Written by Alex Gomory Keisler
Below are my rankings of the Survivor winners, and it took months to assemble this. Those months involved watching seasons, re-watching seasons, gathering information on the winners from other web -sites, and strenuous fact checking. A few of the things that these rankings are being bent around are:
How well did the winner do on their repeat appearances (if they had one)?
How much did the winner benefit from luck vs their smart decisions and moves?
How stiff was the winner’s competition? Were they competing against savvy strategists or nonthreatening sheep?
Was the winner responsible for getting him/herself to the end, or did someone else get them there?
And there are many other factors as well. Just to clarify, this is going to be going from the best winner to the worst winner.
Note #1: Because there have been many seasons lately in which returning players are pitted against new players, I have noticed that in every variation of this format (Fans vs Favorites, Blood vs Water, two tribes of new players with a returning player on each one) at least one returning player gets to the end, and they win more than half the time. In seasons where half of the cast are returning players it is worst of all, because every single time (Caramoan, Micronesia, Blood vs Water) the returning players have completely controlled the game. As a result, the winners who have won against new players lose points in the ranking for this, in case you are wondering why some great ones (like Parvati) aren’t as high up as you might expect. Because they had a huge advantage (being a returning player) going in, I can’t rank them as high as someone like Kim, who didn’t have a built in advantage.
Note #2: One other thing I ought to explain. Many readers will wonder why Sandra is not in the number one spot for winning twice. The answer? I don’t think it’s fair to automatically call her the best ever for winning twice, because every winner hasn’t had the chance to play twice. For example, Kim Spradlin and Earl Cole played incredible games their first time and won. It doesn’t seem fair to me that they should be robbed of the top spot (that’s a palindrome) solely because they haven’t been invited back.
On the other hand, the winners who have played multiple times and failed to win twice are all below Sandra. They had the chance to tie her record and they failed at it. Here’s the bottom line. Winners who played multiple times and won once are all below Sandra. Winners who played only once, and who played games that I thought were better than the games Sandra played are above her.
So enjoy the rankings! To any Survivor Winners who read this list and are offended by their low placement, please don’t be. After all, I had to put somebody at the bottom.
1) Kim Spradlin – Winner – Survivor One World
With Kim Spradlin’s victory, it is utterly impossible to put it anywhere except the very top. It was plain and simply one of the most dominating performances ever. She was always in the majority alliance, and she manipulated the people around her to vote for whomever she wanted them to, and yet she was almost never a target. She formed alliances, sub-alliances, secret alliance, final three alliances, and controlled each and every one of them. With every move she made, she opened up more options for herself. Like Yul, she found the hidden immunity idol and never needed to play it. Like Tyson, whenever somebody emerged as a threat she eliminated them. Perhaps the most amazing thing about her game is that as she backstabbed person after person, nobody found they were unable to trust her. She did such a good job of controlling everyone that everybody she spoke to was utterly convinced she was going to take them to the finals. At various points she was even able to convince her enemies to vote each other out. She also was a phenomenal challenge competitor, winning five individual challenges.
Her game wasn’t exactly thrilling to watch, in fact the simple pagonging was mind-numbingly predictable. But that doesn’t make her any less of a winner, and if I had to put my money on a female winner doing well on a repeat performance, it would be Kim. She just completely owned the game on every conceivable level.
Best Move: Blindsiding Michael, eliminating Tarzan
2) Brian Heidik – Winner – Survivor Thailand
Easily the most unlikeable of all the survivor winners, Brian is a cruel, violent, slimy, sleazy, misogynistic creep, with ice in his veins. However, unlikeable scumbag or not, the man clearly knew his way around survivor strategy. He ruled Thailand from start to finish in a similar manner to Boston Rob in Redemption Island. He quickly won the good graces of his tribe through a combination of work ethic and challenge performance. He built a strong majority alliance and controlled all the vote-offs of the season, never receiving a single vote against himself. He was also a dominant challenge performer, winning three immunity challenges in a row.
