Steve's Survivor Season Rankings (Worst to Best)

27. Survivor: Thailand (season #5)
A painfully boring season that best exemplified why I almost stopped watching the show. This season also featured the lamest twist ever: rival tribes cohabitating instead of merging. blog

Highlights: Can't remember any.

26. Survivor: Nicaragua (season #21)
For me, this season took the cake for annoying castaways and inane gameplay. Although some of the more colorful characters, e.g., "Hurricane" NaOnka, "Fabio", and ex-NFL coach Jimmy Johnson entertained me, I basically had no one to root for during the entire season. In fact, I felt that the series hit a low point when Fabio won the game and Jane won Sprint's Player of the Season. Also found that Medallion of Power twist pretty lame. blog

Highlights:

  • NaOnka lasting long despite shoving a girl with a prosthetic leg and stealing socks and food.
  • Marty playing decently but then inexplicably giving away his hidden immunity idol.
  • Chase lasting long despite constant indecision and broken promises.

25. Survivor: One World (season #24)
An embarrassing, mind-numbing season of quite possibly the dumbest (and most delusional) crop of players in Survivor history. It still pains me to think that a juvenile twerp like Colton could run the game and convince an entire tribe to forfeit team immunity (the dumbest tribal move I've ever seen until I see one worse)! I actually rooted for the women to vote out all of the men. Plus I'm sick of that tiresome "impulsively ally with four other strangers" strategy. blog, blog

Highlights:

  • The gender-divided tribes feuding over axe, chicken, fire, and immunity snafus.
  • Colton remaining selfish to the bitter end, clutching his immunity idol as he exited.
  • The best strategic player, Kim, actually winning (even though for this season that didn't strike me as much of an accomplishment).

24. Survivor: Panama - Exile Island (season #12)
I considered this season the flukiest in that the most annoying people seemed to dominate the game instead of getting voted out at the beginning (admittedly, Cirie Fields eventually impressed me in a later Survivor season). The only player that I liked (Terry) made it pretty far only to get betrayed and eliminated after the final challenge. That reinforced my disdain for the unpredictability of the final challenge--and unfortunately, the expansion of a final two into a final three didn't start until next season. :(

Highlight: Rooting for Terry in individual immunity challenges.

23. Survivor: Guatemala - The Mayan Empire (season #11)
I just remember this season for the returning Stephenie LaGrossa. I lamented how she tarnished that "America's sweetheart" image from "Survivor: Palau", but still rooted for her to win. To my chagrin, she blew it on the very last immunity challenge.

Highlights: Can't remember any.

22. Survivor: China (season #15)
A season highlighted only by the bizarre coincidence of one castaway (James) ending up with both hidden immunity idols.

Highlights:

  • Jaime finding both hidden immunity idols in James' bag; then inexplicably mistaking a plaque for a hidden immunity idol.
  • James getting voted out holding both hidden immunity idols.

21. Survivor: Marquesas (season #4)
A dull season except for the pivotal power shift and the infamous "purple rock" tiebreaker.

Highlights:

  • The pivotal power shift.
  • The infamous "purple rock" tiebreaker.

20. Survivor: South Pacific (season #23)
The return of Ozzy and Coach! Cue the chirping crickets. I did get excited for the merge due to my high hopes for that Trojan Horse ploy--but alas, nothing much came of that. blog, blog

Highlights:

  • Russell Hantz's contradiction of a nephew, whom I once deemed the worst Survivor player of all time thanks to his unsolicited self-sacrifice when we won individual immunity.
  • The exciting (but disappointing) Trojan Horse plan and Cochran playing double agent.
  • Ozzy's distinctive "Redemption Island" strategy which made him the only player to get voted out thrice in the same season.

19. Survivor: Pearl Islands (season #7)
I hated the twist in this season where eliminated castaways voted two outcasts in. I also hated how two of my favorite castaways, Rubert and Andrew, got voted out while two of my least favorite castaways, Jonny Fairplay and Lillian, made it all the way to the final episode.

Highlights:

  • Rooting for Andrew Savage's team in immunity challenges.
  • Rupert Boneham's victory scream.
  • Jonny Fairplay lying about his grandmother's death...except I didn't see how that helped him in the game.

18. Survivor: Vanuatu - Islands of Fire (season #9)
A female-dominated season where the last man managed to win against all odds. I remember a lame controversy about whether a player crossed the line by swearing an oath on her son.

