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.
After the holidays where I definitely didn’t forget to post things, we enter the top 50 now and there are only great players remaining. Everyone here was a high level player for at least one season in the New School era. Where do the heavy hitters sit, from the one season forces to the multi-season stars?
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.
Challenges and tribal councils have always been a consistent part of Survivor since its inception, but one aspect of the show that has expanded dramatically is the twists and advantages. Original Survivor played things straight because the newness of the show meant that castaways would have to learn things for themselves, but as the seasons have gone by more and more twists have been implemented to spice up the game and keep players on their toes. Some twists and changes to the format were excellent and have lasted over many seasons, while others maybe never should have left the brainstorm sessions. I offer you two lists to chew on before our regularly scheduled power rankings; one dealing with the best twists of the new school era, and one dealing with the worst.
- Blood vs Water (27,29)
A good twist that produced two good seasons of Survivor. I don’t know, there isn’t really that much more to say.
- Prisoner’s Dilemma Summit (41,42,43)
Worst case scenario, you just wasted 15 minutes of an episode. But best case scenario you get unprecedented tribal council situations like in Survivor 42. Overall it’s a good way to sneak in advantages into the season, though they do need to make it less predictable in the future. Everyone knows what’s going on now when a boat arrives at camp.
- Halved Idol (32,35,38,40)
Requires you to have to put trust in someone to make the idol work, but doesn’t completely expose the location of an idol like with recent beware advantages.
10. “Player Trait” Format (28,30,32,35,37)
The “new era” of Survivor has done away with formats, which leads me to wanting to celebrate the “player trait” formats that the new school era championed. Some great seasons have come out this type of theme, such as the Brains v Beauty v Brawn in Cagayan and David v Goliath. Even bad and messy seasons like Worlds Apart had interesting dynamics come out of their White Collar v Blue Collar v No Collar casting.
9. Idol/Advantage Hidden at Challenges (31,34,39,41)
A twist first presented to Kelley Wentworth in the opening immunity challenge of Second Chance, this method of immunity idol hiding was an intriguing and dramatic change compared to the simple hide and seek antics of a traditional idol. The only thing we didn’t get was someone catching the person finding the idol, which would have been very interesting to see.
8. Advantage Menu (34,38,39)
Choice = good. The little used “advantage menu” allows for castaways to pick what they want out of a choice of three possible advantages. In its original iteration it came along with a romantic dinner date on a boat with Cochran. I think I just like the name of the twist a lot too.
7. Redemption Island (22,23,27)
Definitely a controversial take… but I think Redemption Island is the best way to implement a “playback” twist into Survivor, and it just suffered from being used in two seasons with bad casts. It allows for some of Survivor’s best challenges to be used outside of the typical immunity challenge window. It also opens new storylines for an earned underdog run without the overly egregious advantage of Edge of Extinction’s jury management influence.
6. Unique Exile Island Formats (36,39)
I went ahead and combined Ghost Island and Island of the Idols into one “twist” since they serve the same purpose: get advantages in the game, and serve up heaping plates of nostalgia. Ghost Island went the direction of using past idols and advantages to “reverse the curse”. Island of the Idols brought back Sandra and Boston Rob to give commentary, advice, and challenges. It was extra, it was corny, but it was excellent new-school Survivor content as the show allowed itself to bask in its history as one of the greatest reality TV shows to ever air. Look at how they edit now: they love to point back to the golden era of Survivor. Making that into a season theme just works.
5. Split Tribal Council (36,39,41,42,43)
A twist that is pretty much guaranteed to give the dynamics of the game a shake-up, because splitting up the merged tribe in half and therefore splitting up alliance numbers allows for players to have more personal agency to make a big move. And even if the split does not produce any blindsides (like in Ghost Island), it speeds up the obvious votes so we can get to the endgame faster.
4. Earn the Merge (41,42,43)
It had the unfortunate partnership with the hourglass twist in its first iteration, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is a good twist. It makes the merge a bigger event by adding stakes to “making the merge” with a play-in challenge, which shrinks the number of people who can be voted out in the next tribal council.
3. Second Chance Fan-Voted Cast (31)
Let the people speak! The best returning cast of the new school era benefitted from allowing the people to vote on who plays in the season, and allowed for a combined cast of recent stars and old-school personalities. The next returner season Survivor does should absolutely go back to this format.
2. Vote-Based Advantages (30 onward)
One of the most impactful changes Survivor made to the game was the introduction of vote-based advantages: to the point that they are baked into the format of the game. The extra vote, steal vote, and block vote added a new wrinkle to strategy that can allow for a castaway to flip numbers when all else fails, and adds a variable that is simple to understand and is not overpowered like other recently introduced advantages.
1. Firemaking Final Four (35 onward)
A very controversial opinion after Survivor 43 but I must tell the truth. One of Survivor’s most game-shifting changes has proven to be a twist for the benefit of the show. The decision to forego a traditional vote at final four, opting to make the firemaking challenge mandatory, added a great wrinkle to Survivor’s endgame. It protects clear favorites from being easily picked off without idols in play anymore. It also (probably the biggest strength of the twist) puts a lot more power AND pressure on the decision-making of the final challenge winner that was lost when Survivor moved from a final two to a final three. The final challenge winner now has to balance their own chance at winning with the knowledge of other player’s chances at winning, but also must take into account firemaking abilities in order to eliminate the player they want, but they must also not let a strong player slide to the end risk free. Survivor purists may not like how firemaking broke away from traditional format, but in reality traditional format was already broken when final three became the norm.
- Reward Steal (33,38,40)
Rewards have become less and less important over the years, so twists around rewards like this seem pretty pointless.
- Knowledge is Power (41,42,43)
A combination of the sheer power of this twist with how players have utterly failed to use it correctly puts Knowledge is Power in the bottom half of the recent twist pool.
- One World Format (24)
Other than its use in a bad season with a bad cast, the format was not committed to by its own show as it was abandoned only days after the season started. Put on top of that that the “One World” concept was essentially a next door neighbors experiment rather than what would’ve been more interesting: a single shared camp where tribes can co-mingle more freely.
10. Beware Advantage Idol (41,42,43)
While the current bead idol is a better implementation of the beware idol than the funny phase twist 41 and 42 had, the new spin on idols remove the “hidden-ness” of a hidden immunity idol. And while I can appreciate slapping beware on an idol package to warn a contestant what they were getting into, is there really anyone that would pass up the chance in a once-in-a-lifetime game? That being said, if the original twist was always the beads instead of the phrases, this twist would not be on this list. The phrases were once of the cringiest things Survivor has done in recent seasons.
9. Jury Member Removal (32)
No twist has ever felt more impromptu than this on in Kaoh Rong, as the sheer amount of medical evacs messed with the logistics of the season. Needing a reward for a challenge that still needed to be played after the final three was decided, Survivor went with the chance to kick out a jury member. It simply feels unfair for the jury member to not get to see out the game.
8. Idol Nullifier (37,39,40,42*)
The father of “Knowledge is Power” is the Idol Nullifier, which is equally overpowered but has seen much more success. There is very little risk involved (since you do not have to declare that you are playing it) and it feels like a cruel twist that screws over a person who has earned and correctly played an idol. It’s also the rare advantage that was edited out of a season, as Omar had found an idol nullifier in Survivor 42 but its discovery and strategic implications were never shown. It’s a confounding editing choice, especially given that it would have been a huge variable in the endgame of the season.
7. Medallion of Power (21)
One of the most easily forgotten advantages ever in Survivor. The medallion of power was a one season gimmick in Survivor: Nicaragua that allowed for a tribe to gain an advantage in an immunity challenge. Once played, it would be passed to the other team and so on. It didn’t last more than a few episodes and it’s impact on the season was very minimal.
6. The FTC Jury Reformat (34 onward)
Survivor: Gamechangers saw the show change the way Final Tribal Councils are done, switching from individual jury speeches and questions to more of an open discussion. While the “twist” allows for a more fluid discussion about the games of the finalists and allows for the show to skip over the least impactful jury personalities, it also has killed the “television moments” that a final tribal council used to deliver. A lot of powerful and classic Survivor moments have happened during a jury speech, most famously in season one with Sue’s speech to Richard Hatch and Wigglesworth. New school seasons have had those big moments too, such as Trish’s passionate speech to Tony in Cagayan and Brenda humiliating Dawn during her speech in Caramoan. The reformat has completely killed the jury speech. While it may be better for determining the most deserving winner in a season, it has made the final tribal council way more boring than it used to be.
5. Joint Tribal Council (34,38)
Joint tribal councils, where two tribes go to one tribal council together to vote one person out, just do not work. Because the two tribes are completely isolated from each other it shoehorns people into the obvious strategy of voting together as a tribe. And since so little information is known about what goes on in another tribe, any idea to diverge from the tribe plan will only devolve the tribal council into chaos. Even with multiple tribe swaps to muddy the strategic waters, that is how the inaugural implementation of the twist played out: stay tribe strong, one person diverges from that at the tribal council, complete chaos ensues. If Survivor wants to do a joint tribal council again in the future, the obvious fix in my eyes would be sending the two tribes to one beach so cross-tribe conversations can happen.
4. Do or Die Challenge (41,42)
The Do or Die Twist may be the one twist most antithetical to the game of Survivor ever created. And the funniest thing about it? The twist was completely pointless in both seasons. Survivor introduced a challenge in the final stages of the game in Survivor 41 and 42 that if you got last place in, you would have to play a game of chance at tribal council. If you lost the game of chance, you would be eliminated on the spot and no vote would happen. If you won, you would be immune and the vote happens as normal. The concept of an elimination without a vote is, simply put, not Survivor. Voting is how it is done in Survivor and often the highlight of episodes is the scramble to figure out the vote, but the Do or Die twist scraps that, kinda. The game of chance they used was the uninteresting task of picking a box, using some probability concept called the Monty Hall problem to make solving it easier. (Sidenote: I do not understand the Monty Hall problem). But irony can be beautiful. Both players in the Do or Die challenge, Deshawn and Lindsay, picked the right box to save themselves despite doing the complete opposite of what this Monty Hall guy says you need to do. It made people believe the game was rigged or Jeff tipped off what box the safe card was in. The show rightly declared before Survivor 43 that Do or Die was retired, and everyone cheered. I don’t want to see it ever again.
3. Edge of Extinction (38,40)
Its initial season showed why this twist completely breaks the game of Survivor in the worst way possible, allowing for the season’s winner to skip 20+ days of strategy and vote survival, and instead build pressure-free relationships with jury members which were leveraged to garner million dollar votes in the very end. The only positive to come out of it happened in Winners at War, because it allowed for us to spend quality time with old school winners like Boston Rob and Parvati on the edge rather than hang out with the personality black holes of Sarah and Ben in the main game.
2. Fire Tokens (40)
Topping the Survivor list of “Things that are completely unnecessary for Survivor” is in-game currency. Fire tokens was the attempt of production to introduce it, and it went about how you expect: sometimes stupidly powerful (Natalie Anderson), sometimes completely useless (most players), definitely overly complicated (how can you keep track of it during a season?). It’s made even more sad that the show chose to conduct this experiment during the Winners at War season, the one season where you definitely didn’t need to introduce an experiment like this. Survivor should’ve left this one on the drawing board.
1. Hourglass Twist (41,42)
Yes, one of the most recent twists Survivor has implemented was indeed the worst: so bad that Survivor has acknowledged it is a heavily flawed concept. Paired with the new “Earn the Merge” twist, Survivor allowed for one person exiled from the challenge and from the reward to be given godlike power to “turn back time” and flip the result of an immunity challenge, saving themselves and making vulnerable those who believed to be immune. While presented as a conundrum in concept, in practice it showed to be a simple decision: guaranteed safety for someone who comes to the merge dynamics one day late is better than taking the risk that week and a half long connections could possibly protect you. And more than anything, the hourglass was just too powerful and unfun as a spectator to watch.
Season — Nicaragua (10th), Caramoan (6th)
Survivor Resume — “Black Widow” strategic power player, flirtation with Chase, the fake teeth jury argument with Dawn in Caramoan
Brenda brought an x-factor right from the start of her first season in Nicaragua, having the confidence and strategic smarts to back up her stunning looks. She was able to convince Chase to join up with her alliance at the first tribal council of her tribe, beating out Shannon for the power. From then Brenda was in control of her tribe along with Sash up to the merge. She played frontrunner and swing vote until the post merge when everyone saw how big of a threat Brenda was, and she respectfully accepted her fate realizing that without her former allies Naonka and Sash backing her up anymore, there was no chance for survival. While she didn’t make it far past the merge, the star power she carried was clearly evident, and it got her an invite for Fans vs. Favorites. She wasn’t a part of the majority Favorites alliance led by Phillip but she was able to stay under the radar and outlast that alliance, and when the game truly became individual she started to rise in strength, building an alliance with Dawn over recovering her lost retainer (it’s a surprise tool that will help us later) and finding a spot in the favorites to slide past strong players like Malcolm and Andrea. She started to believe that she could find her way to the end and have a real chance at winning, but was blindsided in the final six by Cochran and Dawn. She pinpoints Dawn as the reason for her loss and returns in the jury for a fiery confrontation with Dawn about betraying her trust in one of the most captivating pieces of drama in the season. I think Brenda is one of the few Survivor castaways that feels like a “full package” player. She can play as a frontrunner and under-the-radar. She can be the hero or the villain. She can be purely game and purely entertainment. If she played in a era of Survivor history with (in all honesty) better seasons, she could have been up there in the femme fatale category to the level of a Parvati. She just never put it all together for a true run at a Survivor winner title.
