Thailand Strategy #1: Jan, Please Don't Pick Me
Written by Mario Lanza on 09.20.02

"Game on!"

Nice team selection, Jan.

Well, the game is afoot. Survivor: Texas has begun, and already you can make a bunch of educated guesses about what will happen in the next few weeks. Lines will be crossed. Golf will be played. She-devil horns will be gotten. Puzzle challenges will be blown. And policemen from New York will be applauded. It's gonna be a fun season.

As always, what I'm going to do at this point is just throw out my initial observations for each player, and then see how close I was as the season develops. So here we go. Let's hope my Thailand observations are more in line with my past comments like "Lex is gonna go far, he is the perfect leader" and not so much like "I have a strong feeling that Zoe is a player."


Jake Billingsley - Jake surprised me. I didn't expect him to be so likable, so down to earth, and just so darn cool. He is clearly going to be the central figure of Sook-Jai, although it's a matter of debate on how long that is going to last. Jake did a great job of picking his tribe, but I do think he fell into the trap of "Pick ALL the strong people," which can be very dangerous. I think it's gonna bite him in the butt when Sook-Jai implodes. In the end, I think that Jake will probably be one of the favorites in this cast. And I can't believe the guy is 61 years old in real life. He looks far younger! In terms of the Sook-Jai power structure, Jake SHOULD be the leader of the tribe, but he won't be. There are just too many alphas on this tribe. I predict that how far Jake gets in this game will be determined by which direction the house falls down around him. So lay low, Jake, and stay away from the power-hungry ones!

Ken Stafford - We didn't see too much of Ken this episode other than his blistered hands and the fact that he warrants applause whenever he speaks. Just curious, but why does Ken get applause and Stephanie (the firefighter) does not? You'd think they would both be applause-worthy. If you want to play a fun Survivor party game, try to applaud at home every time Ken speaks on camera. Or take a drink. Make it a drinking game if you prefer, your choice. Back to Ken, I think he is going to be a very strong figure. But the problem is that there's no way he will defer to anyone else on this tribe as leader. Cops just don't do that, they don't defer control to measly civilians. So Ken is going to be a leader-type, and he's going to have a very forceful personality. In fact, the whole Sook-Jai tribe is made up of forceful Alpha types like Ken. So, as you can imagine, he's probably going to be in trouble if they start to battle. And battle they will, soon.

Jed Hildebrand - So far, Jed is coming off as a bit of a hothead. He also seems to have a bit of an attitude, almost like a primadonna type of thing. I'm getting a vibe from him that says something like, "I'm a little too good for these people." I don't know if that is off the mark or not, but it isn't a good attitude for this type of game. Because you need other people to win, whether you like it or not. On paper, and from a look at his bio, Jed appears to be the best overall player in the cast, so right now it just remains to be seen how well he will fit in with the rest of his tribe. It doesn't help that he has already engendered some resentment for his aversion to doing physical labor. Jed's confrontation with Ken and Robb last night reminded me of the great scene in Jaws where Quint (the fisherman) grabs Hooper's (the scientist) hand and says "You got city hands! Never worked a day in your life!" Because that was basically the exact same thing that Robb said to Jed in episode one. "You got city hands!" Right now, Jed needs to learn how to get in good with the Sook-Jai power core. You don't want to make too many enemies in this kind of tribe, and so far that's exactly what Jed has managed to do.

Robb Zbacnik - Robb turned out to be pretty much exactly what I expected him to be: Fiery, enthusiastic, young, hyper, outspoken, and a bit immature. Although I have to say that picking fights on day 2 was a bad idea. C'mon, Robb, if you mess with the she-devil, you get the horns. Did you hear me, Robb? The horns! A lot of people are writing Robb off as one of the early bootees, but Survivor isn't a matter of personalities all the time. Sometimes it is a matter of alliances. So perhaps Robb could be safe for a while. I have no idea. All I do know is that Sook-Jai is going to fall apart, and SOON. They have no leader, too many personalities, and way too much stress. So the key to Sook-Jai right now is who is going to align with whom. In other words, just based on a pure "he is annoying" standpoint, Robb is dead meat. But if he gets in good with the right people, and can gang up with his friends against a common enemy, Robb COULD do okay. You never know. It's just a matter of which players are going to step up and take control, and if said people in power want Robb on their side. For now, Robb just needs to be proactive, make friends with the people in power, and do his best to grab the bull by the horns. But not the she-devil horns. Stay away from the she-devil horns!!!