Highlights:

  • The interesting matriarchal alliance.
  • The two most deserving players making the final two. :)

17. Survivor: Africa (season #3)
I loved the generational clashes in this season. Didn't care much for the self-righteous winner though. :(

Highlights:

  • The contrast between one tribe's younger and older players.
  • The first ever tribe swap that fractured the young folk alliance.

16. Survivor: The Amazon (season #6)
The first season to divide tribes into all-male and all-female castaways. Made for some interesting social dynamics.

Highlights:

  • The contrast and socialization between the male and female tribes.
  • Rob Cesternino's levity and shrewd moves.
  • Multiple blindsides.

15. Survivor: Gabon (season #17)
A veritable encyclopedia of the different Survivor strategems, including: a) a player who voted tactifully and constantly lied, b) a player who voted emotionally and felt that "the good guys should win in the end", and c) a "paragon" player, good at challenges, who tricked voters with fake immunity idols. blog

Highlights:

  • Alliances implementing "Plan Voodoo" a couple of times; one of them backfiring on a tribe because the runner-up defected.
  • The tribe deciding to toss one of the immunity idols into the ocean.
  • Kenny and Crystal overcoming the majority three times in a row (twice by unexpectedly swinging Sugar and Susie).
  • Bob and Sugar swerving voters with their idols.

14. Survivor: Tocantins (season #18)
An unpredictably cutthroat season wherein the last two castaways managed to betray all three of their alliances. This cast featured one of the haughtiest personalities I've ever seen, Coach the "Dragonslayer", and showed the importance of building character references. For instance, I couldn't help but respect J.T. and stigmatize Sierra after hearing fairly consistent remarks about them. blog

Highlights:

  • A "first impressions" poll that led the two stigmatized castaways to choose between high and low roads.
  • A curiously well-liked player that various castaways wanted in their alliance.
  • A crossroads where a three-person alliance had to choose between a "Warrior" alliance and an unprecedented "Exile Island" alliance.
  • One case of poetic justice where a desperate outcast outlasted a cocky nemesis.
  • An interesting exploration into whether a million dollars should outweigh a close month-long friendship.

13. Survivor: Fiji (season #14)
This season reminded me of a counter-intelligence thriller because of that one episode where a rival alliance conspired to use a hidden immunity idol. It also featured a castaway that I hated more than anyone in Survivor history, Dreamz, because of a deal with that he infamously reneged on. Granted, back stabs happen a lot on Survivor--but it make me sick how this guy boasted on and on about how he'd honor the deal and show his son a good example. Then he had the nerve to act all proud of the betrayal! Stinking hypocrite. blog, blog

Highlights:

  • The sad contrast between the "jocks" and the "nerd". blog
  • The pivotal tribal council where the minority alliance plotted to use their hidden immunity idol.
  • The suspense over the tribal council where Yau-Man used the hidden immunity idol.
  • The suspense and outrage over Yau-Man's deal with Dreamz.

12. Survivor: Philippines (season #25)
A refreshingly unpredictable season thanks to the return of the three tribe formula (breaking the five-person alliance tradition), shifts in alliances (including one betrayal foreshadowed by the "four-fingered handshake"), and...players who didn't seem to know what they were doing (particularly during the tribal council where all of the alliances and hidden immunity idols got blown). I enjoyed rooting for Jonathan Penner again as he narrowly escaped elimination multiple times. I also legimitimately worried that Michael Skupin might require evacuation again. blog

Highlights:

  • Colluding tribes, i.e., the reward challenge bargain and the interesting merge wherein rival tribes conspired in a Plan Voodoo against Jonathan (first time I ever saw that work).
  • Michael Skupin defecting during a crucial tribal council.
  • The winner becoming the first and only player to attend (and survive) every tribal council of the season.

11. Survivor: Palau (season #10)
A season highlighted by two standout players: Tom Westman and Stephenie LaGrossa. I once called Tom the best Survivor player of all time. He inspired such respect in fellow players that the jurors actually took his BS seriously. He even inspired one player to forfeit the last immunity challenge for him! Now that's what I call charisma. blog

Highlights:

  • A clean sweep of immunity challenges that reduced one tribe down to one member, Stephenie.
  • Ian forfeiting the final immunity challenge for Tom.
  • The most deserving player winning. :)

10. Survivor: The Australian Outback (season #2)
This season had a good villain (Jerri) and a memorable tragedy where Michael Skupin passed out into the fire. It also featured a young Elisabeth Filarski before she went on to co-host "The View" as a staunch Republican.

