Twenty Two Seasons. Three Hundred and Fifty Seven Castaways. One Survivor? After spending a year going back through the “New School” era of Survivor (Spanning from the first season after Heroes vs Villains, Nicaragua, to Winners at War), and weekly following the two most recent seasons of “New Era” Survivor, it is about that time to bookend the saga with the one exercise all superfans love: power rankings! I’ve taken the herculean task of putting together a totally definitive and completely perfect list ranking every castaway to play the game of Survivor.
We enter the top 100 of new school players, and there is a lot more to say about these castaways. Pretty much everyone remaining has left some imprint on their respective seasons, and we even see the first few winners at this part of the list.
As a reminder if you are just discovering this ranking series, you can go to my Medium page to check out previously slotted castaways and to take a look at my “primer” article, which lays out my reasoning for how I put together the list.
Also, if it isn’t obvious, spoilers abound for the past 22 seasons of the show.
There are two staples to every episode in Survivor: the challenge and the tribal council. They are the pieces of the show where if one of these parts were changed, Survivor as we know it would be altered dramatically. With this edition of the new school player rankings I want to look at the best tribal councils the show has had in the past twenty two seasons. When putting together the list, I was looking for a couple key qualities. First, the tribal council had to be an impact moment in the season. Basically, this can’t just be any other vote during the season, it needed to have some weight to it. Second, I need the tribal council to have some dramatics involved. There have been plenty of clean blindsides, but I need reactions and raw emotions tied to the actions unfolding. Last, I’m looking for unique councils. It’s always a plus when history is involved.
After scrolling through all these seasons, this was the list I came up with.
- The Thanks Obama Vote (Philippines)
A seemingly simple vote is complicated by two things: Jonathan Penner winning immunity and Lisa leaking to people that Malcolm has an idol. It leads to a lot of scrambling and idol revelations and last second pleas, and Jeff caught the collateral as he was voted out.
- The Super Idol Betrayal Vote (Kaoh Rong)
A strong climax to the brewing “good vs evil” war that had been going on between Aubry’s crew against Scot and Jason. Tai had been aligned with Scot and Jason for a while but didn’t approve of their renegade and combative strategies, but he also felt tied to them because of a super idol he shares with Scot. Scot gets voted out and looks to Tai to save him, but Tai shuts him down. A satisfying moment.
- The Zeke vs David Rocks Vote (Millennials v Gen X)
Another strong climax to a lot of rivalries happened at this tribal council, leading to a satisfying vote.
- The Default Vote, and The Fine Print Vote (Game Changers)
Two sad Cirie moments were considered given how unprecedented the two votes were. Cirie not only tried to play advantage only to get told the rules couldn’t let her play it (that’s saying something: reality TV competition in general has very few rules, some shows more than others). And then Cirie is the victim of not having an advantage, as everyone else in the final six played something to keep them immune, leaving Cirie as the default vote. But both these moments are sad, so no top ten for you. Justice for Cirie.
- Multiple David v Goliath Votes (The Davie Idol Play, The Jacket Vote, The Carl Blindside Vote)
The fact that David vs. Goliath had so many great tribal councils is a testament to how strong the season is. No one tribal ended up making the top ten, but three deserve mentioning: the one where Davie pulls out a surprise idols and the Davids smartly put their votes on the Mayor of Slamtown, the one where Angelina tries to get Napalm Natalie’s jacket, and the one where Carl gets blindsided for being too drunk on power.
- The Most Chaotic Live Tribal Ever (Edge of Extinction)
It might be a bit shocking that this vote didn’t make the top ten, as the best live tribal the show ever had. But the stakes, consequences, and impact of the vote just don’t match up to similar tribals. Devens and Wardog are able to egg Julia enough to start a live tribal that leaves everyone scramble and Julie freaking out, and in the end they choose to send Julia to the jury.
- The Omar Blindside Vote (Survivor 42)
An excellent blindside, the biggest impact tribal of the season, and Maryanne’s resume move that helped her get the clout needed for victory. It just misses out on the list for me because other votes have more of a chaos x-factor to it.
The Top Ten
10. The Voluntary Tribal Council (One World)
I had to include this tribal council in the top ten, because rarely has Survivor ever reached a point of insanity as high as this moment. The men’s tribe in Survivor: One World wins the immunity challenge, but because Colton is in charge and the guys are following whatever he says, the tribe agrees it is best to just let the women stay at camp and they should vote someone out instead for better tribe unity, much to the shock of Jeff. Mix in that Colton’s intentions to vote out Bill are racially charged, you end up with one of the most dysfunctional votes in one of the most dysfunctional tribes in Survivor history. Tribes have thrown challenges before, but no tribe has ever won the immunity then decided to forfeit it. Just batshit insanity.
