Ranking The Past 28 Survivor Winners From Worst To First
Having just crowned our 28th (28th!) 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 a majority of the seasons we’ve had this decade) and update our Epic countdown from last few years (see previously editions HERE and HERE).
Now, we’re the first to tell you that there is genuinely no one set way to win the game – besides getting to the end and receiving a majority of the votes (are you listening Russell?) – and that’s what makes coming up with an objective and definitive ranking a hard task indeed. Every player comes from a different deck of cards, so we’re assessing them on how well they played with the hand they were dealt. We’re grading them on their individual winning game so, while Parvati may overall be considered the greatest female player of all time, only her winning game in Micronesia is deemed relevant to this discussion.
Points will be awarded for various things, for example :-
- CONTROL – How much control contestants had in getting themselves to the end and how much of that winning journey was actively planned.
- GAME AWARENESS – How well the contestant read the game and tribal dynamics over 39 days and made deliberate and informed choices, versus stumbling ass backwards into a win.
- DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY – How many obstacles were on their road to victory (whether it be game structure, fellow competitors or even their own personal limitations).
- CHALLENGE WINS/IDOL PLAY – While Terry Deitz-ing your way to the Final 3 may look impressive on the surface, the elite players never need to rely on an Immunity Idol or Necklace in order to survive a vote unscathed. Now, being able to work one or both into your overall strategy is a different story, but a truly great game isn’t defined by something as arbitrary as how good one is at glorified carnival games..
- JURY MANAGEMENT – As stated above, the only single way to win Survivor is to convince a Jury of your previously eliminated peers to give you a majority of votes at the end. How much of this factored into their gameplay and how many of these eventual votes were *for* them, versus just being the lucky recipient of BJS (Bitter Jury Syndrome).
- SHEER LUCK – Whether good or bad, luck will always play a factor in the game of Survivor. How a player maximises or minimises their own is the real testament to their overall skill.
So, without further ado, lets start from the bottom (and no, for once we DON’T mean Sash)..
28. NATALIE WHITE – SAMOA
Hands down the most maligned Survivor winner OF ALL TIME, due to her shocking (SHOCKING) defeat of Russell Hantz a few years back. Whilst her social game was approximately one million times more impressive than said bandy-legged troll (on account of her actually, ya know, HAVING ONE), she loses major points because going into the Final Tribal Council, not one single person from that jury was even planning on voting for White (they were split between Hantz and apparently feckless Dr Mick) – but she won them over with her thoughtful and honest answers.
Plus, she beat a rat to death 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.
27. BOB CROWLEY – GABON
Who? GaBob sauntered along most of season 17 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 for his eventual 4:3 victory) was planning to vote for Susie to win that night until she totally (and inexplicably) burned him on his jury question. That’s right people – there’s an alternate timeline out there where SUSIE SMITH IS THE WINNER OF SURVIVOR : GABON. It’s a very dark place indeed.
BEST MOVE : Playing the Granddaddy role to human waterworks Sugar, who forced the Final 4 tie that allowed him a spot in front of the Jury in the first place.
SHOULD HAVE WON : The aforementioned Tear Fountain herself. Sugar basically controlled the entire game post-merge without once becoming a target. If she had’ve actually decided to play for the title of Sole Survivor instead of just Fan Favourite, it all could have turned out so very, very different.
26. SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE – PEARL ISLANDS
Also known as the only two-time winner in Survivor’s 28 season history. Less well known for winning through sheer virtue of not being Lil or Jonny Fairplay. Gains points for pioneering and perfecting the “As Long As It Ain’t Me” voting strategy (Rob C in Survivor : Amazon played similarly, but not to the same blatantly mercenary effect Sandra did). Loses points for having no real control over her own fate in the game. While she deserves props for constantly keeping herself positioned one up from the bottom, her actual 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 as likely to be blown on blowjobs and blow (or strippers and coke, as it was put).
DON’T TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT THOUGH – Here’s an amazing clip of Sandra’s Grade A Social Skills that won her her first cool mill. “I CAN GET LOUD TOOOOO!” :-
BEST MOVE : Openly having her vote for sale at every Tribal Council. Warring factions kept using her to vote each other out, ensuring she was a necessary vote and never the target.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Umm, no one? Is ‘no one’ an option? Pearl Islands was a rollickingly entertaining season with Tie-dyed Outcasts, ACTUAL Outcasts and Dead Grandparents Galore, but no real strong strategic players post-merge to speak of. Or, for that matter, pre-merge. Actually, quips aside, Jonny Fairplay 100% deserved the win that season and is actually an incredibly underrated and lethal player, as he immediately proved in Micronesia (at least until the prescription med withdrawal kicked in..)
