As I slowly sift through all the amazing (and overwhelming) preseason content for Survivor: Game Changers (the 34th season of the popular reality show) I realize something about my fandom. I’m obsessed with this show. It’s my favorite form of entertainment without a doubt. I listen to podcasts and I follow multiple Survivor writers. Which means when they do an All-Star season (only the 4th All-Star in their history) I like to bathe myself in all of the pregame content. Why? Because it is pure fan service for us hardcore fans. We have obsessed about these people for years and years. We know way too much about them. We have replayed their best moves in our minds like a basketball junkie would replay everything Lebron James does. This is like the NBA All-Star game and the Pro Bowl all in one, except with a major difference, these players care about this game. This game will change some of their lives and legacies.
And to be honest, these All-Star type seasons are best when you know every detail about the players. That’s because there is a high sense of surrealism to the idea that a person from Season 2 is playing with people from Season 33. It doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t be happening and we should feel absolutely spoiled that it is. But I can’t help to wonder how a “casual” fan will enjoy a season full of people they either don’t remember or never saw play in the first place. And that’s why I am here today.
I want to take new fans, casual fans and any other type of fan into my world of hardcore fanship. I want to set your plate for why you should be excited for this season. I want to help you differentiate between these players so you can decide who you want to root for without feeling left behind. But I will warn you, there are huge spoilers below. This cast has players from 18 of the 34 seasons including three winners. Then again if you are planning to watch this season you will run into these spoilers anyway. But I wanted to give fair warning.
Take a jump with me for a deep dive into who is playing and my predictions for season 34 of Survivor.Okay, my plan here is to break down this cast into four categories:
The ‘What the Hell are They Doing in a Season Called “Game Changers”?’
The ‘New Kids on the Block’
The ‘Teetering on Greatness’
The ‘Legends of Survivor’
Think of the categories as tiers. The first tier being players who previously proved to possess little gameplay. The second being players who have played so recently that it is difficult to judge them without recency bias. The third tier being players who, with a few breaks, could have won their season or could have gone further. And finally, the fourth tier being untouchables. Players who have dominated so thoroughly in some, or all, aspects of the game and have either won, or have come damn close.
The ‘What the Hell are They Doing in a Season Called “Game Changers”?’
A few caveats before we jump into this controversial category. First of all, the title of the season, “Game Changers”, is a flawed concept and title. But as hardcore fans of the show will know, the title means very, very little. It’s all just a marketing ploy. Secondly, Survivor has had three full All Star-esque seasons and a few more that were mixed between All Stars and newbies. For the first couple versions of these seasons a Survivor that many believed did not fit the bill of “All Star” ended up winning the season. It happens and it could happen with these players below.
Brad Culpepper – Season 27 Blood vs Water
Brad is a former football player who was a fireball of controversy in his short time on season 27. He played with his wife, Monica, who made it much further than he did. Culpepper is known for pissing off every single player on his season because…well because he voted people out. Wait, what? Yeah Blood vs Water was the first season that had family members play with each other. So tensions were high when someone was voted off and the blame usually came down on Brad because, well because he can be a loud mouth and very aggressive.
Brad doesn’t seem to have the social skills required to win this game but he definitely can go far because of his strength and people might see his aggressiveness as a potential shield to hide behind. Which is what happened in his first season before he was voted off premerge. He didn’t do much to change the game but he should be entertaining and will go as far as the other players can stand having him around.
Hali Ford – Season 30 Worlds Apart
Sweet Hali played a very quiet game on her season. In her defense she was cast on the “No Collar” tribe which was supposed to be a tribe of easy going people who had non-traditional jobs. The thing is, Hali is a defense attorney. She might be a free spirit but she might’ve done better on another tribe. She got caught up making friends and not focusing on the strategic part of the game.
While not a big character her first go around, she is a bombshell who is obviously smart and has lots of determination. She is the first to admit that she did nothing to change the game but she might be so far under everyone’s radar that she could slip by for a long time.