9. The Malcolm Double Idol Play (Caramoan)
Because the post-merge plans to shake up the power hierarchy of the season got snuffed out, fan-favorite Malcolm had to fight in the minority as part of the “Three Amigos”. It seemed all was lost for Malcolm at this moment, but he set fireworks off during tribal council by saving the entirety of his alliance, because Reynold won immunity and Malcolm had two idols in his pocket. It didn’t have a huge impact on the season as Malcolm was swiftly voted out later on, but it is one of the most alpha plays ever made at a tribal council in Survivor history. Saving three people in one tribal council has rarely (if ever I think) been done. That counts for something.
8. The Rick vs Chris Firemaking Duel for the Season (Edge of Extinction)
The only tribal council on the list that is not a traditional vote, the decision for Chris to earn his place in the final three as the season long Edge of Extinction-er against the runaway favorite to win the season Rick was a cathartic moment for the season. It was a shoo-in that Rick would take part in firemaking, as his post-merge antics all but secured the votes of the jury. The only way Rick would not win is if he was sent home on fire, and rather than having someone do the dirty work for him, Chris chose to give up his immunity to do it himself. It was the make or break thing Chris Underwood needed to do to have the clout to stand in final tribal council with such a limited resume, but it certainly paid off.
7. The First Live Tribal (Game Changers)
An unprecedented tribal council twist led to an unprecedented tribal council that would end up shaping the show’s future conduct. Game Changers introduced a “dual-tribe” tribal council, where two tribes would go to the same tribal council and cast votes against one person to send home. If it sounds like a chaos-causing twist, it is because it is: without any contact with half of the people who could vote, tribes scrambled to pool together idols and consolidate plans to vote the same person on the other tribe. But with tribe swaps abound beforehand, not all people felt comfortable with their tribe plans. J.T. went rogue in tribal, and that set off a no-holds barred whisper fest as new plans were created on the spot as tribes attempted to swap plans last second. In the end, an idol is correctly played to save Sierra and Malcolm goes home. It’s one of the most off-script moments to ever happen at a tribal council, and it began the new “live tribal” trend of last second strategic formulation in the council room.
6. The Unknown Tie Vote (Survivor 42)
If people ask why new era Survivor is oversaturated with advantages, this is why. A seemingly easy vote against Lydia is made way more complicated by two roadblocks: Mike does not have a vote because his beware idol is inactive, and Chanelle doesn’t have a vote because she chose to risk it at the summit for an advantage and lost. That causes the tribal council to end in a tie, and half the tribe had zero clue this would happen. The shock of it causes Daniel to go rogue and turn against Chanelle and Hai sticks with his ally, sending Jenny home in a tribal council she had no business being the victim in. Ties have happened in past seasons, but new twists brought a level of unprecedented chaos to such an early vote in a season.
5. The Hayden and Ciera Rocks Gambit (Blood vs Water)
One of the biggest dice roll plays in new-school Survivor, Hayden is able to convince Ciera to go back on her previous mistake during the tribal council and force a tie vote, giving the underdogs the best opportunity they could get to knock out the season-long power player Tyson. The tribal council is dynamic as Hayden and Tyson debate the linguistics of “rustle feathers” vs “ruffle feathers” and try to sway Ciera to their end.
4. The Denise Idol Play (Winners at War)
Denise’s move to use Sandra’s own idol against her is up there as one of the best individual flexes in a tribal council in Survivor history. Sandra tries to be sneaky and save Denise in the vote, but Denise turns it around and cast the only vote that counted of the evening. It’s a shocking move that you have to respect, as she made a tribal council that seemed to be doomed for her into one where everyone else was instead at her mercy. It unfortunately was also the peak of Denise’s game that season.
3. The Hourglass Merge Vote (Survivor 41)
Best case scenario for every Survivor season is that one of these tribal councils results in a strategic and emotional climax. Almost no tribal councils in the new school era reached quite a complete entertainment peak as the merge vote in Survivor 41, where the hourglass twist and the brand new “Knowledge is Power” advantage elevated the tension in an unpredictable tribal council. Despite how awful the hourglass twist was for the game, it could not have played out in a better way this season. The flipped result of the previous merge immunity challenge put the expected majority on the back heel, and the secondary plan revolved around how Xander would use his idol and how Liana would use her Knowledge is Power advantage. Xander wins out with a made for TV reveal of his fake idol to thwart Liana’s big game move, and the chaos settles with no one in the minority alliance going home.
