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Quick Hits

Who's Got the Best Shot to Win Survivor 42?

A first impression guide to each of this season's players.
  • Top Left to Right: Lydia Meredith, Rocksroy Bailey, Marya Sherron, Jonathan Young, Mike Turner, Drea Wheeler, Romeo Escobar, Lindsay Dolashewich, Hai Giang, and Chanelle Howell. Bottom Left to Right: Zach Wurtenberger, Tori Meehan, Daniel Strunk, Maryanne Oketch, Jackson Fox, Jenny Kim, Omar Zaheer, and Swati Goel. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Top Left to Right: Lydia Meredith, Rocksroy Bailey, Marya Sherron, Jonathan Young, Mike Turner, Drea Wheeler, Romeo Escobar, Lindsay Dolashewich, Hai Giang, and Chanelle Howell. Bottom Left to Right: Zach Wurtenberger, Tori Meehan, Daniel Strunk, Maryanne Oketch, Jackson Fox, Jenny Kim, Omar Zaheer, and Swati Goel. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    A new season of Survivor is upon us, and with it, 18 new contestants trying to prove their worth and outmaneuver each other en route to the million dollar prize. If last season — the show's 41st — taught us anything, it's that we've reached the stage in the long history of this show where the majority of players have been watching the show for half their lives or more. We're living in an Age of Superfans, and this season's contestants continue that trend. They've each got idols (as in former contestants they idolize, not tchotchkes that confer immunity); they're all hoping to pattern their game after one beloved all-star or another. And they're all well-versed in the language of Survivor, and which of their own traits they want to enhance or put on the back burner in order to guarantee success.

    At this stage, all we have to predict the success or failure of the prospective Survivors is pre-season media appearances, which makes for a fascinating exercise. All we know right now is how they see themselves. Their success on Survivor will, in large part, depend on how other people see them. Challenge beasts become big targets. Loudmouths can annoy people. Too-quiet players are prime targets for early elimination. Based only on publicly available information, we've grouped the Survivor 42 cast into some of the tendencies that might might their doom (or in some cases, their salvation). Good luck to each of them!

    Good Vibes

    These are the players who are giving us the best first impressions as we review their pre-season materials (which includes their official CBS bio, videos they taped for Entertainment Weekly, and their social media presence). This doesn't mean we think they're going to win, necessarily. But we already like them, and there's a fair chance their teammates will feel the same.

    Jenny Kim is a 43-year-old creative director from Brooklyn who knows how to weld and build furniture out of metal, so that's already pretty rad. Like a number of this season's contestants, she's first-generation, with her parents having emigrated from South Korea. She describes herself as a perfectionist, which can sometimes spell trouble in the imperfect island environs, but she also says one of her goals is to be "comfortably uncomfortable," which feels like the right attitude. She says she wants to play with tenacity like Kelley Wentworth of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, whose two all-star appearances indeed featured some tenacious (if ultimately unsuccessful) game play.

    Marya Sherron (47 / Lansing, MI) is a stay-at-home mom who fully owns her "Mama Bear" vibe. She says she's like to play like a cross between Winners at War champion Tony and Angelina from David vs. Goliath, which sounds like a terrifying mix personality-wise, but Marya seems cool. In her bio, she reveals that she's playing for her brother, who was a nurse in New York City who died during the early COVID wave.

    Hai Giang (29 / Atlanta, GA) is a data scientist who was born in Vietnam and emigrated to America with his parents. He seems like one of those genuinely brilliant people who are sometimes too intimidating for the other dumb-dumbs they're playing with. But other times they're Yul, champion of Survivor: Cook Islands, someone Hai cites as one of his Survivor idols.

    Maryanne Oketch (24 / Ajax, Ontario) is one of two Canadians this season. Although she's a seminary student, she describes herself as talkative and loud. She's also just a huge Survivor nerd and a stats dork, so maybe she and Hai can form a brains alliance.

    Possibly Annoying

    Survivor can be a complex game of human chess. Survivor can also be an incredibly simple game of aligning with people you like and getting rid of those you don't. Especially in the earlygoing. Which is why we're always a little bit afraid for the players who at first blush seem like they might annoy people out on the island.

    Zach Wurtenberger is just 22 years old, and in a game where youth can be a liability, that's already a strike against him. He also did competitive debate in school and does sketch comedy as well, so … just keep an eye on the expressions on his tribemates' faces as they react to him. That should tell us all we need to know.

    Omar Zaheer (31 / Kitchener, Ontario) is a veterinarian specializing in exotic animals who describes in his bio how hard it is to be a vet and how people shouldn't complain about how much vets charge. Feels like he might spend one or two early nights ranting about the biz around the campfire. He also lists "Joey from Friends" as a pet peeve (rude!) and apparently hates bugs. And, look, the great Cirie Fields started her Survivor journey being too scared to pick up leaves for fear of the creepy crawlies underneath, so there's always room for growth, but "scared of bugs" always seems like a curious trait for a Survivor hopeful.

