It's impossible for Survivor to ever have a totally satisfying 'all-stars' format for a season for the simple fact that even if you could somehow pare the hundreds of contestants down into a completely acceptable 18-to-20-person cast, some of that group simply might not want to do it again. Guys like Earl Cole and Yul Kwon (both very popular former winners) are on record as saying that while they enjoyed the experience, it's not something they'd want to go through again just for more TV face time, a crack at more money and a specious 'title defense' of sorts.
With all of that in mind, I still have to fault CBS for the lackluster cast they assembled for this Heroes vs. Villains concept for Survivor's 20th season. It's not perfect --- not by a long shot. In fact, it makes four critical mistakes that the largely successful Fans vs. Favorites season (discussed at length, and I do mean at length, by these two yahoos) avoided.
* Former winners are back. In FvF, the highest any of the players placed was second, so there was some definite hunger for a second crack at the title. I felt it was a good move to keep the winners out of it, since if you remember back to the first All-Stars series, former winners like Tina, Ethan and Richard Hatch were all immediately targeted simply because of their past triumphs. For this new series, however, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Tom Westman, Parvati Shallow and James Thomas are all in the cast, and if history is any indication, they'll have big targets on their back. It's kind of a no-win situation for a former Survivor champ; since they're immediately targeted, they really have little to no room to maneuver. And for fans, it's frustrating since (obviously) part of the appeal of a show like this is seeing how winners do a second time around. If I were CBS, I would've tried for a different theme of the season --- Champions vs. Challengers. Ten former winners against ten former runners-ups, jury members or players who had to leave the game early for medical reasons. It gives the champs an even footing from the start and, with 10 targets, it makes it less likely that they'd be picked on just because they have a million bucks already.
* It's nothing but former players. While the "fans" in FvF were mostly all terrible players, it at least kept things fresh and led to a season free of the bad feelings that spoiled the previous All-Stars campaign. This time, however, it's all returnees again, so let's hope we can avoid nonsense like Rich Hatch sexually harassing Sue Hawk, or Lex's friendship with Boston Rob being destroyed.
* The last All-Star season was just two years ago. It seemed like Survivor was on a cycle of one All-Star campaign for every eight series. I understand them wanting to do something big for the 20th season, but come on now, Survivor 10 was just a regular cast of newbies. We're not exactly raring for another All-Star concept right now, which leads me to my biggest pet peeve....
* Three-timers. Of the 20 people in the cast, eight of them (almost half!) are appearing in their third Survivor series. Of these eight, there are three who might be passable --- Parvati (won FvF, so she's defending a title), James (injured during FvF, though let's be honest, he's here due to Jeff Probst's hilarious man-crush on him) and Boston Rob (who is basically on a title defense too after his marriage-creating performance in the first All-Stars, and plus admittedly I'm interested in seeing how Rob adjusts to the modern Survivor game full of hidden immunity idols and whatnot). But as for the other five, they're all 0-for-2, forget them. Even Cirie, arguably my favourite Survivor player ever, really has no case to be brought back other than the producers just getting lazy with their casting. It's absurd that a show with such a rich history of characters would ignore great players who haven't even been brought back once in order to bring back people who have done it twice.
None of these criticisms, I should note, will keep me from watching the show, since I'm a confirmed Survivor addict. But still, it's irritating to see such obvious mistakes made in what could, if done properly, be a great concept. Rather than a half-assed melange like this cast, I'd like to see something like the aforementioned Champs vs. Challengers idea, or (in a totally perfect world) a cast of all former Survivor winners. Such a show couldn't happen, though, since assembling those specific 19 people would be impossible --- Rich Hatch is in jail, Ethan Zohn is battling cancer, and as noted, guys like Earl or Yul just don't have any desire to return. It would also be kind of a wonky cast with an uneven number like 19, and the usually even male/female ratio would also be thrown off (11 male winners vs. 8 female winners).
