CBS has revealed the cast for the twentieth season of Survivor, which premieres on February 11 and was filmed in the same Samoa setting as the just concluded season. As had already been known, this is a season with all returning players, the first with no new castaways since Season Eight in 2004, infamously won by the anonymous all-star Amber Brkich.
While there was no rhyme or reason to the tribe placement in the first all-star season, this time around the teams have been divided into "Heroes" (alleged fan favorites) and "Villains" (alleged fan pariahs). There has already been some grumbling about the arbitrariness of some of the designations, especially since most of the female "villains" committed no sin worse than having big mouths.
A quick rundown of the twenty heading back to the island:
Amanda Kimmel (China, Micronesia): On one level, she has been an incredibly successful contestant: the only person to make it to the end of the game twice. However, she badly choked before the jury both times, and during Fans vs. Favorites, she had a big advantage in that no one there realized how well she had done in the China season, which was then airing. She's good at challenges, but one senses she will be an early target.
Candice Woodcock (Cook Islands): How does Candice qualify as a hero? She was best known during her season for turning on a sympathetic alliance, only to be paid back in the end. As one of the less prominent members of this cast, she could certainly fill the Amber/Parvati role from the first two All-Star seasons -- someone who no one really notices until it is too late.
Cirie Fields (Panama, Micronesia): On a basic level of relating to people and telling them what they want to hear, she is probably the single shrewdest Survivor player ever, someone who has reached the final four twice despite what would seem to be total unsuitability for the game. She's had some bad luck in both her endgames, but while I would love to see her finally break through, she can't be ignored as a threat this time.
Colby Donaldson (Australia, All-Stars): One of the most dominant physical players ever on the show, and was an instant target on All-Stars for that very reason. He'll have an easier time hiding out amidst the other Alpha males this time around, especially now that he's no longer the youthful Adonis. Colby was famously non-cutthroat in Australia, and unless that's changed, he'll likely be an early out this time too.
James Clement (China, Micronesia): The Louisiana gravedigger introduced himself to his tribe in China, and to us, by saying "I bury people." That was the first interesting thing he did on the show; the second and last was getting voted out despite possessing two individual immunity idols. He had to leave Fans vs. Favorites due to injury so I can see giving him another shot, but he's shown no capacity for playing the social game.
Jessica "Sugar" Kiper (Gabon): Meh. Her claim to heroism consisted of repeatedly being sent into exile for strategic reasons, although this ended up being to her benefit. Like a good many Survivor players over the years, once she was in a position of some power, she became an eager bully bent on revenge. Sugar will be the weakest player in her tribe other than Cirie, who is infinitely smarter. This should be a quick return trip for her.
James "J. T." Thomas (Tocantins): Even though he entered the merge in his season down in the numbers, it could be argued that no one has ever had an easier path to the title than J.T. He was a great physical competitor, and left no scars at all among those he helped vote out. Unless someone like Tom decides to virtually adopt him, the older men in the tribe would be insane to not gang up on him instantly.
Rupert Boneham (Pearl Islands, All-Stars): People were already tired of having this self-promoting windbag held up as a hero six years ago when he was an all-star the first time. He was a diminished figure that season, during which he famously built an easily flooded "basement" for the tribe's beach shelter, and my guess is that once again, his massive ego won't allow him to roll with the punches.
Stephenie LaGrossa (Palau, Guatemala): Like Rupert, she is someone who Jeff Probst proclaimed as a hero without ever checking with the rest of us. She became a legend in Palau for being the least lame member of the worst tribe ever, but in Guatemala she spent most of the game as top dog (albeit one who finished second) and was insufferable. She likely won't be an early target, though.
Tom Westman (Palau): He can lay claim to being the most dominant player in Survivor history, as the leader of its most successful tribe and a runaway winner with the jury. Tom was on the old side for a winner even five years ago, but no one has ever shown more natural leadership ability on Survivor, which makes me think he'll get at least to the jury phase.
Benjamin "Coach" Wade (Tocantins): Given that his season proved that his ego was exceeded only by his incompetence, one has to assume he'll have to dial back his whole shtick this time around. Certainly he won't be able to simply bully his tribe into obeying him, not after he snatched defeat from victory in Brazil. I predict that smarter players will keep him around as a stooge, and we'll be able to laugh at him for most of the season yet again.
Courtney Yates (China): Here's the problem with the Heroes vs. Villains designation: I like Courtney a lot more than I do most of the so-called heroes. Hilariously caustic and dangerously thin, she became notorious for saying exactly what was on her mind and making no effort whatsoever to master the social niceties of Survivor, even when she somehow stumbled into the season finale. I can't see her being so lucky a second time, but damn, I am hopeful.
Danielle DiLorenzo (Panama): The Season Twelve runner-up is classed as a villain because everyone in her alliance (except for Cirie) was missing numerous screws. Her season had its moments, but Danielle herself is not well remembered, so she may be able to fly under the radar a surprisingly long time. No way does she have the social skills to win, though.
Jerri Manthey (Australia, All-Stars): Ugh. Was anyone really longing to see her for a third time? The first person to truly turn her villainy into Survivor celebrity (Richard Hatch became a celebrity more by winning), she already looked pathetic by the time of All-Stars. Older women tend to be early targets, and Jerri was never much for building relationships. She may very well be the first out.
Parvati Shallow (Cook Islands, Micronesia): She was a nonentity in her first season, but played a very underrated game her second time around -- she knows how to flatter men and use them to her advantage. Of all the female villains, she's the only one who has any capacity to be self-effacing, so even though she really should be one of the first people targeted, I can see her being successful once again.
Randy Bailey (Gabon): In Africa, he came across as genuinely antisocial and more than a little weird, and he became a national laughingstock when he was talked into accepting a phony individual immunity idol that he later tried to play. Unless he's really changed his attitude towards his fellow man, I doubt he'll make it far.
Rob Mariano (Marquesas, All-Stars): The man who is to CBS reality shows what Brett Favre is to the NFL -- we just can't get rid of him. One wonders if he can be so focused this time around without a woman nearby to play for. Russell is the only other male in this tribe who has Rob's smarts, so look for them to either clash very early, or team up to run the whole show.
Russell Hantz (Samoa): I'm sure the other players, none of whom will have seen Russell's season at the time this one was filmed, will be wondering what he did to be considered a villain. He's awfully persuasive when he wants to be; if he's learned his lesson from his failure in Samoa -- that it's bad form to rub the jurors' noses in their defeat -- he might go a long way yet again.
Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands): She's about as obscure as a former winner can be, which is a pretty good position to be in. Her strategy during her initial season was simple enough: hide behind stronger players until just the right time to turn the tables. I'm not sure why she's a villain other than her willingness to scrap verbally. There are four ex-winners in the game, and I'll bet she's the last one standing.
Tyson Apostol (Tocantins): He wasn't as successful at Russell in the game, but he was a pioneer of the whole idea of saying outrageously egotistical things in order to get airtime. He's the best athlete in his tribe by a significant margin, which means we're likely going to have to put up with his mouth until at least the merge ... and hopefully not much past that.