Survivor Analyst Russian Roulette: Jeff Varner

Welcome to Survivor Analyst Russian Roulette, where the authors of this site are randomly assigned contestants from the upcoming season of Survivor: Game Changers and must give an honest assessment of what to expect from them. First up: Jeff Varner.

The toughest part in analyzing how well Jeff Varner will do in the upcoming game is that it’s all kind of beside the point, isn’t it? I’m excited to see Jeff Varner the performer on my screen again, and hope he does well enough to continue providing entertainment for as long as possible, but as his Cambodia appearance proved, he really doesn’t have to do well- or even last long- to deliver.

This is a column about what to expect from him as a player, so that’s the lens through which I’ll try to judge him. But first, seriously, I hope you haven’t forgotten what a gift Jeff Varner was last time we saw him. Not only did he give tremendous confessionals, he also brought a raw humanity to the early part of the season that gave us a glimpse of how emotional the experience of coming back to the show was for the Second Chancers. This may be a little soon for another returnee season, but if it was ONLY done to get Varner back in there before he ages out, it is worth it.

The difficult thing in assessing Varner’s game potential is that there really isn’t much data. His half season of The Australian Outback was so long ago, in such a different game, with a different person (since people tend to change over the course of a decade), that it tells us nothing. Sure, he was the one person there trying to play a Hatchian-type game in a season that was largely a repudiation of it, but that still doesn’t make it a MODERN game, as Varner himself discovered about 30 minutes into his experience with an actual modern game.

At four episodes long, his Cambodia experience isn’t that instructive either. And that’s due less to its abbreviated nature and more because it was clearly the case of a player who got caught up trying to deal with the new speed of the game and burned himself out as a result. If Survivor is a marathon, Varner got caught up trying to keep pace with the rabbits (Shirin and Spencer), ruining his chances of ever playing at his own pace. But now that he’s gotten his modern Survivor sea legs under him, can he play a better game? Or does his big personality mean he’s doomed to always burn bright, but briefly?

Best Case Scenario

Jeff Varner has one major advantage that he can exploit: he seems like one of the most fun guys to talk to in the history of the show. An underrated aspect of the Survivor experience is how fucking boring it gets. Sure, it’s a paranoia-inducing battle for supremacy against other crazy people and the elements, but it’s also sitting around the same general area with the same people 24/7. So what often ends up happening is that people who are entertaining end up sticking around, even if other aspects of their personalities suggest that they should be targeted.

I think people will want to ally with Varner, because they will want to be liked by Varner. How awesome would it be to be in a conspiratorial bitch session with the king? Imagine you’re, say, Aubry and Jeff Varner pulls you aside to joke about the latest crazy Tony episode or Ozzy’s giant ego (note: I don’t know the tribe divisions, and frankly expect them to be juggled early and often anyway). Or you’re Debbie and Jeff keeps egging you on to tell crazier stories, only you can’t tell that he’s just having fun with you? You’re gonna want to keep that guy around. You’re gonna want to be on his team. It’s too much fun not to be.

And that’s the key to his potential success: being kept in majority alliances because of his social skills and general entertainment value. The last time he played, he had two disparate alliances competing for his services. Sure, a lot of that was due to (overly and overtly) aggressive pre-gaming, but the fact that everyone wanted to connect with a guy who last played a decade ago speaks volumes of his social abilities. Yes, he flamed out quickly, but that easily could’ve been more about bad swap and injury luck than overplaying.

If he can get a luckier bounce this time, he could easily build strong enough alliances to make the merge. Which would then buy him several tribals where he could skate by as a non-challenge target. It’s the end game that gets tricky, where his likability will start to draw a big target as the jury looms closer. And at that point, I don’t think he can get himself in front of a jury, because he’d be too likely to win in front of one.

I say his best case scenario is the final episode (somewhere between final 6 and 4), but snuffed out before he can win over a jury that was probably rooting for him at that point anyway.

Worst Case Scenario

The biggest obstacles for Jeff Varner are his massive ego and his challenge deficiencies. If he can’t get out of his own way in his need to gain control of both the game and the edit, he will be taken out early by players who have heard the stories of what a wild card he was in Cambodia. Or maybe just players who aren’t interested in being sidekicks on the Jeff Varner show.

The absolute worst case scenario is that he winds up on some kind of meathead tribe dominated by the likes of Ozzy, Culpepper, Sarah, or Caleb, who base the first vote on “challenge strength”. He does something to lose the challenge and is one of the first boots. This is both the worst case scenario for Jeff Varner and the worst case for us, as it will be the harbinger of everything that could go wrong this season.

Most Likely Scenario

We see the Jeff Varner he wanted to be in Cambodia: one who plays hard, but not too hard. He won’t have to choose between two extremes of Terry and the olds who don’t want to strategize or Shirin and the youngs who want to overstrategize. And this will let him play to his strengths at a pace best suited to him.