Sarah Lacina – Season 28 Cagayan
The most important thing you need to know about Sarah is that she was my winner pick for her original season. Why is that important? Well Jeremy Collins was my winner pick in season 29, which he failed to win, but he went on to win season 31, another All-Star season. Does that mean Sarah should be my winner pick? Probably. Will she be? Probably not.
Out of everyone in this group I see the most potential for Sarah to do well this season. I picked her originally because she is a cop who has a great read on people (she was able to tell that a fellow castmate was a cop by just looking at him) and she is very smart. Her only flaw seems to be her body language which hurts her social game.
She plays the game from a very logical point of view (we call them Gamebots) and she got caught between two big alliances at the merge of her last game. She was in the middle and she ended up being ousted in one of the craziest tribal councils of all time. She’s not highly entertaining but she is easy to root for and could be a dark horse to win this season.
Troyzan Robertson – Season 24 One World
And here is a man who goes by the name Troyzan. That’s not a typo. That’s the name he goes by, like in real life. Troyzan is best remembered for being one of the few “entertaining” characters on a mostly lifeless season called One World. I put entertaining in quotes because I don’t think most people enjoyed watching him the first time around. But he seems to think they do, as does Jeff Probst.
Troyzan is probably best remembered for yelling, “THIS IS MY ISLAND” to a bunch of women. Or for being one of the 9 men who did not get voted by America to play in Survivor Second Chance. Either way I am down on Troyzan who will probably play an old school style game (get with a big alliance, get backstabbed and then bitch about it in an overdramatic Jury speech and then vote against the person who played the best game). He could be dragged far a la Brad Culpepper but honestly, I hope not.
Sierra Dawn-Thomas – Season 30 Worlds Apart
Look it is so unlikely that Sierra Dawn-Thomas is on this season, or any returning season for that matter, that she has been turned into a meme. People on the internet call her FFGCSDT (Fan Favorite Game Changer Sierra Dawn-Thomas) as a sarcastic way to explain she is neither of those things. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to her casting except that she was a last minute replacement. Unless you count this gif as game changing (it’s not, but it is awesome).
Yes, Sierra created the barrel rolling strategy in a challenge in her first season. She also played a Stockholm syndrome game. Which means she was stuck playing with a bunch of people she didn’t like but she didn’t do anything (like flip) to change that.
Like Hali Ford, she could slip on the radar and go far. Most likely she is a strong ally to a much better player.
The ‘New Kids on the Block’
This section is titled this way to basically say, who the hell knows what these players are capable of. Generally players admit they need more space in between playing their seasons because the game is physically and emotionally draining. Plus it helps to watch how you were perceived on TV to know what to change. On the other hand, these players are already in game mode. They have no rust. That could make a huge difference.
Zeke Smith – Season 33 Millennials vs Gen X
Zeke is one of two players back from the previous season. Not only that but since Survivor films two seasons back-to-back, he only had a two week break between playing 33 and 34. There is a precedent for this, Russell Hantz and Malcolm Freberg both played in their first seasons and jumped into their second seasons without anyone knowing who they were. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage but both Russell and Malcolm made it pretty far in their second go around.
Zeke is a great character because he is a superfan. If he read this post of mine I am sure he would have many corrections for me. He comes across as a positive and fun guy and he is very easy to root for. My only concern for him is that he likes to be in control of the game. Will that work in a game full of players who like control? Is he too much of an unknown for other players to trust? There are too many questions for me to feel comfortable with his chances.
Michaela Bradshaw – Season 33 Millennials vs Gen X
Michaela is a breath of fresh air for Survivor fans. She’s not a huge fan of the show but she is smart and one of the strongest challenge competitors we have seen. Plus she throws shade and just seems like a comedically angry person. I love her as a character and I actually like her chances in this game.
I know what you are thinking, she’s from the same season that Zeke is from. She just played. She’s an unknown for the other players and she likes to control the game as well. How can I feel good about her chances? Well two things, she didn’t last as long as Zeke did which means she had a lot more time to rest. And she is scary good at challenges. I think that she can fly under the radar while be appreciated for what she brings to the table. And then come merge time I think she has a great opportunity to use her strategic mind and strike.