Highlights:

  • Jerri convincing players to vote out Kel based on suspicion rather than proof.
  • The aftermath of Michael Skupin's accident. I remember re-watching that scene over and over. :)
  • A pivotal tribal council where the rival tribes tied their votes.
  • A memorably heartwarming scene where castaways cyber-chatted with loved ones.

9. Survivor: All-Stars (season #8)
This season pitted a lot of renowned Survivor players against each other, stirred some intense emotions, and sparked the romance between my favorite Survivor couple, Rob and "Ambuh" (both of whom I later enjoyed watching in "The Amazing Race").

Highlights:

  • Rob betraying Lex, Kathy, Alicia, and Tom. The emotional backlash brought up an intriguing controversy about whether real-life friendships factor into the game.
  • A bizarre coincidence where the tribal swap only affected one player.
  • Rob courting and then proposing to Amber in the live finale.
  • Rupert Boneham winning the million dollars as the show's favorite contestant.

8. Survivor: Caramoan - Fans vs. Favorites (season #26)
Just as "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains" helped me proclaim the best player of all time, this season helped me crown the worst player of all time. I mean seriously, at first glance that "Favorites" tribe looked like a Survivor Hall of Shame. But admittedly to my admiration, some of them really stepped up their gameplay. I felt particularly proud of Cochran, who in my judgment delivered the best jury presentation in Survivor history. blog

Highlights:

  • Francesca Hogi clinching "worst Survivor player ever" by getting voted out first twice! blog
  • Brandon Hantz melting down and forcing me to reconsider him as "worst Survivor player ever". blog
  • Corinne forging a secret counteralliance during an entertaining tribal merge.
  • Malcolm dominating the hidden immunity idols from playing Reynold's own idol to playing two idols in one tribal council (until Andrea finally foiled his streak by hovering over him).
  • Cochran, the ultimate underdog story, going from South Pacific outcast to heavyweight champion.

7. Survivor: Borneo (season #1)
Although I remember complaining about the lack of strategy among these castaways, this first season of Survivor kept me on the edge of my seat and led to some interesting talk around the water cooler.

Highlights:

  • Rudy Boesch's curmudgeonly remarks.
  • Sean Kenniff's alphabet strategy.
  • The riveting final episode.
  • The most deserving player winning. Too bad that he neglected to pay his taxes. :)

6. Survivor: Blood vs. Water (season #27)
A fiendishly personal season where returning castaways had their own loved ones used against them. The premise paid off so well that I wondered why they hadn't come up with it sooner! That is, until one player (Ciera) voted out her own mother. Then it just got awkward and weird for me (in my opinion, you'd have to be one heckuva Survivor purist not to blink at that). I also felt that the rock tiebreaker tainted the season's results.

Highlights:

  • "Public enemy number one" Brad Culpepper intentionally using the other tribe's loved ones against them, smartly telling wife Monica to burn an immunity clue given to her by a rival married couple, and then ending up exiled with that very couple after Caleb improvised a coup! blog
  • Castaways burning immunity clues instead of using them.
  • The merge presenting a wide variety ways to "slice the pie", e.g., by tribe, by couples, by gender, or by original alliances.
  • Ciera voting out her own mother to get further in the game--which isn't as bad as it sounds because they pre-discussed it. On second thought, it IS as bad as it sounds. blog
  • Tina eliminating her own daughter Katie at the Redemption Duel, which also made me uncomfortable.

5. Survivor: Samoa (season #19)
An entertaining season thanks to a guy whom I'd easily characterize as the most interesting Survivor player of all time: Russell Hantz. At first, he seemed like a complete jerk...but then after he found a hidden immunity idol without any clues, I really began to admire his guile. To my amazement, his machinations went on to save his tribe from a near-hopeless 8-to-4 decifit! If only this guy had won... blog

Highlights:

  • Russell finding two hidden immunity idols with zero clues, and finding a third one with only one clue.
  • A torrent of rainstorms that depressed the castaways and kept them from strategizing.
  • One particularly suspenseful tribal council where Russell saved himself with a hidden immunity idol, followed by another suspenseful tribal council where the tide turned. Say what you will about the "purple rock", it deters deadlock most effectively. :)
  • A thrilling final immunity challenge that came down to Russell vs. "bump on the log" Brett. Man, a victory by Brett would've ruined the season for me. :)

4. Survivor: Redemption Island (season #22)
The return of Boston Rob and Russell Hantz! Even though Russell went out too early, I'd still rather watch four episodes of him rather than entire seasons of lame players. :) As for Boston Rob...I developed a whole new respect for the guy. He took the game to new heights, and masterminded some impressive (albeit troubling) new strategies. Of all the castaways to ever play Survivor, I proclaim that Rob deserved to win the most. P.S. I didn't like the Redemption Island twist. blog

