Dan was the most likable Survivor Gabon cast member, while Kelly, Matty were the most awful

After meeting and talking one-on-one with each of the Survivor Gabon cast members at pre-Ponderosa, the location where they stay and wait until the game starts, I decided to try to rank them based upon how they’d do in the game. Having watched every episode of every season of Survivor except the very first episode, I thought this would be an easy task. It was not.

In fact, I think my familiarity with the show made it more difficult, because I realized there were so many game-play variables that affected their success–like tribe divisions, when the merge occurred, and other twists–never mind their own decisions about their behavior. Randy, for example, came across as a complete asshole in our conversation, but I knew that, once the game started, he could play nice or he could be an even bigger dick. If the latter, his tribemates could either dump him or keep him around because he’d be easy to beat. See? There were just too many possibilities.

Complicating things was the way nearly all of the cast members told me about their impressions about one another. Although they aren’t allowed to speak before the game (and they do not talk, which is creepy), they spend days together, eating and killing time on the beach or whatever. Some told me that they communicated non-verbally, while others just started judging their fellow competitors based upon clothing or the books they were reading. While some had totally figured other people out, others had pretty inaccurate impressions, and in both cases, of course, I didn’t share that with them, although they occasionally tried to get information from me.

After trying to figure out which of the 18 people would at least make the merge and giving up on that, I realized the only way I could rank them was by how much I liked them–because even after just 20 to 30 minutes with each of them, I absolutely knew that. I’ve ranked them based upon their likability below (I’ve also included their official hometowns and occupations, according to CBS).

The first eight were people I’d want to align with if I played the game, or at least I’d just want to spend time talking with them. They were warm, charming, interesting, or some combination of those things. The next six, nine through 14, were people I was neutral on; they were pleasant but nothing really sparked in our conversations, and I might have even been a bit bored with them. The last four I pretty much despised, and perhaps not coincidentally, some of them didn’t really seem to like me. Also, it’s worth noting that in these groups, the ranks are a bit arbitrary; Matty could easily have swapped places with Kelly, just as three to eight could be shuffled because they were all similarly nice.

Starting after the long weekend, I’ll post an interview or two a day with each cast member, which should explain my rationale and give insight into how they’ll play the game. And I’m kind of excited to see how this translates to the game. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see my list flip entirely.

  1. Dan Kay, 32, Boston, lawyer
  2. Susie Smith, 47, Charles City, Iowa, hairdresser
  3. Ace Gordon, 27, Naples, Fla., jewelry sales
  4. Charlie Herschel, 29, New York, lawyer
  5. Ken Hoang, 22, Westminster, Calif., professional gamer
  6. Danny “GC” Brown, 26, Portland, Ore., maintenance man
  7. Paloma Soto-Castillo, 24, Downey, Calif., student
  8. Bob Crowley, 58, Portland, Maine, physics teacher
  9. Jessica “Sugar” Kiper, 29, Brooklyn, N.Y. pin-up model/actor
  10. Crystal Cox, 29, Durham, N.C., Olympian
  11. Marcus Lehman, 28, Atlanta, doctor
  12. Michelle Chase, 24, Los Angeles, music production assistant
  13. Jacque Berg, 25, Santa Barbara, Calif., medical sales
  14. Gillian Larson, 61, Temecula, Calif., retired nurse
  15. Randy Bailey, 49, Eagle Rock, Mo., wedding videographer
  16. Matty Whitmore, 29, Pacific Palisades, Calif., personal trainer
  17. Corrine Kaplan, 29, Los Angeles, pharmaceutical sales
  18. Kelly Czarnecki, 22, Buffalo Grove, Ill., retail

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.