Brian was the first person to dominate a season both physically and strategically. He was the first to advance using the multiple alliances strategy (promising everyone you will take them to the end). In addition, he was the first person to win by dragging a scapegoat to the end. He completely revolutionized the game, and his strategy was so successful that others (Kim, Boston Rob) have been using it too. His style of game-play is still being used twenty – three seasons later, so it has clearly stood the test of time. Brian proved that genuinely bad people can win the game. Truly an inspiration to assholes everywhere!
Best Move: Eliminating Ghandia, keeping his sub-alliances secret
3) Earl Cole – Winner – Survivor Fiji
Earl is definitely one of the more likeable winners. He’s not a particularly interesting contestant to watch, but he played a very focused, deliberate game. Fiji was a pretty awful season, chiefly due to its dull cast and “Haves vs Have-Nots” twist, but it is redeemed slightly by the fact that it gave us a great winner. Earl quickly formed an alliance with Yau-Man, due to the fact that they both placed a high value on integrity and hard work. The two became the leaders of the majority alliance on the Ravu tribe. After the tribal swap, he lost all of his allies except for Yau-Man, but he was able to convince the outsiders on the Moto tribe to flip and join him. After this, he systematically eliminated his foes, and then dismantled his own alliance. He was almost never in danger of elimination because he had very wisely made an alliance with Yau-Man, who everyone was sure to target before turning their sights on him.
Earl got a unanimous vote from the jury and controlled almost every tribal council he took part in. He was able to adapt his game to survive in the very different waters of the Ravu tribe, Moto tribe, and merged tribe. If he returned, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him make it deep again. He was a great strategist, and he was great at handling the jury. It’s hard for me to think of any mistakes he made that he needs to improve on. His game is even more impressive when you consider the fact that prior to coming to the Fijian Islands, he had never even watched Survivor.
Best Move: Blindsiding Edguardo, convincing Stacey, Boo, Dreamz, and Cassandra to flip
4) Chris Daughtry – Winner – Survivor Vanuatu
Chris is easily the biggest underdog who ever won the game. He was targeted for elimination so many times, and yet he always escaped unscathed. He reminds me a lot of Jonathon Penner in the Philippines, in that he had to fight to keep himself in the game every single day. In the first episode he single-handedly blew the first immunity challenge for the men. It was almost a given that he would be eliminated. But he survived by forming (and leading) an alliance of weaker, older men; he convinced them that they needed to protect each other. After the merge he was outnumbered six to one by the women, but he worked his magic, pitting them against each other with a combination of smooth lying and an incredible social game. He never gave up, and he never stopped looking for a way out. He ended it by winning three immunities, and giving what is probably the greatest final tribal performance of all time, which had a perfect combination of owning his game and apologizing for all his lying. It’s impossible not to love his win, because who doesn’t love an underdog? He was good at challenges (as long as there were no balance beams involved) a strong social player, and a very smart strategist. He really understood the game, and I can’t wait for the day when he’s invited to play it again.
Best Move: Recruiting Eliza, forming older men alliance
5) Yul Kwon – Winner – Survivor Cook Islands
One of my personal favorites, he took control of the game early on and never faltered. He formed an alliance early on, and found the immunity idol. Whenever his voting bloc became outnumbered, he was always able to convince members of opposing alliances to join his own, giving him the numbers. His physical strength and sharp mind ensured several challenge wins. His tribe merged down in numbers 5-4, but he was able to leverage the power of his hidden idol to get Jonathon Penner to abandon his alliance and join them. This was back when the idol could be played after the votes were read, so Yul told Penner that if he didn’t join him, he would use the idol to eliminate him. This gave Yul the numbers for the rest of the game, and he systematically eliminated his foes.
The only thing keeping Yul from being any higher is that he did luck out getting sent to Exile Island (where the idol was hidden). Some people call him a poor winner for relying on the super-idol, but I don’t. It was a part of the game and he used it fair and square.