Season — David vs Goliath (4th)
Survivor Resume — Showmance with Dan. Sneaky under the radar player.
There is not anything flashy about Kara’s game in David vs. Goliath, and yet she was able to slink her way all the way to the final four without ever being in danger of elimination. Kara secured an early alliance in the Goliath tribe, specifically with Dan who she entertained a little showmance with. While Dan played with his heart Kara was always playing with her head, and when things started to go sideways with Goliaths getting blindsided at the merge, Kara pivoted to playing on the outskirts and used workable relationships and general likability to stay informed on the vote, hopping between allies like Alec, Alison, Davie and Mike. In the final four Angelina was the clear pick for the challenge winner to take to the end, so Kara had to fight for her spot in firemaking against Mike and lost. If Kara made it to the end she could have garnered a bigger legacy for her game, which mirrored how Mike played but was missing 1) the completion of the job by making the final tribal council and 2) being more on top of the political game by being a bigger voice in strategies.
Season — Survivor 42 (7th)
Survivor Resume — Held four advantages at one time. Serious demeanor. Shocked reaction to her blindside.
Drea entered Survivor 42 and immediately got off to a powerful start. She was the ultimate decider on votes on the Ika tribe and by the time she entered the merge she had obtained three advantages: an amulet from the opening challenge, an extra vote from the summit, and a hidden immunity idol tagged with the beware advantage. Shortly after the merge she secured yet another advantage in the Knowledge is Power, becoming one of the only players to hold so many powerful pieces at one moment in the game. Drea was also in the majority numbers-wise, and was looking to be in a great position to win. However her power in the game started to wane in the final third, as she had to burn her idol in the tense and racially charged tribal council centered around her, and found herself lacking friends in the endgame compared to other players. Drea tried to make a big move late in the game by using her Knowledge is Power in tandem with Omar to cancel Mike’s idol and send him home, but Omar took advantage of Drea, instead saving Mike and blindsiding Drea, leaving her in complete shock and reeling from the unexpected exit. Her composure and analytical mind made her a strong strategist, but she didn’t have the social game to back up her moves when the target focused on her in the late game.
Season — Survivor 41 (8th)
Survivor Resume — “Mafia Pastor”. Her villain jingle. Tight alliance with Ricard. Put together a “Survivor Cookout” alliance. Suspect twitter behavior.
Entering Survivor 41, Pastor Shan wanted to ditch the religious label and let herself concoct the cutthroat gameplay she aimed to achieve. For the first half of the season, things went swimmingly for her in the midst of a deteriorating tribe, as Shan and Ricard survived and controlled the Ua tribe’s tribal councils to make the merge with options. Shan made excellent and diabolical strides to set herself up for the future, using her influence on JD to swindle his extra vote advantage from him before sending him home, and secured the beware idol without letting Genie know about it. Once at the merge Shan immediately put together a new alliance based on race, bringing Danny and Deshawn from Luvu and Liana from Yase and an earlier connection at the summit. While the alliance combined with the rest of Luvu’s numbers to hold control of the game, tensions began to flare: especially between Shan and Deshawn. The all-black alliance ended up crumbling due to the deceit and pressure of the game, as Shan is blindsided by Deshawn and Danny at a crucial point of the season. Shan’s strengths as a player shined early on in the season, but once the end-game began her weaknesses ended up being her downfall. It cannot be overstated how much people trusted her in the pre-merge: Brad, JD, Ricard, and Genie all had trust in her for votes due to a great social game, which allowed Shan to pick and choose who she wanted as an ally. She also gets the credit for putting together the strong on-paper all-black alliance after an emotional summit with Liana, which she could have taken credit for in the Final Tribal Council. However, it became clear that Shan’s paranoia and desire for complete control over moves would shoot her in the foot. While in the beginning she was able to steamroll lesser players to follow her, the later the game went the less castaways were willing to let her take charge. Shan and Ricard had plenty of tension while aligned on Ua over advantages, and Shan’s strong opinions in the post-merge was the root of Deshawn’s frustration and eventual flip. If Shan was willing to be a follower sometimes over being the leader, there’s a real chance Shan is at the end with the best resume in Survivor 41.
