Malcolm Freberg Accepts the “Survivor: Winners at War” Power Rankings Challenge

Malcolm Freberg (CBS)

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Set Your DVR to Record “Survivor: Winners at War”

The Rules: Each week Malcolm Freberg and Gordon Holmes will create separate power rankings. The ranking of the person who is voted out of the next episode will determine the number of points the players will earn.  The person with the most points at the end of the season will be declared the “Survivor: Winners at War” champion.

Quick Note: Usually the Power Rankings place the players in order of how safe they are heading into the next episode. For pre-season rankings, the players are placed in order of their likelihood to win the entire season.

Yet Another Quick Note: No points will be awarded during the pre-season ranking portion. Scoring will begin next week.

Malcolm Freberg’s Pre-Season Rankings

1. Denise: Denise is what happens when you breed a honey badger with a Death Star with a factually-accurate anatomy textbook that’s outlawed in the deep South. She’s going to win by a 24-to -1 vote.

…you knew that was coming. I’m not sorry. So how about, to water down my bias, I explain why my Junglemama (her name in my phone) *won’t* win: She sounds like a therapist. Conversations can feel calculated and distant. She genuinely is as empathetic and caring as they come, but knowing that you’re talking to a therapist can feel disingenuous, and she won’t be part of the pre-existing ‘in crowd’ on day one.

My gut says she’s either missing the merge, or quietly in the final 6. I’ll be yelling in support the entire time.

2. Tyson: Later this season, I’ll tweet a story about a simple gesture Tyson extended at the “Game Changers” finale that made one of my best friends melt with joy. Because of that quick and amazing moment, I’m Team Tyson this season.

Also, the last time I did Power Rankings with Gordon was for “Blood v. Water.” I ranked Tyson 10th pregame (obvi I’m very good at this…). After the premiere, I had him toward the top of every ranking for the rest of the season. I’m getting ahead of the curve this time, because he has the right combo of attributes to pull it off, and — as much as I loathe EoE — he’s a major threat to win his way back.

3. Kim: Met Kim once. I screamed loudly. I maintain that this is the appropriate reaction when one meets Kim Spradlin.

[REDACTED “SURVIVOR” STAR] told me Kim’s ‘best game eva’ mythos within the fandom will make her an early boot. I disagree. A one-time player who’s good at every aspect of the game, but not overwhelmingly intimidating, is the perfect recipe for an under-the-radar win. I know a lot of players are talking about her pregame, but I think she’ll slip deep enough for the stigma to be forgotten.

P.S. – The fact that Kim f***ing Spradlin could be an under-the-radar player is why this season is going to be so fun.

4. Ben: Dread it. Run from it. Advantageddon arrives all the same.

Whatever your opinion the current state of “Survivor” twists, the fact is, your favorite show now rewards players who hustle for advantages. Who has hustled harder, more efficiently than Ben? If that’s what War of Winners becomes — with tokens and EoE and a slew of idols — is Ben not the favorite?

I think there’s a significant chance Ben’s kicked off early for that exact reason: Players won’t want him scooping up every idol, extra vote, etc. But if he makes it deep merge — he’s plenty smart and athletic — his pockets could be stuffed full of advantages as he bulls his way back to fire making. And then all of us watching at home will riot.

5. Jeremy: I originally had him just behind Denise, but he beat me on a Super Bowl bet a few years back, so I’ve knocked him lower. I’ve still not reconciled the Falcons choking that game away…

I love love love that he gained ‘sloppy weight’ as a strategy. I’m not sure that’s enough to shift the target, but I like where his head’s at.

Don’t sleep on Jeremy’s charm. He’s easy-going, which, when you’re starving and pissy and nervous and getting eaten alive by bugs on a Fijian beach, is an asset. If he wins, the road will be sprinkled with immunity wins, but will be paved by his strategic and social chops.

6. Parvati: Remember what I said about Denise, how she can seem calculating and insincere? Parvati’s the opposite. Easy charm for days. Even Reichenbach would (probably) admit it.

Social game’s elite, strategy’s on point, she can hold her hand over her head for 174 years. And she’s got more ice in her veins than Leo at the end of “Titanic.”

The obvious problem is reputation, but if she squeaks through early, she becomes more dangerous via momentum. Give her the proverbial inch and she’ll mow through the end game, and/or win coming out of EoE. Has anyone ever made three final Tribals…?

7. Michele: If she wins, it’ll be the exact same path she took her first season.

Michele’s talked about learning new skills during pregame — but returnees always think that before round two begins, and more often than not, they revert to their core. For Michele, that will be a good thing. Don’t play too hard, don’t try to ‘prove yourself’, don’t create a target. Get to the end, and let the jury realize in the 11th hour that she quietly played a great game.

Decent odds that Michele is our next Sandra. Sorry, Aubry.

8. Nick: I liked his take on recency advantage in a pregame interview: He knows modern “Survivor.” Nick’s going to land on a beach with legends, people who made this game what it is, names we all talk about with reverence — but those people haven’t been on the island in years.

He’s smart with quiet charm, athletic without being scary, and has an ‘oh shucks’ personality that will meld with the bigger personalities. He won’t be underestimated and be able to coast this time, but I still think Nick’s a safe bet for a deep run.

9. Natalie: Admittedly, I haven’t seen and read every pregame interview — but I think she’s getting slept on by other contestants. Which is crazy. Her end game in San Juan Del Sur was lights out.