25. JUDD ‘FABIO’ BIRZA – NICARAGUA
Oh Fabio! Basically spent the first 30 days of his Survivor experience loping around the Central American wilderness like some adorably overgrown lost Labrador puppy trying to less survive the element than to survive the inexplicable wrath of a sock-stealing Na Onka. By the time everyone realised what he was a threat to win, it was too late and he cruised along a wave of four consecutive immunity wins to a million dollar check. Allegedly blew through his winnings in less than a year, he now 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 (who, while only coming third in the game, is first when it comes to being the biggest Bachelor in New York).
SHOULD HAVE WON : Whilst Holly could have feasibly smoked him if she survived one more vote (although, given the extreme case of BJS that season, isn’t a sure thing), Jud can squarely claim a deserved win against anyone else in the ever so weak sausage fest of a Final 3.
24. ETHAN ZOHN – AFRICA
Officially one of the most likeable guys to ever play Survivor. And, if there was a title for who has parlayed their post-game exposure the most impressively and selflessly, EZ wins EASY. But, big heart aside, there’s no way to deny Ethan cruised on through to a win by virtue of being the most likeable member of a majority alliance. Now, that’s not a strategy to be sneezed at by any means, but it’s one that relied on now-archaic game mechanics (the old ‘sticking with ones alliance no matter what’ school of play), idiotic decisions by others (Brandon Quinton shout out FTW) and the fact that Kim J had decency and self-awareness to realise that, no matter which way she went, she was losing that Final 2 hands down, so she knowingly played kingmaker with a selflessness not apparent in the other 38 days of her Kenyan vacation.
BEST MOVE : Being the proud owner of one of the sexiest Jew-Fro’s in recent TV history; Consolidating his winnings by marrying Amazon winner Morasca making them millionaire-squared.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Lex. As awful as he was, both he and his infamous gut managed to steer the Boran tribe all the way to the Final Four without any unintended casualties. Also, if not for falling victim to one of the single most nonsensical votes in 28 seasons of Survivor History (THANKS A LOT BRANDON), there was a very strong chance Kelly Goldsmith would be getting a sterling write up right about now (albeit a little later one in the article because she’s THE BEST).
23. VECEPIA TOWEREY – MARQUESAS
Another one for the ‘Who – HER?’ Files, Towerey was best known for, at the time, being the first person of colour (discounting Richard’s yellow belly and Tina’s Tanning Bed Brown hide) to win Survivor. Was also the first to parlay a ridiculously bitter jury (Hi Tammy! Hi John! Hi Rob!) into a million dollar cheque. Actually stands out a lot more upon rewatch as playing a much more subtle and deliberate game than often remembered, this writer included.
BEST MOVE : Winning the key Final 4 Immunity Challenge where she was otherwise going to be voted out; Switching alliances like the wind so flawlessly she was like a one-woman Patrick Swayze tribute band (OBSCURE DIRTY DANCING REFERENCE FTW!) while never once being considered a threat.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Pretty much anyone else in the Final 4. Kathy, Neleh and Paschal all played stronger games yet illness, BJS and an accidental boob flash (because evidently peeing a man’s hand just wasn’t enough national exposure for our beloved Kathy), they all fell by the wayside, kinda like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but without the chocolate. And 70% less singing midgets.
22. SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE – HEROES VS VILLAINS
Oh Sandra! How can one woman win twice and still not even 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 mill as did any actual game play or 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. While a stellar job by the SEG editors made her second victory waltz more than palatable for viewers, even a minor wade through the myriad of exit interviews and deleted scenes that season paint a very clear picture of a woman who’s win came down to chance and sheer good luck as it did her undeniable likability and occasionally strong social skills. Everyone seems to forget that the Insider footage that year shows that it was actually Parvati who engineered her widely-lauded Coach boot, that ousting Courtney over Sandra basically came down to the equivalent of an emotional coin toss and, had been two seconds quicker in that nail-bitingly close final immunity challenge, Sandra would have done a Jordan Lloyd and been out at Final 4.
