A second look at Survivor Samoa’s final six and the jury’s pre-season interviews

Survivor Samoa airs its final Thursday episode tonight, and concludes with a two-hour finale and a one-hour reunion on Sunday. It’s time, then, to look at the remaining contestants, and see how they lived up to the strategies they outlined to me pre-season, and how much their likeablity was a predictor of their success.

First, my pre-season rankings held up really well. My favorites–Betsy, Russell Swan, and Erik–were great players and characters. While Russell might have self-destructed had he not been tragically forced from the game, I still mourn Betsy, and wish she was still in the game. At the bottom of the list, Ben proved himself to be awful, so no surprises there. Toward the end, I might move John up the list and Shambo down a bit. Russell Hantz was my one big misfire; he was my second-least favorite, and although I doubt I’d be best friends with him, he surprised me as a player (more on that below). Of the others, their edited selves pretty much matched their real-life 30-minute interview selves.

How will the jury vote? It’s hard to know since we don’t know its final composition, nor who it will have to choose from, but one jury member revealed her thought process to me. Perhaps their pre-game interviews have some insight. Read them here: Dave Ball, Monica Padilla, Laura Morett, Kelly Sharbaugh, John Fincher, and Erik Cardona.

Here’s a look back at the final six; click on their faces to read–and listen to–their pre-game thoughts:

Mick Trimming
Mick Trimming Despite being apparently flawless and having a name like Dr. Mick Trimming, Mick managed to do exactly what he predicted he’d do: “to start off under the radar a little bit” and “be sort of the dependable guy who is not going to try to control things right at the get go.” He managed to do that despite being elected leader (remember that?), and by letting Russell control the game. Somehow, he also seems like less of a threat than Jaison or Brett, so Dr. Mick Trimming might be able to add another mark of perfection to his resume.

Brett Clouser
Brett Clouser The only way I can explain Brett’s absence from the game is that a) he’ll be eliminated well before making the final three (I’d guess tonight), and b) he gave bad interviews. While Brett’s a nice guy, his answers to my questions were convoluted at best, but he did predict his invisibility: “I don’t think people will necessarily see the brain behind the operation, but see my ability to connect with people and ability to manipulate conversations and so forth to really move in the direction that I want,” he said.

Natalie White
Natalie White I found Natalie White to be one of the friendliest contestants this season, and she promised “I do want to make new friends,” and her strategy was “to read people and build relationships as well.” It appears she’s done just that, and it might take her right to the end. Ironically, though, she’s gotten there thanks in part to Russell, and before the game, she told me, “I hope people just aren’t malicious.”

Shannon “Shambo” Waters
Shannon Waters Oh, Shambo. After meeting her, I found her to be annoying and enthusiastic, and that’s what she’s delivered. She told me, “I can’t completely be myself because I will rub people the wrong way,” but I kind of think she’s rubbed people the wrong way by being herself. Interesting, she’s become a power player despite being so unpredictable, and despite telling me,
“I’m so not here to win.” Yes, she actually said, “I don’t give a shit about the million dollars, I care about touching people’s lives in a positive way.” Actually, I kind of think that she has a better shot at the million than touching people’s lives right now, considering at least one of the jury members thinks she’s mentally ill.

Jaison Robinson
Jaison Robinson Jaison said he was drawn to the game because “I want to see how I react in an environment that clearly is absolutely nothing like what I would have planned for myself or put myself in that sort of situation.” At first, he didn’t seem to react well, and almost seemed to withdraw. But that was one of his strategies, too: He planned to “kind of withdraw and let the game play out in front of you instead of trying to move straight through it,” though he also said he wanted to create a “scheming brain trust”, and that’s basically what Foa Foa–with Russell’s help–has done. He also said that he was scared of being blindsided, which hasn’t happened yet.

Russell Hantz
Russell Hantz What a surprise Russell Hantz has been. Although his prediction that viewers are “going to think I’m the worst thing to ever make TV” was probably right at first, he’s grown on a lot of people, despite being ugly in many respects. Then again, he makes no apologies for who he is: “I didn’t ask to be the villain. This is is me. This is exactly how I am as a person.” He’s played better than anyone else, and perhaps more creatively than anyone since Richard Hatch, though his social game will probably cost him the game. Besides discussing the reality show he was almost cast on instead of Survivor, Russell and I also discussed his plans for various kinds of alliances, including one with “a strong guy” alliance he wants to have so he can “bring three guys that are the strongest” to the end. That may just happen; Coach will be proud.

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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.