Jason Linden is the latest casualty on a Survivor pre-merge that has been extremely unpredictable thus far. The Island of the Idols cast has not shied away from the big move, arguably at the expense of sound strategy, and the 33-year-old personal injury attorney was the most recent victim.
It was quite the six-episode arc for Jason, who started as the odd one out, worked his way into a secure position and, as soon as it seemed he was poised to make a long run, he was gone. His ouster follows this season's pattern of contestants eschewing from the easy vote and opting instead for pizzazz. On the new Vokai tribe, Jason appeared to be in a tight alliance with both his original tribe members and with crucial swing vote Aaron Meredith. But Aaron ultimately decided to stick to his original Lairo crew, relying on the vote block of Elaine Stott to send Jason, sans fist bump, on his way. Despite his abrupt stay in Fiji, Jason proved himself a savvy strategist and an engaging character. It would have been entertaining to see Jason navigate his way through a post-merge, but unfortunately, this pre-merge has not been kind to super fans of the show who could be strategic threats down the road.
Jason's boot follows the likes of Chelsea Walker and Molly Byman, all atypical early vote-offs based on their utility at camp and in the challenges, as well as their knowledge of how to play the game based on hours upon hours of watching the show. As Survivor casts more and more hardcore fans, it becomes that very knowledge of the game's history and evolution that makes a player a singular threat. One no longer needs to be over-the-top with their fandom to meet their pre-merge fate - say, like a Max Dawson in Worlds Apart - they just need to bear a tiny resemblance to past threats.
The other tribe had Jason pegged as Stephen Fishbach, a similar strategy-driven player who made it all the way to the end of the game in his first season. Once those Lairos swapped to Jason's tribe, he turned into a target not because of what he was doing in the game, but because of what they perceived he was capable of. Chelsea was chopped in similar fashion, losing in part because her tribe was afraid of a potential showmance with Dean Kowalski. (Chelsea has disputed that she and Dean had a showmance, despite the suggestive editing). Molly was cast by her Vokai tribe as Parvati 2.0, and that's a tough moniker to shed for someone hoping to play an under-the-radar game in the earlygoing.
Though this cast is strong enough to withstand these losses, the bad news is that we've missed out on seeing just how strong these players could be. From what we saw, they all had more to give, both strategically and narratively, than simply being Stephen and Parvati clones. But in today's Survivor, it's dangerous to bear any resemblance to players who have made an impression on the fan base. Because the casts are now littered with those exact fans, before the merge hits, the very act of looking, sounding or acting like a Stephen or a Parvati can be enough reason to vote you out.
Survivor season 39 airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on CBS.