Season — Millennials v Gen X (9th), Gamechangers (10th)
Survivor Resume — Aggressive social strategist, getting outed as trans by Jeff Varner
Zeke spent a two season run on Survivor very much in the spotlight. In Millennials vs Gen X, Zeke turned a poor situation on the Millennials tribe into a swing position by the time the merge came about, due to a social game that allowed him to build bonds with Gen Xers Chris and David after a tribe swap. He rose to claim the power with a blindside of Chris, then confirmed this power after a tied vote was sent to rocks and his group came out the better. If not for Will flipping sides and voting out Zeke, he was set up to ride in the power position up to the very end. Zeke immediately returns for Game Changers. Zeke is in a more comfortable position strategically and socially from a game perspective, but has to deal with Jeff Varner outing him in a desperately stupid strategic move. Thankfully Zeke gets a lot of support from people, and he enters the merge again in a position to make some big moves. At the merge Zeke has to adapt to attempts to blindside him for a while, but he is able to politic his way through a few votes before Andrea is able to send him home. Over his two seasons, Zeke showed off an ability to make social connections yet not let that blind him from making the big move. He gained a lot of power in the pre-merge portion of both his seasons, and went into merges with power. But with power comes responsibility, and the target he garnered became too big to ignore. Zeke’s fatal flaw was how trigger happy he was in power, essentially giving everyone a reason to vote him out by the final ten.
Season — Blood vs Water (5th)
Survivor Resume — A former (and more successful) Big Brother player implant into Survivor. Underdog fight against the Tyson-led alliance.
Hayden used his Big Brother social skills to great success as he was included in the Blood vs Water cast as Kat from One World’s boyfriend. Hayden found a solid alliance in the pre-merge with Caleb, Ciera, Tyson and Gervase that held control of the game right after the post-merge. Hayden and Caleb got wise to the winner’s resume Tyson was building and began schemes to blindside him, but Ciera wasn’t so keen on it and exposed the duo, putting them solidly on the outs. Hayden scrambles hard enough to convince Ciera to flip back to his side with Katie, and what could have been a chalk tribal council ends up going to rocks. It would be the most Tyson’s safe position was threatened all season. While the shot in the dark gambit failed, Hayden still fought aggressively with Ciera to flip Monica to their side, but were unable to get her to move off her alliance and Hayden went home. It’s a disappointment that Hayden didn’t get a second chance to play while a different Big Brother player did, but for a one season run he was quite an impressive all-around political player.
44. Jonathan Penner
Season — Philippines (7th)
Survivor Resume — A top-tier Survivor narrator and entertainer
The final form of Jonathan Penner was truly something to watch in the Philippines. He was incredibly charming throughout the season while supplementing the entertainment with a strong social game that kept him in a good position up until the final seven, despite being a major target from day one due to a crusade by Jeff Kent to get returners out. His game broke apart mainly due to having to rely on Lisa, who ended up cutting him off as a threat to win after Abi-Maria won immunity in a challenge where she bought an advantage at the auction. Maybe given a day or two more he could have talked his way out of trouble. All in all, it was a fitting end to the Johnathan Penner Survivor trilogy as he finished his career as a player at the peak of his powers.
Season — San Juan del Sur (6th)
Survivor Resume — Jaclyn’s fiance. Goofy demeanor but a tragic backstory. Swing vote at the merge. Winning confidence crushed by a Natalie led blindside.
Few players carry the personal confidence that they would absolutely win the season, while actually having a resume that could do it. Jon was one of those players who found himself as the swing vote at key portions of the game and had his signature blindside, but that overconfidence got the best of him at the very end. While the start of his game was shaky through an alliance with Drew the egomaniac, a tribe swap paired him with his fiance Jaclyn and put them in the middle between two other loved one pairs. At that tribe they paired up with Missy and Baylor, and took that alliance to the merge. Jon and Jaclyn then chose Jeremy over Josh in another key swing vote position in the first merge vote, and they could’ve rode that all the way to the final six. However, Jon saw Jeremy as a big threat and blindsided him with Missy before he could “get got”. After that move he felt super confident that the alliance would hold and he could ride it to the end with Jaclyn (despite some arguments on the island), but Natalie secretly schemed against him and finally executed the blindside in the final six. Jon had the resume but was blinded by his own power and thought that he had total control of the game, while sneakier players plotted behind the scenes. Even so, his big moves in San Juan Del Sur have to respected.
