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Survivor's Draft Day: Judging the Thailand Picksby Jason Borelli -- 09/26/2002
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Imagine, if you will, that you have found yourself in Thailand, one of sixteen contestants on the popular reality show, Survivor. You introduce yourself to the others. Then Jeff Probst calls you up to the front. Because you're one of the oldest people in the group, and elders are respected in Thailand, you get to pick the members of your tribe. You get no dossiers, no questions to ask the others, just the brief impressions you have of each person. Oh, and your power as an elder does not make you immune in Tribal Council; if your tribe loses, you could be heading back home.
For Jake Billingsley (61 years old) and Jan Gentry (53), this was the new twist handed to them. Rather than finding themselves in ready-to-order tribes, they had to start the game by picking from the field of fourteen other Survivors. The most popular reality show in television would have the same start as a pick-up softball game.
How did they do? While it is too early to measure long-term success, we can see what both Jake and Jan were thinking as they formed Sook Jai and Chuay Gahn, respectively.
Jan's First Pick: Ted (37 years old)
Out of those assembled, Ted was the biggest person. While he could be a threat in individual immunity challenges, he seemed like the best person to build shelter and possibly keep the peace.
Jake's First Pick: Stephanie (29)
Jake said that there was something in her eyes that made him think she could take on the world. Her impressive firefighter's build also might have swayed Jake.
Jan's Second Pick: Helen (47)
Given the location, a Navy swim instructor seems like a good call. But in her interview on CBS.com, she came across as very stern and unyielding. Combine that with her vote against Clay and the next episode, where she and Jan get lost in a canoe and she contemplates shooting Jan and then herself, Helen might not have been a good pick.
Jake's Second Pick: Ken (30)
Completing the public service trinity, Jake snags Ken. Given the round of applause he received at the mention of his being a New York cop, he could prove to be the most respected member of Sook Jai.
Jan's Third Pick: John (40)
He was eager to join Jake's team, but he was plucked by Jan instead. All he ended up bringing to the group was the short-lived title of Pastor Shecky.
Jake's Third Pick: Penny (27)
Jan's Fourth Pick: Ghandia (33)
At this point, the age difference becomes more pronounced. With Shii Ann, Erin, and Tanya available, one has to wonder if Jan thinks Ghandia would be more mature in the long run.
Jake's Fourth Pick: Jed (25)
The dental student gets his wish to hang out with the younger crowd.
Jan's Fifth Pick: Brian (34)
Robb tries to avoid eye contact with Jan, in order to avoid being on a tribe where (at that moment) nobody was less than 33 years old. So between Brian and Clay, Jan was drawn to Brian (and maybe she never got hosed on a used car deal).
Jake's Fifth Pick: Shii Ann (28)
Jan's Sixth Pick: Tanya (27)
Jan's youngest pick. Could her choice of Tanya over Erin affect Chuay Gahn? Well, Tanya did get sick, but it's too soon to tell.
Jake's Sixth Pick: Robb (23)
Clay or Robb? Jake has his youth theme running, so Robb gets his wish to run with the other young people, and Jake gets the only Real World-age person on the show.
Jan's Seventh Pick: Clay (46)
Jake's Seventh Pick: Erin (26)
For those two, they have the motivation of winning the game, being the last picked and the last person standing.
So how old is Chuay Gahn? How young is Sook Jai? Compare their combined ages to the other eight tribes at the start of their seasons (ages courtesy of CBS.com):
1. Chuay Ghan (Thailand): 317 years
It seems odd that Jan went for the older people. As a first-grade teacher, she could have the most patience of anybody assembled for the game, especially for the more youthful contestants. While her plan seemed to be about as ill-conceived as her pigtails, she would have been thinking long-term, hoping that age meant maturity, and perhaps less drama.
By comparison, Sook Jai is all about the youth; after Jake, the oldest tribe member is Ken (a difference of over 30 years). Had they gotten the cave location, they would be even stronger, since most of their efforts so far have got to building shelter. One potential distraction is that of the potential hook-up. Aside from Jake (married) and Penny (engaged), everybody is single. While the on-camera romance has been minimal on this show, it could be a matter of time before hormones kick in and a couple decides to go for it (obviously, a Robb/Shii Ann pairing is a long shot after the first episode). Also, in his CBS.com interview, Jake said he could talk people into doing what he wanted without them realizing it. Could the Texan be doing a subtler version of Rob "Godfather" Mariano? Only time will tell.
It is too soon to tell which tribe is better. The past two winners of Survivor came from tribes that were dysfunctional from the start, losing the first two Immunity Challenges (Ethan of Boran, Vecepia of Maraamu). One thing is for sure: By placing a major part of the show in the hands of the contestants, Mark Burnett has kept to his word that this is not going to be the same show as before.
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