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'Survivor' Second Chance voting: Will any old-timers make the cut?

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Monty Brinton/CBS

Longtime Survivor fans were no doubt excited to see some names from yesteryear included on the list on contestants vying for fan votes to put them into next season’s Second Chance installment. Kelly Wiglesworth from season 1. Jeff Varner and Kimmi Kappenberg from season 2. T-Bird Cooper from season 3. Andrew Savage from season 7. But do any of those contestants actually stand a chance of making it?

At first glance, they might seem like shoo-ins due to the fact that their seasons had much bigger audiences than present-day Survivor. 51.7 million people saw Kelly lose by one vote to Richard Hatch in the season 1 finale. 51.7 MILLION!!! Season 2 averaged over 30 million viewers per episode. By comparison, this week’s Worlds Apart installment pulled in only 9.3 million. So…yeah. 

More likely, though, the opposite is true—and we can look to reality TV voting history as our guide. That’s because CBS already pulled a fan-voted season stunt back in 2006 for Big Brother, and the results are pretty telling.

For Big Brother: All-Stars, the network announced that fans could vote in the cast from a pool of contestants drawn from the first six seasons—but just part of the cast. CBS allowed fans to pick eight of the contestants, then allowed producers to pick six players of their own. Why didn’t the network let the fans choose everyone? Because they didn’t trust their audience to actually vote in the best players from the first six seasons from the show, and the results illustrated exactly why.

Of the eight people voted in to Big Brother: All-Stars by the public, guess how many came from the first three seasons of the program? Zero. Zilch. Nil. That’s right: Nobody got chosen. And that included the show’s most famous contestant to date, Will Kirby (season 2), and well as the person who ended up winning Big Brother: All-Stars, Mike “Boogie” Malin (also originally from season 2). Instead, the fans selected one person from season 4, three people from season 5, and a whopping four from season 6, which had just aired the previous summer.

As a result, producers were left to clean up the mess with their own six selections. Not surprisingly, they tried their best to even out the discrepancy by picking people from the earlier seasons: one from season 1, the aforementioned two from season 2, two from season 3, and one from season 4.

Of course, the results should not have been all that shocking. Reality TV has long been considered disposable culture that we chew up and obsess over while it is on, and then quickly spit out from our memory banks as soon as it is over. I do it too. I have watched every single season of Big Brother, yet often struggle to recall particular players or seasons. (QUICK: Who won two years ago on BB? If you said Andy Herren—congratulations, you have a better memory then I do! I had to go look it up.) More than any other form of entertainment, reality television carries an “out of sight, out of mind stigm”a in which folks achieve their 15 minutes of fame and then are quickly forgotten.

So what should you expect when the results for Survivor’s Second Chance season are revealed on May 20 at the Worlds Apart reunion show? Lots and lots of recent names. Especially because the entire cast will come directly from fan voting, contrary to what the originally posted rules stated. Of course, the contestant pool is already stacked in that direction, with four possibilities from the outstanding Cagayan edition (Season 28) and five people from the less-than-outstanding Worlds Apart (which has had fans grumbling all spring). There are even three people from last fall’s disappointing San Juan del Sur. But when the final cast list is announced, expect a whole bunch of the chosen to be from the past four seasons, and the vast majority to be from seasons 21 on.

That’s not to say no old-school players will make the cut. With 20 slots to fill, there have to be some old-timers, but it could end up being less than you think. Yes, Kelly Wiglesworth (hopefully) should make it, and Stephen Fishbach (season 18) likely will be able to use the platform of his People.com blog and podcasting to score a ticket. But other big time-gamers from yesteryear, like Andrew Savage and Terry Deitz—who have not been on TV for around a decade and do not have the social media presence to promote their candidacy that more recent players do—could be left out in the cold.

asked Jeff Probst if he was concerned about only getting recent players for next season and here’s what he told me: “In a perfect world, having Kelly Wiglesworth—who is the ultimate second chancer because she was the first runner-up, she lost by one vote to Richard Hatch in the first season, so there’s certainly a little bit of nostalgia for someone like Kelly that you’d love to see in terms of what it would represent—but you give it to the fans and the beauty is, the people who are watching the show are telling you who they want. So if they choose everybody from the last five seasons, let’s go. I’m good with that. We have great people. I look at the people on this list and I’m happy to have any collection of 20—10 men and 10 women—and really, honestly, ultimately I don’t care. It’d be great if we had it diverse going back to season 1 all the way to season 30 because that would represent our entire run. But if that’s not what they decide, that’s okay. What was important to us was that we give you the choice. We’re giving you people that span the globe—it’s up to you who you want.”

And if history is a guide, people will want players from recent installments. So if you are a fan of contemporary Survivor seasons or someone who has only been watching the show for a few years, then you are more than likely going to be happy when the new Second Chance cast is announced on May 20. But if you go back with the show to the very beginning and want to see how people play after being away it from it for so long…well, then you better get voting.

Make sure to check out our exclusive pitches from the 32 contestants vying to be picked for the Second Chance season. And get all the intel from Jeff Probst on the ins and outs of the twist. Finally, for more ‘Survivor’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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