‘Survivor: Game Changers’ power rankings: Who might steal Queen Sandra Diaz-Twine’s crown in Season 34?

Survivor: Game Changers” has assembled some of the most ruthless, manipulative and powerful players to ever compete and after Wednesday’s two-hour premiere it’s clear that everyone came to play and the gloves are off. It’s bound to be a thrilling run full of broken alliances, shifting voting blocks and game-changing blindsides so this season we’re going to keep track of the game with a weekly power ranking of the players still in the hunt. So far it looks like women are going to rule the beach in Season 34 and though Sandra Diaz-Twine is the reigning queen, I think we’re likely to see a new one crowned when all is said and done.

Below is the first ranking, strongest to weakest, of the 18 game changers fighting to win. Read my analysis and then update your “Survivor 34” predictions in our weekly event.

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1. Hali Ford – Mana
2. Sierra Thomas – Nuku

Hali and Sierra are ranked more or less together because they both came to “Game Changers” with the need to prove that they belong. This week they each got ample screen time consisting of strategy-building, a necessary edit if we as an audience are to believe in the eventual winner. Hali’s scenes with Sandra and their blindside of Tony Vlachos put Hali in the majority alliance without the huge target on her back that Sandra still has. At the other camp, Sierra not only found the legacy advantage to keep her safe at a future tribal council, but also secured an early connection with Brad that was shown, but not followed up on within the episode — that’s a clue it’s a thread that will continue to build in future episodes. Also, we can’t forget that the “unassuming young female” character helped lead to all-star wins for Amber Brkich and Parvati Shallow.

3. Debbie Wanner – Nuku
4. Zeke Smith – Nuku
5. Sarah Lacina – Nuku

Debbie, Zeke and Sarah all handled Cirie so masterfully that I can’t help but trust that they’re each in a winning mindset. Debbie, for all the oddities that the editors like to play up, is keenly aware of tribal dynamics and how to smile through conversations she doesn’t want to have. Zeke is probably the smartest player out there, always thinking ahead and similar to Debbie can make people think he’s following their lead when he’s actually one step ahead of them. For Sarah, “Game Changers” is about playing a less honest game and the fact that she knows that and is ready to lie makes her a real dark horse threat.

6. Brad Culpepper – Nuku
7. Troyzan Robertson – Mana
8. Malcolm Freberg – Mana

Though Troyzan and Malcolm had a lot more work to do on the twice-losing Mana tribe, Brad’s early alliance with Sierra is a sign that he’s going to be around for a while, especially if he continues to lay back and let the other men be the bigger targets. Troyzan is similarly guarded by men on his tribe perceived to be stronger than him. One of those men is Malcolm, who I think could be grouped with other men later in the rankings, but he showed a considerable amount of low-key strategy this week that suggests he’s learned from his last appearances.

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9. Jeff Varner – Mana

That Jeff managed to escape the chopping block when his tribe was considering the need to keep the stronger players and eliminate the weakest at challenges says a lot about the power of his social game. I think he’s clearly the most vulnerable on his tribe, but the longer he stays the more beneficial his poor performance at challenges becomes and the stronger his social game gets. I’m keeping my eye on him.

10. Andrea Boehlke – Nuku
11. Aubry Bracco – Mana

In a lot of ways, Andrea and Aubry are exactly the opposite of Hali and Sierra — they’re known for their cunning and changed the game because of their aggressive social maneuvering. I’m impressed that both seem to have scaled back their need to be in control, but I’m also worried about their lack of screen time. Neither seemed instrumental in the work or alliance-building going on at their camp and it may spell early doom if they continue to be left out.

12. Caleb Reynolds – Mana
13. J.T. Thomas – Nuku
14. Ozzy Lusth – Nuku

It’s never easy being one of the physically dominant men on your tribe, especially true in an all-star season. Caleb, J.T. and Ozzy are all relatively safe in the initial weeks because they’re an obvious asset at challenges, but in the time right before the merge and certainly after the merge their targets are going to be inescapably large without platinum-protected alliances. Ozzy is in the worst spot of all of them because he’s also fending off a quick attack from Cirie.

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15. Tai Trang – Nuku
16. Michaela Bradshaw – Mana

Tai and Michaela were two of the most enjoyable players to watch on their original seasons, but mostly because of their uniquely out-of-sync approaches to the game. Tai is hopelessly devoted to the goodness of the game and that is again manifesting in his caretaking of the livestock. J.T.’s admission to the camera that Tai’s game may come to an end if he continues to prioritize feeding the chickens over the tribe sounds a bit like literal foreshadowing. I also wasn’t too impressed with how Tai handled his chat with Cirie when he struggled to find words to explain whether or not Ozzy is going after her. Michaela on the other hand struggles with containing her emotions and the Mana tribe has already picked up on it. I’m surprised she escaped that first elimination after overreacting to being the decoy vote and though the heat seemed to cool down prior to the second elimination I have a hard time believing she can keep it at bay for much longer, especially if her tribe continues to lose challenges.

17. Sandra Diaz-Twine – Mana
18. Cirie Fields – Nuku

It’s hard to say whether Sandra or Cirie is facing the biggest uphill battle at this point because both are widely considered (by fans and favorites alike) as two of the best strategic players in “Survivor” history. Sandra managed to thwart Tony’s attempts to take her out — amazingly without receiving a single vote against herself — but I’m worried that doing so was her number one goal for the season and that she’ll play with less fervor going forward. She also didn’t care about minimizing the target on her back when she gloated over the blindside as Tony’s torch was snuffed. At the winning camp, a lot of the attention was given to Cirie’s plight in currying favor with someone — anyone — everyone! Unfortunately for her no one was buying it and I can’t think of a player on either tribe that is likely to.

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Get a closer look at the Season 34 contestants by clicking through our cast photo gallery. In our “Survivor” predictions center, you get to answer the following questions before each episode airs on CBS every Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET.:

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Who will win Immunity?

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Will anybody quit or be medevaced?

Who will win ‘Survivor: Game Changers’? See exclusive odds

Gold Derby readers just like YOU often turn out to be our smartest prognosticators, so it’s important that you give us your predictions. You can continue to update and change your forecasts throughout the week, just click “Save” when you’ve settled on your choices. You’ll compete to win bragging rights and a place of honor on our leaderboard. Be sure to read our contest rules and sound off on the season of “Survivor” in our reality TV forum.

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