Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Week 2

Well, my preseason No. 5 and No. 7 picks were eliminated in the premiere of Survivor: Game Changers last week — and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.

On the one hand, they were clearly threats to win — and were taken out. But it looks kind of dumb for me, since I had them ranked so high.

Here’s how I see the game heading into Week 2, with players ranked in order of best chance to win it all:

1. Zeke (Last week: 1). I’m sticking with Zeke at the top for now, but it’s probably wishful thinking. But his social game is great, he can make friends quickly and there’s no reason for people to view him as a threat early in the game.

2. Varner (Last week: 8). He didn’t do anything special in Week 1 except keep the target on others, and that’s exactly what could help him make it far this season. Why would someone get rid of him at this point? As long as he doesn’t play too hard — which is always a possibility with him — he could have a decent chance.

3. Andrea (Last week: 13). She was almost invisible in Week 1, which makes me like her chances of getting far this year. If she can duck while the bullets are flying early, maybe she can work some magic late in the game.

4. Troyzan (Last week: 12). I started looking at Troyzan differently almost right away. He seems much wiser now and also won’t be taken seriously enough for people to want to vote him out. That could be an interesting combination.

5. Malcolm (Last week: 3). It’s so dangerous to put Malcolm this high, because he’s surely a massive threat. The others need to get him out quickly, and if they don’t, he’s going to be around for a long time.

6. Cirie (Last week: 9). People recognize her as manipulative, but as long as Sandra is around, she won’t be the scariest player in that category. Maybe that will buy her some time.

7. Sierra (Last week: 14). You start to get the sense this could be a season where the biggest targets and threats get removed quickly, and Sierra is an under-the-radar player for the most part. That could pay off.

8. Ozzy (Last week: 10). He’s already so visible, which has to be worrisome. A guy like Ozzy needs to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible so he’s not targeted right away.

9. Sarah (Last week: 15). Tony’s departure could help her, since she won’t have any connection to someone who was clearly untrustworthy. If she makes the merge, you never know.

10. Hali (Last week: 18). OK, so I was REALLY down on Hali coming into the season, but her comments last week were impressive. She seems to be taking a smart approach so far, and I can see her making more of a run than before.

11. Aubrey (Last week: 2). It seems like she’s quickly been labeled as a dangerous player and the others speak openly about that, which will hurt her chances in the long run. She could become a quick target and get taken out.

12. J.T. (Last week: 11). I almost feel like this is too high for him, since a good point was raised already: Why would they give a former winner another $1 million? I don’t have a great sense of how he’ll play yet.

13. Caleb (Last week: 17). I like how he played Week 1, but still don’t feel great about his overall chances — especially since he already lost a meat shield in Tony and now could become a target earlier.

14. Michaela (Last week: 6). I’m disappointed with how Michaela presented herself in the first episode. I thought she’d perhaps play more of an under-the-radar game this time after learning from her first experience, but she can’t hide her emotions and frustrations. That’s not a winning formula.

15. Debbie (Last week: 19). She can’t change who she is. Again, it’s good TV — but not good gameplay.

16. Brad (Last week: 20). I liked how he approached the first few days, and I may have been too harsh in saying he had no chance. But I still think he’s an abrasive guy at times, and how many people are really going to want to work with him?

17. Tai (Last week: 16). It seems like the other players like Tai (of course), but he’s just not someone they’re going to strategize with. As such, he’ll stay around for weeks — maybe make it to the end — but they won’t give him the money.

18. Sandra (Last week: 4). These players are WAY too smart to sit there and not recognize what Sandra is doing. She’s absolutely an incredible player and last week proved once again why she’s won the game twice. But surely, all these “game changer” players recognize a threat when they see one, and there’s little chance she’ll be able to make it to the end based on that.

Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Week 1

Ohhhhh yeah! It’s time for another season of Survivor (premieres tonight on CBS), so let’s rank which castaways have the best shot at winning it all.

This season is Survivor: Game Changersand 20 returning players (some of them game changers, some of them not really) will try to outwit, outplay and outlast a really fearsome and experienced group. It will be difficult to pull too many tricks or sneaky maneuvers this time around, but that just makes it all the more interesting.

If you haven’t watched Survivor in a few years — or ever — it’s not too late to jump in. Here’s my pitch from last season as to why people should give it another chance.

