Ranking the Survivor Seasons

survivor-logo

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but have never gotten around to it. Now that Rob Has a Podcast is doing an official fan poll and that there is a nice even 30 seasons, it feels right to give them a good ranking. Arguments are welcome, but please don’t hate.

30. Redemption Island

survivor-redemption-island-02

There is something kinda neat about watching Boston Rob roll all over a group of mostly incompetent Survivor players, but boy most of it is awfully boring. There is an alternate version of this season where Phillip is out first and Mike Chiesl becomes an all time great, perhaps that would be more interesting. Add in the awful Redemption Island twist and yeah, this is the worst season.

29. All-Stars

I don’t hate Boston Rob, I really don’t–in fact he is usually the most interesting person in his seasons, but the way (when he is successful) he shuts down the rest of his competitors makes for awful television. This season is hurt by how personal it gets and the way the meta-game causes all of the interesting players (Tina, Rudy, Rob C., Richard) to go early while Jenna Lewis and Amber dominate.

28. One World

Kim is probably the best person to ever play Survivor, but this season is filled with duds–yes even upon their return Colton, Kat, and Monica remained duds. Even the slight opposition Kim faces is done in the most annoying form possible in “this is my island!” Troy Robertson. Sorry Kim, but I have no desire to rewatch this season at all.

27. South Pacific

Seasons 21-24 were the low point of Survivor history and season 23 showcased just how out of touch the producers were, bringing back the awful Redemption Island twist with two returning players we were less than slightly excited to see. Unlike Redemption Island there were a couple of bright spots in John Cochran’s wit and the huge turning point his flip caused, as well as the slayer of the dragonslayer herself in Sophie Clarke. But Coach’s cult, Brandon Hantz 1.0, and Rick just don’t do it for me.

26. Thailand

It’s hurt by so many of its people getting ignored throughout the future of Survivor, if Brian or Helen had had the chance to come back (as they should have) it probably gets remembered better. I think Brian is super entertaining and talented, but again the genius who runs over everyone doesn’t make for great TV.

25. Nicaragua

survivor_chasesash_featured_photo_gallery

Unlike most of the ones that have been ranked below it, this season is not dominated by one person, featuring quite a few twists and turns leading up to the ultimate surprise in a Fabio win (it is so scary that Chase comes within one vote of winning this thing). It’s a hard season to rate because it’s filled with good crazy (Holly and the shoes! Benry’s strange confessionals! Fabio’s slapstick moments) and annoying crazy (Naonka and Jane). Ultimately it rates lower, just because other seasons are just better.

24. Marquesas

Some people love this season, I guess that depends on having some sort of interest in people like Paschal, The General, Tammy, and Zoe; sorry but I find most of those people pretty boring to watch. While the downfall of John Carroll is epic, Kathy’s redemption arc is good, Sean is a legend, and Vecepia is fine as a winner, those people in between do a bad job of filling in the gaps.

23. Cook Islands

I’m back and forth on this season, I loved it at first because of Yul vs. Ozzy and Jonathan Penner. But on a further rewatch it didn’t do as much–Ozzy is great at challenges this first time, but he is awful socially. The weird early merge leaves a bad taste and Rebecca is probably the least memorable person to ever make jury. The twist was saved by the multicultural finals, but there is a moment where Jonathan Penner is saved twice over two people who were not white, despite nobody liking or trusting him–this could be because he was an original tribe member, but debating back and forth is the reason this twist probably should not have happened.

22. Africa

This season is pretty boring and would be even lower if the whole cast weren’t so likable. T-Bird and the two Kims are all worth rooting for and have their own level of skills. Ethan, Big Tom, and Lex are Survivor legends. Brandon and Frank’s relationship is a hilarious pairing that exemplifies the magic of the odd-couple that was at the heart of early reality TV. These people’s interactions were interesting and the gameplay is there, despite probably living in the worst conditions in Survivor history.

21. Palau

I always thought this season would be better had they not allowed Ulong to be decimated down to the final person. Sure it makes for an interesting factoid, but it essentially splits the season in two, with Stephanie as the winner of one season and Tom as the winner of the other. This is why we need tribe swaps and why the three tribe format has become a current fixture. Other than this the season is filled with people that are fun to watch: if Ian doesn’t jump off that pole in that way he 100% comes back, Gregg is an underrated player, Katie is an underrated character, and Tom is one of the best players in the show.