2. The Wentworth Idol Play (Second Chance)
Arguably the best idol play in the show’s history, Kelley Wentworth pulls an idol she got during the first challenge of the season to bamboozle literally everyone the tribe, and sends the cocky Andrew Savage home. Kelley’s three-person minority alliance looked to be ripe for systematic elimination at the hands of a nine-person voting block, but Kelley called the un-split vote and played a secret idol on herself. The move not only completely shocked every person remaining in the game to the point where applause broke out for the gutsy move, but it also broke the season completely open and set off strategic fireworks for episodes to come. It also became the signature move in Kelley’s three season arc as one of the most popular new-school players in the game.
1. The Cagayan Merge Vote (Cagayan)
A tense merge vote took a sharp left turn no one expected when Kass was recruited last second by Trish to flip on her seemingly solid alliance and knock out the power-hungry Sarah. Heading into the merge there were two strong groups of 5 castaways, with Sarah Lacina sitting in the middle. Sarah relished in the power of being the swing between Tony’s brawn alliance and the Tasha/Spencer brains squad, but her forward aggressive negotiating quietly swayed Kass away from who she was originally aligned with. The tribal council had plenty of tension, and feeling the heat of possibly losing the numbers Tony and LJ played idols on each other. But those idols were in vain: the Brains-led alliance had put their votes on Jefra instead, and with Sarah officially on their side they felt confident in winning this battle. Kass however had officially gone rogue, sending Sarah home and whipping the game into a Tony-led chaotic frenzy. Even without Kass’s unexpected flip the tribal council was already great, but the shocking final result tips it over the edge and makes it in my opinion the best tribal council in this era.
100. Monica Culpepper
Season — One World (14th), Blood vs Water (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Football wife, key member of the her-Tyson-Gervase trio, but attacked as the weak link and “goat”
Monica’s first season in One World was completely unremarkable, so when she got a second chance to play the game with her husband Brad, she knew she had to be selfish and “play for herself”. Monica was a key piece in the pre-merge returners alliance, then joined a sub-alliance with Tyson and Gervase that held most of the power all the way to the end of the season, where Tyson would beat her in final tribal council. She led the revolution of throwing away idol clues at Redemption Island because of the heat she got for being tied to Brad, and defended herself from a blindside attempt that Kat was trying to lead against her later on. When the game reached peak intensity from the final seven to the end, Monica was seen as the target to flip in the dominant trio and faced a lot of pressure from Ciera and Hayden, as she was attacked as a “disposable piece” to Tyson and Gervase. Was Monica the weak link? Not necessarily, as her involvement in the alliance was just as important as Gervase, and you could say she had a better chance of winning than someone like Gervase, who definitely leeched a lot of the successes from Tyson when compared to Monica. It was her loyalty to Tyson and her inability to change perception from the minority that left her in this “goat-like” position next to Tyson, however unfair the accusations may be.
99. Missy Byrd
Season — Island of the Idols (10th)
Survivor Resume — Air Force alumni and athlete. Aggressive social game. Got super shook over her blindside.
The aggressive strategist had been a driving force in her tribe’s strategy as a glue member, keeping the girls together and pulling Aaron into her group to carry a strong alliance into the merge. What she did not handle well were the fringe members of the group, as her cold and calculating demeanor pushed Karishma into swinging away from her former tribe and blindsiding Missy at a split tribal council. She also was a bit too avant-garde strategically, choosing along with Elizabeth to use Dan’s inappropriate gestures as a tool to secure numbers at the merge. Personally I’d recommend not using that strategy.
Season — Ghost Island (5th)
Survivor Resume — Gay kid from nowhere Kentucky. Alliance with Laurel.