Best Move: Recruiting Jonathon, Sundra, Cao-Boi and Jessica to his alliance, blindsiding Penner
6) Tony Vlachos – Winner – Survivor Cagayan
Many winners hold undisputable distinctions. Sandra is indisputably the most successful winner. Cochran is the most unlikely (in the sense that you’d never have expected it to happen after his first season) and Tony is indisputably the one who played the most aggressive game. I have never seen anyone play the game quite as hard and fast as he did. Every single episode he was finding an idol or pulling off a blindside or creating a new final three alliance. His declaration that he never slept really isn’t that far from the truth.
He started off on the outs of his tribe’s majority alliance, but rather than give up he found a way into it through some clever lies. He quickly rose to power in a six person alliance that eventually took over the merged tribe. Not content to merely pagong the opposing alliance, he pulled off an unprecedented number of blindsides by jumping from one alliance to another, neutralizing the other power players before they had a chance to take him out. He played so hard and fast that the others simply couldn’t keep up. And this was all while he was finding immunity idol after immunity idol; he found two regular ones and the Special Idol. He won it all in an overwhelming majority. He got eight out of nine votes.
Tony has all the skills that a player needs to succeed in the game. He can tell a convincing lie, he knows how to handle power, he can find idols and use them effectively, and he has the social skills required to handle the people and navigate between various alliances. He’s my top pick for a winner I want to see play again because I think he has what it takes to go far and he’s entertaining as hell. The only reason that he’s not any higher is that he did have a lot of help from Trish.
Best Move: Pitting Sarah against Cliff and Lindsay, blindsiding LJ
7) Sandra Diaz-Twine – Winner – Survivor Pearl Islands & Heroes V.S. Villains
I spent a lot of time thinking about where to put Sandra on this list. I couldn’t give her the #1 spot just for winning twice, since every winner hasn’t played twice. So I’m factoring in the same things for her as I am for all the other winners, like how impressive her individual games were.
Sandra is an under-the-radar player who has a knack for getting into the majority alliance. In the event that this alliance collapses, she is always able to jump to wherever the numbers are. She is a master of staying out of the way, she always makes sure that she is surrounded by bigger threats who are pinging on people’s radars so that she is safe. As Jeff Probst put it: “It’s very easy to lose Sandra in a crowd of people.” Whenever she is targeted, she always finds a way to shift the target to somebody else. Perhaps her greatest strength is her ability to figure out exactly what the jury wants to hear and say it. She even got her rival (Johnny Fairplay) to vote for her! This speaks volumes about her jury management skill, which is of course the most difficult and important part of the game.
Obviously winning twice boosts her several spots up the list. I can’t put her super high up because of the on paper results alone. If that was the case, I would have to have Amber high up. Still, there’s no question that Sandra should always be in the top grouping on any ranking site.
Best Move: Eliminating Trish and Burton in Pearl Islands, final tribal council performance in Heroes vs Villains
8) Richard Hatch – Winner – Survivor Borneo
When the game first began, nobody was thinking about alliances or strategy. They were all thinking about being on T.V., meeting new people, and challenging themselves. They all thought that the unlikeable, lazy, undeserving people would get voted out, and the Sole Survivor would be the most hardworking and honest person out of everyone. They thought there would be no strategy or alliances. Hatch threw all of that out the window. He formed a strong four person alliance (which was considered borderline sinful by the other players) he had a tight grip over the game, eliminated his foes systematically, and never once faltered. I’ll admit that his competition wasn’t fierce. The rest of the cast seemed to have no idea what they were getting themselves into. Sean even voted alphabetically. Is this a mark against Hatch? Maybe, but it’s more than canceled out by the enormous disadvantage he had compared to the other winners. Since nobody had won before, he had to invent an entirely new strategy. Somehow, he seemed to have figured out the game back to front before it even began. And that is why the first winner is always so well regarded in the Survivor community. The only reason he isn’t any higher is his poor showing on All-Stars.
