Survivor kicks off its 26th season Wednesday night, pitting fans against former competitors for the second time with Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites. And, according to host Jeff Probst, though the show's formula may be routine by now, this season — which gets underway with a two-hour premiere at 8/7c on CBS —promises no shortage of drama.
"Survivor is about the players first and the twists second," Probst tells TVGuide.com. "This season delivers in a huge way. Our returning players have never let us down, and that record stands intact after this season."
"There are definitely surprises and at least one thing we have never had happen before and it's a doozy," he adds.
Erik Reichenbach is the only player who's competed in the "fans vs. favorites" iteration (in Survivor: Macronesia) previously — though he's moved from the Fans team to the Favorites team this time around as a result. Among the other Favorites Probst cites as frontrunners are Dawn Meehan from Survivor: South Pacific, as well as Malcolm Freberg, one of the final four contestants from the most recent season of the show, Survivor: Philippines, who eventually lost out to Denise Stapley (and who can also be seen in a guest role on The Bold and the Beautiful Wednesday). Because Survivor: Philippines only concluded in December, none of the Survivor: Caramoan players have seen Malcolm play before, which could work to his benefit. But, he only had a two-week turnaround before filming began in Caramoan.
"Physically, he is exhausted," Probst points out. "He only had two weeks to try and eat as much food as he could and sleep as many hours as possible. The advantage he has is that his head is in game mode and that's a nice advantage on day one. The fact that nobody knows how he played could work for or against him. That's the big question."
Still, Probst says, "Malcolm could definitely win this game."
Though he stops short of making a prediction of who will win the competition, Probst says his picks for potential frontrunners all hail from the favorites group. He doesn't hesitate to name the surefire underdog, however.
"I always think I know who can win and I'm almost always wrong," Probst admits. "About the only thing I have a decent track record is with who can't win. So let me throw a name in that hat. I do not think Phillip [Sheppard, one of the final three from Survivor: Redemption Island] can win. I absolutely love having him on the show but I am predicting right now that Phillip will not win."
The host has spoken! So, with that out of the way, let's break down some of the other frontrunners and cast members Probst says viewers should keep an eye on — for better or worse.
Fans (Gota Tribe):
Matt Bischoff: "Matt is a very likeable guy with an alternative look that might make him very accessible," Probst teases.
Reynold Toepfer and Eddie Fox: "Reynold and Eddie are two young, strong, good-looking guys with a lot of charm," according to Probst. "Could be a deadly duo if they pair up."
Shamar Thomas: "Shamar is a really interesting player," Probst tells us. "He's a very big guy and he wears his heart on his sleeve. His emotions will either endear him to his tribemates or push [them] away."
Favorites (Bikal Tribe):
Andrea Boehlke (Survivor: Redemption Island): "I expect Andrea to play a very smart and aggressive game," Probst predicts, "and she could win."
John Cochran (Survivor: South Pacific): "I desperately want Cochran to last because his interviews are always fantastic," Probst says.
Erik Reichenbach (Survivor: Micronesia): "Erik almost won last time and if he plays it a bit smarter he could be there in the end again," according to Probst.
Meet the full cast in the video below. Who do you think will come out on top?
Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS.