principles. Vecepia, the winner of Season 4, was one of the few who understood and accepted that.)
Penner’s chances strike me as the diciest of the returnees, given his attitude and his mouth. By contrast, Russell and Michael were fairly nice guys, if I remember correctly. Penner could annoy his way off his tribe– or he could set himself up as the guide or the team dad and go deep as a result. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a tribe full of fans and enjoy the deferential treatment that Boston Rob and Coach got during their return engagements. (I do like Penner, but watching him on T.V. is probably very different from having to put up with him 24/7.)
Other likely irritants will be Roxanne, Zane, Malcolm, Pete and Sarah. Their fates will be determined by how well they perform in challenges and around camp and by how disruptive they are. Tribes keep people based on perceived usefulness and on their ability to play well with others. During the tribal phase, the weak and the annoying are often targeted first. At this point, it’s hard to pick out obvious weaklings, although Angie and Roxanne do look as if they’re the thinnest women– which means they will have no reserves to fall back on if food turns out to be scarce. The thinner or more muscular guys could face similar problems. Muscular people tend also to have fast metabolisms– which is a drawback in this game. I’ve read somewhere that Penner made a point of actually gaining weight for this game, so he would have reserves. Smart man.
Let the game begin.