Three episodes into Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers and some things are already starting to take shape. For a lot of the criticism that has been leveled at many of the modern seasons, Survivor 35 certainly seems to be taking an old-school approach. Lots of camp scenes, the strategy seems to building on top of the characters and a lot of people are getting their share of camera time.
It’s been a refreshing approach to the season. Especially coming off the backs of an all-returnee season, which is always going to play favorites, and a very meta season in Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X, which was enjoyable as a one-off but not something I would want to see on repeat going forward.
Because there has been a lot of emphasis on the personalities of Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, there are definitely some characters that are beginning to develop. I’d like to take some time to look at these individuals and see how their story might be starting to take shape. Analyzing strategy always has its place on Survivor but the characters are the real selling people. You could have a bunch of master strategists, if they can’t pander to the camera, your season won’t perform very well with the audience.
On the Heroes tribe, Alan was definitely the stand-out from the premiere. His paranoia was bursting at the seams from the minute he stepped foot onto the beach. It was like he had spent all this time getting pumped up during sequester and he had to let it all out in some way or another. Still, his accusations that J.P. might have an idol and that he was definitely in a power pair with Ashley did not fall on deaf ears. The way he went about exposing these things also made a splash.
After his initial outburst, Alan has since calmed down. The way he’s been portrayed is interesting. We got to see Alan selling his insanity as strategy and then we saw him struggle to open a coconut. The coconut scene in particular was a fun moment that harkens back to when we actually got to see these people existing in the wild. Alan is funny, whether intentionally or not, and definitely draws your attention anytime he’s doing something on camera.
Next to Alan, Ben stands out as extremely calm and level headed. So far, he looks like the unofficial leader for the Heroes. There’s a sense of realness that emanates from Ben. It probably stems from his extensive life experiences as a marine that has given him some real perspective on life. Ben hasn’t been shown prominently just yet but when he starts to get more screen time, I expect that the audience will fall in love with his story.
The last big character on the Heroes is Chrissy. She had a complete arc in just the first episode. In one moment, she was being lumped in with the other mom, throwing up at a challenge, and looking like she wasn’t cut out for the game. In the next, she was handed a super idol, given a chance to change her fate in the game and take control of her tribe. A lot of what we’ve gotten from Chrissy so far is game related. Her confessionals tie her job into how she approaches Survivor and why she should align with Ben. There is a chance she may be edited into somewhat of a gamebot but there’s a lot more there. Should she pull off a win, she would be the second oldest winner of all-time behind Bob Crowley. Hopefully her life as a mom and a highly ranked financial worker comes into play as well as how she wants to handle the generation gap with most of her competitors.
Shifting over to the Healers, we’ve been getting a whole lot of Joe. If there’s going to be an all-out villain on this season, it’s going to be Joe. He’s already called out Mike for looking for an idol, called Mike ugly in camp, and generally lurked around like a bad-guy. We haven’t had a real solid villain since Scot and Jason terrorized the beaches of Survivor: Kaoh Rong so sign-me up for “Joe the meanie”. Like Alan, Joe is inflicted with a bad case of paranoia and that fuels a lot of his gameplay. Anytime emotion helps dictate how a game move is going to play out, it makes for fireworks. Consider Brandon Hantz giving up his immunity in Survivor: South Pacific, none of that came from strategy but you can’t tell me that it wasn’t compelling television.
As a sharp contrast to the villainous portrayal Joe is receiving, Cole has been the heroic figure. Good and bad teamed up shortly to help Joe find his idol but since then, Cole has backed away from associating with Joe. Everything we have seen from Cole is him wanting to help out others and be a generally nice guy. I don’t think there’s a mean bone in this dude’s outlandishly jacked body. From the way both have been shown, it really does look like we are headed for a Joe and Cole collision. Given Cole’s innocence and purity, I see a very likely possibility that he is surprised in a heartbreaking way that leads to his exit. Either way, the time he will spend onscreen until then will be to establish Cole as the guy you want to root for.