It’s difficult to rate how strong Donathan’s game was in Ghost Island, but at the very least he was an unassuming but solid social player who allianced himself into a corner. Entering the game as the young gay kid from Kentucky who loves his family and wants to experience the world outside of the rural bubble, he survived the early votes mainly through an alliance he made with Laurel. After a tribe swap, he and Laurel made an alliance with Dom and Wendell, which guaranteed them safety all the way up to the final eight. However, this alliance played him into a corner, just like everyone else at Ghost Island, where Dom and Wendell became too powerful with strong resumes and advantages that all Donathan could do to combat it was a general passive-aggressiveness labeled as “truth bombs” in hopes to flip the momentum. They did not work and Donathan was voted out in fifth place. While Donathan got results and made it very close to the end it is difficult to differentiate any of his own moves that mattered, especially since between him and Laurel it felt like Laurel did more of the strategizing. I think he does get credit for beating the odds: based on first impressions he would be one of the early vote outs in his tribe, but he nearly made the end despite his allies getting chopped off throughout the season. It’s a testament to a good social game.
Season — David vs Goliath (5th)
Survivor Resume — All-around competent player labeled as a threat by others.
She perennially sat on the voting block all post-merge in David vs Goliath, but always seemed to be spared in the end due to blindsides taking precedence. It allowed Alison to outlast many strong castaways without ever really getting the opportunity to control her own destiny, and it could have made for a good case to win in a final tribal council situation. It was not meant to be as her time finally ran out in the final five.
Season — Heroes v Healers v Hustlers (3rd)
Survivor Resume — A hustling game focused strategist
Ryan found himself often in strong positions while in Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, as a player who always had the strategic mind flowing throughout the game… until it started falling apart in the final third. In the pre-merge portion of the game Ryan was often a swing vote with alliances with Devon, Ali, and later Chrissy. His connections fit together perfectly for the Heroes and Healers alliance, and his game continued to blossom after sneaking away an idol in his pants while Chrissy and Cole wrestled under the tribe flag for an advantage that was no longer there. However once Ben flipped the game on its head, Ryan’s power disappeared. As his ally Chrissy gained a reputation for her immunity victories, Ryan floundered in the challenges and could no longer flex any strategic muscles as Ben was the obvious vote for multiple tribal councils. He did get a vote from Devon in the jury, but neither his achievements or his storyline really matched up to either Chrissy or Ben.
Season — David vs Goliath (11th)
Survivor Resume — Showmance with Kara. Screwed by Idol nullifier
Dan had started his season off with a bang, finding not one but two immunity idols and sparking up an immediate showmance with Kara. It also flamed out spectacularly in a way he couldn’t really control. Kara cut off the showmance around the merge as she saw their pairing as a social game death sentence, he burned one idol on Angelina after Davie used his unexpectedly, and his other idol was nullified which sent him home despite being able to protect himself.
Season — San Juan del Sur (3rd)
Survivor Resume — the often-divorced mom, beef with Reed, blindside of Jeremy, finishes the game in a cast
As much as Reed wants to tell you that Missy is an awful Survivor presence, Missy did play a solid strategic game as she avoided being a target while having key alliances and blindsides, especially in the second-third of the game. She had close relationships with two powerful players in Jeremy and Jon, and played a key role in blindsiding front-runner Jeremy. A lot of her game is tainted by the rivalry she had with Reed, with Reed making great effort to denounce and insult her game, once at a reward challenge and a second time as part of the jury at final tribal council.
Season — Nicaragua (3rd)
Survivor Resume — Alliance with Brenda, pretty cutthroat player
Sash’s biggest weakness was being unable to establish a good relationship with the jury in his season in Nicaragua. It may be a bit cruel to lead with a good player’s weakness, but I think it is Sash’s perception of himself vs. everyone else’s perception of him that was his biggest Survivor storyline. Sash had a great strategic game: he and Brenda held a ton of power in the first half of the game, until he decided Brenda was no longer needed and let her get voted out, even though he could have saved her with a hidden immunity idol. He then aligned with Chase and Holly and controlled the vote with them right to the very end of the game. The unfortunate fact for him was that the jury had put an emphasis on honesty and Sash had done a lot of lying and double-dealing, and when control of the game was looked at, Chase got more of the credit. In a later season when cutthroat play and blindside are looked at more positively, maybe Sash could have more success.
Season — Cagayan (3rd), Second Chance (13th)
Survivor Resume — “Chaos Kass”, flipping sides in Cagayan because she didn’t like Sarah’s attitude. Instigator around camp with Trish, Tony, and Spencer. Supposedly reformed her ways then flipped the chaos switch in Second Chance with Tasha.