But after ripping CBS' choices, it's now time for me to put my money where my mouth is and try to construct an ideal All-Stars cast of my own. I'm actually going to make two of them. One will be the cast I would've put together for this specific season, scrapping the Heroes/Villains gimmick and picking random folks from the history of the show (no third-timers, no winners). The second is my ultimate Survivor cast, i.e. if I had to put together the premium type of All-Stars season, here are the 20 people I'd select. The only joint rule for both of these lists is that it's an even split of 10 men/10 women, and I'm going to limit myself to just one person from each season. Also, this takes place in a magical fairytale land where gumdrops are raindrops and every former player wants to/is able to return.
This Season's All-Stars Borneo: Kelly Wiglesworth. There are lots of intriguing options from the first season, if for no other reason than to see how these people adjust to being on what is, in many ways, a completely different show from the one they participated on in 2000. Perhaps I picked Kelly just because all the other players seem to have gone to some secondary level of success through their fame in the show, whereas Kelly was just That Girl Who Came In Second To Richard Hatch. She won four immunities in a row, for pete's sake. She deserves better.
Australia: Elisabeth Hasselbeck. My 'no three-timers' rule hits Australia hard, since it omits Colby, Jerri, Amber, Tina and Alicia. I thought about picking Mike "The Guy Who Fell In The Fire" Skupin since he is a sentimental favorite of Survivor fans who want to see people brought back for All-Star seasons, but I couldn't resist the temptation to re-cast the fool who has been irritating humanity on The View for years. The only downside is that in an actual All-Stars season, she could last a long time since everyone would want to be sitting next to her in the finals. *shudder*
Africa: Teresa Cooper. Here's another show that's hit even harder by the third-timer ban. The ol' T-Bird is a player I'd like to see again, given how she was behind the eight ball for virtually her entire stint on the show. A well-liked, respected player like her would probably fare better in the modern game, since Africa was still mostly played under the 'make an alliance and ride it to the end' strategy.
Marquesas: Paschal English. You might remember him as the kindly old judge that became the one (and to date, only) Survivor to ever be "purple-rocked" out of the game. Even better, Survivor producers later admitted that the use of the purple rock tie-breaker at the final four didn't really make sense, so Paschal wouldn't even have been eliminated had he played in any future seasons. C'mon, a judge of all people should get the justice of a return trip to the show.
Thailand: Helen Glover. The Thailand season has some slim pickings, but Helen was a clear choice. A flat-out hilarious contestant from start to finish. Click here for a recap of Helen's greatest moment (and, while you're there, check out the rest of that awesome list).
Amazon: Matthew Von Ertfelda. Mario (who, by the way, I'll be quoting at length in this piece, so buckle up) compared the relationship between Matt and Rob Cesternino to that of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster. Rob taught the off-putting Matt basically how to play the game, and became gradually terrified that Matt --- who several players thought actually had a screw loose --- would lose it if Rob tried to screw him over. Matt gradually became good enough at the game to finish second, so maybe after another appearance, he'd have morphed into the best player ever. He'd be like Doomsday, the Superman villain whose power of evolution allowed him to eventually overcome any threat.
Pearl Islands: Sandra Diaz-Twine. I can't wait to see what Sandra does on HvV. Both due to gameplay, and also if one of her many obscenities will slip past CBS' soon-to-be-overworked censor. Sandra's first appearance was pre-Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance and before the era of the seven-second delay, so who knows what might happen. They might have to pixellate her entire face.
All-Stars: Jenna Morasca. Ok, a mild exception to the "no three-timers" rule, since it was bound to be broken by including a rep from this season anyway. Jenna would be a two-and-a-half timer anyway; she left after a few episodes to be with her cancer-stricken mother, so she didn't really get a proper chance to come back and defend her S6 title.
