When Darth Vader confronts Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars," he boasts to his former mentor, "The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master." Brigham Young University English professor Dawn Meehan is much nicer and far less frightening than Darth Vader, but she will be completing a circle of her own when "Survivor" returns Wednesday for its 26th season on CBS.
Meehan was previously a contestant in 2011 on "Survivor: South Pacific," so whether or not she actually has mastered the "Survivor" magic formula of "outwit, outplay, outlast," her fellow contestants on "Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites" will be wary of her. Meehan is among 10 returning players designated "favorites," a term that has a double meaning: Meehan and her teammates are each beloved — or "favorite" — contestants from prior seasons. Because of their experience and presumably advanced gameplay, however, they're also heavily favored to win.
Part of it is having a laser-like focus on victory, something Meehan said that at least some of this season's "fans" are likely to lack. "I know how I felt when I came out to play my first time," Meehan said. "You're just so honored to be part of the experience."
Not anymore. Meehan said she's been hungry to get a second chance at "Survivor" since the moment she was eliminated. "When I left 'Redemption Island' with Whitney," she said, "Jeff [Probst, host] pulled us both aside and said, 'How's the first five minutes out of the game?' I remember Whitney being kind of relieved that it was over, and I just wanted to get back.
"I've always had this sense of unfinished business."
(During Meehan's "South Pacific" season, the show's producers were still experimenting with a since-abandoned gimmick, Redemption Island, that gave players a chance to return to the game after being voted out by tribemates. Meehan and Whitney Duncan were eliminated in the same Redemption Island showdown by eventual fourth-place finisher Ozzy Lusth.)
Viewers who remember Meehan's first go-round will see a couple of other familiar faces: Brandon Hantz and John Cochran, who also competed in the "South Pacific" season, are among Meehan's "favorites" tribemates. Both men were asked about Meehan in interviews with Entertainment Weekly, but only one of them seemed particularly concerned about competing against her a second time.
Hantz said merely that he thinks Meehan is "cool" and predicted that they'll get along. Cochran, on the other hand, said that he expects to enjoy a certain comfort level with Meehan, but is also wary of her, pointing to her as one of just two "favorites" players with no easily exploitable weaknesses. And he did turn on his tribemates at a key "South Pacific" tribal council, which resulted in Meehan's getting voted off not long thereafter.
"It's going to be really telling how Dawn interacts with me once we get a chance to really start talking," Cochran said. "Because there might be a part of her that's still really upset that I screwed her over and voted her off."
There might indeed. Meehan said she hasn't had much contact with her past and future tribemate since the "South Pacific" season ended. "I really had become good friends with him during the game," she said. "When he flipped, I just felt an immediate betrayal."
Will there be Dawn vs. John fireworks on "Fans vs. Favorites?" Viewers will have to watch the show to find out.
Host Jeff Probst, for one, has been promising big things on Twitter, saying that "Fans vs. Favorites" will top even the revived interest in "Survivor" generated by "Survivor: Philippines" — a big bounce-back season for the show after the dud cast and minimal competitiveness of "Survivor: One World" — at the end of 2012.
Probst said Wednesday's season premiere episode is great, and that many twists and reversals are in store: "The entire season is completely unpredictable."
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IN HER OWN WORDS
The Daily Herald talked to Brigham Young University English professor and South Jordan resident Dawn Meehan about competing on the upcoming season of "Survivor" on CBS. Since the season hasn't started airing yet, Meehan couldn't talk about what happened in the game itself. Here's what she had to say about her memories of her first season, the (overall) sensation of returning to "Survivor," and a handful of other topics.
On how she found out she'd be returning: I was teaching a class at BYU. I came in from my office hours and noticed that I had a few [phone] messages. I didn't expect to hear from the show again, so I thought it would just be students. A day-and-a-half later, I thought, "I really need to get those messages." When I finally listened to them, it was the show calling.
On whether she warned her "South Pacific" tribemates after John Cochran decided to change sides: When Cochran told me he was going to flip, I immediately thought, "Oh, no!" I tried to warn the others, but they didn't listen. I tended to be really nervous at the start of the game, so they thought I was just being too cautious.
On what she wants to do differently in the "Fans vs. Favorites" season: The first time, I realized that people confided in me, that people trusted me. I was kind of afraid to use that for my own advantage. I just have to be willing to put myself in the equation and say, "Yes, this may hurt somebody else, but it will benefit me." Even when I play games with my children, I try to beat them. I like to win.
I played the first time too much like it was real life. Looking back, I think, "You had opportunities, you just didn't really take them because you were too concerned about what people would think."
On being the "South Pacific" season's nicest contestant: I laugh at that because I know I have more flaws than the show revealed. Once in a while someone will recognize me in public and say, "Oh, you're so nice." That always makes my kids laugh.
On whether she cries as much in real life as she did during her "South Pacific" season: It's an insanely stressful game. You see some people respond with anger, some people respond by checking out, or sleeping all day. For me, I cried a lot. I don't generally cry. I don't think that my kids have ever seen me cry outside of the day that we legalized their adoption.
I would guess that on "South Pacific," I cried every day. Crying in "Survivor," that's what Dawn does when she's starving and sleep-deprived. My husband said, "Now I know. If we ever have some apocalypse where we have to live off the land, Dawn will be crying the whole time."
On whether she thinks the "fans" will be wary of her: I'm a little worried that they'll know I can be strong in challenges. The benefit, I think, is that I'm like them. I'm really a fan of the show. I'm thinking, "Fans — well of course they're going to relate to me." I flip out if I see a picture from "Survivor" and I'm in it, especially if you can see Jeff Probst in the frame.
On what she did differently to prepare for her big second chance: I remember not really having a clear sense, the first time I played, of how hungry players get. This time, I told myself, "I remember what hungry really feels like." I actually gained 6 pounds. When you start to get hungry, you don't want get down to skin and bones right away.
On whether what viewers see on "Survivor" is an accurate representation of player personalities and interactions: The editing of the show and the playing of the game are very, very similar. I didn't walk away saying, "Wow, I never saw that out of them," or, "That's not who that person really is." The editing is pretty spot-on.
Except for Cowboy [fellow "South Pacific" contestant and Utah rancher Rick Nelson]. Rick is actually pretty chatty in real life.
On interacting with "Survivor" host Jeff Probst: You don't want to get on Jeff's bad side. You can definitely upset him. He's a little like the principal to me: You just want to please, you never want to rock the boat. Part of the stress of going to tribal council is that you might be asked a question you haven't thought about, or say something that's disappointing to Jeff.
He's so invested in the actual game itself. I really believe he's still inspired by the game and by the people who play it. Even after 20-plus seasons, he really likes the game; he's fascinated by the choices people make.