20. Caramoan

I don’t really have any desire to go back and watch all the girls get voted off the fans, Brandon Hantz 2.0’s meltdown, or Shamar yelling–but the second half is really good. Malcolm and Corinne leading a failed uprising, Malcolm again leading a failed bro-rising, and Cochran completely owning a season was a lot of fun. Give Erik and Brenda a better edit, take out the taking out of Dawn’s teeth and it’s probably top 15 or 10.

19. Gabon

There are a lot of interesting things at play here, the season’s multiple swaps probably ended up giving us the worst final 3 ever (Sugar, Bob, Susie) but also prevented us from Marcus just sweeping up everyone in a really straightforward way. I am thankful that we got to see Kenny the underdog turn into Kenny the mastermind turn into Kenny the fallen god in one of the more unexpected character story arcs. Randy and Corinne are forever great, but I can’t ignore that awful final 3.

18. Guatemala

There are so many fun people here and it’s disappointing some had to leave so early (Brian, Amy), while Cindy and Lydia made it to final 5. Stephanie and Bobby Jon’s return worked out okay, but it’s people like Judd that really make the season. Danni recognizing Gary was one of the more random shocking moments in the show’s history; Danni could secretly be as good as Kim Spradlin, it’s a shame we will likely never get to find out.

17. Worlds Apart

Hard to rank because of recency and the way the last half of the season was filled with so much Dan, both in and out of the show, and Will’s pretty despicable thrashing of Shirin. Mike is one of the more interesting winner’s, combining Tony’s scrappiness with Colby’s challenge wins and love of Texas–I think he’s a good player, but didn’t really play that well here. I’m still not sure what I think of Rodney and how I remember him will have a huge effect on how I view this season going forward.

16. Australia

This is a good season with lots of classic moments and characters. I agree with the reputation that it slows down after the merge and though Colby and Tina are great, for me they are not that great. That being said, those first 6 or so episodes are classic due to Alicia’s finger, Mike’s craziness, and Jeff Varner being amazing.

15. Panama

ciriesurvivor1

I keep moving this season up and I think it’s because of how great that Casaya tribe is: Aras, Cirie, Danielle, Courtney, Shane, and Bruce are the least likely bunch of people to ever stick together under the guise of tribe loyalty, but they sure did it, defining the term dysfunctional in the process. Terry made it interesting playing the near-spoiler to Casaya and Cirie made one of the best plays of all time in splitting people’s votes to get Courtney out.

14. San Juan del Sur

Surprised it’s this high, but the more I think about it the more I love it. The first three episodes are average (depending on how much you like John Rocker’s storyline), but the fourth episode features Drew Christy making a buffoon of himself and similar to the Roger in Amazon episode makes no bones about who is going home. After the worst episode (Julie’s quit) we get Josh vs. Jeremy, Jeremy’s blindside (with Natalie’s “what the f*** Missy?”), the near blindside of Jon only negated by Keith’s “stick to the plan”, Jon and Jaclyn’s fight, and Natalie turning into a Survivor goddess by “accidentally” voting out Alec, blindsiding Jon, and idol-ing out Baylor.

13. Heroes vs. Villains

This is probably the most overrated of all seasons for me. It was great seeing all the big characters battling it out with one another – Russell vs. Rob is amazing – but the big moments rely way too much on the hidden immunity idol. I am a fan of hidden idols, but having 5 in a 2 tribe season was overkill (though JT’s letter is still great). This is the point where Russell started to get annoying and by the time the final 7 comes around the season feels tiresome.

12. Micronesia

One of my favorites upon my first watch, but trying to think of watching it again feels exhausting considering that we have to watch episodes with the boring fans in the pre-merge. I have no desire to watch the Chet, Kathy, and Joel drama; this is probably a fundamental problem with the fans vs. favorites format, the fans are never interesting enough when compared to the favorites. The post-merge however, with blindside after blindside, is incredible and that is why it still remains high. I’ll never forget watching Eliza play the stick, Ozzy get blindsided, or Erik giving up immunity.

11. Samoa

This might be the worst edited season of all time and though it was entertaining to see Russell shoved down our throats so much at the time, it does not hold up anymore. A more moderately edited season with a bit more Galu (Brett anyone?) and Natalie might enter into top 5 territory, because Russell is entertaining and the Foa Foa comeback is fantastic.