Tai Trang – Season 32 Kaoh Rong
Remember Tai? The nice man who refused to kill a chicken and was gifted $50,000 from pop singer Sia? Yes that really happened. That is impossible to make up.
Tai is a sweet soul who is easily manipulated but also isn’t afraid to make big moves. Unfortunately english is not his first language and he struggled to explain himself in the final tribal council of his season. He also has loose lips when it comes to strategy secrets.
Tai is a wild card. He could be brought along to the end, he could bounce between alliances by offering himself as a vote or his time could be cut short because no one can trust him with secrets. But he is easy to root for and a lot of fun to watch.
Caleb Reynolds – Season 32 Kaoh Rong
I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t remember Caleb. He’s the guy that almost died playing for salt and pepper. And he also…uh well…that’s it. Literally. That’s all. He’s never been to tribal council. He’s never cast a vote. I’m not sure he even knows that you vote people off.
I actually remember writing about the episode where Caleb nearly died, this is what I said in his eulogy:
“Poor Caleb right? First the guy has to go on Big Brother. And then he finally makes it on a good show like Survivor and he gets taken out of the game. Wait a minute. Don’t pity this guy. He is guaranteed to come back and play again. Of course, when he does he will be a forgettable post merge boot. I’ll say he will get 11th place on the next All-Star season. Prove me wrong Caleb!”
I called my shot on March 14, 2016. Nearly a year later and my only regret is I didn’t say 10th place. I’ll stick with 11th and dare him to prove me wrong.
All you need to know about Caleb is he is strong and he knows nothing about Survivor. And he really likes salt and pepper.
Debbie Wanner – Season 32 Kaoh Rong
Oh Debbie, you went from my wife’s favorite player on your original season to her least favorite in record time. You see the thing about Debbie is she is bitter about her first go around. Why? I have no idea. She was voted off because of Aubry and I’m sure that hurts but come on, it’s the name of the game.
Debbie is a highly entertaining and flawed player. She has more jobs than I have teeth and she has a warped view on reality. But my god is she fun to watch.
Aubry Bracco – Season 32 Kaoh Rong
Okay last of the newbs. Aubry was a couple of votes away from winning her season. Which hurts. But what hurts more? The last thing any of these players saw before they were shipped out to Fiji was watching Aubry nearly win her season. Which paints a huge target on her back because she played a great game.
Another reason for a target on her back? There are three other players from her season. Four players is a strong core for an alliance. And if you wanted to break that alliance up who are you targeting? Sweet Tai? Strong Caleb? Wacky Debbie? or Strategic Aubry? Yup.
The ‘Teetering on Greatness’
Okay now that the ‘Why’ players and the ‘New’ players are done, we can get to the good stuff. The next nine players (four teetering and five legends) are the reason us superfans are excited for this season. These are the players we love to watch play and that will hurt to watch lose.
Andrea Boehlke – Season 22 Redemption Island, Season 26 Caramoan
Andrea is a sneaky good player who has the dubious distinction of playing both of her previous seasons with Phillip Shepherd. What does that mean? She was overshadowed by a crazy person and both her seasons are regarded pretty low by fans. But if you watch Andrea close enough you see a beautiful evolution of a player. She first played when she was very young and was more easily manipulated (both by love and strategy). But she had flashes of greatness.
She followed that up in Caramoan by playing a more ruthless game. She found an idol (one of the few females in history to do so), she puppy-guarded Malcolm from finding an idol and she was so dangerous that the other players had to #Blindside her with her idol in her pocket.
What does that mean for this season? Well she’s either a huge target or she finally has all the tools to take her to the end of the game. And if she sits in front of that jury? Watch out.
Ciera Eastin – Season 27 Blood vs Water, Season 31 Cambodia
Ciera is basically the brunette version of Andrea. She is sneaky good at this game and has grown every time she has played. She is very skilled at lying and she likes to make big moves (in case you haven’t seen all the memes, she technically voted her mom out in her first season).
