It’s been said before and I’ll say it again, Survivor: Guatemala is the forgotten child of the Survivor franchise. Ask any random person who has knowledge about the show to name all of the seasons, odds are Guatemala will be one of the last seasons they remember. The further time gets away from the season, the more it seeps out of people’s memories, replaced by more recent seasons and players.
A huge reason for our collective blind spot for Guatemala is that Jeff Probst hated his life during filming. The show had gone to warm locations before but they had never encountered the muggy, damp climate of Guatemala and it took a toll on both the players and production. After wrapping the show, numerous cameramen, sound people, and other members of production quit their jobs to find something else to do. It was a miserable experience for Probst and he has been on record as saying they would never return to such a climate. When he ranked the first 19 seasons as part of the Heroes vs Villains pre-game, Probst listed Guatemala 16th with his reasoning being “why not?” That tells you all you need to know about how he feels concerning this season.
Tying into Probst’s dislike, the other huge part of why Guatemala is so easily forgotten by the fans is that no first-time players from the season has ever returned on the show. Stephenie LaGrossa got her third chance in Heroes vs Villains but she had already played once before. None of the new players from Guatemala have ever been brought back for another season of Survivor. This puts them on the same level as the fans tribe in Caramoan as the only new players in a season to not have a single person brought back.
With the Caramoan fans tribe, you can sort of understand the reasoning. I have said before that Reynold Toepfer deserves another shot at the game and a lot of people like Eddie Fox. They are perfectly fine contestants but not necessarily the most dynamic and they are the “cream” of that tribe’s “crop”. It’s perfectly reasonable the production doesn’t really want to bring any of them back. The same couldn’t be said about Guatemala’s cast of first-timers because they had some truly dynamic characters that deserves a second shot but seem to have been forgotten in the sands of time.
Consider our most recent season, Game Changers. Supposedly, the cast was comprised of people who impacted the show in the past, even though it featured people like Michaela Bradshaw and Troyzan Robertson, so why not include Gary Hogeboom in there? The guy was part of multiple firsts in the Survivor franchise, firsts that are actually tangible and could be explained to the audience with a montage.
Most notably, Gary was the first player to ever find and play an idol. Of course, the idol in Guatemala does not operate like a modern idol but it was called a hidden immunity idol and is considered to be the first of its kind. Also, Russell Hantz loves to claim that he was the first player to find an idol without any clues but Gary did that in Guatemala. He was able to spot Judd Sergeant looking for it in the trees after he told the tribe it was “definitely, by far, on the ground” and from there, Gary found it for himself. How about the Mr. Greatest of all-tiiiiiiime?
In terms of casting, Gary was also the first stunt-casting that production ever attempted. Prior to appearing on Survivor, Gary spent multiple seasons in the NFL as a quarterback, including starting for the Dallas Cowboys. While he wasn’t a household name, he was a fairly recognizable public figure that received his fair share of media during his time in the league. Considering his stature, there was a fair chance that Gary might be identified by his tribe mates. Because of that, Gary holds the distinction of being the first to conjure up the strategy of lying about his identity that many future celebrities would also use on the island. How’s that for game changing? Feels like a little more than Hali Ford ever did.
On top of having the resume, Gary had the personality. His insistence on keeping up his lie even when Danni Boatwright has him pegged squarely is funny. That he thought admitting he went to the same small-ish school as Gary Hogeboom but that he wasn’t Gary Hogeboom was hilarious. His repertoire with Amy O’Hara is fantastic throughout the season. In terms of gameplay, Gary was actually a pretty astute player who was also an asset in challenges. Gary was a surprisingly good Survivor player.
If production is worried about Gary’s age in terms of bringing him back, then I have another option for them. His name is Jamie Newton and he is the recipient of one of the most complicated edits the show has ever created. Jamie is full-parts a crazy person as much as he is a nice guy who just wants to do the right thing and it’s compelling.
The early stages of the Jamie Newton experience are when Stephenie and Bobby Jon Drinkard are introduced. Jamie is one of the few to outright state he does not want a returning player in his game because they have a huge advantage in having played before. A few days down the road, who is Jamie allied closely with? Stephenie LaGrossa. Just the living contradiction that is Jamie Newton at work.
During the tribe portion of the season, Jamie finds himself in a rivalry with Bobby Jon. In the challenges, they get up in each other’s faces and yell gibberish at each other whenever given the opportunity. They get so into it that I am certain slash fiction about them has been written on the web but I am not going to go ahead and look for it. Jamie does not like having his manliness challenged and feels threatened by Bobby Jon who feels the same way in return.
