Season 26 is kicking off this week, and we are continuing the recent trend of returning players. And why not? It works. As you know, this is the eighth season to incorporate returning players. All-Stars and HvV were all returning players, so of course the Finals had all returners. And both seasons were very entertaining for varying reasons – ie, Rob and Amber and Really Dumb Heroes. In Guatemala, Steph’s evil twin strong armed her way through many alliances to the end. In Redemption Island, Boston Rob played the most perfect game of Survivor ever. In South Pacific, Coach 3.0 almost pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the show’s history as he put much distance between himself and buffoonish Coach 1.0. Last season, Skupin slipped into the Finals in one of the most unlikely paths to the jury as we have ever seen.
And back in Season 16 we had Fans vs. Favorites. Ten superfans (although many proved to be dumb superfans) against 10 returning favorites. Not all-stars, but favorites. Although, if you recall that original 10 Favorite list, there were no winners, but it had tons of Survivors who made it very deep into their original seasons. Cirie (4th), Amanda (3rd), Parvati (6th), Ami (6th), and Eliza (4th) for the ladies. And, Yau-Man (4th), Fairplay (3rd), Ozzy (2nd), James (7th) and Jonathan (7th) for the guys. There were favorites with a lot of game. Ozzy, Cirie, Amanda, Yau-Man and Fairplay all had legit chances to win their seasons if they got better breaks at the end, or played a jury a bit better. Eliza was one of the greatest scramblers ever. James and Penner were there for personality, and Ami had a dominant alliance she controlled before she got blind to the threat from within. That was a solid, if not spectacular group.
And you know what? That season rocked. It started off in grand fashion with Yau-Man slamming Fairplay headfirst into a canoe. We had Fairplay essentially mailing it in and quitting after a couple of days. We had the Odd Couple battling of Joel and Chet. We had the pairing up of Favorites into couples – with Ozzy and Amanda making out at one point. We had Ozzy trying to do more than physical dominance as he tried to lead an alliance. We had injuries galore – with Penner going out in one of the more brutal challenges ever. We had Kathy virtually having a mental breakdown, and James getting one of the lamest Survivor injuries ever.
And boy, did we have blindsides. Eliza thought she was getting an immunity idol from Jason, only to discover he had been fooled by the worst attempt at a fake idol ever. “It’s a effing stick!!” is going down in Survivor quote lore. We had the women banding together to upset Ozzy’s apple cart and give perhaps the best blindside ever. We had Jason quitting on an immunity challenge to score points with the tribe, only to have the tribe vote him out. We had Amanda find an idol when she needed it most and do her best acting ever to use it properly. And we had Erik give up his Final Five immunity necklace in what still ranks as the dumbest move ever. The Black Widow alliance powered to the end and conspiracy theorists still question the fact that there was a Final Two, and thus preventing Cirie a chance to play for the win. It is considered a Top Three Survivor season of all-time.
A lot to live up to for the new crop. And speaking of the new crop…this ain’t exactly the most stellar collection of returning players ever assembled. It’s not that it isn’t populated with past jury members – it mostly is. Only one Finalist, and amazingly, one who lasted only three days the first time around. It is that unlike that first crew, this group failed to really show a lot of skill the first time around. Some did, but most were case studies on what not to do on Survivor. Some were certifiable mental cases. And yet, I will be selecting at least two of them to make the finals, because that’s what returning players do. If this group pulls that off, you know that it is a mega-advantage to have played this once before, assuming the current evidence of that does not already indicate this phenomenon.
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.