A personal favorite villain of mine, “Chaos Kass” brought a ton of unpredictability to her first season, coming one immunity short of reaching the final two of Cagayan over Tony or Woo. She survived the dysfunctional Brains tribe and came into the merge with an alliance, but that changed when she was frustrated with how Sarah Lacina was acting as the swing vote. Unhappy with how arrogant she thought Sarah was acting in playing swing vote and how her ally in Tasha was recruiting her, Kass flipped sides and joined Tony’s alliance to vote Sarah out, ruffling a lot of feathers. From then on Kass was unafraid to air her grievances with other players from Morgan’s laziness to Spencer’s immaturity. She was especially confrontational with Tony about his gameplay, hoping to sow seeds of discontent to villainize Tony, while simultaneously letting him do his thing in hopes of a bitter jury. She looked to exploit whatever cracks she could find in people while sticking within the alliance majority which is excellent gameplay in a vacuum, but the reputation of chaos she had built would have been damaging to her in a final tribal council situation. She simply pissed too many people off: it would have been a large mountain to climb to convince the jury that all that was gameplay. As an attorney in real life, could she have done it? We will never know, since Cagayn went to a final two instead of three. Kass comes back to Survivor in Second Chance on a self-professed redemption tour, aiming to be less of a disruptor and more likable as a social player. She held to that philosophy until she felt the heat, and turned back into Chaos Kass in hopes of stirring the pot around Tasha and avoiding being sent home. It failed and she was the first voted out at the merge with the numbers against her. Kass’s game was not only smart but undoubtedly herself. She sacrificed the likable social game in favor of doing what’s best for her at all times. She threw Cagayan into the deep end with one single vote, and played at a frenetic pace that pairs greatly with others who look to make moves.
91. Michaela Bradshaw
Season — Millennials v Gen X (14th), Gamechangers (7th)
Survivor Resume — Incredible sass. Dumped her top to win a challenge. Blindsided because she intimidated Jay. fought with JT over sugar. Alliance with Cirie.
One of the most entertaining “New School” castaways. She came onto Millennials vs Gen X with signature flair and allowing her no-nonsense, sassy, competitive personality to shine. If she felt like Figgy was acting whack, she was gonna tell Figgy she was acting whack. While she had found good allies early in the game, Jay saw her as a huge threat as she was using shells and rock to think through her post-merge numbers. She was blindsided right before the merge and gave an all-time shocked reaction to Jay stabbing her in the back. Her mere presence got her the invite back next season for Game Changers where she continued to be herself. She let the sass flow especially fast when gloating over JT’s exit. While she made it to the merge this time around, her only true ally was Cirie while other castaways saw her as disposable, and she was voted out of the game after a live tribal council (the same one Cirie tried to use Sarah’s advantage against her). While Michaela as a personality was one of the best in recent seasons, the results were never able to quite match that level.
Season — Island of the Idols (5th)
Survivor Resume — The Mom of the Season. Found two idols but got one nullified by Dean. Stood up for the ladies against Dan’s sexual harassment.
Janet left this troubled season of Survivor a hero in the eyes of many. Early on in past Survivor seasons the older players are targeted but Janet quickly proved herself as not only a capable camp contributor, but good in challenges as a very strong swimmer, which helped her secure alliances for the pre-merge part of the game. However, everything flipped on her when she diverged from her Lairo alliance at the merge over the Kellee vote, when she chose to go against Dan due to the sexual harassment accusations against him. As Janet wanted to support the women who felt uncomfortable because of Dan, she came back into that camp fiery after realizing the women who poured their hearts out to her ended up reneging on their accusations in favor of numbers in the game. The damage was done to Janet’s game but she slunk her way forward in the game with idols in her possession and blindsides going in other directions. Janet looked like she could sneak her way to the end of the game but all dreams were dashed when Dean, with knowledge of Janet’s idol, used the idol nullifier against her and sent her home at final five. While Janet didn’t play a hugely strategic game she had the personality and likability as the underdog player to garner votes at the very end.
Season — Blood vs Water (10th), Second Chance (First Out)
Survivor Resume — Reformed convict, social schmoozer
Vytas entered Blood vs. Water with his past as a reformed drug addict and tumultuous relationship with his brother Aras, and for the first half of the season was a breakout star. He established himself as a strong social player before the merge, proving it after a tribe swap left him the easy vote out on an all women tribe without any allies. He was able to ingratiate himself in the tribe and find allies while surviving two votes. Vytas and Aras as a duo was seen as a dominant force, so the two were quickly voted out right at the merge. Vytas took his reputation in Second Chance and flopped: his tribe found his presence off-putting and he was voted out first. Blood vs. Water Vytas was a power player: he had the strategic mind like his brother Aras, but had a cleaner social game. But his inability to find the right alliance in a tougher season puts an asterisk on his skills.
