Just when we thought we were out — they pulled us back in. Thanks to a delightfully whacked-out cast (including a type A male nurse, a middle-aged Vermont gal with some serious mood swings, and a dude with a Godfather complex), the Survivor franchise once again has us wrapped around its dirt-caked little finger. Herewith, our guide to which of the last six contestants has the best shot at being the big fish of Survivor: Marquesas on May 19.
KATHY Sure, she’s high-strung, abrasive, and — when given unlimited amounts of Coors Light — a bit of a lush, but to those who contend Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien has no chance of claiming the $1 million prize, may I remind you: She peed on a guy’s hand! Anyone who can urinate on a tribemate on command (in order to neutralize the blinding pain brought about by a killer sea urchin) with some 20 million people watching has what it takes to be the sole Survivor. And let’s not even get into the whole marking-her-turf symbolism. Plus, Kathy deserves to win simply because it would be the perfect capper to the most topsy-turvy edition of Survivor ever. Who would have thought the 47-year-old Vermont real estate agent stood a chance of making it this far? She started off bossy (a definite no-no), progressed to loner (the easiest way to get sent packing outside of hoarding beef jerky), and then graduated to just plain vindictive (leading with your heart instead of your head — like when she confronted backstabbing former friend Zoe right after the merge — is no way to ”outwit”). Throw that all together and you think, Boy, I feel like using my Visa card to buy a Snickers and a case of Sierra Mist (sorry, I don’t know where that came from); actually, you think: This chick’s torch is getting snuffed out faster than Wolf Lake. But with Sean and Vecepia’s black power alliance, and Neleh and Paschal’s May- December pact, Kathy could very well act as the swing vote, giving this former hothead the most clout down the stretch. So pack your umbrella, because come May 19, Kathy’s financial forecast calls for nothing but golden showers. — Dalton Ross Odds to win 2-1
VECEPIA I think we all know who God wants to win Survivor 4. His faithful servant Vecepia ”Vee” Towery, 36, has let neither pestilence, starvation, nor a tribemate’s demonic Boston accent distract her from her most holy alliance. Even at the bleakest of hours — during Maraamu’s third straight trip to Tribal Council — Vee took time to give props to the Supreme Being, telling the great apostle Jeff Probst, ”My inner strength comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.” And when those devilish Survivor producers tried to shake her faith by suddenly shuffling her off to the rival Rotu tribe, all Vee had to say was ”God is still good, regardless” (translation: Fie on thee, ye agents of Satan!). Of course, her devoutness hasn’t exactly stopped Vee from flip-flopping between intratribal congregations: After starting off aligned with fellow Bible-thumper Sean and Rob ”the Godfather” Mariano, she quickly distanced herself once Rob’s sinful ways began vexing the flock (”There’s just too much drama in this place,” the purposely low-profile Vee is fond of saying). But luckily for Sean, just when it appeared that he was next in line for the great hereafter, Vee brought him back into the fold, joined him in pre-Tribal Council prayer (”Father God in the name of Jesus,” she intoned while laying her hands on him), and, lo, he was saved from perdition. Aside from her seemingly eternal damnation at the challenges (a truly merciful God, would have lifted her handmade kite to the heavens so she could have enjoyed that swell scuba diving reward!), thou cannot argue with the fact that Vee has played this game with a flawless fervor. So, Father God, in the name of Jesus, please give her the million smackers! — Jamie Bufalino Odds to win 5-2
NELEH Three words that underscore why 21-year-old college student Neleh Dennis will take home the Survivor 4 bank? Oh. My. Heck. After her sugar pappy, Paschal, invited her aboard his cruise-ship reward, the flaxen-haired, button-nosed Mormon lass uttered this insta-catchphrase about 15 times — further solidifying her rep as this Survivor’s island ingenue. Oh-so-adorably named for her grandmother Helen, Neleh (yes, that’s Helen backward) still lives with her mom and dad in Layton, Utah. She brought Scriptures to Marquesas as her luxury item (take that, Vecepia!). She’s even volunteered for the Special Olympics, for crying out loud. ”Every single person in this tribe calls me Sweet Pea. I don’t know why,” she said early on. Some contestants have caught on to her charming-but-laced-with-cyanide people skills (”She’s playing mad game,” Sean said), but expect her to do unto them as she did unto former best buddy Gina. ”I love Gina to death,” she gushed minutes before scrawling her pal’s name down on the Tribal Council scroll. Clearly, Neleh found time between her Weber State University classes to study past Survivors, because her strategy has, thus far, earned straight A’s. Like Survivor 2’s Elisabeth Filarski (the cutie to whom she’s often compared), Neleh has sailed along by hitching her nubile young wagon to an aw-shucks old guy. But unlike loser Elisabeth’s coattail courtship with ”Kentucky Joe,” the Neleh-Paschal axis is strong and savvy enough to avert Tribal Council disaster. Though she offered her starving tribemates nothing more than a half-eaten mint from her cuss-free mouth after her cruise-ship chow-down tarnished her golden-girl image, even that candy-coated faux pas won’t derail Neleh’s inevitable trip to the winner’s circle. Heck, it’s awfully hard to deliver a ”The tribe has spoken” takedown to a girl who won’t even use the word hell. — Jessica Shaw Odds to win 4-1