10. Blood vs. Water

survivor-blood-vs-water-vytas-tribe-shakeup

This was a mighty gamble for Survivor to do and it is one that actually paid off. Seeing players compete with their loved-ones was fascinating, adding extra layers of emotion, drama, and strategy. There were huge moments (the rock draw) and small ones (the coconut bandits) leading to a great season, one in which the new players actually competed with the old – both in strategy and air time.

9. Fiji

I suppose this season gets some heat for its have and have not twist, as it should, but the fall of the four horseman, as well as everything Earl/Yau Man do is mightily entertaining on all levels. Even the “Rocky” pre-merge is fun to watch in my opinion–loved it then and I love it now.

8. Borneo

This season might be quite boring to watch at certain moments but I argue that it is the best cast of them all. Nearly every person lives in memory and helped to define not only the show but television over the last 14 years. On rewatch it is fascinating to watch the lightbulbs go off one by one as they figure out the format and the game. Richard Hatch will always be a top 10 best character of the show.

7. Philippines

This might be the best edited season of them all, the opening of episode 4 showing the decimated Matsing tribe is cinematic. This season cemented that a three tribe format leads to great unpredictability with the final 10 tribal council leading to potentially the most last minute tribal council scrambling ever. Malcolm and Denise are both top 20 players of all time, Abi-Maria is a great character, Lisa was intermittently interesting, and Penner lived up to all that we wanted him to be.

6. Vanuatu

The ultimate underdog story, Chris coming back from being down 6 to 1 is only lifted by how funny and entertaining of a character he is. The final 7 blindside is one of my favorite moments in the shows history – the glances between Ami and Eliza are priceless. Rory, Chad, and Sarge are all underrated characters, while Ami and Leann were fierce before their downfall. And Twila never coming back was an absolute shame!

5. Tocantins

survivor-tocantins58

It might be the best final 2 ever, even if Stephen gets absolutely torn apart, JT played up his Southern charms, Tyson brought people to tears and laughed in their faces, and Coach was Coach, leading to a season full of great characters and gameplay.

4. Pearl Islands

960x540

Has three of the biggest icons in the show’s history and is also wildly unpredictable. The pirate theme is a lot of fun and it made Rupert really fun to watch, His nemesis Jonny Fairplay brought in his professional wrestling style storytelling and did some of the most unique manipulation in the shows history (the famous Grandma lie) while also playing a legitimately good game. Outcasts aside, this is one of the best.

3. Cagayan

Episode after episode proved to be wild, it might be the best cast since the show’s original season. Tony vs. Spencer was one of the best showdown’s ever and it ended with such a satisfying conclusion. Let’s not forget those moments when we were all convinced LJ was the winner either, this whole thing kept us on our toes.

2. China

survivor-china10217

An excellently cast season featuring characters to cheer for (James) and against (Jean-Robert). Watching superfan Todd truly become the first major fan to win the show is so satisfying and makes up for all the other gamers doomed to 3rd place before him (Rafe, Rob C, Fairplay). Plus, even those who should be forgettable (like a Jaime or a Peih-Gee) are pretty fun to watch and pretty decent at the game. Courtney is one of the funniest people to ever be on the show and Denise is unintentionally up there too.

1. Amazon

robsurvivor1

Picking a number one is forever difficult, so it is easiest to revert to the season that I first watched/fell in love with. Rob Cesternino essentially introduced the flip-flopping strategy which always makes for the most compelling version of Survivor. The other characters are great, but all is elevated by Rob’s ability to play strategically and to come up with golden observations in his confessionals (“the only way Roger is gonna win immunity is if it’s a contest like “name that Perry Como song” or perhaps “what type of prune is this?”‘)

Ranking the Survivor Winners

Another season of Survivor has come to an end. This one ended with Kim Spradlin coming out victorious, many people stating that Kim played the best game of all time, but where does she rank is my list of winners?

NOTE: I am more likely to rank people higher who take the game into their own hands rather than those who play a more subtle game. I think that every winner did what they had to in order to win, otherwise they wouldn’t have won, but there are some who just do it better than others. Those who make the decisions and control those around those rank higher than those who let others do the bidding for them.

24. Amber Brkich, All Stars: Amber didn’t deserve to be there in the first place and rode her anonymity to the finish. In Australia she paired up with Jerri, this time she picked Boston Rob. There was no difference in her strategy, this time she just was fortunate that she picked someone who would dominate so hard and would do so in such an embittering way.