Last week, we got to see a lot more of Cole’s potential showmance partner, Jessica. Cole blabbed to her that Joe had an idol. We later saw that she was doubting her ability to depend on Cole as a partner. It’s pretty refreshing. Most of the time, players will couple and stop playing individually. With Jessica, there’s a duality in that she’s attracted to Cole physically but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to go completely all-in with him in the game. That sense of independence makes her a strong female character who stands by her convictions.
Like Cole, Jessica is being presented as very pure. She’s obviously very attractive but she isn’t being shown as overtly sexy. There’s a very “girl next door” way about her that is definitely being highlighted by the editors. There could be some reasons for that down the line but she is definitely also being set up as somebody you want to do well. If Cole and Joe turns out the way I think it might, we might get to see Jessica’s revenge storyline kick-in with a lot of fanfare.
Over at Hustlers camp, the focus has been largely on two people but all four of that castaways left have some compelling storylines. Most obviously, Ryan has gotten his fair share of camera time. A lot of fans have been decrying him as a Cochran wannabe, and producers definitely see it that way, but I’ve been arguing for a while that Ryan most definitely does not see himself in that light.
From what we’ve seen of Ryan so far, he has none of the crippling self-doubt and anxiety that plagues the Cochran types. Despite his small stature relative to the men he was placed with, Ryan found his place immediately within the tribe. He’s contributed at camp, participated in challenges without any struggles and generally done everything needed to be part of his tribe. Never has his name even come up as a possible target because of perceived weakness.
When speaking, Ryan always makes sure to communicate his point clearly and with confidence. Ryan understands how he appears but he does not let that define him. That to me is what makes Ryan an incredibly interesting character. He goes against the archetype he’s been cast in at every possible turn. Like Jay Starrett bowling over the “surfer-dude without much brain” label, Ryan is doing his best to break the pre-defined notions that come with his character. For me, those are the people that make the best personalities.
For her part, Ali has been shown as the tribe’s glue. Everybody wants to talk to her, she connects with every single person on her tribe. Even the two players that are gone wanted to, or worked with, Ali at some point. She has a way of making people open up to her that is inherent to her personality. She is attractive, approachable and warm. We haven’t seen a lot of her reasons for being on the show and her story. Like Chrissy, much of her camera time has been game-related, but given that she is probably around for a while, I’m sure we will find out in due time.
For the people who want to cheer for the heartwarming stories, Lauren has been the go-to girl. She’s a single mother trying to improve her daughter’s life. She works seven days a week to be able to provide for her. She doesn’t totally fit in with her tribe but has still found a way to stay in the game. Lauren is the living embodiment of what production is calling a hustler this season. A lot of story reminds me of Denise Martin’s Survivor: China arc but Lauren comes off as even more genuine. She plays with so much heart and passion. Watching her fight to stay alive last week was impressive and I suspect that this will not be the last time she has to lay it all out on the line to survive.
Last but not least, Devon has been shown as one part of the duo that is Ryan and Devon. Still, I think there is so much more there with this guy. He’s definitely laid back and positive. People definitely want to be his friend, which will pay off in the long-run. I get the idea that Devon, much like the aforementioned Jay, does not fall into a simple label. His ability to quickly accept the much smaller and quieter Ryan as an equal shows an openness in the mind that his “template” wouldn’t necessarily have. Everything about Devon screams to me “breakout character” the minute he starts getting some more screen time.
There are a few people I didn’t really get to talk about. J.P., Ashley, Desi, Roark, and Mike. These people have all been relatively in the background during the start of the season. That doesn’t mean they won’t later come to prominence and start to flesh out as characters but as of right now, we haven’t been given much to work with. Still, to have 10 people who look to feature prominently in the season with 15 players left, it does feel good. It’s something that Australian Survivor, with its multiple episodes a week, has kind of spoiled for us. So much time allows for so much more character development and in comparison, American Survivor looks superficial. So far in Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, they’ve done their best to remedy that little problem.