Survivor Samoa’s chief twist, 20 cast members revealed; cast includes two alternates, Tocantins reject

CBS officially revealed the cast of Survivor Samoa today, and it includes 20 people, not 18, as was announced at the end of last season. Among the group is a lesbian Marine sergeant (Shannon, who goes by “Shambo”), an EPA lawyer (Russell S.), a man with an insane strategy (Russell H.), and an awesome New Hampshire cop with an interesting past (Betsy).

CBS’ press release also revealed the opening-day twist: “Without speaking, both tribes must immediately choose one member of their group to become their sole decision maker, their chief.” That will undoubtedly make leader-obsessed Jeff Probst happy.

The 18 turned into 20 at the last-minute, as I learned in Samoa when I interviewed the new cast earlier this summer. I talked to 18 cast members, and then an alternate in case he was added to the game. We returned the next day to interview the final alternate, Ashley. (Since they were pulled out for fake interviews the day of the press interviews, their fellow competitors didn’t know they were alternates. This is significant because they know they’re alternates, which for at least one of them seemed to make a huge difference.) Although I prefer smaller casts, I am glad they gave us Erik and Ashley, both of whom appear to be far better cast members than some of the others who weren’t alternates.

One contestant was actually someone I’d met previously: Mike Borassi was the first contestant I interviewed in Brazil, but he was removed from the game for medical reasons and replaced by Spencer Duhm the day before the game started. In our Samoa interview, he talked about how that changed his life.

Like last season’s group, there were fewer outliers, but there are a few awful people who will, I’m sure, make great TV. Russell H.’s strategy may make you want to stab yourself in the brain, while I have no idea why Ben is on the show. Then again, I might have said about the demure JT, who the other Survivor Tocantins contestants cited as being annoying before the game–before he became the most successful contestant ever.

As usual, I’ll rank the cast tomorrow, and start posting an interview/analysis a day with them next week, right up to the debut Sept. 17.

Here’s the overview with their (often ridiculous) official occupations:

  • David Ball, 38, Los Angeles, fitness instructor
  • Betsy Bolan, 48, Campton, NH, police officer
  • Mike Borassi, 62, Marina del Rey, Calif., private chef
  • Ben Browning, 28, Los Angeles, mixologist
  • Marisa Calihan, 26, Cincinnati, student
  • Erik Cardona, 28, Ontario, Calif., bartender
  • Brett Clouser, 23, Los Angles, t-shirt designer
  • John Fincher, 25, Los Angeles, rocket scientist
  • Yasmin Giles, 33, Los Angeles, hairstylist
  • Russell Hantz, 36, Dayton, Texas, oil company owner
  • Elizabeth Kim, 33, New York, urban planner
  • Laura Morett, 39, Salem, Oregon, office manager
  • Monica Padilla, 25, San Diego, law student
  • Jaison Robinson, 28, Chicago, law student
  • Kelly Sharbaugh, 25, Los Angeles, hairstylist
  • Russell Swan, 42, Glenside, Penn., attorney
  • Ashley Trainer, 22, Maple Grove, Minn., spa sales
  • Mick Trimming, 33, Los Angeles, doctor
  • Shannon Waters, 45, Renton, Wash., sales rep
  • Natalie White, 26, Van Buren, Ark., pharmaceutical sales

The Quest ends its journey stronger than it began

Verlox from The Quest

A review of the finale of summer's best reality series, which wasn't always perfect but was thoroughly entertaining right down to the finish, which included phenomenal challenges and special effects. Will ABC give it a second season?

Plus: an interview with the actor who played Verlox and the ogre.


Shark Tank is getting a spin-off

Shark Tank

Companies that get deals on the show will be followed for this new spin-off.

Also: Before the show began, Shark Barbara Corcoran was cast and then replaced--but then she sent this amazing e-mail and won the job.

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.