Any old-school “Survivor” fan really should be a Jeff Varner fan. He was one of the most entertaining people on the show’s second season, and more than that he was one of most strategic players at that particular era of the show. “Australia” was not known for its strategy elsewhere (you don’t have to look any further than the final three decision for proof of that), but Varner (we’re going to call him that mostly to dissociate him from Jeff Probst) was someone who you felt had the potential to make some waves after the merge.
Ultimately, there were a few things that doomed him, and made it hard for us to ever imagine him coming back: Mike Skupin’s injury causing the Kucha tribe to enter the merge without the majority, him going for the peanut butter at the immunity challenge, and then the Ogakor tribe using the tiebreaker rules of the time (past votes counted against you) to send him home. He claims that he’s steered clear of peanut butter since, Mike Skupin’s not on this season, and the tiebreaker rules have changed. Does this mean that he has a better shot on “Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance“? We’re about to dive in and figure that out.
History lesson – 10th place, “Survivor: Australia.” We really went into much of it above, since it was the perfect introduction to him returning for those who don’t know him. One thing that we didn’t mention is that he was sick very early on in the season, which led to Debb Eaton voting for him in the first tribal council.
What worked the first time – Being a game-player and understanding social dynamics were things that worked for him, at least in making sure that he was in the numbers to stay in the game. (Avoiding tiebreakers was apparently not a part of that plan.) He made sure to contribute around camp and in challenges, but other than seemingly having a mind for strategy, we’re not sure how much of the Australia season translates. The show was edited so differently back then, and it was more about the survival as presented to viewers.
What needs to change – Given that he did have some conflict with members of the Kucha tribe, he will have to learn to curtail that a little bit. Varner’s the kind of guy who likes to speak up, even though sometimes he really should just be happy settling in and letting other people shoot themselves in the foot. Also, he’s going to have to find a way to convince an opposing alliance member to flip if he’s in a similar situation like what he was in at the merge. With the new purple rock rules, that’s probably easier than it was during season 2.
Potential obstacles – We try to keep these mostly self-contained, but in the case of Varner we really have to mention his pre-game alliances: Without naming names, he’s got a ton of them. A story over on TheWrap should give you a little bit more insight on that since we aren’t going to dive into that here. He has probably played the game harder than any person leading up to the season, which could help or hurt him. Our concern is mostly that people are going to figure this out and start to realize that he is basically playing everyone to ensure that he always has a landing spot.
Prediction – The good news for Varner is still that being such an old-school player brings with it a certain charm and appeal; other players who are longtime fans may want to hear some of his stories from the early years of the show, or simply his life in general since he seems to be a fascinating guy. We think people will start to realize just how good he has it in the game before the merge, but he’ll probably make it there and then get sent home soon afterwards. We feel like he could be in a spot similar to Aras on “Blood vs. Water,” where the other players realize that unless they make a move on him soon, he could have an easy path to the end.
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