Vanuatu: Chris Daugherty. Of all the former winners, Chris is high on my list of people I'd like to see play the game again. My aforementioned pal Mario thinks Chris is one of the most entertaining players ever, and made the great observation that Chris is basically a real-life version of Bill Paxton's character in 'True Lies.' It's all the more fitting since I'm not sure Chris told the truth once in his entire stay in the game.
Palau: Ian Rosenberger. Also known as 'the guy who gave away a million dollars to keep the respect of a man he had known for about a month.' One of the five dumber moves in Survivor history, no question. Ian would hopefully be a bit older and wiser this time around.
Guatemala: Rafe Judkins. The Guatemala season gets short shrift by the Survivor producers, given that it hasn't produced a single All-Star player in either FvF or HvV. Sure, Steph is back for HvV, but she was an add-on to this cast anyway. Why not Rafe? Likable, memorable, surprisingly adept at challenges, a gay Mormon....what's not to like?
Exile Island: Shane Powers. You may remember him as the lookalike for the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies who went gradually crazier with each passing day on the island since he had given up cigarettes cold turkey just before the start of the show. Shane was a major reason why Exile Island was the funniest season. He'd also be interesting to see again because (as we saw at the reunion show) he is a completely different person off of the nicotine and would probably have a completely different strategy and gameplan in a second go-around. Sadly, Shane was apparently a last-minute cut from Heroes vs. Villains.
Cook Islands: Yul Kwon. Smart, good athlete and an all-around good chap. If you had to take an informal poll of which Survivor contestant you'd want to be president, Yul would probably win. Coming in last would be Osten from the seventh season, better known as the man who was terrified of nature. America's national parks system would suffer some heavy cutbacks under President Osten's administration.
Fiji: Earl Cole. There are only four good choices from this mostly terrible season. There's Yau Man (already on FvF, so he's three-timed), the always-unpredictable Dreamz, and Michelle (Earl and Yau's third partner in crime who was the victim of a tribal swap and voted out in a manner some might say was a bit arbitrary). The fourth, and best, choice is Earl.
China: Peih-Gee Law. PG stood out on Survivor: China as one of the few people in this cast of idiots that actually seemed to be trying to play the game. She got on the wrong side of the merger but managed to last until fifth place, which is good enough to make the cut in my cast. PG beats out Mullet Denise and Todd Herzog, a.k.a. the worst winner in Survivor history.
Fans vs. Favorites: Tracy Hughes-Wolf. Who? I mentioned earlier that the alleged Survivor superfans in the FvF season were mostly useless and seemed less like fans than a crew of aspiring actors/models/bartenders that the production team trolled for around Los Angeles. The one exception was Tracy, who did about as well as one could do on a team of morons and saddled with particularly useless alliance-mates like Chet and crazy Kathy. She went out pre-merge on FvF, but on a proper cast and a bit more luck, I'd suspect she could reach the jury at least.
Gabon: Bob Crowley. Also known as the poor man's Yau-Man, except Bob actually won his season and Yau-Man had a personality. Poor Bob. He did plenty of cool stuff on the show (making incredibly realistic fake idols, going on a big immunity run to save his hide, hailing from Maine) but boy, this guy was as exciting as watching paint dry. His students must treat his class as pure death.
Tocantins: "Coach" Ben Wade. An inevitable choice. This guy was made to be brought back for an All-Star season. Frankly, given the amount of airtime that CBS invested in him during his season, it would've been a bad business move to NOT re-cast him.
Samoa: Natalie White. Let's also presume that, for the sake of this exercise, this All-Star season wasn't filmed almost directly after Survivor: Samoa so Natalie would have time to recover. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure she'd shrink down to some type of action figure.
Wild card: Gretchen Cordy. Her elimination in the original season is widely seen as the moment when Survivor turned from a "let's vote based on who is the best at surviving out in the wild and interacting with others" show to "let's vote to try and win a million dollars" show. It's only fair to bring Gretchen back now that she knows what the name of the game actually is.
THE ULTIMATE CAST Borneo: Richard Hatch. Naturally.
Australia: Amber Brkich. We've seen her attached at the hip to Jerri in Australia and then to Rob on All-Stars. I'm interested to see how Amber would fare either on her own or, conversely, to see who she would latch onto in another scenario should Rob be eliminated from the game. Maybe she'd just hop from host to host like the Venom symbiote.
Africa: Kelly Goldsmith. There are way more high-profile choices available from the Africa season, but none of them could match Kelly's unique blend of hyperactivity and insanity. Imagine Elle Woods from the Legally Blonde movies, except hopped up on goofballs.
Marquesas: Vecepia Towery. You might wonder why V, widely acknowledged to be the most under-the-radar Survivor winner ever, would be brought back. But that's the reason! I'd love to see if she could sneak her way through the game again. She could win this show twice and some yokels would still consider her the worst victor ever.
Thailand: Brian Heidik. No-brainer here. Hatch is generally considered to be the original Survivor genius, but Brian threw the first perfect game in the show's history. The only knock on Heidik is that his final vote was just 4-3 (though there was no way he'd lose to borderline racist Clay), whereas you could argue that future winners like JT and Earl both had perfect votes in their favour and left the game with everyone's respect. Brian, however, was an ice man who won a fairly anti-social season and rarely takes part in any CBS cast get-togethers. It's possible he was a robot sent from the future and programmed to win Survivor, sell used cars and dabble in softcore porn.
Amazon: Rob Cesternino. Another no-brainer. Maybe the most important player in Survivor history, since without Rob's strategy of eliminating whomever was a threat to him personally (as opposed to just whomever wasn't in his alliance), the game was threatening to become entirely decided by whichever alliance had the numbers after the merge. He also has a killer Jeff Probst impression.
Pearl Islands: Rupert Boneham or Jon Dalton. I can't decide between these two, so I'll leave it up to you, the readers. You can choose between the tie-dyed bellowing pirate or the pro wrestling villain wannabe with the "dead" grandmother. It's hard to go wrong in either direction.
All-Stars: Boston Rob Mariano. Sure, he didn't actually win the season. And he was so obnoxious that you could argue he didn't really have a chance to win the jury vote (he Russelled himself, so to speak, or maybe Russell Boston Robbed himself). And he may have cost himself a couple of friendships. But still, it's hard to argue against a guy who dominates a season and then marries the woman who did win. Between Rob and the Red Sox, 2004 was a banner year for the city of Boston.
Vanuatu: Ami Cusack. Arguably the most dominant 'alpha female' player in the game's history. Disappointing on FvF, sure, but maybe she was still hung up on Twila and Scout ruining her plans in Vanuatu. I propose a bare-knuckles boxing match to settle the matter, and then Ami can enter a new Survivor season with a clear mind. A clear mind and a few less teeth, since do you really think Twila would lose this fight? Shyeah right.
Palau: Tom Westman. Captain America! He dominated and won his original season, he's a firefighter, he's a natural leader....yeah, I'd expect him to last maybe three episodes on HvV. He's just way too big a threat. Tom's only hope is an immunity run or if he can browbeat another gangly college kid into quitting the game. Unfortunately for Tom, there aren't any such Jim Halpert wannabes in either HvV or in this fantasy cast.
Guatemala: Danni Boatwright. Another under-appreciated winner, partially due to Guatemala's inexplicable status as the forgotten season, and also because it was hard to pinpoint a clear move she made to get the victory. It was like the game kept going until, whoop, we were at the end and there was Danni. Her most notable achievement was to pierce the seemingly impenetrable disguise of Gary "Yes, I Went To The Same College As NFL Quarterback Gary Hogeboom At The Same Time That He Did, But I'm Clearly Not Him, I'm Just Mild-Mannered Landscaper Gary Hawkins" Hogeboom. That nickname was as well thought-out as Gary's strategy. Speaking of football, Danni's victory was the most notable achievement by anyone connected to the Kansas City Chiefs since Super Bowl IV.