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; Genuinely managing to fool Russell into believing that she’d get zero votes in the end (I rag on Sandra a lot but the fact she managed to snow him so completely on what was blatantly obvious to others is something that does deserve genuine credit – she did the same thing we all marvel at Parvati for, but she did it with an extra zero on her bank balance to show for it); Also, the fact that her name wasn’t Parvati or Russell.
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 much single handedly annihilating them. Sadface.
21. JENNA MORASCA – AMAZON
Fellow winner Ethan Zohn’s even prettier (now former) 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 all prototype Regina George 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, but the fact that Jenna’s ‘Not Even Trying’ game is more socially dominant than most other players trying their darnedest, is something not to be sneezed at. Plus, her push to vote Roger (and his blatantly anti-vagina agenda) out at Final 10 was the first real case of someone intentionally shaping the jury to their advantage at such a pivotal point.
BEST MOVE : Winning 4 individual immunities (especially at Final 4 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 slash camp workhorse like Matthew); Over-playing being sick and ready to quit at the Final 5 when she knew it was either her or unofficial Mensa spokeswoman Heidi going that vote.
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 basically our ideal man (as long as he doesn’t talk..)
20. JOHN COCHRAN – CARAMOAN
The Original Red John, this Harvard Grad arguably made the most controversial allegiance switch the game had ever seen (at least until Chaos Kass hashtagged her way through this current season). But while his South Pacific efforts earned him nothing more than insta-notoriety, a sweater vest collection and an eighth place paycheck, he parlayed his affable edit and non-threatening physique into a million dollars when Fans Vs Favorites 2 rolled around a year later. Using fellow tribe mate Dawn as a pint-sized human shield of sunshine, he kept his hands cleaner than almost any single other winner has managed before or since and escaped FTC unscathed, while Dawn got beat up like a human piñata in one of the most unsettlingly bitter jury displays the show has ever seen. While he gets major points for being able to effectively utilize his close personal friendship with Dawn to game winning advantage, the bottom line is there is zero way he makes it to the end of Caramoan without her, whereas there was zero way she WASN’T getting to the end with or without his help.
BEST MOVE : Aligning so tightly with Dawn and still managing to hide that bond so well throughout the game (especially when it should have been obvious to any player who watched South Pacific or read any post-show interviews that the animosity between them was Nil). Also – maximising his luck incredibly well at every stage in the game. A majority of timelines have Cochran booted early to mid-jury, but dude gets props for correctly utilizing every single piece of good fortune that came his way (like Corinne’s Big Mouth, Erik’s late-game Medevac and Andrea’s predisposition to preferring the Immunity Idol as a fashion accessory).
SHOULD HAVE WON : DAWN. Besides the fact that, in all seriousness, Dawn may just be the single most likeable, lovely and downright inspirational person ever to grace the game of Survivor, she also played one of the most incredible and artful social games we’ve ever seen – forging connections genuine and deep and then severing them with a level of emotional discipline only found in the strongest and shrewdest of players.
19. 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 indicated 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 virtually impossible). Famous for being the first person to realize forming a organized and solid voting bloc of individuals was the key to game success. Less famous for pioneering OTHER game winning strategies of being obnoxious (see also – Sandra and, well, Sandra) and basically being naked ALL THE TIME (OH HAI THERE JENNA!).
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.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Rudy would have smoked anyone in the Final 16 had he made it, even if he is the human incarnation of Sh*t My Day Says…
18. TYSON APOSTOL – BLOOD VS. WATER
The third time was the charm for everyone’s favorite Man Tiara aficionado. Blinded by mid-game complacency and arrogance his first go round and undone by a single strategic miscalculation (risky but nowhere near as unsound as the cat ladies who populate Survivor message boards like to incorrectly claim) the second, he finally pulled out a decisive win in Fams vs Favourites, blondominating his way through the game with a sling on his arm and a smirk on his face. Combining challenge wins, incredibly strong social connections and an impressively chess-like calculation, he played a near elite game. So why not higher? Well, for every genius move Apostol executed (and there were many), there was an equal counter-blunder that he was lucky to survive. Who could forget the idol at Final 7 that he not only burned, but whose very secrecy (and manner played) was the reason his bond with Ciera got incinerated in the first place? Or that his very existence in the endgame came down to a highly fortuitous rock draw? And his subsequent very public parting words to Katie were so inexcusable even Crystal Cox herself would’ve known better. Thankfully, Tyson at his best is such a top tier player that it can help negate the fact that, at his worst, he’s like a taller, albino Hantz.