Season — Nicaragua (Winner)
Survivor Resume — Clueless surfer boi.
Jud, better known as Fabio, took an odd path to victory in the 21st season of Survivor. He was secure early on by playing up to his free spirit personality and offering enough physical prowess to avoid being a target of the tribe vote. In the merge he was able to lay low until he couldn’t, spending the final third of the game in the minority after allies like Marty and Benry were voted out. However, Fabio was able to win the final three immunities in the end other players caught heat for mismanaging the jury, which allowed for Fabio to win the final vote 5–4 over Chase. Fabio played to his biggest strength all season: simply not making enemies and winning immunities when it mattered, and he was rewarded for it. As a winner, his resume is certainly the least impressive, as he did not make a “big play” all season and never really had a say in the important votes. We’ll never really know if Fabio could play the strategic game, since he was not added to the Winners at War cast. Regardless, he can be considered one of the few players to win Survivor with a true “under-the-radar” game and will live on as one of the most unique and likable winners in Survivor history.
87. Chris Underwood
Season — Edge of Extinction (Winner)
Survivor Resume — Voted out third, but returned to the game at the final six due to Edge of Extinction. Dueled Rick Devens in firemaking.
Chris is by far the oddest Survivor winner in show’s history, as he was able to achieve victory despite being voted out before the merge due to the Edge of Extinction twist. While Chris looked like a smart player and strong in challenges, he was blindsided by Wardog and became the third person sent to Edge of Extinction, where he would have to endure harsh conditions for a slim chance at returning to the main show. Chris made the most of the opportunity by winning the final EOE return challenge to jump back into the final six. Chris returned and worked hard to secure his safety, as surviving the next vote would net him a hidden immunity idol. Chris was able to convince Lauren (with knowledge of her idol from exiles on EOE) to play it for him to keep himself unnecessarily safe at the final six, then saved himself with an idol at final five, then he voluntarily chose to participate in the final four firemaking challenge to knock favorite Rick Devens out of the game. Combining his past EOE relationships with gutsy late-game moves, Chris won the million dollar prize over Gavin who played a better social game (and wasn’t voted out in the pre-merge) but a boring strategic game. You have to give Chris credit for making the most of the hand he was dealt, he did enough in a few days at the very end to justify getting votes from the jury. But the large elephant in the room is Edge of Extinction, and it has to be acknowledged that Chris became the only winner to be voted out in his victory season. It’s the biggest asterisk you can ever put on a player’s legacy.
Season — David vs Goliath (10th)
Survivor Resume — Lost a five hour duel to Christian in a challenge. Aggressive gameplayer.
Alec set the tone for blindsides early on in David vs Goliath, going off-script to get in with the Davids and vote out fellow Goliath Natalia after a tribe swap. Once the merge hit, his reputation brought in from that betrayal plus being a strong player in challenges made him the first to be targeted once the alliance led by Davie, Nick, and Christian took the majority.
Season — Island of the Idols (2nd)
Survivor Resume — DK Chillin. Went on the advantage grind in the final quarter of the game while being on the outs for most of the season.
Dean’s journey on Island of the Idols went from being extremely on the bottom to being in a position of power in the span of just a few episodes, thanks to the blessing of advantages and making the most of opportunities. Dean’s game started rough as he was stranded outside of the majority alliance after Chelsea, who people believed was “showmancing” with Dean for power, was blindsided very early in the game. Dean stayed on the bottom into the merge, and really only made it because of his relationship with Kellee, who saved him with an idol that would later sink Kellee’s season. Dean tried his best to make the most of little opportunity, looking for cracks and seemingly benefitting from a legacy advantage from Jamal (which was actually fake). Dean used that legacy advantage to make a fake legacy advantage that he bluffed at nine with hopes of using the real (fake) one at six. But his real opening arrived after a chaotic live tribal council where Dean exposed blindside plans to Tommy, much to the chagrin of Noura. The next day Dean goes to IOTI and after winning a coin flip earns an idol nullifier. Now with the end in sight, Dean wiggles his way out of the bottom with knowledge of Janet’s idol, a strong advantage, and a new working relationship with Tommy. Combine that with two immunity challenge victories, a hidden immunity idol he found using Tommy’s clues, using the idol nullifier successfully on Janet, and a fire-making victory to knock out Lauren, Dean walked into Final Tribal Council feeling like he has a resume to earn the million. That resume, however, lacked a 39 day social and strategic depth that Tommy had from a full game in power positions and Dean was only able to get two votes from the jury. Dean’s game is the definition of “big moves Survivor”: all of Dean’s accolades came from securing advantages and flashy Survivor moments. However, his lengthy time at the bottom of the totem pole socially canceled out much of the late-game successes.
