The 26th installment of Survivor is upon us and it arrives with more than great expectations. "Survivor: Caramoan" is not only being touted as a great season by host Jeff Probst, but it is the second-ever "Fans vs. Favorites" format for the show. The first "Fans vs. Favorites" is regarded by many as one of the best seasons ever and although Probst always seems to be over-hyping each and every season of Survivor, he has gone on record as saying this time he really believes the audience will share his regard.
Let's brush over this season's contestants to get ready for tonight's premiere episode:
BIKAL TRIBE (FAVORITES)
The 10 "favorites" are not so much favorites, but they are all compelling players. All of them appeared from Season 16 through Season 25, marking a potential shift towards a new generation of returning players.
Most - if not all - of the returning players should be memorable. Erik Reichenbach appeared in Season 16, the first Fans vs. Favorites, as a fan and actually was one challenge away from winning it all. In what has gone down as the dumbest single move in Survivor history, Erik famously gave away his Immunity Necklace to the all-female alliance at the Final 5 and was quickly sent home by the giggling girls. Redemption has been a big theme on Survivor over the past few years and there is no player more worthy or in need of redemption than Erik.
Then there is Corinne from Survivor: Gabon (Season 17). Regarded as one of the "bitchiest" players in history, she was near the top of many people's list when it came to players wanted back on the show. Call it a "love to hate" relationship, but Corinne may have the hardest time of all of the returning players in terms of needing to reverse her image.
That's not to say she's the only one in need of an image re-haul. Crazy (or is he?) Phillip Sheppard is back, the former federal agent who was kept under the wing of Boston Rob during Redemption Island (Season 22). Then there was the overtly-religious and unpredictable Brandon Hantz, nephew of the famous Survivor villain Russell, who also gave away his Immunity late in the game. Unlike Erik though, Brandon had no real shot of winning his season and will need to quickly work to dissipate his "loose cannon" reputation.
Francesca is the only returning player to have been voted out of the game first. Probst was very big on her and seemed very sad to see her gone so soon during her season, but she is compelling also because in her short time in the game, she really rubbed Phillip Sheppard the wrong way. Who can forget him trying to get her name right at Tribal Council, referring to her as "Franchesqua" amongst other mispronunciations.
And how about Malcolm Freberg? Fresh out of last season, he was asked to return for Caramoan only a few weeks removed from his Final 3 finish in the Philippines. Of all of the returning players, he is the one that nobody knows a thing about. Will that work against him? Or will that work to his favor? The last person to enter the game as a returnee, with the others having no knowledge of his game, was Russell Hantz during Heroes vs. Villains, and he rode that anonymity all the way to the end.
Interesting choices to return include Andrea Boehlke (Redemption Island), Brenda Lowe (Nicaragua), and Dawn Meehan (South Pacific). Andrea was a bit too loyal during her season but was one of the players who saw what Boston Rob was trying to do, but wasn't able to stop it. Brenda seemed to be a very strategic player who got way too comfortable with her position in the game, and it cost her. Dawn - the Mormon mother of six adopted children - had a rough emotional patch upon entering her season, but quickly became one of the strongest female competitors.
Last among the returnees and certainly not least, is good ole' John Cochran. An instant fan favorite, his dry, self-deprecating humor led him to be one of the most interesting players in Survivor history. His game-play however, didn't seem to coincide with his self-proclaimed knowledge of the game. He made a questionable move that labeled him a traitor and towards the end of his run he did have a good deal of haters. Still, of all of the returning choices, Cochran was a no-brainer to come back as a favorite.
GOTA TRIBE (FANS)
So will the new players stand a chance against the favorites? There seems to be a memorable group of newcomers in the making, yet the new tribe does seem to have the normal Survivor make-up. You have your resident beauty queen in Hope, and the muscle-bound Reynold and fire-fighter Eddie.
Speaking of muscles, nobody looks as fierce as the giant Iraqi war veteran, Shamar, or as interesting as the professional "bearder" Matt. Allie, Laura and Julia are all under 25 and seem like strong contestants.
Then there is the openly gay Michael Snow, one of the most compelling of the new players, in that he seems like quite the strategist. Rounding out the newbies is the oldest of the females, Sherri, a business owner and a seemingly sharp competitor.
The CBS synopsis for tonight's 90-minute premiere episode sheds little insight, other than its title sounding like something that only Cochran could say:
Episode 1 - "She Annoys Me Greatly" - Ten ultra-fans of the show compete against ten former castaways on the Caramoan Islands. The fans comprise the Gota tribe, while the favorites make up the Bikal tribe.
Analysis. So now that we know the players involved, how will things shake out? You will have to check back in later tonight for my full episode recap and analysis, as well as check in next week. It's hard to gauge things - especially with the new players - without having seen them in action. But as for the returning players?
My initial thought is that Malcolm will be seen as a huge threat, seeing that nobody knows who he is. I would guess that nobody wants a repeat of Russell Hantz, so he may be the easy first target. On the flip side though, his physical prowess may make him someone that the Favorites want to latch on to for the first stretch of days.
I also believe that of all of the returning players, Corinne and Brenda may have a hard time. Of the ten, these two probably have the most intimidating baggage, with Corinne's reputation as being unlikeable and Brenda's reputation as a very strong strategic threat. If they could somehow band together though and pull in a few others, they could be the core of a very strong female alliance.
But never count out the complete idiocy - based on their past games - of both Brandon and Phillip. Unless they have made some major personality adjustments, there is not another soul on the island that wants to spend 39 days with either one of them. Phillip having less to offer physically than Brandon, the former federal agent could be this season's first boot.
For the "Fans," Shamar, Matt and Michael may face the biggest uphill battles right out of the gate, simply due to the fact that they stand out a bit. Shamar's mouth has been shown to possibly be bigger than his biceps, but if he can keep that in check, the new players will surely keep him around to battle in the early tribe challenges. I'll add Julia into the mix, as someone who appears to have a challenge fitting in socially, at least initially.
So who do you think is in trouble tonight? Who are you most excited to see play again among these returning players? Leave your comments below!
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The 90-minute premiere of "Survivor: Caramoan" is tonight at 8 p.m. EST only on CBS.