BEST MOVE : Forging strong social bonds that made almost every single player feel 100% confident in their alliance with him (particularly with Gervase, who had gone into the game with a Final 3 alliance with Tina & Aras); Hiding his alliance with Monica so well (and basically scheduling dawn and twilight rendezvous times to ensure it stayed hidden); Parlaying what could be an early game setback (losing his loved one the second week) and turning it into something that could unite an alliance. Plus, playing up his shoulder injury is the kind of thing not enough strong male players think of doing, which never ceases to be baffling on account of it being SUCH AN OBVIOUS IDEA.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Credit where due, he head and shoulders (pretty much literally) above anyone else in the Final 4. Both Hayden and Ciera had VERY strong cases for the win though had they been better at Magic Rock Divination.
17. ARAS BASKAUSKAS – EXILE ISLAND
Still one of the less memorable players to win, but certainly 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 (I guess yoga is good for something OTHER than keeping Reilly Sisters quiet then, eh?). The way he shepherded his crazy Casaya family post-merge was truly impressive, even when he calming influence gave way to an often arrogant and hot head. Would be higher if not for the fact that he was a few flames away (where’s Brice when you need him?) from going to the F2 with Cirie (who would have smoked him harder than Woo at a Californian Medical Facility) and also because a lot of his eventual win was due to ridiculously poor plays by others (like Terry’s comical inability to leverage his Tyler Perry Idol v1.0 & Danielle’s DiLusional belief that she could beat Ar and his Ass at the end).
BEST MOVE : Managing to keep the aforementioned ragtag group of misfits focused on eliminating immunity whore Terry instead of himself and Cirie; Forging incredibly strong social bonds with his pre-merge Casaya tribemates.
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).
16. 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 popular and infamous players. And Amber. The only thing harder than remembering who she was would have been to successfully pronounce her surname, which has less vowels than a Welsh street sign. 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, if you rewatch the season, there are a lot of subtle and deliberate layers to her gameplay than often get remembered. An incredibly 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 : You can make a case for 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.
15. YUL KWON – COOK ISLANDS
Yul led the racially-themed Cook Islands to an impressively diverse storybook finish, handily keeping the white man down thanks to great strategy, a solid minority alliance (like, literally) and a well-used Idol. Loses major point for the fact that said Immunity Idol was basically a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free Til The Final 3′ Pass which twice directly prevented him being voted out. Did Yul play the best game possible with the cards he was dealt? Yes. Were the cards he was dealt so uniquely super-powered that, without them, we’d be writing up a Why Candice/Parvati/Ozzy won column instead? YES.
Still, 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 one of the likely winners above (people forget Parvati was the best positioned person all through the Cooks, but if you get past her putting the STI in Strategy that season, she was playing SOLID and easily in the best position, and we don’t mean in bed..)
FINAL SCORE : 5-4-0 (defeating part-time pornstar Ozzy and something called Becky?)
14. EARL COLE – FIJI
Originally a casting alternate (see also – The Original White Tea-na herself), Earl became the first person in the history of the game 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. But to undervalue his incredibly stealth social machinations would be to do his Earlship a disservice. Elite Survivor players aren’t just the ones who formulate the greatest game plan, but those that can most effectively recalibrate when luck doesn’t go their way. Earl not only started off strong on Day One, but managed to deal with every single obstacle – Sylvia’s deliberately unbalanced team distribution, the ridiculously unfair “Have/Have Not” twist, the EVEN MORE unfair post-merge unmerge that cost him his (and our) beloved MiYi, not to mention the attempted coup Dreamz & Cassandra staged at F6 – with a quick-thinking grace that was both astute and basically flawless. If not for the fact that, going in to the F4 Tribal Council, he was planning to take Yau right up until the moment Dreamz admitted he was reneging on the infamous Truck Deal at which point Earl loses Survivor : Fiji somewhere in the vicinity of 6-3, we’d have him a LOT higher.
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; Forging such strong bonds with Yau, Cassandra and Michelle that kept him safe in spite of the 1100 swaps that took place that season; The fact that his name was neither Cassandra nor Dreamz.
SHOULD HAVE WON : Fan Favourite and, more importantly, Jury Favourite Yau Man. Hands down.