23. Bob Crowley, Gabon: Bob had little idea what was happening for pretty much the whole game. He was on the very outside of the “onion alliance” only as a number. He was the least important so he stuck around, won a couple of immunities, and got lucky that Sugar just wanted to put on an interesting show. Bob did have some foresight, but as Randy said “there was nothing strategic” about his fake idols. He’s a nice guy, but didn’t actually do much to win.

22. Fabio Birza, Nicaragua: I like Fabio a lot, but there is little I can do to defend his game. This just shows that sometimes the best way to play is to not get your hands dirty at all. This is what Fabio did, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is an interesting strategy to say ‘hey, I didn’t do anything’ but one that is very hard to replicate. He did have a solid alliance at one point (with Marty, Dan, and Benry) which is what puts him one ahead of Bob. His challenge run and final tribal speech were also impressive.

21. Natalie White, Samoa: I think Natalie may be better than people give her credit for. The Samoa jury still insists that she played Russell the entire time and there has got to be something to this. She may or may not have taken Russell knowing that she could beat him, I guess this is something we will never know. What we do know is that she certainly played a wonderful social game, making friends with them as Russell voted them out.

20. Vecepia Towery, Marquesas: At this point the winners left all really did a great job, and it is hard to rate Vecepia this low, because she was a great subtle player. She started off in the main alliance and when the tribes swapped she put her foot in both camps ready to go whichever way she had to (notice that she helped to vote Boston Rob out). When it got down to the final 4 she made deals with whomever she had to in order to ensure that she was in the finals. Her moves weren’t obvious and she never was at the top of the decision making and that is why she ranks here.

19. Danni Boatwright, Guatemala: Danni was the last person remaining in her alliance and rather than give up, she slowly formed bonds with those at the top. She helped to convince them that the others were more threatening than herself and then went on to win the final immunity taking Stephanie, who she knew she could beat. Her and Vecepia’s stories are very similar so really they could flip flop at any time.

18. Sandra, Heroes vs. Villains: Sandra started out in a majority alliance (with Rob, Tyson, Courtney, Coach, and Jerri) of which she probably would have done well if it hadn’t fallen apart. After Tyson and Rob had been voted out she manipulated Russell to get rid of Coach and then even helped vote out Courtney. When she got to the merge she remained in a place that was open to the Heroes to use her, but also loyal to the Villains which lead her to the finals with nobody hating her.

17. Sandra, Pearl Islands: Sandra essentially played the same way both times. She started in the majority, that alliance fell apart, she snuck through as the big threats got voted out and then made deals to get her to the finals. I thought her first season was a little better because she planted seeds in people’s heads to make them paranoid about everyone but her. She is an under the radar player, but one who really does understand the game and uses that to her advantage.

16. Jenna Morasca, The Amazon: I used to really dislike Jenna as a winner, but I’ve begun to come around on her. Her personality was annoying on the island, but her gameplay not too bad. She wasn’t a crazy strategist, but placed herself in great spots. She started off by forming an alliance with Deena, Shawna, and Heidi and later evolved that into adding Rob and Alex. Sure she wasn’t the one making it all happen, but she was a part of it all. Her most introspective move was giving up immunity to Heidi, knowing that Rob wanted to keep her until the final 2. She also won 4 immunities, especially when she had to.

15. Aras Baskauskas, Panama:Aras really is the perfect middle of the road winner. He became an integral part of his alliance and worked into the top of it. He made sure he did the right things, but never stood out as a master strategist. He was good at everything, but not really great. He was likable and did exactly what he had to, luckily for him there were no big obstacles for him to overcome.

14. Ethan Zohn, Africa: Ethan was the perfect nice guy winner. He was always #2 in his alliance and took the lead when Lex was gone. He made sure to be involved in all the decision making, but kept his relationships strong whilst Lex was busy telling people how to vote and squabbling over who voted for him. He is the kind of guy who anyone would never really have a good reason to vote off and he used this to his advantage.

13. Sophie Clarke, South Pacific: Sophie is an extremely intelligent player, but was forced to play under the radar due to the circumstances of her season. Her ability to adapt shows her strength as a player, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to show just how good she was (also due to the edit likely). I hope she plays again so we can see just how good of a player he actually is.

12. Parvati Shallow, Micronesia: It’s hard to rank her this low, but it is also hard to know how much of the work she actually did. She was working with 2 of the strongest female players to ever play (in Amanda and Cirie) and yes she beat the both of them, but she also worked alongside them. She certainly is a great player, but it’s hard for me to budge on anyone else.