PASCHAL Never mind the cascading waterfalls and postcard-perfect wildlife: Survivor has yielded no more beautiful sight than that of a scrawny-chested 57-year-old man heaving a heavy yellow stone underwater and then carrying it to victory over his younger competitors. Paschal English may have been dubbed Pappy by his teammates, but to me he’ll always be Scrappy, tough, implacable, calm in the face of adversity (or, even more unsettlingly, in the scary face of Robert the limo driver, a.k.a. the General). As befits a Georgia Superior Court judge who’s been married for 35 years and served in the Air Force in Southeast Asia, Paschal is probably the most emotionally mature contestant ever to play Survivor, the most evenhanded in his pronounced estimations of his game-playing colleagues, and the most likely to keep his own counsel. Internet postings are atwitter over the grandfatherly-affectionate relationship the old buzzard has formed with the willowy Neleh, but the nice thing is, exec producer Mark Burnett has included just enough interview footage of the Papster to let us know that he’s also out for himself, and in this to win. Like a forgotten character from the old Andy Griffith Show, Paschal doles out Mayberry-misted observations like ”We want the people that play this game fairly…to have a good chance to get to the top,” even as he keeps an eye and ear on the latest alliance plots and island meltdowns. Close your eyes when Paschal talks and listen to his soft Southern cadences — who does he sound like? Yep: Jimmy Carter, our Georgia peanut-farmer President, who’s also aged gracefully into a hardworking man at peace with himself. The big difference? Paschal, unlike the former president, is taking part in a project that could be called Habitat for Inhumanity. — Ken Tucker Odds to win 4-1
SEAN Here’s all you need to know about Sean Rector: He graduated from college with a degree in theater and psychology. What better preparation could you possibly have for becoming the ultimate Survivor? Sean’s theatrical skills have served him well on Marquesas, as he’s kept his tribemates entertained with songs (”A Brand New Day,” from The Wiz), freestyle raps, and a steady stream of one-liners (”The only horses I’ve been on are the merry-go-round in Central Park”). Even Ray Romano admires his shtick, recently telling EW: ”When Sean said, ‘When you go to Vegas, always bet on black!’ that was the best moment of the year.” Unlike Raymond, however, everybody doesn’t love Sean. The 30-year-old Harlem native consistently ticks off the castaways with his stubborn (not to mention flatulent) nature. ”I ain’t kissing nobody’s butt,” he once declared, wisely kicking back while alpha males Hunter, Boston Rob, and John devoured one another. Ever the Renaissance man, Sean is a teacher and head basketball coach at a junior high school in South Central L.A.; a political activist (Vecepia calls him ”a Malcolm X militant-type brother”); and an amateur food critic (on raw fish: ”I’d rather eat a bowl of my own doo-doo”). But best of all, he’s not afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve — that is, if he ever wears sleeves (he often sports muscle shirts to show off his rippling physique). ”It’s been really difficult for me not talking to my mom,” he once confessed, breaking down in tears. Or was that just…acting? Either way, I’m betting on Sean. — Bruce Fretts Odds to win 12-1
ROBERT They call him the General. Perhaps it’s because of his multiple tattoos, his manly aversion to the color pink, and his authoritarian jaw. Or perhaps it’s the way he bravely lay still as John sliced the giant piece of rock-torn flesh from his toe. Or maybe it’s because he’s been known to say ”I’m the General, and that’s that!” But there are plenty of reasons why the name doesn’t hold. Robert DeCanio, age 38, showed few leadership skills by forming his ill-fated alliance with future sitting ducks John, Zoe, and Tammy. As for strength in battle: At press time, he has won only one challenge, and that involved making popcorn, which is not exactly storming Normandy. And need we mention his inability to paddle a canoe straight while being barked at by his gay crewmate? Methinks Patton would not have sat still for that. Then again, maybe the stoic, calm competitor got tagged the General not due to some military significance but for being so nondescript he started blending in with the sand. Perhaps it’s a camouflage strategy that he’s trying to ride to V-day. But, alas, as soon as his once-powerhouse alliance started to unravel, the General, a limo driver from Queens, developed the beach equivalent of road rage. He sulked, moped, and snapped: ”People don’t like that I’m a little grumpy. Hey, I don’t give a fat ass what you like.” I fear the General will likely be gone by the time you read this… unless, of course, he can keep winning immunity. Then again, as any enraged New York driver will tell you, it ain’t over till the middle finger droops. — Josh Wolk Odds to win 20-1