13. DENISE STAPLEY – PHILIPPINES
And here we have The Little Sex Therapist That Could. Emphasis on ‘little’, since it basically took three episodes to confirm that she wasn’t just Leif in a hairpiece still stranded from the season previous. While Malcolm and Lisa and Ave-Abi Maria got all the attention, there is no denying that Denies played one hell of a solid game. A workhorse at camp and a warhorse 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. Much is made of whether Malcolm would’ve won in the Finals, but it was HER social bonds with Skoopin & Lisa that got them through those last few rounds. Heck, when it came down to the Matsing tribe of 3 early in the game – Denise was the swing vote, not Malcolm. The way that Denise went from that vote to the dissolution of Matsing to joining a all female alliance on Kalabaw to swiftly being the pivotal vote necessary for Jeff Kent and his Merry Band of Men in a mere 24 HOURS is the kind of adaptable, fluid gameplay that is so easy to Monday Morning Quarterback but near impossible to implement. Social game may be harder to sell on TV, but it’s the one that matters most when it comes to winning votes.
BEST MOVE : Remembering that, at it’s heart, Survivor is primarily a social game about people; Being indispensable and a total beast in challenges. Plus – a top tier Jury Speech.
FINAL SCORE : 6-1-1 (against Blair Warner and whatever uninjured parts were left of Michael Skupkin-Magoo).
12. CHRIS DAUGHERTY – VANUATU
‘Survivor : Battle of the Sexes 2 – 2 Sexes 2 Furious’ saw the women whittle the Men down to a Stephemie-sized tribe of one – Chris Daugherty. At this point, instead of rolling over, Chris kicked his game up another level and systematically turned the tribe of six women against each other – skating his way into the finals and earning their votes in the process due to his key challenge wins and 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 an already impressive game, as well as shedding new light on some of his signature moves.
BEST MOVE : Uniting sworn enemies Twila and Eliza for the key Final 7 vote, securing his safety and irrevocably fracturing the core alliance without ever getting any real blood on his hands.
FINAL SCORE : 5-2 (Against lovable redneck Twila).
11. ROB MARIANO – REDEMPTION ISLAND
Now this is a hard one (which, incidentally, is something that Amber Mariano is used to saying when she gets into bed most nights). On one hand, Boston Rob played one of the most enjoyable masterful and physically dominant games in Survivor history. On the other though, it took him four goes (don’t forget – this is the guy that two times out of three COULDN’T EVEN MAKE THE JURY). So, when he FINALLY CeCe Peniston’d his way to the (admittedly well fought) win on one of the more uneven playing fields in Survivor History, it couldn’t help but feel a little anti-climatic. Is that his fault? No. Say what you want about The Walking Ometepe Dead, but Rob pulled off many moves that would have been impressive no matter who he was up against – the Buddy System, voting Matt off at the merge because it was the only foolproof way to avoid a potential tie, the way he lied to Natalie so blatantly at the end game about F4 tie-breaker rules in order to guarantee Ashley went, the unquestioning loyalty he cultivated with Phillip that was more unshakeable than an unwashed pair of pink panties. All of these are GOAT-worthy moves. At the end of the day – a first tier game on a second tier playing field still pays the same amount of taxes, no matter how much Kool-Aid is consumed. So KADOOS.
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 front 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).
10. DANNII BOATWRIGHT – GUATEMALA
The original Kim Spradlin, Danni perfected the art of the alternating leadership, plucky UTR social gameplay and winning key immunities to a million dollar prize. After merging down in numbers, she seemlessly ingratiated herself into the key alliance and convinced them to basically self-destruct faster than a Mission Impossible message. The sheer fact that ANYONE ever let her get within a hundred mile radius of the finals was as impressive as it was insane. There are but a handful of players that you could count on to win any playing field, but this determined former Beauty Queen doesn’t need to be in Kansas to be The Girl Most Likely EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
BEST MOVE : Winning a key final six immunity and forcing the opposing alliance to start canibalizing themselves one round early; ironically using her womanly charms to cause Resident Gay Rafe to throw his game off a Guatemalan Pyramid.
FINAL SCORE : Sole Survivor 6-1 (defeating Stephenie LaGrossa’s evil twin Stephemie.
09. TINA WESSON – AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK
One of the most iconic winners ever of the history’s most watched season. Tina used her down to earth and unassuming ‘aww-shucks’ Soccer Mom facade 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 really her ability to forge such unshakeably strong bonds with every single member of the post-merge tribe (well, besides Maneater Manthey anyway) that kept her core trio intact til the end. Not the flashiest winner, but definitely the one that, to this day, is underrated the most.
