Ranking the Survivor Seasons
The 24th season of Survivor has come to an end with Kim Spradlin taking home the win in a 7-2-0 vote. Kim absolutely dominated this game strategically, socially, and physically, something which I thought was extremely fun to watch. Going back to regular format (and not redemption island) made this season a breath of fresh air for me and each episode brought the excitement that Survivor is known to bring.
It was almost as if the editors gave us the strong woman winner we’ve been waiting for and decided to do it no holds barred. People complained that Sophie didn’t get enough air time last season, well Kim was the opposite. The final 5 were all women, so the editors were probably like ‘crap, we actually have to show at least one of them!’
I like Kim a lot and hope to hear and see a lot more from her in the future.
Instead of doing a big strategy recap (as Kim just destroyed everything) I am going to rank all 24 Survivor seasons from worst to best.
It should be known that some seasons I didn’t watch live (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 17, 18) but went back and watched them after they aired where I already knew who the winner was. This gave me a different way of viewing the season (why …. won) so I may have a different perspective than some of you on them. Some I have watched both live and again afterward (6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) and some I have only seen live week-by-week (16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).
SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE!!!
24. Redemption Island-The worst season due to its complete lack of drama. Sure Boston Rob played a perfect game and it was fun to watch him do it, but thinking about players like Steve, Mike, Julie, Natalie, and Ashley just makes me want to fall asleep. Matt made the Redemption Island twist interesting at first and Phillip always stirred the pot, but really there is little to redeem it.
23. All Stars-Watching the greats go at it was cool when they were in it, but a final with Jenna Lewis, Rob Mariano, and Amber Brkich is not what anybody wanted to see. It started as great fun, but turned into an oppressively angry and bitter season of Survivor. Post merge was not only kind of boring, but each person was so angry to be voted out that it sucked all the fun out of it.
22. Thailand-I really liked Brian, thought he was fun to watch and an amazing player. I even liked Ted, Helen, and Clay, but the rest of the cast was boring and the season entirely too predictable.
21. Marquesas-I may be underrating this season a bit as there are some absolute game changing things that take place that changed Survivor. The final 9 vote where John gets taken down by Paschal and Neleh flipping was one of the greatest moments ever and the first time anybody had really flopped. This was Boston Rob’s debut and Sean was hilarious throughout, but the 3 weeks where Zoe, Tammy, and the General get voted out was just so boring. Vecepia is underrated as well, but just overall not that thrilling, just like this season.
20. Nicaragua-This is a season where everything that is supposed to happen happens. Anyone who complains about people at the bottom never taking out those at the top should not complain about this season, because that is exactly what happened. They got rid of big threats like Brenda and Marty early on, letting the underdogs make it to the end and eventually letting someone who did little win the million dollars. The underdogs were also not that exciting which is why this ranks so low.
19. Gabon-There are a lot of solid characters and big moments throughout this season. I loved watching Kenny sneak and maneuver and the “onion alliance” was pretty solid gameplay-wise. Despite how entertaining the beginning was, I cannot rank it higher because of how terrible the final 4 was. I don’t think that any of them would have been satisfying winners and it was such a disappointment to watch them make it that far.
18. South Pacific-Redemption Island was even more unbearable the 2nd time around, but the cast for this season was pretty solid. Coach, Sophie, and Albert all played great games, making for a very competitive final 3 and John Cochran deserves to be ranked among the great Survivor characters. His move is really what saved this season from being a complete disaster as it added excitement that we had not season since Heroes vs. Villains.
17. Palau-A lot of people really loved this season because of the awesome location, challenges, and likable winner, but looking back who can you remember in this season? Do you remember anyone besides Tom, Ian, and Stephanie? Anyone in the ill-fated Ulong tribe? Sure one tribe destroying the other is a kinda cool factoid, but leads to nothing dramatically post-merge. Overrated by the masses.
16. One World-I think I might be a bit biased on this one. For one, there was no redemption island which automatically made there be so much more drama within each episode than the past two seasons, causing much more excitement. The other reason I’m biased is that I cheered for Kim from the very first episode, hoping that she would win. When I saw that she was capable of this (which I started saying on episode 2), I jumped completely on her bandwagon, so it was very satisfying to watch her absolutely decimate the competition. Kim played the exact way I would want to play if I was out there (and certainly better). This one will probably sink a little when the Kimsanity dies due to lack of surprise, but I honestly did feel tension throughout each episode.