The challenge will be the players who both enjoy his company, but also see him for the strategic/social threat that he is, and there’s several players who could potentially fit that mold: Cirie, Malcolm, Sandra, Zeke. If he butts heads with them and loses, it could be another season of not even reaching the jury (it should be noted that Cirie NEVER teams with our other favs going into a season). But I think he will. Varner makes the merge, but is taken out once challenge threats are less of a worry than jury threats. And it will be a fun ride along the way.

Andy
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Andy

Co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast and the Canadian of the group, Andy has been watching Survivor continuously since the very beginning and likes to treat that as some kind of virtue to lord over others.

Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino
Andy
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  • Hornacek

    What will bite his ass this season? Tune in to find out!

    • corndogshuffle

      Did we ever find out what bit his ass?

      • Hornacek

        Another “Survivor Unsolved Mystery” (cue the theme music).

      • Alycia Swift

        I thought he did on Rhap it was a crab.

    • Diego Armando

      Everything, because everything wants a piece of him.

      • Hornacek

        Nailed it!

  • Black Dynamite

    Varner was such a delight in that early part of Cambodia. I think his social game can carry him far here with a lot of this group and there may be bigger threats (like Cirie) to deflect from the his scheming.

    My prediction: Post merge boot.

  • Mike Hirsch

    I just want him to finally make the jury. Because he’d be a fun presence on a jury. He’d also be a fun presence remaining in the game, but I don’t want to get too greedy.

    • turgid_legume

      I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re totally right. Varner reacting to stuff on the jury bench would be gold.

      • Alycia Swift

        His ponderosa video would be gold.

    • purplerockandy

      My predictions may have been motivated by a desire to get him on the jury. Once there, I don’t see why he’d be targeted early into the merge.

      • Mike Hirsch

        Yeah, if he makes it to the merge, I don’t think he’d be targeted until it got down to, at earliest, final 7.

      • Diego Armando

        He is either going out really early or in the 5-8th place range. I desperately hope for the latter.

  • Max_Jets

    Wow, Cirie DOESN’T ever team up with our faves. We didn’t know the extent of Parvati’s coolness yet, and she was against heartthrob Tom Westman in HvV. Looking at the cast, I think she’ll team up with some of our faves this time though. & Aras was pretty cool, so she has some taste.

    • purplerockandy

      Yep. She targeted Yau-Man and Tom in her returns.

    • indescribable hat

      Going into Micronesia I was rooting for Yau-Man and Amanda (I hadn’t seen Panama at the time), so Cirie teams up with some of my faves and ruthlessly targets the others.

  • SpicyMayoJaySimpson

    There literally no way for any of you to tell if this is pre-draft bluff or not, but John: should we pick Jeff or Varner?

  • SpicyMayoJaySimpson

    Since some of you were nice enough to respond to these surveys, here are the results for the HvV II Casting survey ( http://imgur.com/gallery/9VGH9 ) and the HvV Categorizations (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CgZSPyB04KaVlePrHEacfxmLOcvjFsWlJz_6CdRksLA/edit?usp=sharing).

    Essentially, if you switch Cesternino and David Wright, your tribes are:

    Heroes: Yul, Earl, Malcolm, Jay, David, Kim, Denise, Kelley, Natalie A., Cydney

    Villains: Richard, Rob, Fairplay, Shane Powers, Tony, Natalie B., Corinne, Sophie, Abi, Kass

    But apparently Survivors now need to be sorted into Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes (such as Jay, Natalie, and Sophie). I’m not going to get into how Survivors should fall into those three, but it’s an interesting thought if Probst and Production ever want to bring back the theme but avoid tarnishing the quality/memory of the OG HvV. Three tribe dynamics are always more interesting anyways.

    • Max_Jets

      Did you only post this here? I didn’t realize how many lurkers we had! I am pretty surprised by Jenna being considered a hero and a little surprised by Wentworth’s popularity considering some of the people on the list, but everything else looks about right. Sophie being on an anti-heroes tribe would be cool, but she should not be allowed on Heroes even if she is one of the show’s only true heroes (since she saved Survivor and all)

      • SpicyMayoJaySimpson

        As much as I would like to say that this is indicative of PRP traffic, no, I also posted it to r/Survivor. Responses to Jenna surprised me, but there were three things that really caught my eye: (1) people are torn b/t Josh as a Hero or a Villain and he got the lowest total number of responses. Seeing as his season was only three years ago and he was edited as a rival to Jeremy, but not in a malicious or villainous way, the indecisiveness is strange. (2) Ciera got a complete 50/50 split. It’s just amusing to me. (3) Tasha was a Hero, but only by a hair. She’s a definite Hero in Cagayan, and just sort of around in Cambodia. Don’t see (or don’t recall) how she’s a villain.

        • Max_Jets

          Ah, that makes more sense. I was starting to get self conscious knowing that so many unseen people might be reading my comments! Oh yeah, the Josh thing was bizarre too. Reed as a villain and Josh as a hero seems so clear to me, but I guess it’s not to others. Tasha I put as a hero because of Cagayan. Her Cambodian self isn’t really a villain but I think she just kind of sucks as a character. I think it’s a problem of the show not wanting to portray someone who was heroic in a previous season as a villain, which just makes her come off as bland. Tasha could have been really fun as a villain in Cambodia.