Shii Ann Huang - Shii Ann is the owner of said horns, which will be gotten by Robb if he is not careful. In truth, I like Shii Ann, and I would like to see her do well. But that being said, I think she's put herself in a very precarious position. She's put herself out there as a target way too early. And it's not helping that she's picking fights with someone (Robb) who may or may not be in the Sook Jai power core. At first glance, Shii Ann appears to have a short temper, and that's never good. People on hair triggers never do very well in this game. But at the same time, keep in mind that the females of Sook Jai appear to be just as feisty as the males. So if Shii Ann makes the right friends, she can get away with throwing around a little verbal muscle once in a while. One thing I noticed in episode one was that Shii Ann sees herself as a bit of a leader. But, please, that's not going to happen. You think this tribe is going to he led by a short tempered tiny little Asian girl?? Right now, Shii Ann's fate in this game pretty much depends on who aligns with whom when things start to fall apart. She could be the first one to go, or she could be one of the big dogs at the end. Wait and see.

Stephanie Dill - I was convinced that Stephanie was a favorite to win from the very first time I read her bio. And seeing her in action in episode one just confirmed my belief. Did you notice how most of the other players on Sook Jai seem to be in awe of her? Did you see how Jake practically deified her right on the spot? In my opinion, I think Stephanie can do pretty much anything she wants to for a while. And I have no doubt she will do well in this game. At least, unless she starts to butt heads with her tribesmates. By the way, from her bio, I thought that Stephanie would be a bit of a schemer in real life. But she didn't come off that way at all in the first episode. Instead, she came off much more as under the radar. Weird. But in any case, if you're on the Sook Jai tribe right now, you want a player like Stephanie to be on your side. She's quiet, she's respected, she's capable, and she was Jake's first pick. She also inspired both Robb AND Shii Ann to say nice things about her in confessionals. And if THAT'S not the sign of a respected player, I don't know what is!

Erin Collins - Erin is going to draw some pretty obvious comparisons to Sarah from last season, for several reasons. Well, TWO reasons, to be exact. And both of them look fake. From her bio, I initially pegged Erin as being one of the more cunning and devious players in the cast, but I think I was wrong. After watching episode one, I don't think she's a schemer at all. She actually seemed quite nice. She also happens to be a bit of a free spirit, what with the "confirmed exhibitionist" and "pierced tongue" part of her personality. So in any case, schemer or not, at least Erin should be fun to watch. At first glance, I don't think that Erin is one of the stronger players in the cast. But on a tribe full of alpha males and alpha females, I don't think it is going to matter. Being weak and unthreatening might actually be a GOOD thing on a tribe like this. So I imagine that Erin will stick around for a while. She'll stick around, but I don't think she'll be one of the featured characters. I can't imagine a character like Erin will get much screen time at all with the rest of these characters around. My guess is that the only reason she'll be shown is as the obligatory Thailand eye candy. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because in my opinion, Erin is a heck of a lot cuter than Sarah.

Penny Ramsey - Penny is just a tiny little thing from Texas. And she's awfully cute. In fact, I would say she might be the best looking female in Survivor history (sorry, Erin). But there's one question I have to ask after seeing her. Just WHAT is the deal with everybody in Texas having brilliant white teeth?? I swear, they must have the best dentists in the world down there. Every reality show contestant from Texas has the same perfect teeth, and they're all sparkly Colby Donaldson white. It's so weird. In any case, we didn't see a whole lot from Penny in the Thailand premiere. One important thing we DID see was that she was the one chosen to do the rope puzzle during the immunity challenge. So if nothing else, we've learned that the rest of the tribe respects her intelligence. That should be good for something, shouldn't it? As with the rest of the tribe, the important thing for Penny right now is to stay out of the crosshairs when Sook Jai starts to fall apart. She could go early, or she could go far. who knows?