Natalie’s play needs to mirror her first: Stay alive early, then crack a flurry of skulls down the stretch and leave no doubt to the jury. My worry is, she’ll let slip an emotional, heat-of-the-moment comment to a group of players who are more cool, calm, and collective (Hi, Rodney), and that’ll be used as an excuse to make her an early target.

10. Yul: Haven’t watched Cook Islands since it aired, but I remember loving Yul. Then I watched his pregame interviews and fell in love all over again. Has this man ever stuttered or said ‘um’ in his life? I know that’s not a “Survivor” skill, but still…

All his pre-game chatter is extremely self-aware, which I’ll never stop claiming is the most important trait for players. But, as he acknowledges, he’s outside the “Survivor” social circle (it’s a thing), and he comes off as an intellectual Asian Adonis. I think he’s a merge boot, and I’ll be pissed when it happens.

11. Danni: Barely remember Guatemala, but I laughed out loud at some of her quotes during interviews. Completely won me over.

Unless she becomes a challenge liability (doesn’t seem likely) or she cops an ego at camp (also not likely), she’s here to stay. Too charming and unimposing to be an early boot. Like Nick, Danni feels like a low-risk pick for the mid-merge at least. I’m a fan — I’m surprised by that in the best way — but not confident enough to throw her higher on the list yet.

12. Sophie: Next to all the huge personalities out here, you might think Sophie would have trouble integrating socially — but she’s played that exact strategy before (*cough* Coach *cough*) and won.

You know she’s smart enough. You know she can win challenges. She’ll keep her head down and nestle in with people twice as loud as her. I think the fact that she’s a little introverted + more reserved will play in her favor. If she wins, it won’t be with fireworks — and the odds aren’t too long.

13. Wendell: This mediocre placement isn’t based on doubt, but from personal experience: I’ve played a full game with an elite ride-or-die partner. I had a tight two I could absolutely trust and barely needed to question until the final days. When that happens, you become spoiled.

I never found that partner again, and don’t think Wendell will find it this time, not among these cutthroats. I promise, it makes for a very different game experience.

I’ve said other people need to stick to their original game plans. More than anyone, I’m interested to see Wendell adapt to new circumstances. Hoping he does better than I have.

14. Tony: I spent over a month with Tony, including pre-jury, and came to appreciate him as a human being. When you’re on “Survivor,” stuck with people constantly keeping one eye on the camera, an absolute bonkers unfiltered bald madman from Jersey is refreshing. Tony is good people.

That said, I can confirm he’s bats**t crazy. But everyone on this beach knows that, which, bold prediction, helps his chances.

He’ll come out the gates calmer this season. People who are locks for deep runs might carry him longer than they should — assuming he keeps the madness in check.

Look for Tony to be a dark horse post-merge. Or the first boot. Neither would be surprising.

15. Sarah: She’s this low because a) I’m being needlessly petty over “Game Changers,” b) placing her behind Tony is hilarious, and c) …did she sound a little cocky in interviews?

As someone who talks a ton of trash during pregame, I can usually tell when a player’s just having fun with the process, treating it like banter between friends before a pickup basketball game (i.e. Tyson), and when a player is, as my girlfriend says, ‘feeling themself too much.’ This felt like the latter.

Sarah’s a physical asset with proven strategic chops. If she disguises the ego, she makes the merge no problem, then needs a couple mega moves to make the end. It could happen.

16. “Boston” Rob: “Survivor” commentators are, by law, not allowed to doubt Boston Rob.

His tribe won’t target him first. Everyone will adore him within minutes of hitting the beach. He’ll be a challenge asset without seeming imposing, a leader at camp without coming off like a dictator. He won’t get booted early.

But will 19 former winners let him get anywhere close to the end? Hard nope. Rob’s finally going to join a jury.

17. Adam: Glad he pulled it off the first time. He played solid post-merge, did great convincing everyone every 1.3 seconds that there’s someone more threatening than him — but that schtick won’t work again.

Whereas I feel Wendell needs a few tweaks to adapt to circumstance, Adam’s game requires a complete reinvention, or this goes south quickly. I’ve tried convincing myself that the superfan could play quiet and get carried, but it feels like a stretch.

18. Amber: If she makes it through the first few votes, she launches to the top of this list. A deep run is definitely possible and would be fun to watch. I’m here for it.

But she’s 5-4 pick ’em for an immediate boot. If her tribe doesn’t win the early challenges, and she establish herself, anyone else feeling the heat before first Tribal will risk-free (and unfairly) remind the group that she’s Rob’s wife. The target on Am-buh, out the gates, will be bigger than it is on Rob.

19. Ethan: Is anyone *not* cheering for Ethan?

What he’s conquered in his personal life is unbelievable. He’s used his influence for the good of our species, and he seems like the best type of person.

But Probst just told 19 other people they have a chance to win two million dollars. Even if he’s an asset in challenges, in the right alliance, and maneuvers his way to the merge, no strategist playing hard for the big bucks will let him reach final Tribal: What jury would — could — vote against giving Ethan the biggest single cash prize in TV history?

20. Sandra: I adore her. Been on the beach with her. She’s amazing, cunning, hilarious — and very kind, by the way, for all you haters. But winning 40 isn’t happening.

Any other contestant can say, “One person on this beach has already won twice,” and her game’s over. Everyone in Fiji is trying to tie her record for “Survivor” titles. No one’s going to let her extend the lead. I’m not happy about it.

Don’t miss the premiere of “Survivor: Winners at War” – Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 8 pm ET.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @GordonHolmes