          • Our traffic has been pretty insane for the past few months, though. We were at about 60,000 last month, and we’ll probably top that this month. So get self conscious!

          • Hornacek

            And with the Nicaragua recaps, that traffic has surely skyrocketed this month!

          • Sure, because who doesn’t love talking about Survivor’s most underrated season!

          • Purplerockmatt

            I don’t

          • Hornacek

            Hey, people slow down to see the aftermath of a traffic accident, and the bigger the better.

          • corndogshuffle

            Hey, Nicaragua has amazing characters. Apparently.

          • purplerockandy

            And unless these regulars are downloading the podcast on a LOT of devices, we have a much bigger audience than they might expect.

          • sharculese

            I assume a general ratio of 1 regular to 5 lurkers just for a comments section. It only makes sense that there’s another factor when you fold in people who just listen the podcast and don’t read the comments.

          • purplerockandy

            Yeah, there’s a good sized chunk of listeners who probably never even visit the site.

          • Diego Armando

            I think sometimes people can also be reluctant to leap into new communities. I wish to say to all the lurkers “Feel free to come in and comment. We promise to be respectable, open to fan discussions and slightly snarky”.

          • Diego Armando

            Uhhhh, sorry to tell you this, but I have this podcast set to automatically download on 753 separate devices.

          • I am almost done with my Cambodia rewatch and I can tell you that Tasha wants to be less heroic. Her first confessionals are all about doing whatever she could and praying for forgiveness later, which she does during the Angkor days. However, once the weirdness happens with Kass (which I think started from Tasha having an idea of getting rid of Kass at the merge as payback for Cagayan), she basically becomes an extremely loyal footwoman to Jeremy. As a result, she vanishes from the edit, which is not a good look for one of your big recent all stars.

  • Can I just say that this is a great idea? Good thinking, PRP crew!

    • Dutch

      Agreed! Nice brief snippets of the cast analysis focusing on each individual survivor.

      Good content while in the midst of this extended break between seasons.

      • I also like that they have no say in who they get, so that should be fun with Ozzy and Troyzan.

        • Dutch

          I can’t wait to see the analysis of the game-changing barrel-rolling, Sierra. In addition, Ciera can’t vote out her mom this season, so it will be very difficult to predict how she does!

          • I think Ciera is probably easier to predict for one simple reason: she’s a strategic threat, but not a physical one.

          • Diego Armando

            I think Ciera and Cirie are in the same boat of players who are strategically gifted, but have enormous targets on their back and are unlikely to make it to the end.

    • And it actually wasn’t even our idea. Credit for the creator of this concept is given in the next post, which goes up tomorrow (Wednesday).

      • sharculese

        Personal request. I know that this site’s stated policy is to call Troyzan Troy, but I believe in making his terrible self-chosen nickname central to who he is, so, in the fantasy league posts, can you call him Troyzan just for the outcasts leauge?

        • A) How dare you.

          B) The issue is that the spreadsheet I made uses formulas and lookups based on the name Troy. So I could manually change just your team in Outcasts, but it would just zero out your score for him since no “Troyzan” exists. Which is a fitting punishment for your draft strategy, but probably not what you’re going for here.

          • sharculese

            I had a very good reason for doing it. The reason was spite, because E&SinBK snagged andrea fjrst.

          • I’m not really sure that’s how spite works…

          • purplerockandy

            It’s something about spite-ing your face.

    • TheForRealDeal

      I too would like to express my fondness for this particular feature.

  • jersey_luck

    Having seen the initial tribes I think that Varner should not be bottom immediately but if they stick for longer then a couple of votes he will probably be targeted then. I think that Varner will learn from his over playing but if he is put on a tribe that just can not keep up with the other tribe(s) then he could home early. Sadly I do not see many ways he can to merge. But if he can he will probably be in the mid jury range.

    Edit: Can’t wait see the sorry sucker who has to give an honest opinion about Troyzan

  • Ethan Kyle

    I love Varner, yeah he’s probably fucking terrible at Survivor but damn is he entertaining while doing it

  • Dutch

    Completely agree. If Varner can make it past the 1st time his new tribe (after tribe swap) goes to tribal council, I’m predicting a 6th place finish from him.

  • Diego Armando

    I love Varner and want him to do well. I think he can avoid elimination in the early stage of the game due to there being more overt threats who are also physically liable (Sandra, Ciera, Cirie, Tony). I think his main problem is going to be that he will need to win out, which is unlikely. I am guessing 5-8 range.

  • forever1267

    Jeff is totally the type of guy I am looking for IRL (Call me!) So, I’m thrilled to see him back again, and will be rooting for him on the show and on the Pick 4. He’s just adorable!!!

  • forever1267

    https://www.facebook.com/WFMYNews2/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED Jeff was interviewed by the local CBS affiliate, and has a few very minor spoilers on his game there (as in how he experienced it, not actual winnings.) Might need to log into Facebook to see it.

    • Ms_Woozah

      This was interesting, especially the tidbit about how “mean” this group of players were.

  • Mike Hirsch

    Jeff Varner is a god!