Highlights:

  • Rob playing the best strategic game I've ever seen, including keeping kooky "Former Federal Agent?" Phillip to the end, making up the "Royal Treatment" game so he could scramble for the hidden immunity idol (then hilariously sabotaging the clues), segregating the tribes, inventing the ingenius buddy system, and even preventing his starving tribe from eating the enemies' fish.
  • Russell's tribe throwing a challenge (and dooming themselves) just to get rid of him. blog, blog
  • Matt returning to the game after winning six out of six duels on Redemption Island; then getting voted out again at the very next tribal council! Das cold. blog
  • Rob pulling out an emotional, clutch victory in that final nail-biting immunity challenge.
  • Rob, arguably the best player never to win the game, finally winning the game. blog

3. Survivor: Cook Islands (season #13)
One of the rarer seasons where the player that I heavily rooted for, Yul Kwon, actually won the game. He overcame formidable obstacles too: a mutiny and a popular player (Ozzy) in the final vote. Although this season took a lot of criticism for dividing the tribes by ethnicity, I welcomed the variety. I also loved how this season finally cast some charismatic "intellectuals", i.e., Yul and another favorite player of mine, Jonathan Penner. blog

Highlights:

  • Cao Boi campaigning "Plan Voodoo" to flush out the immune player. Amusingly, Cao Boi was the one voted out. blog
  • The unprecedented mutiny of Candice and Jonathan.
  • The intellectual "business deal" between Yul and Jonathan.
  • A nail-biting final vote. I felt that the most deserving player won even though some would dissent that the most athletic player should've won. :)

2. Survivor: Micronesia - Fans vs. Favorites (season #16)
A refreshing season that cast some of the most conniving players in Survivor history--most notably, an alliance of women that kept ensnaring men in their traps. This "black widow" alliance led to my favorite Survivor moment of all time: the final four women managing to persuade the last surviving man to give up his immunity! By the way, props to Cirie Fields. If she had won the game, I probably would've declared her as the new best player of all time. blog

Highlights:

  • The ridiculously false immunity idol...that got played!
  • Multiple blindsides...most of them orchestrated by that conniving female alliance.
  • The ridiculously bold plot to vote out an immune player...that worked!
  • A sappy but entertaining public declaration of love from Ozzy.

1. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (season #20)
A big-time "WrestleMania" meets "Game of Thrones" for Survivor fans that excited me before it even began...and wow, it did not disappoint. Unlike other seasons where the best TV only occurred after the merge, this season managed to thrill me from start to finish. It featured suspenseful gameplay, shockingly bold moves, and lots of WTF moments for the water cooler. Some of my favorite seasons' all-stars like Boston Rob, Russell, and alumni from the "black widow" alliance managed to shine all over again. blog, blog

Highlights:

  • Boston Rob rebounding from his physical collapse, and pretty much carrying the Villains tribe on his shoulders.
  • "Plan Voodoo" backfiring on Cirie when she went up against another top player, Tom, whom I viewed as a total antithesis of her.
  • Russell feuding with Boston Rob, including such highlights as Russell unapologetically looking for the hidden immunity idol despite the taboo against it, Russell thwarting Rob's "Plan Voodoo" by tricking his top ally Tyson into eliminating himself, Russell casually suggesting to Rob that they vote out the two people sitting with them, and a final showdown wherein Russell successfully corrupted Jerri and Coach against Rob. Rob's parting words to Coach: "You're a little man." Wow. blog
  • Sanda standing up to Russell and plotting against him; poisoning him against Coach and trying to stage a coup (then eventually resorting to burning Russell's hat; haha, the irony).
  • J.T. tragically smuggling a hidden immunity idol (packaged in a written letter) to the last person he should ever entrust an idol to, Russell, based on the Heroes' misconception of an all-female Villains alliance!
  • Parvati headlining the greatest episode in Survivor history (the one where the Heroes and Villains merged). blog
  • Amanda and Danielle wrestling for possession of a game-changing clue to the next hidden immunity idol (unprecedented and reminded me of Barry Bonds' 73rd home run baseball). blog
  • Rupert faking a hidden immunity idol by hiding a rock in his pants. Brilliant way to save himself, and I'm surprised that no one ever thought of that before.
  • Russell spearheading the unexpected self-destruction of the Villains alliance. blog
  • The final immunity challenge (a maze) coming down to a climactic photofinish.
  • The final three actually coming down to the best three players. blog


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