Season — Kaoh Rong (8th)
Survivor Resume — Basketball player. Camp disruptor with Jason.
There’s an argument to be made that Scot is one of the last of a dying breed: full-blooded villains to feature in a Survivor season. The latest Survivor villains, like Shan, Angelina, or Ben, usually have a positive twist put onto them either by an inspiring story or at least a little bit of a redeeming quality through the edit. Scot leaned into his bad boy competitive nature right from the jump with Jason, ultimately leading to becoming the camp disruptor, badgering power players like Aubry and chaining Tai to their shared super idol alliance. Unlike Jason though, Scot was a bit savvier when politicking to stay in the game, trying to cut deals for camp peace in exchange for a beneficial blindside. Scot could have clawed his way deeper into the endgame with players like Julia on his side, but Tai abandoned their super idol alliance and let him go home in the final eight.
Season — David vs Goliath (3rd)
Survivor Resume — Super gamer. Tried to get Natalie’s jacket. Holds a grudge. Bad tribal council against Elizabeth.
You would be understating it heavily to say that Angelina’s season in David vs Goliath was unique. It was a lot more of a rollercoaster, but when Angelina toned down her most “Angelina” plays she showed capacity to play a strong game. Angelina stuck in the majority of the Goliath tribe in the pre-merge, with her biggest highlight being “Jacket-Gate”, where she tried to snag Natalie’s jacket from her as she was walking out the game in tribal council. She would build some good relationships with Mike and Nick during this portion of the game that would benefit her later. At the merge Angelina wanted to make a big play against Christian with her Goliath alliance, but after getting shafted for plans to vote Elizabeth instead she went behind people’s backs to console Elizabeth on her exit. All this fell back on her because Elizabeth blew up her spot at tribal council and left her in the doghouse. After feeling more isolated by the Goliath alliance (they started planning to vote out Christian two days after she was rejected for trying to vote out Christian!) Angelina moves into being more of a floater and being friendly with the David alliance, especially after the John and Dan blindside. From there Angelina tries to build social capital by sacrificing her chance at immunity to earn the tribe more rice, but in Angelina fashion she then attempts to leverage her wonderful sacrifice to go on a reward. In the late game Angelina continues to slide through the game with her “Jabeni” crew Mike and Nick, including finding an idol after quite the escapade with a ladder. Finding the idol is a big play, but then she goes a step further and tries to manipulate a “fake idol play” to knock out the already doomed Alison, which rubs people the wrong way. By the time Final Tribal Council rolled around Angelina had her seat, but her missteps along the way left her as more of a goat then a legitimate contender to win. When Angelina wasn’t getting in her own way with hairbrained strategies and social mishaps, she showed to be a fairly smart player. For me personally, I found Angelina to be one of the more impressive tribal council performers (sans the Elizabeth voteout) when it came to answering questions and keeping to the political answers. It’s clear she’s smart and a willing player: she was just way too big of a personality to stay grounded strategically. Once she made her big Survivor mistakes, it got to the point in such a competitive season that Angelina was kept around as a beatable player instead of a large threat.
Season — Kaoh Rong (7th)
Survivor Resume — Played the middle between warring alliances
Easily forgotten as she wasn’t too involved in the messy rivalries of Kaoh Rong, but Julia is quietly one of the strongest teenagers to ever play Survivor, balancing a middle position in the game stronger than a lot of past players.
Season — Survivor 42 (5th)
Survivor Resume — Ultra competitive. Rivalry/hatred for Jonathan.
Lindsay’s game was defined by her ultra competitive personality and her comfort in power that left her shocked after a big blindside. Lindsay was part of the Taku tribe in Survivor 42, where she built a tight relationship with Omar that would last deep into the game. Lindsay stuck in the Omar partnership after the merge as the duo gained power in the game, with Omar being the strategic arm and Lindsay being the challenge/advantage arm (with her amulet she got on day one). As Lindsay entered the late game she expressed confidence in where she stood with her sights set on two things: reaching the end of the game smoothly with Omar and voting out Jonathan, whom she disliked and saw as a rival. Surviving one scare in the Do or Die challenge where she picked the right box for safety over immediate elimination, she became blinded by pride in her game and was shocked to see her number one ally Omar blindsided in the final six. While Maryanne entertained the idea of a big play to save Lindsay in the next vote, she chose to hold off because of the threat Lindsay could be if she slithered her way to the final three in the underdog position and Lindsay was sent home on finale night in fifth place. The strengths and flaws of Lindsay were very clear during her run in Survivor 42: she was a loyal ally and fierce competitor, but quick to be confident and downplay the strategic skill of other players. Her rivalry with Jonathan highlighted both of these sides to her game.