It all boils to a head at the merge immunity challenge. With the option to sit out and eat, Jamie chooses to do so considering he is in the majority. As Bobby Jon competes for a chance to save his life, Jamie taunts him constantly and enrages even his majority alliance who see that Jamie is making an ass of himself. At tribal council, Bobby Jon tells Jamie that he was acting classless.
This really hurts Jamie’s feelings. Coming back from tribal, he apologizes to Bobby Jon and his tribe and promises to turn over a new leaf. At the following reward challenge, Jamie gives up his spot in the queue to make sure that everybody else is going to have a better meal than he is. It’s Jamie’s hero moment, the edit seems to be pointing out that he is evolving and realizing that he needs to step his social game up. Jamie Newton has been redeemed.
…then it all comes crashing down on him. Some people on the island do themselves in for various reasons and Jamie is one of these people. He cannot control his paranoia and feels the need to constantly get validation from his alliance that he is okay with them. That kind of behaviour is a good way to make your partners feel uncomfortable. Jamie also has a conversation with Gary in which Gary tells Jamie he will not vote against him. Somehow, Jamie misconstrues this comment as Gary saying “I will vote against you” which feeds into Jamie’s paranoia and anger. Because his tribe sees him as unreliable, they plot a blindside and end up sending him out right after his nemesis, Bobby Jon to the tune of Jamie’s classic parting line “Blindside, nice! That’s how you vote somebody out!”
To cap it all off, on the jury Jamie ends up forming a close bond with Bobby Jon over their mutual hatred of Stephenie. It’s the perfect ending to Jamie’s Guatemala storyline that has more twists and turns than a season of Big Brother. By the end of it, the audience has been on a journey with Jamie. He feels realer than most contestants that go on the show nowadays. Jamie is a fully fleshed person with real flaws and emotion and he sells all of it incredibly well. There is nothing one-note about Jamie Newton and that is something I can appreciate. He deserves another chance with time having given him the chance to mature into a calmer person.
Not convinced they should be brought back? Okay, fair enough, how about a winner? So far, 11 players have been brought back following winning a season. Why not bring back Danni to defend her title? They brought back her runner-up, Stephenie, a third time but since her win, we have heard almost nothing from Danni.
The Survivor community, especially online, loves Vanuatu for that winner’s story of beating the odds and majority and finding a way to win. Danni’s win is essentially the same storyline with the only difference being that in my opinion, Danni played a stronger game. She was an excellent social player who turned it on physically when she needed to the most. When her alliance ended up being depleted, she knew to fall into the background as much as possible and let the majority alliance get into fights with each other. She struck at the opportune moments and rallied people around her.
In the time between Guatemala and now there have been arguments whether Danni intentionally hid her game from production or not. Some claim that she did not tell producers anything in confessionals which explains her lack of content. Others just think she wasn’t popping off on camera as much as others. To me, it doesn’t matter if she did or not. What I got from Danni was enough to let me know that I would love to see her in a second season where she might not fall into the same spot. How would she approach the game from a power position? Would her social game translate? These are the things that make Danni a worthwhile returnee in my mind.
Those are just the big three that I am making a case for. The reality is that Guatemala has so many more players that deserve a second shot. Judd is an obvious one that is never going to happen because Probst hated dealing with him and he’s probably to the point where his body couldn’t handle the elements. Rafe should probably also get a second shot but he’s gotten too successful for the show. Amy was a beacon of positivity on the season. She was a physical beast in challenges on a bum ankle and her complete honesty and way of speaking made her an A+ character and confessionalist. Similarly, Brandon Bollinger’s mastery of the biting confessional and ability to make a rope his bitch with a rock merits a second chance. Brian Corridan is a fan favorite and staple to the “who should come back” lists because people see a waste of potential in his early boot. Brian is a super fan who ended up on a season where strategy did not rule the day and that was his downfall. I would also add my personal random favorite from the season, Cindy Hall, whose love of animals and snarky personality should show up in a second season one of these days.
All of this just to say, Probst, please stop ignoring Guatemala. I know you had a rough experience on location. I know Judd pissed you off multiple times. I’m sure Danni isn’t your favorite winner considering she beat the darling of Palau in a final two. Put that all aside and really think of the personalities you cast on the season. You guys did a great job in getting some memorable people. Survivor loves to bring back players so if you’re going to do that, why not pick from a well that has yet to be tapped?
Next time we have a returning player season, I’m just hoping to see that master landscaper Gary Hawkins is back on my television screen. Please just indulge me producers. Nothing would make me happier and I would never ask for anything of you ever again.