    Lindsay Dolashewich, a 31-year-old dietician from Morganville, New Jersey, describes herself as "loud," and we believe her. She also compares herself to former Survivor runner-up Stephanie LaGrossa, but watching her videos, we're getting more of a Noura from Island of the Idols vibe.

    Going Too Hard?

    One of the most maddening decisions that Survivor players face is whether to play very hard or ease up. Both have their potential pitfalls, but it's the ones who flame out playing too hard that we remember.

    Swati Goel is the baby of the season at age 19. The Palo Alto native is a member of the Army National Guard as well as a Harvard student, so the choice of whether or not to go hard already seems to have been made for her. But just in case you weren't sure, she lists Elon Musk as one of her idols and says she wants to play a game akin to Victoria from Edge of Extinction and … Chaos Kass. Bring it on! But this could end quickly.

    Tori Meehan (25 / Tulsa, OK) is a speech therapist who paid for her college education via the pageant circuit. She fancies herself a master strategist, and comes on crazy strong in her interviews, part self-mythologizing and part mile-a-minute talk about how she's going to draw in allies and crush dreams.

    The Meek

    A strong personality can be a liability, but the opposite is also true. Far too often, we see players who don't form quick bonds with the other tribe members get eliminated early.

    Jackson Fox (48 / Pasadena, TX) seems like a fantastic person — a health care worker who speaks openly and honestly about his journey as a transgender man. The age gap between him and the bulk of his fellow contestants could be a concern, as well as the fact that he generally seems very chill, which can sometimes spell doom on Survivor. The good news is that he idolizes Elaine from Island of the Idols, and she had a phenomenal social game.

    Rocksroy Bailey (44 / Brooklyn, NY) is a stay-at-home dad who emigrated to America from Jamaica. He says he wants to play like Cochran, which is funny just on a visual level, but it also feels temperamentally incongruous, since Rocksroy's vibe is closer to Danny from Survivor 41: a strong, silent type.

    Physical Threats

    In the old days, Survivor tribes would keep the strong ones around to help them win challenges, build shelters and lift heavy things around camp. Then once the merge hit, they could go on an immunity run all the way to the end. These days, the twisty-turny nature of the game means it's not always worth the risk to keep the big, strong players around for all that long, so they really need to ensconce themselves socially or they could be in trouble.

    Drea Wheeler (35 / San Antonio, TX) is a fitness consultant who was also an All-American in track. We've seen clips of her snapping tree branches over her knee. Drea is a physical force. She's another player who says she came to play a Kelley Wentworth game, though, which is a good sign that she's thinking past just the physical.

    Jonathan Young (29 / Gadsden, AL) is a "Beach Service Co. Owner" who lists spearfishing and surfing as hobbies. He is the textbook big muscle guy of the season, and he seems to be good at everything, from swimming to pullups (which he says he once broke the Guinness world record for). Who likes doing pullups? This guy. He says he wants to play like Ozzy, another competition dynamo, which is great except for how Ozzy played four times and never won. Hopefully Jonathan has other things in mind.

    Physically Unthreatening

    A physical threat can make themselves an eventual target, but tweaker players are often one poor performance in an early team challenge away from a swift exit.

    Romeo Escobar (37 / Los Angeles, CA) seems like an awesome person. He's a pageant coach, and he idolizes Sandra, Cirie, and Parvati. What's not to like? But in his bio he describes himself as a "small, gay Latino" who is often "underestimated." Underestimated can turn to eliminated way too fast on this show.

    Lydia Meredith (22 / Fredrickburg, VA) is a waitress and an aspiring actress who lists Kristen Wiig as her hero. But she comes across as pretty mild-mannered in her intro video, and her hopes to play like a combo of Tom Westman, Cirie Fields, and Debbie Wanner (great players, but not really similar) feels like she doesn't have a coherent strategy for how to play.

    Vibes Unclear

    Mike Turner (58 / Hoboken, NJ) is a retired firefighter who gives off Tony Vlachos vibes, if Tony had ever calmed down. Mike describes himself as "loud" but also "sensitive," which can mean a well-rounded personality or it can mean someone who gets their feelings hurt a lot and will make sure you hear about it constantly.

    Chanelle Howell (29 / Hamden, CT) is an executive recruiter with a "certificate of negotiation" from Harvard, whatever that means. We genuinely have no idea what kind of player Chanelle is going to be, which is exciting, but it also means we're not about to place any bets on her.

    Daniel Strunk (30 / Cincinnati. OH) feels like he's going to be a major character this season, just on strength of personality alone. He's a law clerk and has worked in politics, but says he doesn't plan to mention that he worked on the Romney and Jeb Bush campaigns despite being politically liberal (hmm?). He's a cancer survivor (yes!) who says he wants to play a completely honest game (uhh), except for the part about Romney and Jeb Bush (hmm). His favorite all-time player is Tony (ugh), and he says he wants to be underestimated like Fabio from Survivor: Nicaragua. Remembering that Fabio was underestimated mostly for looking an acting like a Califfornia himbo, that might be a challenge, but we wish Daniel luck.

    Survivor kicks off its 42nd season on CBS tonight at 8:00PM ET.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst