Ranking The Past 25 Survivor Winners From Worst To First
** UPDATED POST, NOW WITH SURVIVOR 28 : CAGAYAN – CLICK HERE **
Having just crowned our 25th (25th!) Champ mere hours ago, what better time to stroll down Survivor Memory Lane (N.B. Not a real place, although probably the working title for at least three of the seasons) and update our Epic countdown from last year.
Points will be awarded for various things, for example :-
- How much control contestants had in getting themselves to the end and how much of that winning journey was actively planned.
- How close they came at times to being voted out.
- How much they had to rely on immunity wins.
- Bitter Jury Syndrome.
- Overall luck involved.
25. NATALIE WHITE – SAMOA
The most maligned of all Survivor winners due to her shocking (SHOCKING) defeat of Russell Hantz last year. Whilst her social game was approximately one million times more impressive than said bandy-legged troll, she loses major points for the fact that going into the Final Tribal Council, no one from the jury was even planning on voting for White – she won them over with thoughtful answers that were better than Dr Mick.
Plus, her most memorable move was that time that she killed a rat with a stick. I mean – what’s not to love? :-
BEST MOVE : Orchestrating the pivotal merge boot of (the incredibly sexy) Erik, that set the whole Galu post-merge crumble in motion.
SHOULD HAVE WON : *sigh* Russell. Whilst his social game was just AWFUL, he did play an incredible strategic game and changed the way Survivor was played forever.
24. BOB CROWLEY – GABON
Who? Bob sauntered along most of Gabon half-asleep, crafting a few admittedly impressive fake immunity idols along the way. Loses points for the fact that he was planning to take Matty to the end who would have kicked his ass ten ways to Sunday. Also for the fact that Randy (who cast the pivotal vote) was planning to vote for Susie to win until she burned him on his jury question.
BEST MOVE : Playing the Grandfather role to human waterworks Sugar, who forced the tie that allowed him in front of the Jury in the first place.
SHOULD HAVE WON : The aforementioned Sugar. Controlled the entire game post-merge without once becoming a target. If she had’ve actually decided to play for the Win instead of just for Fan Favourite, it could have all turned out very different.
23. SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE – PEARL ISLANDS
Better known as the only two-time winner in Survivor’s 25 season history. Less known for winning through sheer virtue of not being Lil or Jonny Fairplay. Gains points for pioneering the completely mercenary ‘anyone but me’ voting strategy. Loses points for having no real control over her fate in the game. Even her win came solely down to the fact that Final Immunity winner Lil knew she couldn’t beat either of her opponents and figured that at least if she took Sandra to the end and gave her the win, the million dollars wouldn’t be spent on strippers and coke.
Here’s an amazing clip of Sandra displaying those social skills that won her her first million bucks. I CAN GET LOUD TOOOOO! :-
BEST MOVE : Openly having her vote for sale every Tribal Council. Warring factions kept using her to vote each other out, ensuring she was never the target.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Umm, no one? Is ‘no one’ an option? Pearl Islands was a rollickingly entertaining season with Rupert! Outcasts! Dead Grandmas! but no real strong strategic players post-merge. Or, for that matter, pre-merge. Jonny Fairplay though probably, if you pushed us..
22. JUDD ‘FABIO’ BIRZA – NICARAGUA
Oh Fabio! Basically spent the first 30 days of his Survivor experience loping around like an adorable overgrown lost Labrador puppy trying to avoid the inexplicable wrath of Na Onka. By the time everyone realised that he was a threat to win, it was too late. Now, he spends his time getting charmingly arrested and starring in amazing C-grade homoerotic thrillers.
Low placing or not though, there’s no way to deny that he might just be the most genuinely amusing person to ever play this game :-
BEST MOVE : Winning the final 3 immunity challenges in a row; Not being Chase or the very heterosexual Sash.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Whilst Holly could have feasibly smoked him if she survived one more vote, Jud can squarely claim a deserved win against the weak sausage fest of a Final 3.
21. ETHAN ZOHN – AFRICA
One of the most likeable guys to ever play Survivor. Plus, not going to make fun of him because of all the cancer and stuff (and, you know, the brilliant charity work he does). Cruised on through to a win by being the most likeable member of a majority alliance.
BEST MOVE : Being the proud owner of one of the sexiest Jew-Fro’s in recent history; Consolidating his winnings by marrying Amazon winner Morasca making them millionaire-squared.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Lex. As awful as he was, he (and his famous ‘gut’) managed to steer the Boran tribe all the way to the Final Four without any casualties.
20. VECEPIA TOWEREY – MARQUESAS
Another one for the ‘Who? Files’. Towerey was best known for, at the time, being the first person of colour (as opposed to say Richard Hatch, who was just plain colourful) to win Survivor. Was also the first to parlay an irrationally bitter jury (Hi Tammy! Hi John! Hi Rob!) into a million dollar cheque. Gains points upon rewatching for playing a much more subtle but deliberate game than often remembered.
BEST MOVE : Winning the key Final 4 Immunity Challenge where she was meant to be voted out; Switching alliances with the wind without ever being considered a threat.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Anyone else in the Final 4? Kathy, Neleh and Paschal all played stronger games, but through illness, a bitter jury and an ill-timed accidental boob flash (is there any other kind?), they all came up short.
19. ARAS BASKAUSKAS – EXILE ISLAND
One of the less memorable winners, but not undeserving. Bonus points for managing to stay on top of Terry, Crazytown Shane, Courtney, Danielle DDiLorenzo and her ginormous mutant fake breasts for 39 days without killing himself.
BEST MOVE : Managing to keep the aforementioned ragtag group of misfits focused on eliminating immunity whore Terry instead of himself and Cirie.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Oh Cirie! Poor, poor Cirie. The best player to have never won came up short in a fire-making tie breaker done in by a needlessly super-powered Immunity Idol (see also Cook Islands).
18. AMBER BRKICH – ALL STARS
When Survivor : All Stars first aired in 2004 at the height of the show’s popularity it was filled with 17 of the games most famous and infamous players. And then rounding out the pack was Australian Outback 6th place finisher Brkich. The only thing harder than remembering who she was would have bee to successfully pronounce her surname, which couldn’t have less vowels in it even if it were Welsh. A last minute replacement for former America’s Sweetheart and current Right Wing Nutjob Elizabeth Hassleback, Brkich parlayed her status as a non-threat into both one million dollars, a marriage proposal and not one but TWO season competing on CBS sister show The Amazing Race. Along with Natalie White, Brkich is probably the most maligned of all Survivor winners but, having recently rewatched her season, there are a lot more subtle and deliberate layers evident in her gameplay than often gets remembered. A strong social player, Lamber was often the brains to Mariano’s brawn and they were an equally footed strategic team, which clearly is one of the foundations it takes to build a (now) million dollar marriage on.
BEST MOVE : Aligning with (and eventually marrying) runner up Boston Rob, letting him take the heat for double-crossing everyone and her taking home the million dollar cheque.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Boston Rob. Although there’s no point in playing such a superior physical and strategic game if you’re not going to give any thought to your jury management.
17. SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE – HEROES VS VILLAINS
Oh Sandra! How can one woman win twice and still only make it to the middle of the pack? Major props for being the only two-time winner (most likely ever) but major luck and a bitter jury played as much part in her second million as did her actual game play and skill. Sassy, charming and hilarious as all hell (her burning Russell’s hat is still pretty much the most satisfying and unintentionally ironic Survivor moment EVER), Sandra made actively not-playing the game an art form.
How to win $2,000,000.00 in 33 seconds or less :-
BEST MOVE : Managing to always be an essential vote to the Villains Tribe whilst constantly making the Heroes feel like she was trying to jump ship to them; Burning Russell’s hat; The fact that her name wasn’t Russell or Parvati.
SHOULD HAVE WON : PARVATI. One million times Parvati. After playing one of the most impressively dominant strategic and physical games in Survivor history, she just couldn’t quite win over the bitter Heroes Tribe on the jury after pretty single handedly annihilating them. Sadface.
16. EARL COLE – FIJI
The first person to get every single jury vote, winning in a 9-0-0 landslide. Less impressive when you consider that his competition was Cassandra and Dreamz.
BEST MOVE : Allowing his beloved alliance partner Yau-Man to be voted out as the last member of the jury, thus ensuring a guarenteed win against the remaining two competitors; The fact that his name was neither Cassandra nor Dreamz.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Fan Favourite Yau Man. Hands down.
15. JENNA MORASCA – AMAZON
Fellow winner Ethan Zohn’s even prettier other half, this ‘Professional Swimsuit Model’ was the youngest winner ever. Her social game was always severely underrated by the public at large, who only seem to remember her now infamous ‘will strip for Peanut Butter’ challenge standown and that she was awfully bitchy to poor deaf Christy and every other woman over the age of 25. Loses points for the fact that she admittedly wasn’t really played ‘To Win’ until 2/3’s of the way through the game.
Here’s a little clip of what may be simultaneously the most memorable and least sexy committed in television history :-
BEST MOVE : Winning 4 individual immunities (especially at the final four when she needed it the most) and realising the need for strong social bonds with jury members (instead of being a borderline psychotic challange whore and camp workhorse like Matthew).
SHOULD HAVE WON : Rob Cesternino, who is the offical title holder of ‘Best Player To Have Never Won Survivor Who Is Not Named Cirie Fields’. Plus, he’s geeky dreamy!
14. RICHARD HATCH – BORNEO
The Grandaddy of all Survivor winners. Often regarded as the greatest of all time, his poor showing on Survivor : All Stars four years later showed that his actual gameplay doesn’t quite hold up against people playing the game now although, to be fair, the Nazi-like extermination of Winners that season made it impossible. Tempered being the first person to realize forming a organized and solid voting bloc of individuals was the key to success with basically being obnoxious and naked ALL THE TIME.
BEST MOVE : In addition to realizing the value of a voting alliance, he was the first to be a major food provider for the tribe and caught an impressive amount of fish and other sea creatures through his Survivor tenure.
FINAL SCORE : 4-3 (defeated the wishy-washy but amazingly named Kelly Wigglesworth)
13. DENISE STAPLEY – PHILIPPINES
And here we have our newest little member to our Winner’s Circle. Emphasis on ‘little’ since it basically took three episodes to confirm that it wasn’t just Leif in a hairpiece having a second shot at the million. Erring on the side of caution with the ranking until we’ve had a bit more time to digest it and read the exit interviews of her fellow castaway’s now the game is done and dusted, but there is no denying that our little Denies played one hell of a solid game. A workhorse at camp and in challenges, she showed that Survivor isn’t all about big moves and hidden immunity idols, sometimes it just comes down to bonding, listening to people, keeping your cool and being an all round decent human being. Kadoos!
BEST MOVE : Remembering that, at it’s heart, Survivor is primarily a social game about people; Being indispensable and a total beast in challenges.
FINAL SCORE : 6-1-1 (against Blair Warner and whatever was left of Michael Skupkin).
12. CHRIS DAUGHERTY – VANUATU
Survivor:Battle of the Sexes Round 2 saw the women whittle the Men down to a tribe of one – Chris Daugherty. At this point, Chris kicked off his game and masterfully turned the tribe of six women against each other and not just skated his way into the finals, but managed to earn their votes in the process thanks to key challenge wins and his wily way of playing them off against each other. His Dom and Colin Winner’s Analysis Podcast (HERE) is thoroughly entertaining and enlightening as well and adds a new layer of respect to some of his key moves.
BEST MOVE : Uniting mortal enemies Twila and Eliza for the key Final 7 vote, securing his safety and irrevocably fracturing the core alliance without ever getting blood on his hands.
FINAL SCORE : 5-2 (Against lovable redneck Twila).
11. YUL KWON – COOK ISLANDS
Yul led the racially-themed Cook Islands to an impressively diverse storybook finish, demolishing all the Evil Team Whitey thanks to great strategy, a solid minority (literally) alliance and a well-used Idol. Loses major point for being in the early days where the Immunity Idol was basically a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free Til The Final 3′ Pass which twice directly prevented him being voted out.
Let’s not forget he will always be one of the smartest guys to ever play Survivor, even if his blatantly discriminatory attitude towards Elephants is still alarming all these years on :-
BEST MOVE : Convincing Jonathon to flip at the Merge thus ensuring the heroically ethnic Aitu 4 sailed to victory instead of likely winner Parvati.
FINAL SCORE : 5-4-0 (defeating part-time pornstar Ozzy and someone called Becky?)
10. ROB MARIANO – REDEMPTION ISLAND
Now this is a hard one. On one hand, Boston Rob played one of the most enjoyable masterful and dominant games in Survivor history. On the other, it took him four goes (don’t forget – this is the guy that two out of three times COULDN’T EVEN MAKE THE JURY) and he finally eked out his (admittedly well fought) win on one of the most uneven playing fields in Survivor history. An excellent game played marred by a remedial playing field.
BEST MOVE : Running initial tribe Ometepe like a cult (the buddy system was a particular stroke of genius); Convincing basically 3/4’s of the merged tribe he was taking them to the Final 3 even when he was visibly stabbing every one of them in the back one by one by one.
FINAL SCORE : 8-1-0 (against Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip and the Natalie who was even blander than the other Natalie).
09. DANNII BOATWRIGHT – GUATEMALA
The original Kim Spradlin, Danni perfected the art of the alternating leadership, plucky under the radar social gameplay and key challenge wins. After merging down in numbers, she managed to seemlessly ingratiate herself into the key alliance and convince them to basically self-destruct. The fact that anyone ever let her get within a hundred mile radius of the finals was as impressive as it was insane.
BEST MOVE : Winning a key final six immunity and forcing the opposing alliance to start canibalizing themselves one round early.
FINAL SCORE : Sole Survivor 6-1 (defeating Stephenie LaGrossa’s evil twin – Stephenie LaGrossa).
08. TINA WESSON – AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK
One of the most famous winners ever of the most watched season. Tina used her down to earth and unassuming ‘aww-shucks’ Soccer Mom persona to steer her alliance of Colby and Keith into the Final 2 and eke out a victory over the audience favoured Colby. While the Texan cowboy’s immunity wins got all the attention, it was her ability to forge strong bonds with every single member of the post-merge tribe (besides, maybe, Maneater Manthey) that kept her core trio intact til the end.
BEST MOVE : Getting Colby to take her to the Final Traibal Council over the immeasurably more disliked Keith.
FINAL SCORE : 4-3 (defeating former cowboy and current McProbst with Cheese Colby Donaldson).
07. BRIAN HEIDIK – THAILAND
Possibly the most unlikeable Survivor winner of all time. Heidik played the game with all the snake oil charm of a used car salesman (which, ironically, was what he did for a job in real life. At least, when he wasn’t doing soft core porn that is), being in Final 2 alliances with all of the Final 5 and just cutting their throats one by one.
BEST MOVE : Taking the even more reviled (and slightly racist) Clay to the end; blinding conving four other people that he was really, totally, going to the end with them.
FINAL SCORE : 4-3 (beating lazy old Clay in a vote that was so perilously close that stops us from ranking him higher up).
06. JT THOMAS – TOCANTINS
While JT’s Survivor legacy will always be his failed (but not strategically unsound) passing of the Hidden Immunity Idol to Russell in Heroes Vs. Villains, which single handedly decimated the Heroes Tribe, it doesn’t give enough credit to his superb game in the Brazilian Highlands. We’ve seen hot woman make people fall for them before on Survivor, but never anything like how this tubby redneck hick managed to make a merge down 3-6 and yet someone make every single member of the opposing tribe fall completely gaga in love with him –like he slipped the whole entire tribe one big roofie or something.
While it’s important to credit his superior gameplay, let’s take a moment to remember his superb penmanship.. Bless :-
BEST MOVE : Setting himself up as a key swing vote between the two warring Timbara factions without ever getting targetted himself; Winning the last few immunities.
FINAL SCORE : 7-0 (Against Poor Stephen, who really deserved much more credit).
05. PARVATI SHALLOW – MICRONESIA
And here we have the most feared player when twenty best of the best players entered the wilds of Samoa two years ago. A lot of weight is put on challenge wins and Hidden Immunity Idols these days, partially because they make great television and partly because they’re easily quantifiable. But Survivor is, at it’s essence, a purely social game. If you need to fight for immunity to avoid getting voted out, you’re already doing something wrong, no matter how many competitions you win. Parvati went into the merge closely aligned with 7 of the 9 remaining competitors and managed to always keep herself in the middle of every single vote without ever being a target. And at the Final Tribal Council she gave honest and open answers that won respect and votes whilst Amanda just blubbered away uncontrollably on the bench next to her. If we were ranking solely based on overall gamesmanship, she might rank as high as #1. But for an individual winning game, she loses points for the fact that, had Micronesia’s intended Final 3 eventuated (it was changed less than a week before the finish when James’s medivac affected the production schedule), she most likely would have finished third.
Here’s some P-Shallow awesomeness just because she’s, well, AWESOME :-
BEST MOVE : Providing a Masterclass in how to be tightly aligned with pretty much every other contestant playing whilst still managing to get their votes at the end – she never made an alliance for a spot that she couldn’t deliver upon. Amanda was promised Final 2, Cirie Final 3, Alexis & Natalie Final 5, etc.. ; Blindsiding Ozzy and his Hidden Immunity Idol at the Final 9 thus eliminating both her biggest competition and closest ally and thus making her the bridge uniting the Fans and the Favourites.
