Thailand Pre-Season Power Rankings
Written by Mario Lanza on 08.17.02

"Lets see what kind of hand I've been dealt here."
-Coach Norman Dale, HOOSIERS

They're here! They're here! The new player bios are here!

Sorry for my enthusiasm, but this is always an exciting time for me. Because anybody who knows me in real life will attest to the fact that the day the new players are announced is like Christmas to me. In fact I've had a copy of the new player bios in my hand for the past 48 hours now, just trying to memorize their names, faces, personalities, etc. And I think I have most of them down by now, although I swear I will get Brian and Jed confused more than once. I just hope they are on different teams, for my sake. Assuming we even have teams this season, of course.

Anyway, welcome back for another season of "Survivor Strategy." Those of you who liked my column in Marquesas will be happy to know it will pretty much be the same this season. Those of you who don't know me yet will hopefully stick around for the power rankings, if nothing else. And those of you who don't like my column are just big hypocrites since you're reading it anyway. So if you belong to the last group, you can bite me.

That being said, let's get on to my first impressions of this year's heroes and villains. Who will be the star of the show? Who will be the first sacrifice? How do you pronounce Zbacnik? How on Earth can a pastor hope to succeed in this game? All those questions will be answered in time. And, as always, I will purposefully try not to compare the new players to other people from Survivor past. It's not fair to the new people, and I prefer to let the new season live or die on its own merits. I will say that the new cast is gonna have a hell of a time following the Marquesas season, however. That was a kickass season all around. And I still stand by my belief that Vecepia was one of the best players of all time, if not flat-out the best. There has never been a more adaptable player.

So here we are, my first impressions of the Thailand cast. I'll just go down the list, grabbing players at random, and say the first things that pop into my head. Obviously, there's not much you can base predictions on this early, since all we have is just a bio and a picture. But it's always fun to look back after the season and see how close I was in my pre-season predictions. And at first glance, this looks like a fascinating cast. They are a bit older than most Survivor casts, and I have to say there are a lot of intriguing personalities. I especially like the fact that we have some exceptionally strong looking players from both genders. This season should turn out to be a lot of fun.

30, New York City Police Officer

Ken strikes me as a strong player immediately off the bat. In the cast picture the guy appears to be BIG and STRONG. Combine that with his law-enforcement background and you have a guy who's an obvious Alpha Male. Ken will surely be a leader on whatever team he ends up with, although that's not necessarily a good thing. Alphas seem to do worse and worse at this game as seasons go on, and I have a suspicion that Ken might not work too well in a team environment. I'm guessing that cops are kind of used to being in charge around civilians, instead of working as equals. But if you're going to play Survivor, you definitely want a guy like Ken on your team at the start.

34, Used Car Salesman

Re-read that profession one more time and try to convince me that Brian WON'T be good at this game. I mean, for God's sake, he sells used cars! He's a sweet talker! Combine that with his amazing athletic background (All-State quarterback) and I think Brian has to be one of the favorites to win right off the bat. He's strong, he's fit, he's charismatic (actor + used cars), and he's also the perfect age (mid 30's) to excel at this game. Brian also doesn't really seem like the Alpha type, but more like a lurker; like a wanna-be Alpha. And his bio, above all others, jumps out at me as a person to really pay attention to. So if Brian is the LEAST bit devious in real life, I'll make him my early pick as the winner of Survivor: Thailand. Oh, and did I mention he sells used cars for a living?

26, Student/Real Estate Agent

It's hard to get a good vibe from Erin's bio. My gut tells me she will be a bit of a schemer, or a villain. I don't see a whole lot of things in her bio that look particularly good or particularly bad, although real estate agents historically tend to do pretty well in this game. Erin appears to be athletic and fit, although the "she enjoys sleeping in late" part of her bio looks a little bit worrisome. One of many players in the cast from Texas, Erin is also (in my opinion) the best looking of the females on the show. At first glance, she looks like a model. But I've also seen that little gleam in her eye in some pictures, or the look of the villain. So we'll see how well she does in Thailand. I predict she will make some enemies. And I think she will be a good player. Normally, I don't pick the younger females to do very well on this show, but this season does appear to have some pretty strong young female players. And Erin is one I think will do particularly well..

27, Social Worker

Ah, Tanya, it feels as if we know you already. For those of you who haven't followed the Survivor websites, Tanya's father passed away in a car crash while she was off taping the show. It was never revealed if Tanya was still in the game at the time, or if she was on the jury, but she will definitely be the fan favorite of Thailand because of this. Although, to be honest, I suspect she would have been the big fan favorite anyway. Tanya's got one of the sweetest smiles you will ever see. And she's a social worker too, so c'mon. She sounds like a very nice person in real life, so you have to give it up for Tanya Vance. But that last bit on info (social worker) is also the part of her bio that leads me to believe she won't be one of the stronger players. After all, social work is a pretty selfless job, for low pay, so I imagine Tanya will be a bit too nice to really excel at this game. But what do I know? After Marquesas, ANYTHING is possible. That season single-handedly ruined all conventional wisdom about this game. No matter how well she does in Thailand, Tanya will have the audience firmly in her corner from the very first episode. But I don't predict she will be too much of a player.