Here are my picks, in order of best chance to win Sole Survivor:

  1. Zeke. He won’t be viewed as a threat to the same degree as last season, when he stood out (along with David) as major strategists — in part because none of the players who are on this season got to watch him play before they filmed this. He can make friends with anyone, is very clever and won’t be targeted early. I like his chances of making it to the end.
  2. Aubrey. She should have won two seasons ago, and I think her game will be respected (but not feared). She’ll sharpen things up this time and play a calculated, measured game overall.
  3. Malcolm. He’s probably the favorite — but I think that only makes him a bigger target. If he’s around in the final eight, people are going to be whispering his name.
  4. Sandra. Is it possible a two-time winner could be underestimated? It feels like that’s the case for Sandra, which is probably how she’s already won twice. Clearly, she’s doing something right.
  5. Ciera. She’s always upset when people don’t want to play hard, so you know she’s going to be making huge moves. Maybe she’ll end up on the right side of things this time.
  6. Michaela. I could see this going either way for Michaela. If she doesn’t lose her temper, she could definitely make the final three. But I could also see her getting booted early.
  7. Tony. Oh, Tony. Could he pull off another season of Vlachos charm and ride it to a win? I think he’ll be too visible and too big of a target, and he won’t be able to sweet-talk veteran players like he did during Cagayan (C’mon, Woo).
  8. Varner. I hope he resists the urge to play too hard, too early this time. Patience, Varner, patience! Then go for the kill later in the game, after the merge.
  9. Cirie. She’s going to be a threat and the other players will recognize it right away. So that might not work very well long term, unless she’s able to fly under the radar somehow.
  10. Ozzy. You really think this group is going to let one of the all-time great players just skate his way to the merge? No way, if they’re smart (and they are). He’s going to be targeted as soon as he lands on the beach.
  11. J.T. I don’t really remember much about J.T.’s game, except for how he worked with Fishbach during his winning season. Is he able to adapt to the new-school game?
  12. Troyzan. He had the misfortune of going up against one of the smartest players ever, Kim Spradlin, who got the better of him. Let’s see how he does this go-round.
  13. Andrea. She has the experience, can fly under the radar and has been an avid follower of the game long enough to know what mistakes to avoid. That might work out for her if she can get with the right alliance.
  14. Sierra. I don’t love her chances, but she’s also no slouch. Maybe she can make the right moves and end up at final tribal, where anything can happen.
  15. Sarah. Why is she a game changer? I’m not sure. I don’t remember much of her game, except for both she and Tony being cops on their season. Maybe that will allow her avoid being targeted (why would they vote her out if she’s not a threat?) and make it far.
  16. Tai. Everyone loves Tai! Everyone wants to work with Tai! But here’s the thing: Does he play a strategic game? I don’t think so. And so when he’s sitting at final tribal, this group of vets won’t reward him — just like when he lost to Michele.
  17. Caleb. I’m thrilled he’s getting another chance. Really! We watched Beastmode Cowboy on Big Brother and felt bad for him when he got evacuated from Survivor. But is he a strategic player? I’ve never really seen that out of him, so I don’t think he can win.
  18. Hali. I don’t remember much about her, which is why she’s ranked so low. I know it’s only been a few years since she played, but her game just didn’t stand out to me. How is she going to defeat all these ace players?
  19. Debbie. Under no scenario can I see Debbie, who is great TV but not a good player, being rewarded by the jury with a $1 million prize. I just can’t picture that.
  20. Brad. He’s going to piss someone off and get himself voted out before the merge. I just don’t think he can make it very far with the style of game he plays.

Help from an unlikely source

A lot of you might not have heard of Patreon until I started talking about it a couple weeks ago, so I wanted to share how I learned of the site in the first place.

I’m a huge fan of the Survivor podcasts hosted by Rob Cesternino (his podcast is called “Rob Has A Podcast;” his website is Rob has this fun-loving tone to his work (which also extends to many other reality shows) and it’s clear he has a true passion and enthusiasm for what he does. His friendly nature also makes you feel like you could be buddies, which I love.

Anyway, Rob sometimes mentions a link where listeners can go to “learn about the benefits of becoming a patron.” That piqued my curiosity last year, so I went to the site he mentioned: His Patreon page.

I signed up for $5 a month — I get enjoyment from his podcasts and wanted to support them — and initially didn’t think much more about it. But when I found myself in a situation where I may need to change jobs, I started thinking about whether Patreon would work for supporting other kinds of journalism.

But Rob wasn’t just the inspiration for my move. He actually took time to help me with it.

I wrote Rob an email in early January and told him about my plan, thanking him for unknowingly introducing me to a potential new career path.

To my surprise, he not only wrote back, but suggested we hop on the phone.

A few days later, Rob took more than 30 minutes out of his day to help a complete stranger learn more about Patreon and talk through some of the pluses and minuses of the site. And before hanging up, Rob highly encouraged me to start a podcast in addition to just writing on this site.