Jan Gentry - Poor Jan. She was just not comfortable being thrust into a leadership role so early. She wanted to just blend in with the team, and be anonymous, like everyone else. But the rule twist forced her to take an active role as tribe leader, and she hated it. I felt bad for her. That being said, her team selection was either brilliant, or it was terrible, Right now it's too early to say. She went against common wisdom by picking none of the alpha players, none of the athletes, and none of the young kids. Instead, she went with the old, the mature, and the stable. Is it going to be a wise move in the end? Well right now it certianly doesn't look very smart. But who knows? Maybe it will by episode thirteen. After all, the Chuay Gahns aren't going to implode like the much younger Sook Jais. This tribe might actually get along. So who knows, maybe Jan IS a genius after all. If you want my personal opinion, I do think that the Chuay Gahns are going to be the most successful tribe in the long run, but I don't think it's because Jan purposefully planned it that way. I think she just selected the players that she thought were "nice." I mean, seriously, why else would you pick John third (over Jed and Brian)? That choice was ridiculous. As a player, Jan comes off a bit emotional and weak. But at the same time she also seems very likable and sweet. I don't think she's going to win the game, but she will be hard for this type of tribe to vote off. I mean, stop and look at it for a second. Jan was the eldest and weakest female on the tribe, yet she didn't get a SINGLE vote at the first Tribal Council. How often does that ever happen? Avoiding the first TC vote was a BIG deal for someone like Jan. So whatever she is doing so far, she is doing it right. But it remains to be seen just how successful she'll be in Survivor later, when things start to turn mean.

Ghandia Johnson - Yikes, that was quite a choke job, wasn't it? Ghandia single-handedly lost immunity for her tribe. In fact, I can't think of a single player in Survivor history who lost a challenge for their tribe that badly and didn't pay the price. Well, actually, come to think of it, yes I can. There was once a woman named Tina Wesson who cost her tribe immunity and didn't suffer for it. And things turned out pretty well for her, now, didn't they? So at least Ghandia has history on her side. But whether she'll be as crafty a player as Tina now pretty much remains to be seen. If you wanted my personal opinion, I would guess that Ghandia is doomed. Even before that challenge, she was a little bit loud and a little bit brash. She also clashed with John during the early going and, even though it's not the nicest thing to say about someone, I'm not sure she's really in the best shape to be playing this game. So right off the bat Ghandia has a lot of things working against her. It was sort of mean when John said, "Ghandia isn't good at the physical challenges, and she isn't good at the mental challenges," but when you have that sort of stigma working against you, how can you recover? Especially if you're overly emotional! Sadly, I don't think Ghandia will be lasting very long in Survivor: Thailand. I think people would grow to like her if she stuck around long enough (The Vavrick-O'Brien Theory), but my gut says that the Chuay Gahn tribe won't give Ghandia much of a chance.

Tanya Vance - As the reigning queen of Thai projectile vomiting, Tanya has already gained the stigma of being "The sick, weak one." And that's a horrible label to try and overcome. People are ALWAYS looking for a reason to feel sorry for you in Survivor, especially when you have a tribe like Chuay Gahn who consider themselves more of "a family." Tanya's "family member" tribesmates will now look at her and think things like, "Well we don't want to vote ANYBODY off, but Tanya really does need to see a doctor and get some rest if she wants to feel better. So voting her off is actually doing her a favor, because we really would like to see her get well." In other words, unless the Chuay Gahn tribe starts to turn mean, or unless Tanya starts to contribute really quickly, she's as doomed as you can possibly be. There's only so long you can be sick around grandma before grandma pulls out the chicken noodle soup and makes you lay down and relax. It certainly doesn't help that Tanya is a good ten years younger than anyone else on the tribe.

Helen Glover - Helen seems to be the big wild card in this tribe. She seems to be much more of a player than the rest of the Chuay Gahns, and I can already see she doesn't really buy into the whole "family vibe" that Ted is trying to set. In fact, if I recall, it looked like Helen was actively laughing at him. Helen seems much too independent and feisty to be playing for the good of the group, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Did you notice that Helen was the only member of the tribe who didn't vote for John? Does that mean she wasn't as annoyed by John as the rest of them? Or was Helen purposefully separating herself from the rest of the pack? In either case I think she is going to be interesting to watch this season. She's a strong player, and an opinionated player, and she seems like the only member of Chuay Gahn who has a bit of a short fuse. It will be interesting to see how she fits in with this group. Because on one hand, they need her, what with the swimming skills and all. But on the other hand, if she's not truly "part of the group," then she'll be expendable. I'm curious to see which way her storyline goes. By the way, I'm suddenly wondering why on earth the U.S. Navy would need a swimming instructor. Shouldn't you already know how to swim if you sign up for the Navy?