As a side note, Jeff Probst said her name was "TAN-yuh," not "TON-yuh", as I have always heard it pronounced before. Weird.

27, Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

From her bio, Penny really doesn't come off as being that much of a player. Yet, for some reason, something strikes me about her as being someone to watch. She's got the big smile, she works in sales, and she also used to be a cheerleader. So I think it's safe to say she will have her fair share of energy. But there's a fine line between "peppy" and "annoying," so here's to hoping that Penny falls on the right side of that line. She also has a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology (like a chiropractor), so it's safe to say that Penny is also a pretty sharp person. I think she will be a very popular player. And I also think she'll be one of the key members of whatever team she ends up on. Although it doesn't imply this in her bio, I think that Penny will end up being be a bit of a leader. Even though she's a young female, I think that people are going to respect her. In fact the only real negative I see in Penny's bio is the fact that she doesn't eat red meat, which may be a problem in this type of competition. But in any case, I think that Penny will be one of the breakout stars of this season.

28, Executive Recruiter

Ah, yes. The first Asian player in Survivor history. Although, technically, I think Kel Gleason in Australia might have been part Asian too*. Shii Ann already has a lot of notoriety for her ethnic background, but it is yet to be determined if she will be much of a player or not. I suppose the problem most Asian females would face on Survivor would be the fact that they are small and a weakness in physical challenges. But Shii Ann looks to be of pretty good size, and she doesn't look particularly weak, so who knows? Shii Ann's hobby is listed as "organizing people," which would be perfect for this game, except for the fact that a lot of older players won't really respect her enough to defer to her as leader. She's just way too young (and female). So even if Shii Ann considers herself a leader, I don't think she will be taken very seriously by the rest of the players. And that's probably going to be a problem. My prediction is that Shii Ann will have to be pretty devious if she wants to do well in the game. And I'm not sure she has it in her. But then again, she lives and works in New York City, and she works in the cutthroat world of high-tech recruiting, so she could actually be a bad-ass for all I know. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

* (Mario's later addendum: I was wrong when I wrote this. Kel is Native American, not Asian.)

25, Dental Student

Jed is another person who strikes me as a very strong player right off the bat. He is a great athlete, he's good looking, he's probably very charismatic, and he also isn't old enough to be a threatening alpha male leader. So Jed has a lot going for him. And then on top of that, Jed studied physiology, medicine and dentistry in school. In other words, he's a sharp guy. And if you factor in Jed's ethical background (Christian, charity dentistry missions to Cambodia and Thailand), I would predict that he is going to be the breakout male star of the Thailand cast. I see absolutely no weaknesses in Jed's bio, and I think he is going to be one heck of a Survivor player. In fact if you had to point to anything that could stand in Jed's way, it would be his young age and the fact that he has such strong ethics Sometimes those factors tend to get in the way. But no matter what, I feel that Jed is a person that the other players will be dying to align with, because he's the golden boy of the Thailand cast. If he's not booted in the first four episodes, I think he's definitely in this thing for the long haul.

53, Teacher

Jan looks to be pretty unique among Survivor contestants, both past and present. In fact I don't think we have ever seen a bio quite like hers. She is very outdoorsy, she has lots of varied interests, but she's also free-spirited, and spends all her time working with children. Jan's profession of "First grade teacher" is particularly noteworthy, for the reason that she spends all day dealing with groups and conflicts. I've always felt that "teaching" may be the profession best suited for this type of game, because it is second nature for a teacher to deal with the type of conflicts that might come up in Survivor. Jan's hobbies of "working out" and "running triathlons" look impressive as well. But the one problem that Jan will face in this game is her age. See, Jan is the oldest female in Survivor: Thailand. Oh, she's not elderly by any means, but typically the oldest female will always face problems in the physical challenges. That's just the way the world works. So even though Han looks good on paper, I can't ignore the fact that older (female) players are always discriminated against in Survivor. And Jan may wind up being an early boot if no one else presents themself as an obvious target. It's not fair, but that's just the way that Survivor works..