11. Tina Wesson, Australia: I think Tina understood how to play the game just as well as anyone the first couple of seasons, but wasn’t given the edit that others were given. Perhaps they wanted to preserve her “motherly” image, but she was willing to cut people’s throats like no other. She was the one who decided who would go and if it had been Colby making the decisions I don’t even think he would have made the finals.

10. Christ Daugherty, Vanuatu: I really think that Chris played hard from the start. He lost the 1st immunity challenge for the guys, but played it off as no big deal while forming the “Fat five” alliance. The most impressive thing was the bonds he made with each player. He did so to the effect that he was able to later use these to overcome being the sole guy against 6 women to win. Some people (like Troyzan this season) see the game as a chess board with people to move around, but haven’t formed the relationships to carry out their plans. Chris understood that he needed solid relationships to make people do what he wanted. He used his social abilities to come back and win.

9. JT Thomas, Tocantins: I think that JT’s reputation has gone down since his stint on Heroes vs. Villains so I think a rewatch is in order for him. Whether it was he or Stephen making all the decisions, he still is probably the most likable Survivor of all time. His 9-0 win over a perfectly competent opponent proves this. He won challenges, played the likable Souther boy, and at least had Stephen to help him make moves.

8. Yul Kwon, Cook Islands: It feels so strange to have him this low as he really is one of the best to ever play. Really 6-12 are all interchangeable. Yul played like a diplomat. He took all the high flying personalities around him and stood in the middle of them in order to form compromises and order. He knew exactly what to do in each situation and was competent in every aspect of the game.

7. Richard Hatch, Borneo: Richard figured it all out. He decided to get a group to vote together and figured out which group would be the best to have to be successful. He worked hard to keep that group together and did other things like provide fish in order to make him a necessity around camp. His understanding of people and his willingness to throw that final challenge is what makes him an elite player 23 seasons later.

6. Earl Cole, Fiji: Earl ran the show from day 1 in Fiji. Bringing together the right people and making sure he was always in the know. He sent out other people to bring him back information so he was always being filled in. He teamed up with Yau Man to strategize and unlike so many others was willing to sacrifice his best friend in a way that allowed him to win at the end. Earl commanded the game without ever being obvious, he was physical enough without being a threat, and was likable without seeming like an obvious jury threat.

5. Todd Herzog, China: Todd played the game that any superfan strategist would want to play. He came in and got his pawns always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. He was always thinking of how to get ahead maybe better than anyone else. He was known as the sneaky strategist to everyone yet still held enough clout to get to the end. He used the bitter jury effect to his advantage and then gave the best jury speech of all time. He lacked physically and kind of lucked out that he was on an extremely physical tribe in a season full of physical challenges.

4. Brian Heidik, Thailand: Brian played an emotionless game. He kept everyone where he had to and made friends with just enough people. He had a purpose with each person there and never let annoyances or conflict get in the way of playing the game. Some argue that he barely beat Clay, a scapegoat, as an argument against him, but I say that he cultivated as many relationships as he had to in order to win. When he needed Shi-Ann he buddied up with her. He was liked by everyone in his alliance (who all voted for him to win) and to seal the deal he made a friendship with Jake, one that was the determining vote for him.

3. Kim Spradlin, One World: Every move that Kim made was intentional. Every conversation she took part in was “to get her hooks” into people. She set herself up so well that no matter what happened she was in a good position. Not only was her strategic game great, but she dominated physically and formed such great bonds with people that she dominated the vote 7-2-0 against two very competitive and likable people.

2. Tom Westman, Palau: There were only 3 times this season where Tom could have been voted out. Other than this he was immune at every single tribal council. Nobody else (no not even Ozzy) has been able to match this. If you wanted to make a move against him, you couldn’t because he was immune. Plus he was at the head of the main alliance (with Ian, Katie, Gregg, and Jenn) and the sub-alliance within it (with Ian and Katie). The thing that he nailed though was his relationship with Caryn, which prevented him from going when the girls started plotting against him and Ian.

1. Boston Rob Mariano, Redemption Island: Rob played everything picture perfect. With each move he made he controlled how his group would think and react and this allowed him move around whichever way he had to. From getting rid of those who would threaten him or pair up at the start to creating a culture of fear within his group so that none would turn against him. His “buddy system” was ingenious and to top it off he won all the challenges he needed to. Perfect game.