Unfortunately for Ciera, she has played more recently than Andrea and I think everyone will be weary of her. If she somehow gets to the merge though, I would love to watch her take over the game.
Jeff Varner – Season 2 Australian Outback, Season 31 Cambodia
Jeff Varner is a two time player who played this game in 2001 and 2015. Both times he failed to make the merge. So why is he considered to be teetering on greatness? Because he is a smooth mother f’er.
Varner is best known for losing his first season based on a some old tiebreaker rules that were questionable. He also jumped off a pole for peanut butter and lost immunity right before that the tribal council that sent him home. This was during season 2 when everyone watched Survivor, so he went on to have a successful career in entertainment.
He is also known for working his ass off to get on his second season which was determined by a fan vote. He got on and then he played incredibly aggressive. So aggressive that his time was cut short. If he can contain himself long enough to get to the merge, who knows what he is capable of after that.
Malcolm Freberg – Season 25 Philippines, Season 26 Caramoan
Malcolm Freberg was created in a lab by Survivor producers, CBS and America. No really, Malcolm is such an incredibly engaging person that both superfans and casuals love him. He’s good looking, he loves the game, he plays hard and he has great confessionals. He’s the whole package. Which is the only thing that could hold him back.
Malcolm, in the pregame press, seems cocky. Which isn’t how he played the game his first two times. The first time he played he was dealt a bad hand with a historically bad tribe (so bad there’s a term for it named after the tribe he was on). But he persevered on by playing under the radar with a strong social game while maintaining a bond with a unlikely person. The second time around he played only weeks after his first season. He was a bit more erratic but he made some interesting moves and tried to take control of the game. Maybe this will be his season where he blends the two games and he finally takes the title he was born to earn.
The ‘Legends of Survivor’
And here we are. The legends of Survivor. The players that have dominated the game in one way or another. The true game changers.
Ozzy Lusth – Season 13 Cook Islands, Season 15 Micronesia, Season 23 South Pacific
Ozzy is now one of four players to ever play Survivor a fourth time. He is hugely popular among casual fans but his stock trended down after his last outing in South Pacific because he came across as narcissistic and rude. But Ozzy is the definition of challenge beast. He is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge player of all time.
Not only that but he was one vote away from winning his first season and one challenge away from winning his third season. He’s played in every iteration of the game (all newbies, half newbies/half returnees, two returnees/remaining newbies and now all returnees). He’s been voted out the most times out of any player (four, despite not being voted out in his first season). He even offered himself to be voted out during his third season because of a twist called Redemption Island where he had the opportunity to get back in the game by winning challenges, which he did, twice.
This dude can play, he’s fun to watch and he finally seems to have awareness of his greatest flaw in the game, his social game. He does well enough to get in a majority alliance but he will often ignore and look down on those who aren’t with him. He doesn’t spend time nurturing everyone in the game which is usually what a winner needs to do.
Ozzy’s legacy is complicated and no one expected him to be back. And as far as I’m concerned, he is a complete wild card. He is so dominant at challenges that you can’t vote him off before the merge. But he is so dominant at challenges that you can’t not vote him off before the merge when individual immunity is up for grabs. If he can just play nice and friendly? He might top his fourth game with a victory.
Cirie Fields – Season 12 Panama, Season 16 Micronesia, Season 20 Heroes vs Villains
Ask any Survivor superfan to name their favorite non winner and Cirie Fields will probably be named as many times as Rob Cesternino. She is a social and strategic legend who we all want to win. What makes her so special? By all accounts, she shouldn’t be good at this game. She’s a woman who is famous for being afraid of leafs in her first season. She’s a woman who is famous for getting off her couch to play a survival game outdoors. But she’s Oprah in a gangster suit. She’s a black widow. She’s too damn good.
If you have any doubts about all the hype just go watch Panama or Micronesia. You’ll get it. She is sneaky good at the game and she is also hilarious in confessions. If Survivor gave honorary titles of Sole Survivor like the Oscars give honorary awards, Cirie would be the first in line to get one.