15. Panama-This might be the funniest season in Survivor history. The Casaya tribe is the most dysfunctional yet successful tribe in Survivor. Courtney, Shane, Bruce, Aras, and Danielle all fighting with each other with Cirie providing hilarious commentary makes for a great season. Casaya’s success has got to be one of the great storylines. Aras and Danielle were a kind of disappointing final 2 compared with all the other options, but the humor makes it great.
14. Guatemala-I really loved most of the cast on this one. Players like Brian, Gary, Amy, Judd, and Brandon were all really fun to watch. There were a couple of epic blindsides, one of which resulted in the best post-voteout reaction ever (“I hope you all get eaten by a frikkin’ crocodile”). Danni was a subtle winner, but rewatching it, you can certainly see that she is deserving.
13. Cook Islands-Yul the diplomat defeated Ozzy the challenge beast in one of the most deserving finals ever. Yul’s overpowered idol lead to a lack of drama late in the season, but it certainly caused some great moments with Jonathan’s flip at the merge. Cheering on the Aitutaki 4 after Candice and Jonathan’s mutiny was extremely fun and satisfying when they remained as the final 4.
12. Africa-Extremely likable cast, I think I would have been satisfied if any of the final 9 had won. Big Tom gave us some of the funniest moments ever, Lex was a control freak who was extremely successful, and Ethan was the laid back dude who made sure things went his way when they had to, leading him to victory. I would have to say this was the harshest location Survivor has ever had, probably leading to a more boring camp life than usual. The season is also pretty straight forward, which is why it isn’t higher.
11. Samoa-Russell Hantz helped bring me into Survivor superfandom. At this point I am tired of all the hoopla surrounding him, but his first season he was extremely fun to watch. He approached the game in an all-in fashion and in a way I had rarely seen before (sabotaging your tribe!? Brilliant!). 3 seasons and a nephew later it feels really old, but at the time it certainly felt like a new, unique, and viable way of playing. Those first few post-merge weeks were as exciting as they come as the Foa Foa magically worked their way from 4 down to taking 4 of the final 5 spots. I think that Natalie worked as a winner, though it definitely was a little disappointing.
10. Australia-The first half of this season is really fun and exciting. Mike is goin’ all crazy, Alicia is waving her finger around, and Jeff Varner is providing the best commentary we’d seen in Survivor. After the merge it gets pretty boring (I blame Jeff’s being voted out as part of this) and the editors chose to show the absolute minimum strategy talk possible. I understand that the show has shifted nowadays and that back then they wanted to show more of their life on the island than the game aspect, but they could show us a little as to why they’re voting the way they are! At the final 6 Amber looks to be somewhat in the majority alliance, only to be voted out with little mention as to why! Even Colby didn’t vote for her! What conversations took place to make this happen? It’s frustrating. I think Tina would be considered a far better winner if there was more strategy shown. She totally controlled and outplayed Colby, but it just wasn’t shown.
9. Heroes vs. Villains-This was a great season, with the most epic of returnees being brought back to compete against each other. The theme was perfect and added interesting dynamics to how the season played out. There were some moments that will go to live on forever in Survivor lore (Tyson flopping to vote himself out, JT giving up the idol, Parvati playing 2 idols) and that’s what makes it great. What doesn’t make it great is the huge number of Hidden Immunity Idols. Now I am a proponent of the hidden idol; I think that it adds tons of excitement and gives those at the bottom a chance to keep playing. But when they put 5 idols into one season, it is a little over the top.
8. Fiji-Oh the most hated of seasons is one that I really enjoy watching. I find the characters so entertaining and it endlessly dramatic. There were quite a few people out there truly playing the game, leading to moves and countermoves in each episode. Earl played such a wonderful game leading his group of people without any of them knowing it. Yau Man was one of the best characters the show has ever had, making fake idols before it was cool to do it. The Four Horsemen actually were all pretty competent if you go back and watch, but it is oh so fun to watch their downfall. Sure there are a couple of dumb twists (like Michelle’s boot), but I find it hugely entertaining in so many aspects.
7. Borneo-The very first one will always be a top 10 season. I think most of its merits are nostalgia-based and a lot of what happens is really not all that exciting or well edited, other than because it’s the first time its ever happened. All that said, it probably is the best cast they’ve ever had and that is not coming from rose-colored glasses. Each player out there is so unique and so special and there is not one that is boring. There are people from opposite walks of life forced to work together and figure it all out and that is what makes it a top 10 season. Plus Richard is wonderful to watch figuring it all out and move each piece that he needs to in order to win.