Best Move: Throwing final immunity challenge, voting out Sue, forming alliance
9) Tom Westman – Winner – Survivor Palau
Tom Westman’s performance in Palau is, to date, one of the strongest ever. He excelled in every phase of the game, the physical, the social, and the strategic. He quickly formed a dominant alliance on his Koror tribe, and led them to a clean sweep of the immunity challenges. Koror only visited tribal council once, in a double elimination episode. Some people might argue that Tom had an easy road since there wasn’t any risk that he would be voted out for the first half of the game, but that’s just another notch on his belt, his tribe kept winning because of his strong leadership.
Whenever someone hatched a plan to vote him off, he struck first and eliminated them. He was very dominant in the individual challenges as well, winning five of them. There were only three tribal councils in the season where he didn’t have individual or tribal immunity, and on those rare occasions where he wasn’t immune, he was leading the majority alliance. Forget the expression: “One step ahead of everyone” Tom was one hundred steps ahead of everyone.
The only thing preventing him from being higher up on the list is his poor showing on Heroes vs Villains, where he was voted off fifth. In addition, a fair chunk of his success came from Ian’s game-play, so he can’t crack the top five.
Best Move: Voting off Stephanie, guilt-tripping Ian
10) Parvati Shallow – Winner – Survivor Micronesia
Out of everyone except for Sandra, Parvati has the best average. She has placed 1st, 2nd, and 6th, and played a very different game each time. The first time, in Cook Islands, she played a simple numbers game, and when the numbers turned against her she got a respectable sixth place finish. Her second time was much better. She started off on a four person alliance on a ten person tribe, and was able to recruit additional allies to take the numbers advantage and control her team. Parvati entered the merge with a dominant six person alliance. After the first few tribal councils, she rallied the women and eliminated all the men, all while maintaining her final three alliance with Cirie and Amanda. She was a rare winner who back-stabbed the jurors, but was rewarded for it. Her third time, in Heroes vs Villains, she formed a partnership with Russell Hantz, and together the two of them controlled all the votes of the season. Parvati won an impressive three immunity challenges along the way, and famously played two immunity idols at once, which shifted the balance of power in her favor. She made it all the way to the end but lost. Parvati really is one of the most well rounded players ever. She can do well in challenges, make bold moves, find hidden immunity idols, and adapt to new situations. However, she did benefit heavily from the game-play of her allies (most notably Cirie and Russell) and she did luck out with Penner’s evacuation and Fairplays’s quit, so I can’t put her any higher up.
Best Move: Recruiting Cirie, Alexis, and Natalie to her alliance in Micronesia, double idol play in Heroes vs Villains
11) John Cochran – Winner – Survivor Caramoan
When Cochran was declared the twenty-fifth Sole Survivor on May 12, 2013, he won a million dollars. He won the title of Sole Survivor, and the hearts of Survivor fans everywhere. But he won something even better. He won the Most Improved Survivor Ever Award! This is because the first time he played, he was something of a joke. He was never part of a strong alliance, performed dismally in the challenges, and proved to be ill prepared for the game on every conceivable level. But the second time around he flipped the switch and played a really impressive game. He made sure that he was part of a solid alliance early on, kept Phillip from going off the rails (I mean, more than he usually does) was a part of the decision making process, and won four challenges. His game had a perfect balance of maintaining his alliance and eliminating his allies when they became threats.
Cochran never received a single vote against him the entire time he was out there, and was a part of every player’s final three plan. He constantly formed alliances and deals to keep his options open, and the fact that nobody tried to eliminate him speaks volumes as to how well he was staying under the radar. His game ended well, when he gave one of the best Final Tribal Council performances ever. Obviously his poor showing on Survivor: South Pacific moves him down several spots on this list, if I was to judge just on his showing in Survivor: Caramoan he would have a good case for the top eight. After his first time, everyone wrote him off as someone who clearly had no business ever playing the game, but it turned out that all he needed was a little practice.