Season — Blood vs Water (4th), Second Chance (10th), Gamechangers (First Out)
Survivor Resume — “She voted out her Mom!” Flipped sides to send BvW final six to rocks. Minority alliance with Wentworth, Abi-Maria, and Kass in Second Chance. A pioneer of the “big moves only” playstyle
Ciera, the daughter of Laura Morett and young mother, was the breakout star of the new Blood vs. Water cast for her aggressive game and for looking to make the big move. She was part of a powerful five person alliance that trumped any alliance she would have with her own mother, whom of the pair she directed the strategy of despite being the first-time player. While the magnitude made of voting against her own Mom is a bit of a meme now, It has been what defines her as a player: someone who will do whatever she can to move her own game ahead, in whatever moment. Her biggest string of moves happened in that first season in Blood vs. Water. She made the merge with that five-person alliance and chose to defend Tyson and Gervase at first by exposing a blindside plan against them. She continued to use her political game to defend the alliance until she saw no path to victory, and flipped sides in a last ditch move to get Tyson out on rocks. Even when it failed, she worked hard to politic against Monica and sow distrust between her and Tyson and Gervase. It made for an excellent underdog season, which got her invited back for Second Chance. Ciera continued to take control of her own game, as with her rivalry with Savage where she orchestrated a blindside on his ally Woo. She catalyzed the game in Second Chance by preaching big moves to move your own game forward over your alliance at the post merge with Wentworth, but went home after Fishbach was saved by an idol through Jeremy. Ciera was ready to do more of that in Game Changers but her tribe lost the first challenge, and she was voted out because of physical weakness and past reputation. Ciera as a player never saw more success than her first season, but you have to acknowledge the playstyle that she helped usher in for future seasons. She always put her own in-game success over the success of an alliance, which meant always looking to push forward the blindside or the “big move” in order to eliminate the biggest threat before it was too late. It was a strategy that in the same vein made it difficult to her to make it to the end, as it makes everyone who aligns with you see you as a ticking time bomb who could choose to send you home just like that.
Season — Survivor 41 (5th)
Survivor Resume — Alliance with Shan as Ua survivors. Later blindsided Shan. A calculated sassy strategist who others painted as threat number one.
Few player’s stock were higher on their way out of Survivor 41 than Ricard, who got the hero’s exit in the final five. He survived the slaughtering of Ua along ally Shan and went into the merge a bit of a lone wolf, tangentially tied to the all-black alliance Shan had put together. Ricard was safe until the final eight, when Danny and Deshawn began to feel threatened by Ricard as a sneaky favorite to win and a key side alliance for Shan and her influence. While Shan decided Ricard was worth keeping around, Ricard had other plans. After winning a huge immunity, Ricard flipped the script on Shan and led the blindside of her, drastically shifting the power dynamics of the season. Ricard’s big move made him target number one for a ton of the remaining castaways, but because of another immunity win and the shifting numbers post-Shan, Ricard snuck his way to final five, getting one vote and firemaking challenge away from the final tribal council. Some phrases like “best to never win” were being thrown around in his tribal council sendoff, and while he did have a clean season, that’s a bit of a stretch.
Season — Island of the Idols (Winner)
Survivor Resume — A behind the scenes player. Alliance with Lauren.
The best aspects of Tommy’s Island of the Idols victory to point to would be the legwork he did to make the victory happen. Tommy started in the Vokai tribe and earned himself a strong position there with his social game and ability to connect with plenty of players, and he had a strong strategic number one in Lauren to work within that group. After an unfortunate tribe swap put his game in jeopardy he slid into the merge and got right back with his original tribemates to stay in the majority for the second half of the game. As his key ally Lauren’s threat level went up, Tommy worked his social game to keep players like Janet, Dean and Noura in his good graces, allowing him to avoid blindside when Dean alerted him to a scheme against him during one tribal council, and allowed him to skip over the firemaking challenge for a spot in the final tribal council due to Noura picking him despite his apparent lack of fire skills. Once at final tribal council Tommy made his case for a consistently strong start to finish social and political game over Dean’s flashy advantages, and he was rewarded in kind by the jury with an 8–2–0 victory. Tommy’s victory was well-earned through consistent social maneuvering, despite it lacking a flashy move to completely round out the resume. If posed with fighting against another similar player like Lauren in the final three maybe Tommy doesn’t win out, but he made the strategic moves days in advance with both Noura and Dean to avoid that route to the best of his ability, and it paid off when Lauren lost in fire.