BEST MOVE : Getting Colby to take her to the Final Traibal Council over the immeasurably more disliked Keith; Keeping Elisabeth and Rodger so close that not one single person in that Final 8 would consider ever crossing her.
FINAL SCORE : 4-3 (defeating former cowboy and current Top Shot ‘McProbst with Cheese’ Colby Donaldson).
08. BRIAN HEIDIK – THAILAND
Possibly the most unlikeable Survivor winner of all time. Heidik played the game with all the smarm and 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 or shooting puppies that is). Essentially, a human oil slick brought miraculously brought to life, his strategy of being in Final 2 alliances with all of the Final 5 and then systematically cutting their throats one by one is Cutthroat Survivor at it’s unapologetic best.
BEST MOVE : Taking the slightly more reviled (and slightly more racist) Clay to the end; blinding convincing 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 ended up being so perilously close that we can’t in good conscience rank him higher up. Which, ironically, is probably the first time the phrases ‘Brian Heidik’ and ‘Good Conscience’ have ever been used together in a sentence in the history of mankind).
07. JT THOMAS – TOCANTINS
While JT’s Survivor legacy will sadly be his infamous letter writing skills and the unfortunate (but not strategically unsound) passing of the Hidden Immunity Idol to Russell that single handedly decimated the Heroes Tribe, it doesn’t give enough dues to his superb game he played back in the Brazilian Highlands. We’ve seen hot woman make people fall at their feet before in the game of Survivor, but never anything like how this tubby redneck hick for brains managed to make an opposing tribe of six fall completely gaga in love with him. I know contestants get a remedial medical straight after they’re voted out, but this seasons evictees really needed to be tested for roofies. Stephen may have been the superior strategist in their Odd Couple-aping alliance, but even The Wizard himself was so snowed by JT’s inexplicable charm that he couldn’t bring himself to properly throw him under the bus when it came down to the eventual Jury Questions. What he may be missing in teeth is well and truly made up for in unique blend of charisma and barely disguised deviousness that enabled him to snake his way to the end with a landslide vote.
BEST MOVE : Setting himself up as a key swing vote between the two warring Timbara factions without ever getting targetted himself; Dominating the final few immunity challenges and ensuring his seat in front his adoring fan club of seven.
FINAL SCORE : 7-0 (Against Poor Stephen, who really deserved better).
06. PARVATI SHALLOW – MICRONESIA
And here we have Queen P herself, the player who was most feared when twenty of the game’s best entered the wilds of Samoa a few years ago. A lot of weight is given to 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 its essence, a purely social game. If you need to fight for immunity to stay in the game, you’re already doing something wrong, no matter how many competitions you win. Parvati went into the merge closely aligned with 7 of the remaining 9 competitors and always managed to keep herself squarely in the middle of every single vote without ever once becoming a target. And at the Final Tribal Council she gave honest and open answers that won respect and solidified votes whilst Amanda just blubbered away uncontrollably, distracted by Ozzy and her hideous, hideous bangs. If we were ranking players based on their overall gamesmanship, we could have her as high as #1. But based on her 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 very likely would have finished third. None the less, her ability to switch seamlessly between unemotional snake-like cunning and sincerely genuine social interaction is as close to Survivor 101 as you’ll ever get. In real life, you’re generally one or the other – in Survivor, you need to be both.
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 while still getting their votes at the end – she never made a she promise she couldn’t keep (unless your name was Ozzy but, ya know..) Amanda was promised Final 2, Cirie Final 3, Alexis & Natalie Final 5, etc.. ; Blindsiding Ozzy and his Hidden Immunity Idol at Final 9 and thus eliminating both her biggest competition and securing her place as the bridge uniting the remaining Fans and Favourites.
FINAL SCORE : 5-3 (Against Blandmanda – who, lets face it, just really isn’t cut out for sitting in front of a jury).