Best Move: Blindsiding Andrea
12) Tyson Apostal – Winner – Survivor Blood vs Water
Tyson is the first (and currently only) contestant to win the game on his third try. The radically different games he played in seasons 18, 20, and 27 make it difficult to evaluate his prowess as a player. The first time he played he won a few challenges, helped to orchestrat a key blindside, and made it exactly to the halfway point. On his second outing he famously voted himself off, which unlike some dumb moves was not a defendable play under any circumstances. On his third try he put on one of the most dominating and masterful performances yet. He got himself into a majority alliance, and then created a new one after the tribal swap. He targeted and eliminated the most dangerous players in the game, all while maintaining control of his allies and the votes. Tyson made sure that he was set up for the endgame by creating a three-person sub-alliance, which he led all the way to the final three. He finished strong by winning the last two immunity challenges and finding both the hidden immunity idols.
As masterful a game as Tyson played, he drops towards the lower half of the upper tier for a few reasons. One reason is that it took him three tries to win. In addition, he loses major points for his horrific blunder in season 20, and for the fact that the opposing tribe in Blood vs Water consisted of inexperienced rookies.
Best Move: Blindsiding Aras
13) Sophie Clarke – Winner – Survivor South Pacific
Sophie is, in my opinion, the second most underrated winner ever, after Bob. A lot of people say that she was a coattail rider who didn’t deserve to win, which is completely false. She had a totally solid game in terms of strategy, challenges, and the social game. She started off in the dominant alliance, and made sure that she was on the top of that alliance. She was making the decisions for that alliance alongside her partners, Coach and Albert. This alliance controlled the vote-offs before the merge, and once they took the numbers after the merge they systematically eliminated their foes. Frequently, Albert attempted to shake things up by trying to make “big moves” but Sophie defused all these attempts, as she was in a great position and shaking things up could only have hurt her game. She also won more challenges than anyone else that season (I’m discounting Redemption Island duels) with three. She ended her season with a great final tribal performance. All things considered, I think Sophie played a great game. But because some of her success came from Coach’s game-play too, I can’t put her any higher.
Best Move: Winning the final immunity, maintaining the pecking order
14) Todd Herzog – Winner – Survivor China
I know that I’m probably putting Todd much lower than most people would. After watching China the first time, I thought he was a top six winner at least. Five years later, after I re-watched the season, my opinion of him lowered to the middle of the list. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a great winner. Just nowhere near as good as I remembered him being. He controlled most of the tribal councils he took part in, but people forget how much of a strategic player Amanda was too. She was controlling just as much of the game as he was. He formed a very solid alliance consisting of himself and Amanda (to have someone trustworthy) Courtney (so he wouldn’t be the weakest person on the tribe) James (to have a challenge anchor) and Jean-Robert (probably because he would make a great finals goat). He and Amanda together controlled pretty much all the tribal councils of the season as a partnership, which is why if Amanda had won, she would be in the same spot that Todd is in. His biggest strength was his ability to think outside the box, like when he gave James both the immunity idols. He was able to manipulate his allies and rivals alike, but never seemed bossy or unbearable. He entered the merge with a numbers advantage, and his game had a perfect balance of picking off the opposing tribe and whittling down his own alliance when his allies became threats.
Best Move: Blindsiding Jean-Robert, final tribal council performance
15) J.T. – Winner – Survivor Tocantins
J.T. has without question, the biggest gulf between his great game-play and his awful game-play out of all the Survivor winners. In Survivor Tocantins he was a fundamental part of his tribe’s challenge wins, but even so he entered the merge outnumbered. After this he orchestrated a series of blindsides, won the last few challenges, never received any votes against him, got a unanimous vote from the jury, and gave an incredible final tribal council speech. There is no way around it: J.T. played a phenomenal game in Brazil.
But his showing on Heroes v.s. Villains was absolutely terrible. I am of course referring to the fact that he handed the hidden immunity idol off to a villain. I have total respect for his first game. It was one of the best showings ever, he stayed out of everyone’s way perfectly, beat the odds, and defeated a very competitive opponent in the final two. But any winner who does really poorly on a repeat performance moves down the list, because I am grading them based on all of their games. And it’s what brings him down so many slots. If he hadn’t been on Heroes V.S. Villains, or if he hadn’t made that move, he’d be in the number nine or eight position.
