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Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2003 - 3:01 p.m.

Handicapping Survivor 6

I read up last night on all the new castaways for Survivor: The Amazon. In an interesting twist this time (if we can believe that Mark Burnett will carry through with it; they've teased us about tribal twists before) is that the two initial tribes will consist of the men vs. the women. I imagine they may tweak some of the team competitions in the first few weeks because either sex could have an advantage in certain areas. Or maybe they won't and they'll just let them deal with the challenges.

This group of 16 seems younger, on the average, and whiter. You've got one black woman, Joanna, and a man, Daniel, of Chinese decent. And that's it.

The "castaways" in the Amazon are, in fact, younger � the youngest yet, with an average age of 32.1 (I did some quick calculations during down time today. All the ages are as of the beginning of the filming, since several castaways have celebrated birthdays during the competition). Just two contestants are older than 50, with only two more over 40; there are seven younger than 30. By comparison, Survivor 5 in Thailand and the first on Indonesia's Pualu Tiga were the oldest groups, at 35.4 each. That first show featured the three oldest Survivors in Rudy, 72; B.B., 64; and Sonja, 62 � and Sonja and B.B. were the first to go, you'll recall. Rudy is incomparable, however, being a former Navy SEAL and all. He lasted until the final four. I think after that round, Burnett decided the contestants should be younger as a rule, with the threshold adjusted to the conditions in which the castaways would be cat-fighting.

For Survivor 4 in Marquesas, the contestants averaged 34.8 years; in Africa for Survivor 3 they were 35.1; and those in Australia for the second edition had been the youngest, at 33.75. A younger cast isn't surprising, though, when you consider that the key demographic advertisers want to hit is that 18-40 age bracket, or something like that. And after watching B.B. and Sonja go down in flames, it becomes hard to consider those right around the retirement age. (It would also do Burnett and his partners well to avoid New England prison guards who marry their stepsons.) The first person voted off the first five editions has been an average age of46.8 (40-year-old John Raymond from the fifth installment was the youngest) while the average age of the Ultimate Survivor has been and even 35 (Ethan Zohn, 27, is the youngest; Tina Wesson, 40, the oldest).

I'm excited to see this group in the Amazon. Australia was, I think, my favorite location so far and I think another dip into the Southern Hemisphere (the Shaba National Preserve in Africa was roughly 70 kilometers north of the equator) will be inticing. In an ideal TV universe, I'd love to see the show throw 16 strangers into a mountain location, but it would be more difficult and more dangerous to have them battling altitude and frostbite in addition to one another. So while we'll never see Survivor: Everest, we'll also have to continue to deal with Jeff Probst's chicken legs and poor hat choices. (As I've mentioned before, I've grown to like Probst as the host, but it's still enjoyable to poke fun at him. He's evolved with the show to the point where he knows what questions to ask and how to prod the castaways, effectively making the game more difficult for them. They must learn how to answer his queries without revealing too much of their strategy. Probst must look at the daily footage back in the production hut each night, but how amusing would it be to think of Jeff Probst crouching in the bush or perched in a tree spying on the tribes?)

So as I looked over the new contestants, I found myself making judgements on them based on their profiles. These are really all shots in the dark, but it would be fun if some of them come true. I'll probably have completely different opinions after the first episode, then a few more after the second.

Most likely to goof off: Rob.
Most likely to try to take charge: Butch.
Most likely to walk around topless (men): Daniel.
Most likely to walk around topless (women): Heidi.
Most likely to hook up with Richard Hatch: Matthew.
Most likely to be this edition's Robb: Rob.
Most likely to got milk: Jenna.
Most likely to criticize the work ethic of today's youth: Roger.
Most likely to weep over dead animals: Jenna.
Most likely to arrogantly proclaim he knows how to win the game: Rob.
Most likely not to share a reward involving alcohol: Alex and Dave.
Most likely to not be bothered by petty fights: Christy.
Most likely to go back to his high school reunion: Matthew.
Most likely to strike a pose: Ryan.
Most likely to struggle at the cerebral challenges: Janet.
Most likely to be the next Jeri Ryan: Jenna.
Most likely to praise God: Joanna.
Most likely to be confused by viewers for Jenna or Joanna: Jeanne.
Most likely to be voted off first (men): Butch.
Most likely to be voted off first (women): Deena.
Most likely to win $1 million: Shawna.

The show begins Feb. 13. We'll see how well I do.

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