39. Lauren Beck
Season — Island of the Idols (4th)
Survivor Resume — Well liked among the castaways. Alliance with Tommy. Cried a lot more than the average contestant.
Lauren found her groove as a social player on Island of the Idols with a strong ally in Tommy to rely on strategically. Early on in the Vokai tribe she was in a good position strategically after successfully campaigning to vote out Molly, but a tribe swap and a Elaine steal-a-vote almost tore her game apart. The swapped tribe doesn’t see tribal council again until the merge though, and Lauren is able to re-establish her position in the game as the Vokai tribe realigned with some additional castaways like Aaron, Elizabeth, Missy, and Elaine to vote out Kellee and take control of the vote. Lauren continued to play a safe but strong game, with her biggest highlight being a successful IOTI mini-challenge where she was able to predict the winner of the next challenge while manipulating the optional portion of the immunity to her favor. By the time the late game rolled around the other castaways acknowledged her strong season and once at the final four, it became clear that Lauren was going to have to earn her place in firemaking. Lauren couldn’t beat Dean and is sent to the jury as its last member. Lauren relied on strong alliances (especially with Tommy) and played in the majority, but her social game and likability elevated her threat level above others she was playing alongside. She would have had a great chance to win the season if she made the final three, but the bonds she had were not stronger than the threat she posed. It’s great showing from a player who didn’t really have to be stretched strategically.
38. Wendell Holland
Season — Ghost Island (Winner), Winners at War (13th)
Survivor Resume — Sociable member of the Naviti alliance. Making furniture at camp. Friendship with Dom. Won the first ever tied FTC. A villain edit in Winners at War. Michele’s “ex”.
While Wendell’s ally Dom took the reins from the hard strategy standpoint, Wendell played the slow burn social game in Ghost Island. Early on he championed tribe unity by trying to mediate between the big personalities of Chris and Dom, and he made people comfortable by working hard and building furniture around camp. He built connections with players like Sebastian and Laurel which helped him stay safe when the game got more cutthroat at the back end of the season. When he sat at the end holding an equal resume to Dom’s he could not take the lead ownership of the moves the two of them made. But what Wendell could do was champion a calm and collected social game that Dom’s paranoid nature would not allow him to have, and in the end his kinship with Laurel won him a million dollars with Survivor’s first ever tiebreaker vote. Wendell went out to play a more aggressive strategic game in his second season, and not get pigeonholed into the tribe’s resident furniture-maker. He started off well by hopping into Yul’s alliance but a tribe swap put him in a weird spot with former fling Michele. Wendell responded with a shaky tribal council performance where he was openly trying to leverage fire tokens with Parvati in return for his vote which left people on the tribe feeling sour about his unpredictable gameplay. Once the tribes merged Wendell was unceremoniously sent out of the game. In Wendell’s first season he used a great social game to make up the difference in strategic power between him and Dom and forced the tie, which benefited him due to having a better relationship with Laurel. When Wendell tried to get in his strategic bag on Winners at War it wasn’t as well received by his tribemates, either due to preconceived perceptions or Wendell’s pushiness and prickliness that came up during his strategic conversations. I think Wendell deserved his win in Ghost Island, but I would also say he is one of the few winners whose stock went down in Season 40.