Exile Island: Cirie Fields. Best player to never win the game. In two appearances on the show, she finished fourth and third, thinking rings around the other Survivors in the process. Some might point to Cirie's lack of physical ability as a detriment, but we've seen players win without being physical threats in the past. That flaw isn't a crippling one like, say, Amanda Kimmel's inability to form words when put in front of a final jury. As much as I dislike the third-timers in HvV, part of me hopes Cirie wins to finally get a well-deserved Survivor title to her name. But surely the other players aren't so dense that they would let Cirie get too far into the game....are they?
Cook Islands: Ozzy Lusth. Damn, can this guy swim. He and Yul were the dominant figures in the Cook Islands, so they're the two clear picks for these casts. The only downside is that this reunites Ozzy and Amanda, whose relationship on FvF degenerated into dangerous levels of schmoopiness.
Fiji: Yau-Man Chan. One of the truly great characters in Survivor history, as well as one of the better players. Hopefully CBS realized what a gold mine they had found when they cast this guy. From making fake idols to Mr. Wizard-ing his way around the camp, it was like a real live Professor had wandered onto Survivor from Gilligan's Island.
China: Amanda Kimmel. I'm not going to say that Amanda is bad at final jury speeches, but if she was your attorney, you'd get the chair. In fact, if you were just in court arguing a parking ticket, she could still somehow talk you into being executed. You'd be dragged off in irons while Amanda just looked after you sadly with tear-rimmed doe eyes and a pixellated area on her lower back. Amanda's hilarious ineptitude at jury questions aside, the fact remains that (statistically) she's the best player in Survivor history after finishing third and second, respectively, in her two appearances on the show. It would be the height of hilarity if she crapped the bed at yet another jury speech in the Heroes vs. Villains season, but surely the other players would want to give her a taste of the Survivor voted-off Ponderosa by this point.
Fans vs. Favorites: Parvati Shallow. Boy, if you had told me two years ago that I would be putting Parvati on any type of 'ultimate Survivor' list, I'd have said you were crazy. She completely changed her reputation after winning the FvF season and actually showing some wits, whereas in the Cook Islands season she just tried to cuddle up to the guys and Amber her way to a victory.
Gabon: Sugar Kiper. I debated putting Sugar into the other list just because I'm not sure if a player who actively doesn't care about winning should necessarily be in an 'ultimate cast.' Then again, I'm not sure if I quite impressed upon you just how dull Bob Crowley was. Sugar was clearly the dominant figure of this season and while scuttlebutt has revealed that she was actually a grade-A bitca who got a great edit from the show, at least she wasn't an unpleasant sociopath like pretty much everyone else in this cast.
Tocantins: James "JT" Thomas. As fun as having Coach around would be, it's hard to ignore such a dominant winner. Certainly on the short list of best winners in the show's history. Also, I'd want viewers to watch my theoretical ultimate Survivor, and adding JT increases female viewership by 25 percent.
Samoa: Russell Hantz. Another obvious pick, given that he got roughly 75 percent of the airtime during the season. Damn you, Survivor editing! I feel obligated to do this since I still don't know how good the rest of that Samoa cast was! This pick was a natural even though I'm definitely in the camp that believes Russell's loss was deserved.
Wild card: Stephenie LaGrossa. This seems like a natural place for Steph, given that I went with Tom and Ian to represent Palau (once again, she just can't beat those guys) and it didn't quite feel right to give her a spot representing Guatemala given that it was her second chance. It was either this or place her in my fantasy Jersey Shore cast. In case you asked, it's Steph, Frank Sinatra, Martin Brodeur, Lauryn Hill, Bebe Neuwirth, Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Costello and Buzz Aldrin. You're telling me you wouldn't watch that show?