As a fan of Rob’s, it was a total thrill for me to get advice from someone who is doing it right in the digital world — and feel like I was on my own personal episode of RHAP at the same time. So I wanted to publicly thank him for all his help in getting me started.

Thank you, Rob!

By the way, if you’re a Survivor fan and you don’t subscribe to Rob’s podcasts…what in the world are you doing? His weekly “Survivor Know It Alls” with Stephen Fishbach during the season are absolute must-listens for every Survivor fan (they immediately break down the strategy after the show) and his exit interviews with booted castaways following each vote always shed light on what really happened on the island.

Seriously, I talk my friends’ ears off about what I learned each week on the podcast (ask poor Alan Cavanna). So listen to them; I promise you’ll be a more informed Survivor fan.

Screenshot from one of RHAP’s Survivor Know It Alls episodes. Rob and Stephen live-stream the episodes on YouTube and then post them for podcast listening later.

Why you should start watching Survivor again

When I mention my love of Survivor to people, I often get told, “Oh, that show is still on?”

I don’t know if they mean it dismissively or they honestly don’t realize Survivor has two new seasons per year, but yes — it’s still on and going strong. Season 33 premieres Sept. 21 — that’s tonight! — and if you haven’t watched since the early days, it’s time to give the show another chance.

Back when Survivor first aired, it was a cultural phenomenon. “Voted off the island” and “the tribe has spoken” became catchphrases used in all sorts of different ways. But that was at the dawn of reality TV, and Survivor in some ways became a victim of the backlash against all things “reality.”

That’s a shame, because Survivor these days is the furthest thing from the Kardashians or Real Housewives. It has evolved into a game of incredible strategy, social skills and smarts; it is essentially Human Chess.

A lot of people already know that. You might not realize it, but Survivor has maintained a strong and loyal audience through the seasons. It has averaged 11.5 million viewers per episode in recent years, so that’s pretty impressive considering how other franchise shows (American Idol, for example) have fallen off.

Honestly, though, it seems like Survivor only keeps getting better. Just when you think there’s a season that can’t be topped, the producers somehow come up with a great group of castaways and enough twists to keep it interesting, fresh and exciting without feeling too gimmicky. Because of all that, there’s no question Survivor is absolutely my favorite show on TV.

But like NASCAR, it’s more fun to be a fan when there’s a community to discuss it with. That’s why I’m urging you to give it a chance if you haven’t seen it in awhile — I want to discuss the season with you all! I don’t know what this season holds, but my bet is you won’t be disappointed if you give it a shot.

Here are three reasons you should watch this season (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS):

  1. This season’s theme is “Millenials vs. Gen X.” At the start of the game, the tribes are going to be split by generations. We all have our opinions on which generation is superior (though I’m right on the border so I identify with both), but now bragging rights are up for grabs. It’s going to be enjoyable to see the characteristics for each generation and how they apply to the island. Ultimately, though, the tribes always get switched up after a few weeks — the themed seasons are just an icebreaker to get things started — but it will be interesting to see which generation can claim the winner.
  2. The people chosen for the game are typically longtime fans. This means they’ve studied the recent strategy and how it’s played out — they may even listen to the excellent “Survivor Know It Alls” podcast like I do — and understand that no alliance is likely to hold until the end. That creates a ton of unpredictability and flipping, and it’s fascinating to see the potential moves unfold and debate whether they were the right call.
  3. Lessons from Survivor apply to real life. Think about it: There are groups of very different, very unique individuals who all want to succeed. But they have to work together — even with people they don’t like or find to be strange — to achieve their goal. The key is even when it’s necessary to step on some toes, they do so gently enough so those they hurt will still respect them. That’s a tough balance, and it’s fascinating to watch people try to figure it out on Survivor.



Survivor analysis: The final seven and what Tasha should do

The Dec. 9 episode of Survivor figures to be crucial in determining who makes it to the end — and perhaps who wins it all in Cambodia.

And after last week, we can see what’s coming: Tasha’s decision will make or break several games.

If you recall, Kimmi proposed an all-women alliance in the previous episode before Joe was booted. With four women remaining and three men, this could potentially make for the final four if Tasha chooses to go that direction.

Tasha told her current alliance (voting bloc?) — Spencer and Jeremy — about the possibility, which was surprisingly straightforward and perhaps a miscalculation when it comes to strategy. She took away her own element of surprise should she choose to go that direction.

And let’s be honest: She should go with the women if she wants to win. Tasha isn’t going to beat Jeremy at final tribal council (no one is if he makes it) and probably wouldn’t beat Spencer, either.

But she would beat Kimmi, Wentworth and Abi — as well as Keith, if he somehow wasn’t picked off with the other guys.