Best Move: Convincing Erinn to flip, winning the last three immunity challenges
16) Danni Boatwright – Winner – Survivor Guatemala
Like Sophie, it was difficult to get a read on Danni’s game. This is because she was the most poorly edited winner ever, nearly all of the airtime went to Stephanie. She was a member of the majority alliance, but entered the merge down in numbers. When she was the only one left from her alliance, she managed to win an immunity challenge, guaranteeing her safety. At this point, a key member of the opposing alliance (Rafe) planned to eliminate all the players Stephanie knew she could beat, ensuring she would have to take him to the end, where he would win. He and Danni formed a secret alliance. This gave Danni an inside man, and she flew under the radar, with her and Rafe helping each other. At the final three she won immunity again and voted off Rafe. She then creamed Stephanie in a 6-1 vote. Danni moves many spots up the list just for beating the odds. Anyone who is outnumbered five to one and finds a way to win is a pretty good winner in my book. I wish I could put her higher up, but she got so little airtime that I don’t have a very good sense of her victory.
Best Move: Forming secret alliance with Rafe, winning final six immunity
17) Boston Rob – Winner – Survivor Redemption Island
The game Boston Rob played in season twenty-two was unquestionably one of the most dominating showings anybody has ever put on. He masterminded the whole game start to finish, found the immunity idol, won four challenges, and even neutralized the unprecedented Redemption Island twist by voting off the players who returned. And he was almost as impressive on All-Stars. His fear based game has earned him the nickname “Godfather.” This is undoubtedly out of respect for the ruthlessly efficient way he eliminates all who oppose him. So why is it that he is so low? Because his victory depended on an unfair advantage, and a colossal stroke of luck among other things.
The unfair advantage he had was obviously the whole returning players/new player dynamic. Every single time returning players have squared off against new players the returning players have blasted through the rookies like a hot sword through snow. This is a big reason that Rob is so low. Cochran, Parvati, and Tyson did play against rookies, but at least they had an entire tribe of returning players to navigate past. Rob didn’t have a single returning player to contend with, because Russell went out pre-merge. His only competition was the new players, and if the all returning player final four we saw in season 27 is an indicator, new players just can’t compete against returning players.
I mentioned that I deduct points from winners who need a lot of luck. The big piece of luck I’m referring to occurred right after Ralph was voted off. Jeff sprung a surprise vote-off on them the moment they were at the final seven. This meant that nobody had time to plan or strategize for that tribal council. This is important because the final seven is by FAR the biggest flip-zone of any season. It is the last time the people outside the final three alliance outnumber the people within it, and because there are an odd number of players you don’t have to worry about a tied vote. The final sevens through history have hosted more power shifts (Vanuatu) and blindsides (China) than any other point in the game. The point is that Rob was very lucky to get fast-forwarded through what SHOULD have been the most difficult part of his game.
I’ve factored the quality of the cast for each winner. Part of the reason that Tony is up so high is that he outwitted many savvy and strategic players. Rob’s competitors on the other hand were, to put it mildly, idiots. As a wannabe player I found the way that the Ometepe tribe refused to strategize or play the game at all sickening. Okay, that’s not fair to Francesca and Kristina, who were both smart and capable people (and admittedly, Andrea upped her game in S26). The point is that winning is less impressive when your competition is so feeble. The final asterix next to his win is the fact that he has the worst track record out of every winner. He is the ONLY winner who lost the game three times, and the only winner who failed to reach the merge/jury phase twice.
All things considered, when his dominating game-play is balanced against his poor track record and handicaps, #17 seems about fair. If All-Stars and Redemption Island had been the only games he had played then he’d be top ten at least.
