Survivor Island of the Idols cast assessment: Ronnie Bardah goes all in

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

There have been many professional poker players who have competed on Survivor. Will Ronnie Bardah navigate the field to make the proverbial final table?

Jean-Robert Bellande. Albert Destrade. Jim Rice. Garrett Adelstein. Anna Khait. Ronnie Bardah. There have been quite a few Survivor castaways who have made quite a bit of money on the felts of poker tables throughout the United States, but none might be as bold and as self-aware as Ronnie Bardah, one of the 20 castaways set to compete in Island of the Idols starting later this month.

With more than $1.3 million won in poker tournaments in his career (tournament cashes don’t include buy-in costs, tournaments where they bust without receiving money, nor cash games in general), Ronnie is one of the more prolific tournament poker players to compete on Survivor.

However, none have touched his World Series of Poker main event cash streak (think Super Bowl of poker tournaments). From 2010 – 2014, he made the money in each of the main event $10,000 buy-in tournaments, which should speak to his ability to be patient, play his hand as best as possible and keep conservative with his play until an opportunity presents itself.

According to his CBS bio, among his pet peeves include those who misplay a Hidden Immunity Idol, which will hopefully not serve as irony down the road. What has me compelled is who he wants to play like, likening his strategy to playing dumber than he is a la Devon Pinto while using Boston Rob’s ability to make big moves and have game awareness to know when he’s potentially in trouble.

What had me convinced that Ronnie Bardah is going to be a personality to watch for in Survivor: Island of the Idols is his most famous hand of poker. The Shark Cage was one of PokerStars’ most bizarre tournament formats where players had 30 seconds to take any action and once the fifth community card was drawn, players can make a bet and push a card that says “Value” (for a bet to increase value) or a “Bluff” card (indicating a bluff).

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This led to an infamous hand with Miss Finland versus Ronnie Bardah (Jean-Robert was also at the table!), with Miss Finland bluffing virtually every draw from the flop on, including eventually going all-in on the final card. Despite Ronnie having three of a kind, the 30-second response time and willingness to play a hand aggressively from a perceived rookie made Ronnie feel like she had a full house (a stronger hand).

He eventually folded, and it was revealed Miss Finland had bluffed him off a stronger hand, forcing him to stand in the Shark Cage for an orbit of play. I really, really hope it doesn’t reflect his fortunes in Survivor, as he seems prescient enough in the game to know how important it is to get into a strong alliance early and play down his assets while leaning into his strategic mind.

Poker players of today have to think about games in terms of expected value, making moves that will help them in their favor in the long run (even if it produced short-term negative results). However, just because they’re supposed to have methodical pattern recognization and means to thrive doesn’t mean that they will maintain that playing Survivor.

Unlike playing Miss Finland, Ronnie will be competing with 20 castaways who will have equal experience playing this game starting from Day 1. When he got bluffed off a great hand from Miss Finland, he took it in stride and played up how unfortunate his situation was. He made direct, but funny jokes about why he wasn’t betting after Miss Finland bet the flop, and he asked, “Is this real life?” after getting destroyed.

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I think that Ronnie will either play to his strengths in the long game (approaching the Final Six) or blow up early in Island of the Idols trying to play too hard. I just don’t see an early merge or any middle ground from him, but he seems like he’s ready to entertain regardless of where he cashes.