05. TONY VLACHOS – CAGAYAN
And here we have it, TeamTV himself – the freshly minted newest member of the $636,000 Club. It’s easy to slide into hyperbole when still in the immediate rush that comes with watching a Survivor Finale Telecast, but everyone’s favourite bald-headed camera whore steamrolled this game in a way it has never been played before. Tyler Perry can tweet as many ideas to Jiffy Pop as he wants but, for sheer inventiveness and pure jaw-dropping ingenuity, there is not enough Madea movies in the world to top the way Tony tackled Brains vs Beauty vs Bores. Like some unearthly mix of Good Cop, Bad Cop and Tasmanian Devil, he wore more hats than a Village People Tribute Band, and was never less than thrilling to watch – both for casuals and die hard fans alike. While we reserve the right to move him a spot or two higher once the unfailingly revealing post-show interviews start dropping over the next few days, there is no denying we all just saw what is a certified Top Five game. We’re still deducting a few point for now for some seemingly unnecessary risks that could have sent him packing, as well as the way his GOAT-worthy skillz at finding and leveraging idols was inexplicably at odds with the complete ineffectiveness he had when it came to playing them. Also, his weak and somewhat tone deaf responses to the Jury’s Questions was disappointing at best. Still, despite officially causes us to be COMPLETELY INCORRECT with our Finale Predictions for the first time since Marquesas, we literally could not be happier to be so wrong. Congratulations Mr Vlachos – Well Deserved.
PLUS – let’s not forget the fact that, in addition to being a family man, a cop and a demented Survivor game-savant, dude is also completely fluent in the language of Llama. I mean – can BOSTON ROB do that?
BEST MOVE : Seamlessly pruning his own alliance while eliminating the competition – while it still kind of breaks our hearts he bounced Trish the way he did, it was 100% the correct move to be made if he wanted a chance in Hell of winning the game; Finding and leveraging the Hidden Immunity Idols that plagued the Cagayan Islands like some sort of noxious, cheaply-decorated weed; and most importantly, balancing his manically ruthless gamebot mode with a genuinely caring and compassionate Father-like role around camp – it may not have been shown on TV, but a majority of post-show press interviews back it up.
FINAL VOTE : 8-1 (TKO-ing the woozily dull martial art champion Woo, and saving us from having to crown a new Worst Winner Ever).
04. SOPHIE CLARKE – SOUTH PACIFIC
We talk a lot about valuing players that minimise ‘risk’ in this game and New York native Clarke is probably the single 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 The Curdled Nerd vs The Dragon Slayer, the CBS Insider footage showed a clear portrait of a player that, week by week, was so clearly thinking about every move and was not only in 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 hands down the games most underrated. If you need further proof, her (frankly excellent) Dom and Colin Winners Analysis Podcast (HERE) should ably clear any remaining doubts up.
BESIDES, she’s still the only player to ever completely own Probst and live 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 immunity that finally slayed 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 honest, caustic and dryly hilarious.
FINAL SCORE : 6-3-0 (SLAYING the aforementioned Dragon Slayer as well as hilariously emasculating hunky Dating Coach Albert).
03. TODD HERZOG – CHINA
Everyone’s favourite little Mormon Munchkin played an incredibly impressive game in China, leading his motley crew of misfits including (snarky waitess Courtney, Wahh-nah Montana the Nature Guide and Denise The Talking Mullet) all the way to the end without ever appearing to be a threat. Using his slight frame and impish nature to his advantage, he cruised through to the finals with complete control of the game. His zest and genuine joy for the game made him a true joy to watch, without succumbing to the mean-spiritedness that many so-called superfans often confuse for strategy. Dragging a lonely goatherd to Finals is one thing, but managing to pull out a victory against truly worthy competitors is another level entirely. The way he stood up for himself, stayed accountable and calmly demanded respect from a butthurt jury is truly the stuff REAL MEN are made of.
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 own alliance mates from getting too much control (forcing Courtney to vote out Frosti, not letting Amanda vote out James initially at F9 so he could make sure he shared the eventual credit, etc..)
FINAL SCORE : 4-2-1 (Besting Human Sasspot Courtney and a not yet Livid-manda)
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 may have been simultaneously the funniest and yet most useless Final 2 opponent ever)
01. KIM SPRADLIN – ONE WORLD
And here we have it… The best of the best – Kimpossible Spradlin herself. Now, as we mentioned with recent winners Tony 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 One Worlds runaway champion – her gameplay was just THAT good. A lot of people complained that her steamroller-esque 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 internets at large as being a hoard of zombie-like muppets, it’s easy to forget that the post-merge was filled with potentially 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 close, all of the time and never hesitating to cut them two moves ahead of schedule. 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 Jewellery Maker Sabrina and Clean Underwear Crusader Chelsea).
So, THAT’S IT from us. What did you think? How does recent champ TONY TONI TONE stack up? Anyone else you think is undervalued (or, indeed, over)? Let us know below!
And REMEMBER, Fat Tony Sez :-