23, Bartender/Free-Spirit

Robb is going to be the star of the show. He knows it, you know it, I know it, so let's just accept it. In fact the entire Zbacnikian bio is all over the place. So there's no real way to predict who he is, how he acts, or what he is going to do. If Robb is half as entertaining as he appears to be on paper, you know the show is going to revolve around his storyline most of the time. After all, Robb was once voted Arizona's "most eligible bachelor!" He's also spent chunks of his life digging ditches, modeling, studying philosophy, cliff diving, and writing poetry. Oh, and Robb once left college so he could spend more time snowboarding. I love it. The only unknown variable with Robb is how he is going to relate to the rest of the tribe. Because from his bio, it's impossible to predict if he has any people skills, or will be annoying, or any of that. We just don't know how he is going to come off as part of group. But no matter what, Robb is going to be a memorable character. He's the youngest player in the cast, he looks entertaining as hell, and he is big and strong enough that he should be valuable to his tribe, no matter how annoying this kid is going to be. So bow down to Robb Zbacnik, the early star of Survivor: Thailand. I would be shocked if this guy didn't get some major airtime this season.

37, Software Developer

Ted looks to be the big, strong guy in whatever tribe he is in. I mean, look at him. He played pro football! He studied Information Systems and has spent the majority of his career in software. As a fellow IS person, I know what type of mind he probably has, and he's probably a very analytical person. I think he will be good at separating emotion and friendship from the strategy of the game, which is a good thing. But he's also quite a bit bigger than everyone else, and will stand out, which is a bad thing. In his pictures, he has very sad eyes, which lead me to believe he is a pretty nice guy. Ted should be a decent player, but I want to see his personality in the first episode before I give him a firm ranking.

40, Pastor

A pastor? Are you kidding me? Out of all the professions that are most ill-suited for this type of game, a religious leader would just about be at the bottom of my list. Sure, if Survivor was all nice and friendly and group-oriented, he would be invaluable. But when push comes to shove and throats are cut, John will be at a huge disadvantage. Although to be fair, I have no idea what his personality is actually like. Maybe he has a cunning mind. Maybe he can scheme and lie. Maybe lying won't be needed to win this season. After all, I never thought a Mormon college student could do well in this game either, and look what happened last season. Right now, all I will predict is that people will seek out John as an alliance partner. They will be all over him like flies on... you know. Because a guy who is ethical, respected, and trustworthy is someone you definitely want on your side. So I predict that John will be very popular among his teammates, and he'll probably be a good source of heart, warmth, and community. But I doubt he will get very far.

46, Restaurateur

Clay looks like a nice enough person. But I'm sorry to say, his bio screams "Dead Meat!" Sure, he claims to be an outdoorsman, but I don't see a whole lot of "athletic background" or "teamwork skills" in his biography. He's probably a rather small person, and I have to say there are a lot of red flags that go up when you read through his bio. Especially when you compare him to the other players. Clay's best bet will be to make nice with the other older players in the game, because they will be his protection. Otherwise the younger players are going to target him. Since Clay appears to be amiable, and friendly, and likeable, I'm guessing that his best strategy is to make sure everyone else likes him, as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could be a short game for him.

As a side note, I hope that Clay wears a Bulls jersey, with number 23 and "Jordan" on the back. That would be really cool to see, and it would make people like him right off the bat. Wow, it turns out His Airness is shorter and a whole lot whiter than we originally thought!

33, Legal Secretary

Ghandia is the forgotten members of the cast. She is the one I always forget when I try to remember all the new players, and that's because she is rather unspectacular when you look at her compared to the rest. On the plus side, Ghandia is hard working, she's honest, she's a mother of two young children, and she has a background in martial arts. She's also a pretty big woman, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, she DOES look to bigger and stronger than most of the others, particularly when you take into account her athletic background. Ghandia is a player that I don't see getting very far in this game, unless there are a lot of unsavory players on her team. There's really nothing wrong with her on paper, but she just strikes me as one of the weaker Thailand players, overall. I hope the other players never learn she was once a telemarketer, or else they're liable to kick her off just on principle alone.

61, Land Broker

Jake looks like a big, tall, tough, walkin', talkin' Texan. He has spent most of his life in the Lone Star State, where he's managed to work in real estate, land brokerage, hunting, and outdoor adventure. Jake sounds pretty much like your stereotypical ornery Texas dude, although we'll see if looks can be deceiving. If he is as "Texan" as he sounds on paper, I can't imagine that people will keep Jake around very long, since most non-Texans I know don't have much respect for that lifestyle. But being that 50%-60% of this cast is connected to Texas in some way or another, maybe it will actually be a positive. Who knows? Jake is easily the oldest player in the game, but he strikes me as being younger than Clay, since Jake has much more of an extensive outdoorsy background. His profession (land broker) probably makes him an extremely hard worker, which is good, because that's Jake's best bet to get past the first few votes. I guess it will really depend on if he can get along with younger people or not. Jake's future will be much more clear after the first episode.