Ted Rogers Jr. - I think that Ted is going to be my favorite player in this cast. Just from looking at his bio, I correctly guessed that he would be a compassionate and kind person (thanks to his sad eyes). And I was pleased to see I was right in episode one. Ted was not only the first person Jan picked for Chuay Gahn, he also took an active leadership role in the tribe. And at this point he appears to be the center of all things Chuay Gahn. All tribal decisions are going to go through Ted for a while, and when you factor in his obvious strength and challenge prowess, you're looking at one of the most powerful players in Survivor: Thailand. Ted isn't going ANYWHERE for a while. He's going to be the man in the center of absolutely everything. Of course, the biggest and strongest player WILL become a target sooner or later. That's just the way that Survivor works. But for now Ted is as safe as a player can be. P.S. My wife says that Ted reminds her of John Coffey, the "gentle giant" from Stephen King's movie THE GREEN MILE. Let's just hope that Ted's story ends a little happier than Coffey's did. And that hopefully no electric chair is involved.

Brian Heidik - Brian had the number-one spot in my pre-season power rankings, and he has done nothing to make me drop him out of that spot. I still think he's the overwhelming favorite to win this game. Why? Well for starters, he is doing an excellent job of laying low and keeping the spotlight away from himself. Brian isn't causing any drama, like Ghandia. Nor is he making any waves, like John. Right now he is just sitting there, and saying the right things, and fitting in with the group. He's doing an excellent job of just being "part of the group" and I think it's going to pay off handsomely down the road. Seriously, take a look at the things that Brian has done in just his first three days in Thailand. So far he has managed to A) Bring along a guitar to help tribe morale, B) Make people laugh with his warm sense of humor, C) Volunteer to dive into the water during the immunity challenge, and D) Show himself to be a hard worker around camp, and a valuable asset. I would have called Brian the favorite to win just based on all of that, and that was even BEFORE he busted out the wonderful quote that Survivor, to him, is merely "a business trip." And then he just sat there and smirked. Brian is conning them all! The used car salesman is going to snake them! I don't see any way how you could NOT call Brian a favorite to win this game. Especially when you take into account the fact that nobody, except maybe Ted, will be even remotely in his league as a physical threat. Brian has no competition on his team! All the players he has to worry about are over on Sook Jai. So I predict that Brian will be able to just sit there and relax all the way to the twist or the merge. There's no way he's going home anytime soon. Brian went in this game as a business trip, and I predict that's exactly what it will be for him in the end.

Obligatory porn joke: I got a kick out of Brian's B.S. quote during Tribal Council that this whole game was about "love." Yeah, whatever, car salesman. That was the best acting performance in Brian Heidik history that didn't end in a money shot.

Clay Jordan - Clay is the man! When I first read his bio, my first reaction was that Clay was the "dead meat contestant." He was the sacrificial lamb that Chuay Gahn would dump if they didn't dump Jan. But Clay proved me wrong. He is going to be a pretty decent player! Right now Clay seems to be on the right tribe, with the right people, for him to succeed. If he was on Sook Jai he would have been dead meat. But on Chuay Gahn they're going to accept him. He also has a good combination of personality going on, as he's too likable to make enemies, but too small to ever be much of a threat. Nobody is every going to be scared of him. Clay also seems like the type of guy who you want to be on your side, which can make all the difference in a social game like Survivor. So right now let me say that I'm rooting for the guy. I like that he's so small, I like that he's so positive, and I feel bad that I wrote him off so badly just from reading his personal bio. Sorry, Clay. After seeing you in person, I think you're a cool guy. Make me proud!

P.S. The sight of tiny Clay hang out with massive Ted already makes me laugh. Although I can't say I enjoyed the awkward "Clay and Ted hugging and rolling on the ground" scene on the ground. Less of that, please. Ew.

John Raymond - Poor John. He was nothing like I predicted from his bio. He wasn't preachy. Nor was he benevolent. And to be honest, he wasn't all that particularly likable. I thought he would be a great source of strength and community to his tribe, but instead he came off to them as annoying and dictatorial. I have no idea what went wrong for the guy. In my opinion, John's biggest mistake was that he never seemed to play the religion card at all, which should have been his greatest asset. After all, if people know you're religious, they often write you off and forget about you. I wrote about this in my Andy Kaufman Strategy column from last season, how you should use religion to your advantage at all times, even if you have to make it up. You should wield religion like a blunt weapon in this game. What surprised me the most about John is the fact that the Chuay Gahns voted for him almost unanimously. John blamed this on alliances, but I don't think that is entirely accurate. I don't think that Chuay Gahn is a tribe of alliances, at least not yet. I think they just didn't like him. After all, as we've learned in four seasons of Survivor, you CAN'T take leadership by force if the rest of the tribe doesn't want you to lead. If you start calling yourself the leader, and the rest of the tribe doesn't call you the leader, you've got a problem. And unfortunately I think that's exactly what happened to John.


