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HORNS, DRUMS, AND CHANTS:
A "Survivor" World
contributed by Jeff Schoch

"Survivor Thailand" is upon us, and I'm already in the groove. Ever since those alluring tribal horns, drums and chants sounded for the first time, introducing us to what would become a "Survivor" world, I've been hooked. While some fans have come and gone, I'm a die-hard. I'll keep watching until the franchise dies. I drink in every scene, study each face and bio, read most of the boards and often find myself lost in an "all-things Survivor" daydream. (My wife
would probably say it's a nightmare.) With the exception of "The Amazing Race," no other so-called reality show has even the slightest hold on me. (I got hooked on "American Idol"
this summer, but mainly for the true talent of Kelly Clarkson, Tamyra Gray and Justin Guarini.) "Survivor" is already among my all-time favorite television shows, putting it on par with the likes of "Seinfeld,""St. Elsewhere,""The Carol Burnett Show,""I Love Lucy,""Twin Peaks,""Murder One,""Wiseguy"and (yes, I admit it) "Star Search." (That eclectic mix reveals a little about my personality, I suppose.)

When it comes to "Survivor,"I vigorously disagree with naysayers who say it's all fake, it's lost its edge and its contestants are always the same. What continues to appeal most to me about it is that these are real people doing real things. Yes, Mark Burnett's editing serves to weave a drama, but he uses the very real actions, comments and personalities of the players to accomplish it. (Remember, it was Vecepia Towery who told the camera a couple of times last season that she wanted to avoid the drama instigated by her fellow tribe mates Sean Rector and Rob Mariano.) She went on to win the whole thing in quite a dramatic fashion. I love that kind of story-telling. I love getting to know these people. I love that I could one day be a contestant and win. That's how real it is to me.

My record in picking "Survivor" winners is a mixed bag. Going into the first year, none of us knew anything about how the game was played, so it was pretty much a blind pre-season pick based solely on bio that prompted me to select Gretchen Cordy to win it all. I was as shocked as she was when she got the boot just after the merge, but in retrospect, it was quite a strategic move at the hands of eventual winner Richard Hatch.

After that first season, we started an office pool among several copy editors at the newspaper where I work. Each of us picks a pre-season winner and a dark horse from each tribe, and then each week we pick who we think will get booted. I won "Survivor Australia" by picking Tina Wesson as my dark horse winner. (Of course, my pick for outright winner from her tribe was Kel Gleason, but all my fellow poolmates went down on that one, too.) My other picks that year were Rodger Bingham and Nick Brown. For "Survivor Africa," I won our pool again. None of us picked Ethan Zohn to win, but I had picked Kim Johnson, who as runner-up, was the last standing among our pool selections. My other picks that season were Clarence Black, Linda Spencer and Silas Gaither, none of which made the merge. I fared poorly in "Survivor Marquesas." The best I could do was Rector's fifth-place finish, while one of my co-workers apparently saw the sly in Towery and correctly picked her to win. My other picks were Sarah Jones (what was I thinking?), Tammy Leitner and Zoe Zanidakis.

Before Episode 1 of "Survivor Thailand" aired, I was ready with my research. I have my eye on four members of Chuay Gahn. My pick for outright winner there is Jan Gentry. Don¹t be fooled by those pigtails and her own weepy confession that she's not a leader. There are many ways to lead, and somehow I think her style will endear her to her tribemates. My dark horse there is Brian Heidik, who I see as a behind-the-scenes schemer. Other Chuay Gahners who I initially thought would do well are Ted Rogers Jr. and Helen Glover, although I'm not as confident of Glover's chances after Thursday's opening show. Clearly, she wasn't included in the tribe's block vote to boot John Raymond. My selections from Sook Jai are Jake Billingsley and Ken Stafford. Who did I pick to be the first to go? I had my eyes on Ghandia Johnson or Robb Zbacnik for that honor, but I also figured Raymond wouldn't be far behind. I still think the days are numbered for Johnson and Zbacnik. I'm also thinking Tanya Vance and Shii Ann Huang won't make the merge. Stephanie Dill strikes me as the Gretchen Cordy of this cast, making her a prime candidate to be booted first after the merge.

Blow the horns, bang the drums, bellow the chants. Another "Survivor" is off to a good start. And I'll be watching.

(Feel free to send comments or thoughts to me at schoch@vindy.com).

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