Betsy, Russell S., Erik, and Ashley are Survivor Samoa stand-outs, while Ben, Russell H., and John are just irritating

Before we get down to the real analysis of the Survivor Samoa cast starting Monday, and we find out who will blame me for ruining their lives by quoting them, here’s an overview of my first impressions of the 20-person cast. Overall, it’s an interesting group, but after talking to them in Samoa, the group didn’t stand out to me in the same way as the two previous casts did, nor did it have individuals who popped in the same way.

When I think about these rankings, I’m essentially identifying who I’d want to hang around and align with if I was playing the game. The past two seasons (Gabon and Tocantins), my first impression rankings have been pretty accurate in the sense that how I felt initially didn’t change much, but I’ve been surprised more than once (Matty in Gabon, JT in Tocantins), and I know that when the game starts, people change in good and bad ways.

This group has just three people who are really obnoxious: John, Russell H., and Ben (ironically, it’s Ben’s birthday today–sorry!). And of course, they may turn out to be memorable characters as a result. But there’s also a larger middle of people who are nice enough but don’t stand out much. Although I interviewed them less than three months ago, a few were so forgettable I seriously don’t recall talking to them (Liz and Monica), and I struggled to rank those from 11 to 17 because they’re all kind of just occupying the middle for me (in other words, they could all trade places). Perhaps as I re-listen to our conversations, that will change.

All that said, there are some fantastic characters here, even among the people I can’t stand, and some potentially great players. I rarely make predictions, and may regret this, but I expect one of the top 10 people here to win, because they all have a combination of personality, intelligence, and some kind of surprising attribute that will work well on Survivor

Here are the 20 cast members, ranked from my favorite to least favorite players (keep the caveats above in mind) and brief descriptions of each:

  1. Betsy: genuine, enthusiastic, and an actual fan
  2. Russell S: smart and charismatic
  3. Erik: aggressively ready
  4. Ashley: eager and engaging
  5. Jaison: quietly intelligent and strong
  6. Marisa: intuitive, experienced
  7. Brett: eager and earnest, slightly devious
  8. Natalie: thoroughly nice
  9. Mick: confident and assured
  10. Laura: surprisingly complex and interesting
  11. Kelly: quirky and different
  12. Shannon/Shambo: raw and unfiltered
  13. Yasmin: fun and outspoken
  14. Monica: strong but somewhat plain
  15. Liz: shy and demure
  16. Mike: a good guy
  17. Dave: smart and interesting but tries too hard to be obnoxious
  18. John: overly cocky
  19. Russell H.: convinced he’s smarter than he is
  20. Ben: blah and dismissive

The Sing-Off loses its star

Ben Folds

NBC's super-fun December a capella singing competition The Sing-Off is returning, but without its star judge, Ben Folds, and only as a two-hour special. Those are really depressing changes for a series that proved itself to be a super-fun show when it returned last December.


A film director talks about becoming a reality TV character

Anna Martemucci

What is it like to have your life turned into reality TV? Director Anna Martemucci, one of the two directors featured on Starz' exceptional reality series, talks about that, the competition, and her collaboration with her husband and brother-in-law.

Plus: How the show's producers tried to keep the $250,000 competition fair.

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.