Sook Jai is way too strong to succeed! As Jake himself told us, they all have "that gleam in their eye." And in my opinion it's going to backfire. It's only a matter of who will be the greediest schemer of the bunch.

If the Sook Jais were smart, they would sit back and let Jake lead the tribe. After all, he's the oldest, the most respected, and probably the most trustworthy. But it's not gonna happen. Somebody will take over his spot. It might be Robb. It might be Ken. It might be Stephanie. It might be Jed. Who knows? It might even be the She-Devil (who, if you mess with, you will get the horns). But make no mistake about it. Jake WILL be usurped soon, it's only a matter of time. And then the warring begins. In fact, the warning signs are already there, in the way the tribe doesn't work together, and the way they fight openly. Sook Jai is as doomed as doomed can be.

I feel very strongly that Chuay Gahn will be the better tribe in the long run, even though it doesn't look like it now. But just look at past history. Older, slower Tagi beat athletic, younger Pagong. The underdog Maraamus surprised powerhouse Rotu several times in a row. Looks can be deceiving! Just because you're old and slow doesn't mean that you're necessarily weak!

So anyway, here is my weekly ranking of who currently stands in the best position to win this game. And usually I'm pretty good at this. Of course, Ethan or Vecepia never made the #1 slot in my rankings, but I did have Tina picked as #1 from the merge in Australia. So at least I do have some sort of a track record.

Check back every week to see how your favorites are doing!

1. Brian Heidik
No competition, great athlete, big-time schemer. That's a wonderful combo. By the way, my wife can't figure out if he looks more like Don Johnson, or George Michael. The 80's haircut throws her off.
2. Stephanie Dill
Everyone respects her, and she has bigger arms than most of the guys. If Shii Ann and Robb BOTH like you, you are doing well.
3. Jake Billingsley
I really don't have a clue who to put after my top two (there's a big gap). But Jake is as respected as anyone, and it's possible he could avoid the inevitable Sook Jai bloodshed. I don't think that he WILL, but if anyone can, it's Jake.
4. Ted Rogers Jr.
When in doubt, pick the player that everyone likes.
5. Ken Stafford
Ken will surely be a leader at some point during the game. Plus, as a bonus, people applaud whenever he talks. Milk it, Ken.
6. Helen Glover
The Chuay Gahn wildcard. Helen should team up with Brian if she wants to do well.
7. Clay Jordan
Clay is the man.
8. Penny Ramsey
I still need to see more of her before I make any sort of a rankings judgement. But she is apparently the sweetheart of Sook Jai. So we'll drop her here in the middle.
9. Erin Collins
Erin could survive the Sook Jai bloodshed. She could also assimilate herself into Chuay Gahn via a merge or twist. So keep an eye on her. She's the quiet one.
10. Jed Hildebrand
Jed is a very well-rounded player, but he has already separated himself from the rest of the tribe. He needs to find some allies, fast, and get into this game. You can't win Survivor alone!
11. Jan Gentry
Jan is too weak and too emotional to warrant a high ranking. If she screws up a challenge, she is toast.
12. Tanya Vance
This week, she had arguably the finest puke scene ever featured on Survivor. Way to go! In the next week or two, Tanya could be the season's obligatory illness casualty. Wish her luck.
13. Shii Ann Huang
If you mess with the she-devil, you get the horns. But it's way too early to spar with your tribesmates.
14. Robb Zbacnik
If you mess with the she-devil, you get the horns. But it's way too early to spar with your tribesmates.
15. Ghandia Johnson
She is in a VERY precarious position after this episode. Ghandia needs to lay low or she's toast.

As a special note, thanks to Murtz Jaffer for running Survivor-Central and for again giving me the chance to write this column. And for fulfilling my childhood dream of having a column represented by a large pile of grapes.

Mario Lanza lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. He is one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Hawaii, as well as the sketch comedy show Human Relations 101, airing in October on the PAX Channel.

You can reach Mario at