Season — Survivor 41 (3rd)
Survivor Resume — Good vibes college kid. Had to say the idol phrase first. Outplayed Liana’s Knowledge is Power advantage and floated to end
Survivor 41 saw Xander’s star rise because he sat right in the center of some of the most entertaining moments of the season. Early on the young enthusiastic Xander had advantages and allies, but it all was a double edged sword. Xander had an idol but it was a beware idol and he had to withstand the cringe of being the first person to say his silly phrase. Xander believed he had a good alliance with Evvie, but the girls in his tribe saw him as disposable. At the merge Xander’s tribe Yase fell straight to the minority as Luvu and Ua linked up, and Xander was in danger of losing his idol to Liana’s Knowledge is Power advantage, or having to burn it to save his ally Evvie. However, because of their previous knowledge of what Liana held, Xander got the honor of swapping his real idol for a fake and schooling Liana in the best tribal council of the season. Xander didn’t need to use his idol, and the threat of an idol play helped him float through the post-merge. Xander made the final tribal council and while he personally felt like he was building his underdog winner narrative, the jury saw Xander more like a goat with little strategic impact on the season. While Xander had a mind for the game and survived being the target for multiple tribal councils, Xander’s actual presence in the greater strategic story of the season was just lacking despite his on-screen likability.
Season — Cagayan (2nd), Second Chance (14th)
Survivor Resume — Lightheartedness. Ninja stealth moves. Tony’s goat.
In one of the most strategic seasons of Survivor ever played, Woo found success by bucking the trend, playing within the confines of his alliance and off of his pure likability. The free spirit was a key member of the brawn alliance, which ended up being his own demise. Woo was too trusting of his own alliance member Tony, and when they sat together at the end he couldn’t garner the votes by playing the “honorable game” card over Tony, whose strategic game outweighed the dishonest way he played. It stings even more that Woo held the decision of final two in his hands, winning the final challenge and making the mistake of keeping Tony over Kass, whom the jury universially hated. Woo’s game was a winning game in Cagayan right up until the end of the 38th day. Woo wasn’t able to make the most of his Second Chance (in Second Chance, of course) by trying to play a more refined version of his game, but he was not able to make the merge.
Season — Millennials v Gen X (5th)
Survivor Resume — Cop. Talked with Zeke about shared LGBT bond.
Bret belongs in the small, elite group of strong players but tertiary characters. Bret did a good job of navigating between many alliances along the course of the game. He started with Chris on Gen X, then moved to align with Zeke (which the two shared an cool emotional moment where they shared about their sexuality), then stuck with Sunday after Zeke’s blindside, and later tried to ride with Adam to the end until he met a blindside at the hands David, Ken, and Hannah.
Season — Survivor 42 (8th)
Survivor Resume — Aggressive strategic player. Outspoken person. Face blemish.
Hai’s strong start to the season unfortunately ended in a humbling blindside. Hai won out in the early deadlocked tribal council within his tribe by sticking with his ally Lydia, which opened a door for Hai to work with Mike into the merge. Hai joined the merge majority and immediately looked to become a big mover within the group. He made his “big move” at a split tribal council by getting a Rocksroy blindside done, but it left him exposed in the next tribal council when Omar orchestrated Hai’s own exit through Mike.
Season — Winners at War (14th)
Survivor Resume — Winner of Cook Islands. Very smart dude.
As an old school player with little connections to other winners in the ultimate all-winners season, Yul made the most of his unfortunate position. In his original tribe Yul brought together other less-connected winners like Sophie, Wendell, and Nick together for a discreet alliance, which held a lot of power early in the game. Once the tribe swap hit however, the numbers started to turn against Yul as a threatening strategic and social presence, and he was voted out by the new school players right before the merge in favor of keeping Michele around. It was a sad way to see a legend in the game go home because he felt powerless in the face of reputation and a not-so-secret “new school over old school” agenda, but given the bad hand he was dealt Yul really did a lot with his game, and that has to be commended.