The only issue is that everyone playing this game is fully aware of Cirie’s capabilities. Which is why her time on season 20 was cut short. Part of her game was that she was unexpected. Now that she is expected, she doesn’t have the challenge prowess to have a good argument to stick around. If Cirie somehow wins this season she will have to work her ass off every single minute. And Survivor fans around the world would cheer.
J.T. Thomas – Season 18 Tocanthins, Season 20 Heroes vs Villains
J.T. is a good ol’ boy. He was the first player to win a season with zero votes cast against him while getting every single vote for the million. He played a perfect game his first time around. He charmed everyone so well that a few players admitted they wanted him to win. He teamed up with Stephen Fishbach to dominate his season and then he cut Fishbach’s neck to win the million. He’s charming and he’s ruthless and he’s back.
But to know J.T.’s full story you also have to know the big move he made on his second season. He was on the Heroes tribe and there was a player named Russell Hantz on the Villains tribe. Now, the viewers all knew that Hantz was one of the most ruthless players to ever play but J.T. did not since Hantz played back-to-back. J.T. observed that the Villains were voting off the men so he decided to sneak Hantz a hidden immunity idol to help save him and to possibly build a bond down the line when the tribes merged.
To say the least, the move didn’t work and some regard it as the worst move in Survivor history. Personally I believe it was a crafty attempt to do something huge that could have paid off very well. Nonetheless that is our last memory of J.T. and I’m pretty surprised to see him back again.
He is very laid back and lovable. And I think as far as winners go, he has the smallest target on his back.
Sandra Diaz-Twine – Season 7 Pearl Islands, Season 20 Heroes vs Villains
Do I need to explain Sandra? She’s done the unthinkable. She’s won this game twice. And she is probably the least likely person you would every think would win once, let alone twice. Two times! How is that possible? As time goes on it is more likely we will have another two time winner but she did this when there was only 20 seasons of Survivor and only two All-Star seasons. It’s as unbelievable as any sports record out there.
The thing about Sandra is that she is sassy, sneaky and smart as hell. She has a famous strategy that she refers to as, “anyone but me”. Which in theory is the most obvious and easy way to play the game. Instead of worrying about all of the strategy and stuff down the road, she focuses on the immediate. Who are we voting off tonight? I don’t care as long as it’s not me. Simple and it’s worked well for her.
So can she really do it again? Could she sneak her way to the end and be given another million dollars? There’s no way in hell, but remember, that’s exactly what everyone said the last time she played.
Tony Vlachos – Season 28 Cagayan
I saved Tony for last because he is my favorite player to ever play the game and he made Cagayan my favorite modern season. It’s the season you have to watch if you never have (Jesse…). It’s a season that will instantly hook you on Survivor. It’s only slightly damaged knowing who the winner is. You’ll watch the season and you won’t believe Tony somehow pulls it off. It’s amazing.
Tony is indescribable. He is the perfect Survivor character because he is 100% entertaining. He never stops. Which is also what makes him such a great player.
But Tony comes into this season with what I would call the biggest target on any returnee’s back in the history of the show. Except for maybe Russell Hantz in his third go around. Everyone wants Tony off because no one knows how to control him. Besides that Tony is incapable of playing under the radar. He’s not a quiet player because that’s just who he is. But I’m telling you, we want Tony on our TV as long as humanly possible. He’s pure entertainment.
So can he pull it off? Much like Sandra I don’t think he has a shot in hell. But Tony has a bag of tricks and is always full of surprises.
Okay there’s 4000 words that give a brief overview into each player. I think I have said enough today and I thank you if you somehow got this far. I know there is a lot of pregame content and we are all just ready for this season to start. So without any explanation I will present my wild ass guess at the boot order this season. Feel free to come back in three months to make fun of me.
1st Boot – Ciera Eastin
3rd – Andrea
Runner up- Troyzan
Runner up- Sierra Dawn Thomas