FINAL SCORE : 5-3 (Against, once again, Blandmanda – who just really isn’t cut out for sitting opposite a jury).
04. SOPHIE CLARKE – SOUTH PACIFIC
We talk a lot about valuing players that minimise ‘luck’ in this game and New York native Clarke is probably the best example of that. While the editors threw her under Diane’s Bus for most of the season in favour of the lukewarm tale of Cochran vs The Dragon Slayer, the CBS Insider clips showed week after week a portrait of a player so clearly thinking about every move and, with not just total control of her alliance, but of her own emotions every step of the way. We’ve already gone on at length about how she’s one of our favourites ever (CLICK HERE) but, as far as winners go, she’s one of the games most underrated. If you need further proof, her (frankly excellent) Dom and Colin Winners Analysis Podcast (HERE) should clear any doubts up.
Plus, she’s still the only player to ever have completely owned Jiffy Probst and lived to tell the tale :-
BEST MOVE : Constantly keeping her alliance mates in check and sticking to the plan; Being a total asset in challenges and winning the key one that finally defeated Sir Ozzy of The Pleasure Dome; Cementing the fake Final 4 alliance that made Cochran so confident to flip in the first place; An EXCELLENT Final Tribal Council performance; “DROP YOUR DAMNED STACK”-gate; Generally just being amazingly dry and hilarious.
FINAL SCORE : 6-3-0 (SLAYING the aforementioned Dragon Slayer and hilariously emasculating hunky Dating Coach Albert).
03. TODD HERZOG – CHINA
Everyone’s favourite little Mormon Munchkin played an impressive game in China, leading a band of motley misfits including snarky waitess Courtney and Wahh-nah Montana the Nature Guide all the way to the end without ever appearing a threat. Using his slight frame and impish nature to his advantage, he cruised through to the finals without ever once losing control of the game.
BEST MOVE : Taking unapologetic credit for every single one of his moves and betrayals at the Final Tribal Council – a total masterclass for future contestants; Constantly neutralizing his alliance mates from getting too much control (making Courtney vote out Frosti, not letting Amanda vote out James when she wanted to so he could get the credit, etc..)
FINAL SCORE : 4-2-1 (Besting Courtney the Human Sasspot and Blandmanda)
02. TOM WESTMAN – PALAU
Few contestants have ever played such a dominant physical and social game as Tom Westman. So much so that he viewed as the second biggest threat going into Heroes Vs. Villains (more on who was number one above with Queen P). Using a mix of likability, intimidation and challenge wins coupled with a knack for always staying one move ahead of his opponents, he played one of the most impressive and well rounded games to date.
BEST MOVE : Convincing Ian to step down from the Final 3 immunity challenge and allow himself to be voted out by nothing more than laying one amazing guilt trip on the poor boy. Like what happened to poor Erik in Micronesia except using smarts instead of four sets of boobs.
FINAL SCORE : 6-1 (against Katie, who was one of the most useless Final 2 opponents ever)
01. KIM SPRADLIN – ONE WORLD
And here we are with the best of the best – Kimpossible Spradlin herself. Now, as we mentioned with recent winners Sophie and Denise, we like to take some time before heaping undue praise on a still fresh game. But there’s pretty much no need with last season’s runaway champion – her gameplay was just THAT good. A lot of people complained that her steamroller-like victory was due to having such easy competition to beat, but that’s doing her overall game a disservice. While a lot of the competitors were written off by the internet at large as being a hoard of zombie muppets, it’s easy to forget that the post-merge was filled with canny players like Jonas, Sabrina, Jay, Alicia and Troyzan that ALL could have been satisfying winners under different circumstances. The key to Kim’s game was keeping every single one of these players tight, all the time and never hesitating to cut them two moves ahead of time. Survivor is often talked about akin to a game of human chess and never has in been more evident in Spradlin’s seemingly effortless victory. We could go on all night (it’s already 11:42pm), but you can listen for yourself HERE.
BEST MOVE : Where do we start? Forging some of the strongest individual bonds the game has ever seen; Being smart enough to know the right people to bring to the end (and cannily defying the conventional logic of just dragging two goats) in order to guarantee a win; Annihilating the challenges; Never once losing her cool.
FINAL SCORE : 7-2-0 (against Teacher Sabrina and Clean Underwear Crusader Chelsea).
So, THAT’S IT from us. What did you think? How does recent champ Denise stack up? Anyone you think is undervalued (or, indeed, over)? Let us know below!
And compare how the rankings have changed over the years HERE.