Best Move: Blindsiding Matt in Redemption Island, convincing Lex to save Amber in All-Stars
18) Denise Stapely – Winner – Survivor Philippines
One thing I loved about Denise’s win is that it showed us all how powerful a partnership can be if the partners stay loyal to each other. Her partner was Malcolm. The Malcolm/Denise alliance controlled the votes on the Matsing tribe (an important task, as they went to the first four tribal councils) and she kept herself in the game through a combination of challenge skill and work ethic. When she was absorbed into the Kalabaw tribe, she was effortlessly able to integrate into the majority alliance. She reminds me of Sandra and Vecepia, in that she is able to go wherever the numbers were. At the merge, she and Malcolm formed an alliance of former Kalabaw and Tandang members to pick off the Evil Three (Pete, Abi, Artis). I’ve complimented Denise on her ability to go where the numbers are. Already in the dominant alliance, Denise got herself in the dominant sub-alliance in the dominant alliance. Denise is someone I think could do really well a second time, because she’s non-threatening and athletic enough to reach the merge, and savvy enough to navigate into a solid alliance after the merge.
Best Move: Remaining valuable to her tribe, figuring out where the numbers were and going there
19) Tina Wesson – Winner – Survivor the Australian Outback
Strategically, Australia was a very uneventful season. It was all about numbers, there was no scrambling and very few big moves. Tina was able to survive up until the merge by working hard around camp, doing well in challenges, and getting into the dominant alliance. After the merge, when her alliance eliminated Jeff (due to the awful “most previous votes” tiebreaker) they had the numbers to pagong the Kucha tribe. She was a pivotal member of several eliminations, including the Amber and Mitchell boots. Since her alliance held the majority on the merged Barramundi tribe, her only question was which former Kucha to sack first. She gets bonus points for making it through the game without receiving any votes against her. However, she drops low in the rankings because she was the first person voted out of All-Stars, and because she destroyed her game in Blood vs Water with a bone-headed strategic blunder, telling Monica that she was fifth in the alliance.
Best Move: Voting off Amber
20) Jenna Morasca – Winner – Survivor: The Amazon
I think that Jenna is really underrated. Her legacy has been hurt in large part by the fact that this survivor season was strategically dominated by Rob Cesternino, who was much more popular with the audience. But this doesn’t make Jenna a bad winner. In fact, when I was watching this season, I remember thinking “If Rob Cesternino doesn’t win, I hope Jenna does.” Early on Jenna was able to make a strong alliance of four to take the majority, and when the tribes were reshuffled, she was able to expand her alliance to include some of the men. When Rob turned the numbers against her, she was able to fly under the radar until the final four, and she won the last two immunity challenges, eliminating Rob when they were down to three and winning in a 6-1 landslide over Matthew. Like Aras, I thought she had a solid game. She was always able to do whatever was necessary to advance.
Best Move: Winning the last two immunity challenges
21) Aras Baskauskas – Winner – Survivor Panama: Exile Island
The perfect example of an average winner. He was good enough at everything to stay in the game, without being so good that he would be a threat. He wasn’t great at challenges, or awful at challenges. He wasn’t a great strategist, and he wasn’t an awful strategist. He wasn’t the best strategist of the season (that was Cirie) and he wasn’t the best at challenges (that was Terry) but he was well rounded, and reasonably good at everything. When his tribe merged up in numbers (thanks in part to his physical abilities) he played a big part in keeping them together and eliminating the other tribe. A weak final two opponent helped him win the vote. He was a perfectly average winner on every level, not great, and not awful, and his performance on Blood vs Water wasn’t good or bad enough to bump him up or down the list.
Best Move: Convincing his ally Shane not to quit, winning the final four immunity
22) Bob Crowley – Winner – Survivor Gabon
After re-watching Gabon, I’ve discovered that Bob played a much better game than most people give him credit for. I’ve heard some people call him the worst winner ever, which just is not true. Early on, he got himself into the majority alliance through work ethic and challenge prowess. After this alliance collapsed, Bob was a target but he made a deal with his foes: If he tricked Randy into playing a fake idol (which would humiliate him) Bob would not be voted off. Later, Bob tricked the leader of the opposing alliance to vote for one of his own allies, which caused a fracture that split them from the inside. After this, Bob kept himself alive for a little while through three consecutive immunity wins, but he lost the last one. However, there was a tie-breaking fire-making challenge at tribal council which he won.