6. Vanuatu-I love Chris Daugherty and don’t really understand why he never became a popular Survivor player. I feel the same way about this entire season. From the start the votes are unpredictable (what you need from a good season) and it all pays off with the best (yes, the best) blindside in Survivor history at the final 7. Chris lied his way through the whole season and ended up winning it all despite this. He fought back as the only man, one who nobody considered a threat and took down the girl power alliance fronted by Ami and Leann. Players like Rory, Chad, and Sarge are all underrated and I also think that Twila is a great character, one I wish that they would’ve brought back (I’m looking at you Danielle Dilorenzo).
5. Pearl Islands-This season features the ultimate hero (Rupert) vs. the ultimate villain (Fairplay) in an epic battle, which at first makes it look like the hero has got it, but the villain emerges as victor (at least of the 2) in a way that I absolutely loved! When watching this season, my whole family cheered on lovable Rupert, but hated on sneaky Johnny Fairplay. But not I. No, I cheered for Fairplay as he made deals and broke them and jumped alliances and backstabbed people. I thought he was brilliant and to watch him blindside the season’s hero was the ultimate story for me. Not to mention, his lie about his grandma’s death is probably the most famous moment to ever happen in Survivor. We haven’t even talked about Sandra, who is the loudmouthed under the radar winner who perfected the “anyone but me” strategy in a great way.
4. Tocantins-This season has everything you could want from Survivor. It has crazy characters (Coach, Sierra), funny people (Tyson), likable players (JT, Brendan, Taj), strategy (Stephen), blindsides (Brendan followed by Tyson followed by Sierra followed by Debbie followed by Coach followed by Taj), drama, and in the end a great winner who made good alliances and dominated in challenges. If I were to create a season, this would be it.
3. China-If Borneo has the best cast, China has got to have the 2nd best one. Courtney, Denise, Todd, Amanda, Jean Robert, and James all were on the same tribe together, creating probably the best tribe in Survivor history (character wise). It was great watching Todd piece together his victory little by little making moves and manipulating whenever he had to, but it was also never obvious that he would win. Amanda was right there providing strategy along with him until she blew it on day 37 and screwed herself out of a million bucks. There are plenty of epic moments and great challenges and it really is so much fun to watch.
2. Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites-While both of the other all star seasons seemed to slow down after the first few episodes, this one only gained speed leading us to the most epic string of tribal councils to ever take place. From Eliza having a “f***ing stick”, to Ozzy getting blindsided with an idol to Jason being backstabbed to Amanda playing an idol to save herself, to Erik giving up immunity only to be got by the Black Widow Alliance there was no way you could watch and not love what was happening. Sure the fans were all kind of lame and some great favorites went early (Fairplay, Yau Man), but I wouldn’t change anything about what happens come merge time. Parvati proved herself as one of the best with her flirt to the top strategy and in doing so created the 2nd best Survivor season ever.
1. The Amazon-When I was a young boy, I had had a few experiences with Survivor but had never seen a full season. Come 7th grade my family decided to jump onto the bandwagon to watch Survivor: The Amazon. This is likely because it was men vs. women and I wanted to root for the guys to beat the girls (hey, I was a jr. higher). After watching the Amazon I was blown away! This season is for me what Borneo or Australia is to a lot of others. It was my first one and I am a nostalgic mess about it. I also think objectively, it still ranks as or among the best (check out other lists, it will almost always rank in the top 10). While Micronesia had the greatest string of episodes, I think Amazon had the 2nd best post merge episodes. It started with Rodger getting ousted in what is probably the funniest episode ever, then Deena got blindsided, then Alex got blindsided by his best pal, then Christy trying to make a power move also gets blindsided. The person behind all those blindsides? Rob Cesternino. Rob C. is my favorite Survivor player ever (and now he leads the reality tv related podcast Rob Has a Podcast which is great) and he changed the way that Survivor was played. Rather than sticking with his original alliance, he chose to flip and flop individually between several blocks of people in order to advance himself further. On top of his strategy prowess, he is also one of the funniest Survivors ever, feeding lines to the cameras whenever possible, but never in an insulting manner. The end result was disappointing (with Jenna defeating Matt), but as time goes on I am seeing Jenna as a better and better player (the only thing that holds her back was her desire to quit). The Amazon is and will probably always remain my favorite season.
Check back soon for my ranking of every Survivor winner.