So no matter who wins immunity in Wednesday’s episode — whatever Tasha decides will change the game. The smartest play would be to cut ties with Jeremy and Spencer before it’s too late.

Which direction will she go? The fact she came straight to that pair to tell them about Kimmi’s plan indicates she has a high degree of loyalty to them, and maybe she won’t betray them. If that’s the case, she’d just need Keith to get on board with voting out someone like Wentworth or Abi and it’d be done. Then that gives a high likelihood of either Spencer, Jeremy or both in the finals (assuming it’s a final three).

Of course, no one knows Wentworth has another hidden immunity idol — which could shake things up — and the same goes for Jeremy. But if Jeremy survives this week, the time is approaching where he’ll have to play his idol anyway (you can only play it up until the final five tribal council because you can’t use an idol to make the final three).

Tasha could still have the numbers, though, if she does it the right way with the all-women alliance. I’m not saying that would be my preferred choice, by the way — I want to see Jeremy or Spencer win at this point — but it’s the smartest thing she could do.


Thanks to Rob Has A Podcast for the inspiration on this post. I’ve discovered RHAP this season, and his Survivor Know It Alls (referenced by usual co-host Stephen Fishbach several times on the show) and exit interviews of players who were voted out are must-listens every week. I can’t believe it took me so long to start listening to it — highly recommend it if you love strategy talk and inside-the-game info.

I Love Girls (You know, like the HBO series)

Hello. My name is Jeff, and I love Girls.

Not girls, but Girls — the comedy series on HBO. I mean, I also love girls, but really just one girl — my girlfriend, Sarah, who would be VERY pissed if I said I loved non-capitalized girls with an ‘s’ on the end.

Anyway, I know Girls is probably targeted at actual girls and not 32-year-old dudes, but I don’t care. It’s a brilliant show with very intelligent writing that speaks to a generation of young people.

I’ve long said if I could have lunch with any one person, it would be Larry David (because I’m a huge fan of Seinfeld and especially Curb Your Enthusiasm, of which I’ve seen every delightfully awkward episode). I’d love to sit there and pick Larry’s brain about how he comes up with his concepts and how he puts everything together so well.

Larry is a comedic genius, and I’m interested in talking to any talented person in any profession — whether it’s writing, business, bus driving or performing autopsies — because I think you can learn so much from them (was the autopsies mention too weird? I actually have talked to a coroner about his job over a beer, so I was including that as a real-life example).

But now I’d have to say Girls creator Lena Dunham is on my lunch list, too — a close second behind Larry, perhaps. Think about it: Lena was 25 — 25!! — when a series which she wrote, directed and starred in debuted to critical acclaim on HBO. I mean, come on! That’s crazy.

Sarah and I were late to the Girls party because she couldn’t get into the pilot episode. So we turned it off (in the interest of finding shows we both liked) and watched other stuff instead.

When Season 2 debuted this year, though, I watched an episode and then convinced Sarah to give it another try about halfway through the season. This time, we were hooked. We watched all of Season 2 — mostly on HBO On Demand, then went back and just finished watching Season 1.

Being behind turned out to be to our benefit, because the On Demand episodes all had a little postscript called “Inside the Episode” where Lena would sit there and describe what she was thinking when she wrote the script. Basically, she was like, “This is how I blew your minds this time!” She was humble about it, of course, but it was very insightful. I’m quite jealous of her writing ability, because she’s gifted in a way that most of us are not.


Girls is about characters living in the “Me” Generation, but it does an excellent job of presenting its characters in a painfully raw reality. We see Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa not as they want to be seen, but how they are.

Many people’s lives seem way better than they really are these days, thanks to social media. We only put the best of ourselves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (we even have fantasy filters to help us in that case) — it’s the best sunsets, the best concerts, the best times with friends. We create a facade where people don’t know the real stuff that’s going on with us, just where we’ve been and the cool people we’ve been there with.

“Wow, that person seems to have the perfect life,” we think.

Well, really, they don’t. No one does. We all have problems.

Anyway, we get to see some of those problems in Girls. Lena bares it all — literally and figuratively — when it comes to putting some of her own experiences into Hannah’s world.

None of the girls are people who we should want to be. The girls are self-absorbed and often act selfishly. They aren’t role models for young women, but they do reflect the struggles a lot of young people go through while trying to figure out who the heck they are and who they want to be. Girls is a peek in the mirror when we’re not looking our best; fortunately, we can laugh at them instead of ourselves.

In the show, Hannah wanted to be the voice of her generation; in real life, Lena is well on her way to doing that.

So yeah, I love Girls. I’m not ashamed to admit it, either.