All things considered, I think Bob played a really good game. He entered the merge outnumbered, but through some challenge wins and unique strategy he found a way to survive. He had a very deliberate plan and he executed it. Going in, he said that he planned to fly under the radar and work hard around camp, which is exactly what he did.
Best Move: Tricking Kenny into voting for Matty, winning three immunities
23) Vecepia Towrey – Winner – Survivor Marquesas
She was the first “under the radar” player to win the game. It’s possible to play an under the radar game while maintaining control of your position, but Vecepia just coasted, never really knowing what was going on, her place in the game being determined by others. Nowhere was this made clearer than at the final tribal council, where she proudly declared “My strategy is to wait for people to approach me”. This shows how little she did. If nobody had approached her, she never would have been a part of any alliance. However, she gets points for effectively switching from alliance to alliance, positioning herself inside whichever one was in power. Most people who tack between the alliances end up getting voted out by both of the voting blocs, and the fact that she wasn’t bumps her up a spot.
Best Move: Winning the final four immunity, making the final two deal with Neleah
24) Ethan Zohn – Winner – Survivor: Africa
I really feel bad ranking Ethan this low, because he’s such a great guy, but in terms of game- play, he brought very little to the table. He played more or less the same game that Amber did, riding the coattails of Lex. For the life of me, I can’t remember any game-changing strategic moves he made. And you’d think that a young, fit guy like him would dominate the challenges, but he won a grand total of one. However, one thing he did very well was keep the peace. People would get into arguments, but he defused these and maintained the tribal unity, which is important. His performance on All-Stars wasn’t really good enough to move him up the list, or bad enough to bring him down.
Best Move: Keeping the peace
25) Natalie White – Winner – Survivor Samoa
There isn’t much to say about Natalie’s game except for one thing. She did have one game-changing move, which was convincing the former Galu tribe to vote Erik out. However, this was really the only impressive thing she contributed throughout the season, the rest of the vote-offs were the handiwork of Russell. Natalie certainly deserves credit for teaming up with someone she knew she could beat, and executing a deliberate plan (allowing someone she knew she could beat to take her to the finals) but that and the Erik boot are all the credit she gets. There just wasn’t much else to her game. She was a coattail rider plain and simple.
Best Move: Convincing the Galu tribe to vote off Erik
26) Fabio Birza – Winner – Survivor: Nicaragua
The fact that a young, fit, likeable guy was able to stay under the radar until the end is pretty impressive, and I tip my hat to him for that feat. But he was still a pretty awful winner. He was just clueless as to what was going on, and if you look at his voting history, most of the time he voted for somebody who wasn’t eliminated. It seemed like every alliance he joined collapsed. He started off in Shannon’s alliance, but that imploded at the first tribal council. Then he joined the Marty/Benry/Dan voting bloc, but that went nowhere. Somehow, it seemed like the people who were bigger threats were always getting sent home while Fabio watched from the sidelines. If he was the one making this happen, I’d be impressed, but he was not, and he was usually surprised by who was voted out. Still, his four immunity wins were impressive, and that keeps him out of the bottom spot. To be fair, it’s only fitting for a bad season to have a bad winner.
Best Move: Winning the last three immunity challenges
27) Amber Brkich – Winner – Survivor: All-Stars
If we were going by the results alone then Amber would be near the top. She played twice, and placed 6th and 1st respectively. That is a very good average. Unfortunately for Amber, there’s nothing else that’s good to say about her as a winner. I hate to think that any player was ever carried, but Amber was. Boston Rob had a tight grip over the entire season. He made the decisions for the group, won five challenges, formed the majority alliance, and carried Amber on his shoulders over the finish line. She won only because the jury was too bitter to vote for the best player. I have always believed that the winners who rode coattails to the end are the worst winners, because that style of game-play doesn’t take any skill. You are just following in another person’s footsteps. It’s a pity that All-Stars gave us such a poor winner, because the rest of the season was pretty damn great.
Best Move: Forming alliance with Rob
And these are my ranking. I’ve been objective, discounting personal favorites, but I know that these are nothing more than my opinions. If disagree with them feel free to tell me in the comments section, or contact me at my twitter account here.