From now through April, we’ll be pitting Survivors head-to-head in match-ups to determine the Ultimate Survivor. How will we decide the winner? The same way Survivor does it: with a vote. This is our Tribal Council, and you’ve all made the jury. It is… time to vote.
Polls close on Sunday, March 29.
Not a ton of drama in the first round, despite being the only bracket to see two lower seeds advance. And while there’s a chance you all prove me wrong, I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of upsets here, either (but watch out next round- the potential final four here all have arguments to be top ten players all-time).
I think the lack of heat in this group comes down to timing: the gap between All-Stars and Micronesia left this a fallow period for the show in terms of building its stars. By the time the series went back to the returnee well (and then did so again in a much shorter time frame), a lot of the stars of these seasons had moved on or were forgotten. The biggest stars (Boston Rob, Rupert, Fairplay, Sandra, Cirie) remain the biggest stars, but a lot of the others remain underappreciated. I think this may also be the period where the show was transitioning from being a pop culture phenomena before settling into being a solid performer with an established base of fans. So this is the period where old fans began to drop out before either A) new fans came in or B) old fans re-engaged due to later returnees/lightning rod characters. So what we see here is a handful of megastars going up against some fondly remembered former players. Let’s see if the megastars collide.
1. “Boston” Rob Mariano vs 9. Stephenie LaGrossa
I wanted this to be Rob vs Amber, because I’m odd that way. Or maybe just because it would be a more interesting contrast to write about. But I accept the idea that Stephenie was the worthy winner, as she was probably more interesting in all three of her appearances than Amber was in either of hers (despite the win). Steph’s journey on the show is probably the most schizophrenic: America’s darling as a lovable loser in Palau, Russell-like villain in her return appearance in Guatemala, a mix of both in Heroes vs Villains (where she was again a loser, but maybe less lovable). The true Steph is probably somewhere in the middle: she’s an abrasive but determined personality whose persona is entirely dependent on how well she’s doing in the game (we love her when she’d doing bad, hate her when she’s doing well).
If this works out how it should, we’ll see a return of plucky fan-favourite Stephenie, as she’ll get the votes of people choosing to see her as an underdog against the big bad Boston Rob. Forgetting, of course, that she was Boston Rob-like in her most successful season, and people HATED her for it.
A note on Rob in this division: yes, he’s not in either his first season (Old School) or his winning season (New School). This may seem inconsistent, but I’d argue (and did, successfully) that this is the absolute best spot for him: All-Stars Rob created the next generation of Survivor. He was never more influential than he was here, with the rest of the (non-Pearl Islands) players on this bracket competing in a post-Boston Rob game. In fact, much of the tension in All-Stars (besides all the interpersonal stuff) comes from everyone else trying to play an Old School game except for Rob, who’s evolving strategy as he goes. It’s up to all of you to decide whether or not he deserves to come out of this group, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he is where he’s supposed to be.
4. Tom Westman vs 12. Johnny “Fairplay” Dalton
Clearly, we had Johnny Fairplay ranked too low. Rupert as a top seed was a reflection of his popularity among the TV-watching majority, not the internet-fan majority. But I’m okay with it. It’s more interesting if there are “upsets”, even if those upsets aren’t terribly surprising in retrospect. So whether you think Jon Dalton deserves his due for his contributions to the game (good or ill) or if you’re just sick to fucking death of Rupert (guilty), I get it. But let’s not get crazy here. Because Tom Westman is the motherfucking man.
It’s easy to just think about Tom as a dominant challenge force (because he was as dominant as there’s ever been) and then underrate his overall gameplay, particularly if you’re of the type who is less interested in challenges. But Tom Westman isn’t Terry Deitz. He won in all phases of the game. Think about how he (and Ian) were prepared to go to rocks rather than wait for Gregg to turn. Think about how he mentally manipulated Ian in the final challenge. Think about how he outmaneuvered Cirie in Heroes vs Villains. I’m not going to tell you how to vote, since there were 66 Fabio votes last round that tell us what happens when you tell people on the internet what to do. But let’s not get too crazy with the Fairplay revisionism here. His dead grandma let him go on one extra reward and he quit after three days in his second go-round (and yes, we’re aware of the rumored reasons he did so).
2. Sandra Diaz-Twine vs 10. Chris Daugherty
Long time listeners (and judging by our recent spike in audience, that’s maybe a third of you at this point- but, hey, welcome newcomers!) know that Chris Daugherty is not exactly my favourite winner. You may even call me a hater. But recent comments put his victory into perspective for me: there may not be much separating his game from Danni’s, but he was more interesting. Fair. But let’s not get cute here. MAYBE if he were to come back and tie Sandra up here, then there’s a discussion. But right now? She played an under the radar, underdog game to victory twice and threw far better shade at her victims than Chris ever did. I’m not saying her 2/2 record means she should win this whole game. I am saying that it should make this match-up a pretty easy decision.
3. Cirie Fields vs 6. Aras Baskauskas
Look, I like Aras. I really do. Maybe not as much in Panama, where he was basically fine but little more. In Blood vs Water he was doing alright until he was blindsided by hungrier players, but you could argue he was a top three player that season. So on the show, he’s fine. It’s off the show where the legend of Aras has been built, as he’s proven himself one of the most reliably great observers of Survivor to regularly appear on RHAP. If Aras is doing a recap, then clear three hours from your schedule and enjoy.
But if you can honestly tell me that you were cheering for Aras over Cirie during Panama, then you might need to take a good long look at your life. That should be all it takes to make the decision here, but if you want more, Cirie was probably even more awesome in Micronesia, and just as good (albeit less successful) in Heroes vs Villains. Since I know that Aras is one of the great commenters on Survivor, I’m pretty confident even he’d vote Cirie here. If you feel bad about him getting stomped, don’t waste your vote, start an Aras appreciation thread in the comments. He made it to the round of 32. That’s not bad.
Don’t forget to vote in the other divisions:
Andy wants you to know that it’s not a typo that he spelled favourite with a U. And maybe it’s his Canadianism that colours his opinions in this bracket. He can be found on Twitter @andy_sayers.
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