29, Firefighter

Stephanie looks like one heck of a player. Of all the females, I think she is clearly the most visible threat to go far in this game. Either her or Penny. Stephanie works in a male-dominated profession, so she is clearly one tough chick. In pictures, she looks very tall and strong. She studies biology, so she has a good head on her shoulders. But the thing that just jumps right out at me in Stephanie's bio is her strength and general athletic ability. She runs triathlons, she climbs rocks, she rides mountain bikes, she landscapes, and, of course, she lugs heavy fire equipment around all day. In other words, she is going to be a very, very valuable player to whatever team she ends up on. It's impossible to say right now if Stephanie has good people skills, or if she is overbearing, which are really the only two things that can bring her down. Oh yeah, and one subtle asset Stephanie has going for her is her place of residence. Since she's lived her whole life in Arkansas, that probably means she has a very thick, southern accent. And as we have seen before in Survivor, southern accents make you sound trustworthy, and stupid. People always underestimate the players with the southern accents, and if Stephanie is smart, she could use that to her advantage. So anyway, that's why I am picking Stephanie to go very far in this game. When in doubt, always bet on the players with the southern accents! Especially when they are tough chicks like Stephanie.

47, Navy Swim Instructor

Helen is the only military player in the game, which is odd for a show that usually has a heavy military presence. She is clearly an alpha type female (is there such a thing as an alpha female?), she's older than most of the other women in the cast, and she will obviously be one of the leaders of whatever tribe she is on. Now the big question is, will Helen be overbearing? We have seen numerous instances throughout Survivor history of military people-vs.-non-military. And we've also seen several civilians say things like, "I don't need the military in my life." So it is yet to be seen if this could be held against Helen. After all, not only is she military, but she is also a military instructor, which could make her even more demanding and overbearing. It's tough to say right now, but I suspect that the younger females won't like Helen very much. She just gives off that vibe of, "young people won't be able to relate to me." Oh yeah, and even though Helen is one of the older players in the game, that shouldn't be a factor since she has such a solid athletic background. Meaning, of course, she will have few peers in the water. Helen is definitely one of the players I need to see in person before I give her a solid ranking, but for now, I think the stigma of being the sole military player (and a military instructor at that) will be tough for her to overcome.

Well, there you have it. A very well rounded cast made up of strong younger females, a whole bunch of strong males, and more over-40 players than we usually get. I agree with Jeff Probst that this is more of a true cross-section than most Survivor casts. And yes, one Asian player doesn't really make a very realistic cross-section, but Mark Burnett has said before that they get a very, very small number of Asian applicants for Survivor, so there's not much you can really do about that.

Jeff Probst has further said that this is the "best looking" cast they have ever had. And this seems odd at first, until you really take a look at some of them. Because it's possible that Jeff is actually right. After all, Penny, Erin and Tanya could each make a claim to be the best looking female the show has ever had. And I've heard numerous females already comment on the looks of Jed, Ken and, especially, Brian. So maybe this could be the best cast yet. We'll know after the show starts.

Here's to a great season!

Following is the first set of Mario's power rankings, the pre-season edition. There isn't much to base this on at this point, as I don't know any of these players, and the team divisions haven't even been announced yet! But in my defense, I was darn close in my pre-season rankings last year. If you recall, I had Tammy, John and Zoe as my pre-season top three last year, and they very well could have been the final three. After all, if not for Neleh and Sean (and that darn coconut challenge), I actually would have pulled it off. And if it hadn't been for those meddling kids, I would have gotten away with it, too!


1. Brian Heidik
As my co-worker Walter pointed out, "He's a used car salesman!" That's really all you need to know.
2. Stephanie Dill
Tough, very tough.
3. Jed Hildebrand
After the top 2, I'm not sure about the rest. But Jed is the most well-rounded.
4. Ken Stafford
Tough and respected
5. Robb Zbacnik
Assuming he is likeable, and not annoying
6. Erin Collins
Assuming she is the villain, like I expect
7. Penny Ramsey
Probably will be loved by all
8. Ted Rogers, Jr.
Hopefully he is as tough as he looks
9. Tanya Vance
Because the sweetheart generally gets pretty far, and you know she will be tough to beat in a jury vote...
10. Helen Glover
She has to be very likable to have even a remote chance
11. Shii Ann Huang
I see no reason not to put her higher, but the stigma about "asian females being weak" might hurt her with the males
12. John Raymond
I'll be rooting for the pastor, but the odds are against him
13. Jake Billingsley
Good work ethic will be the thing that saves him
14. Ghandia Johnson
No real reason for the low ranking, just a hunch she will be an outsider
15. Jan Gentry
The oldest female in the game is always at a disadvantage
16. Clay Jordan
Air Jordan won't be around in the fourth quarter

Mario Lanza lives in southern California with his wife and two small children. He was one of the writers of the famed All-Star Survivor: Hawaii story this offseason. Check it out if you haven't yet!

You can reach Mario at