Season — South Pacific (4th), Gamechangers (12th)
Survivor Resume — Premier Survivor provider, volunteering to be voted out and sent to redemption island, returning to the game from redemption island twice in a game
Ozzy played maybe the best “underdog season” in the history of Survivor in South Pacific. which is crazy to think about given his reputation from Cook Islands and Micronesia as one of the best physical threats in Survivor. Redemption Island as a twist is perfectly made for someone who can live alone and off nothing but the wilderness, and for someone who thrives in challenges. Ozzy checks those boxes. Returning for his third season, Ozzy wanted to play a more strategic game, so he began building his alliance and found an idol. He hits a setback after his ally Elyse is unexpectedly blindsided and he wants to burn bridges, but instead proposes a plan where his tribe votes him to Redemption Island coupled with some bad acting, so he can return at the merge and avoid losing numbers to Coach’s tribe. However, due to Cochran’s flip, he and his alliance were systematically eliminated. But Ozzy thrived at Redemption Island, returning to the game a second time at the final five. If he won the final immunity challenge instead of Sophie, Ozzy probably wins for his efforts at Redemption Island. He’s one of the few Survivor players to receive a standing ovation after his official exit from the game, so you can’t tell me he wouldn’t have beaten Coach, Sophie, and Albert at final tribal council. Ozzy gets a fourth season with a return in Game Changers, but this Ozzy is past his prime. He isn’t the same challenge beast he used to be, and he is voted out right after the merge. Did Ozzy live up to the legend in the New School era? Is Ozzy’s South Pacific better than his performance in the Cook Islands? Maybe. South Pacific Ozzy played one of the best “Old School” games with assistance from Redemption Island in the New School era. He didn’t have to rely purely on a strategic or social game to have success, because his challenge prowess could reign supreme. That’s not so different from the Cook Islands, where he could just win challenges to get further after joining Yul’s alliance. Ozzy attempted to play strategic, but he didn’t find success because of his brain. It’s exactly what we expect from Ozzy, and that is shown in Game Changers where he is older and sat more in the background in a strategic based season.
Season — Survivor 42 (2nd)
Survivor Resume — All about the trust. Consistently stabbed people in the back. Strong start to finish strategic game.
Mike was a straight shooter, or at least gave off the impression of a straight shooter, and it served him excellently during his run on Survivor 42. Early on Mike built an early alliance with Jenny and looked like he was set up well to succeed from Day One. But the game almost blew up at the third tribal council of the season: because he and Chanelle couldn’t vote due to risky advantages Vati had a deadlocked vote, and in the aftermath Mike left tribal with one ally less. But Mike turned a bad result into a long term win: he rejected working with Daniel and Chanelle who caught the heat of the messy tribal council and moved into an alliance with Hai, which progressed into the majority alliance at the merge where Mike had a hand in the strategic workings of the group. His straightforward honesty became a sword and a shield now: Mike made a strong masculine bond with Jonathan that would pay dividends in the future and he worked as both a follower and a leader. He followed knowingly on the Rocksroy vote, he was influenced but led the blindside on Hai, he led the blindside on Drea, then he helped set in motion the plan to blindside Omar that Maryanne would execute. And he did all this without anyone thinking that Mike, the teddy bear of a firefighter, would ever backstab then. It was almost perfect when Mike went into the final tribal council looking like a favorite to win, but he played his hand wrong. Mike chose to highlight honesty and loyalty as the reason he was able to get far, but the jury thought his genuine approach was more strategy and were disappointed to hear Mike the gamer wasn’t as intricate as his reputation showed. Mike gets a single vote for the million dollars and watches Maryanne win Survivor 42. While Mike wasn’t quite the brain that his moves made him out to be, his honesty and genuine social game was still quite impressive as it made other castaways downplay the threat he really was in the votes.
35. Coach Wade
Season — South Pacific (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Dragonslayer, head of his alliance all the way to the end
In the previous season, Boston Rob ran a cult-like alliance that dominated to the end and led to his victory. This season in the South Pacific, Benjamin “Coach” Wade went and did the same thing. On day one he created a five person alliance of himself, Sophie, Albert, Rick, and Brandon Hantz that would run the show for a majority of the game. On top of the alliance of five, Coach also kept some side alliances to help keep numbers in votes. Coach had Edna as a sixth to protect, even though he didn’t have much interest in moving her up the alliance order. At the merge, Coach used the persona to woo Cochran over to his side, with no intention of letting him break into the core group. While Boston Rob wore the general hat to keep his alliance together, Coach would wear the metaphorical robes of the clergy: religion was used heavily by Coach as an influencer to build the unity, especially with the young born-again fervent Christian Brandon Hantz. Those types of strategies is what contributed to Coach losing at final tribal council: while Coach was clearly the leader in his alliance and made so many of the decisions on who gets voted out when (with input for Albert and Sophie), there was an air of ego and insecurity to Coach that Boston Rob did not have. It manifested itself in final tribal council; while the eventual winner Sophie owned her game, Coach seems to want to distance himself from the less savory aspects of his control and was apologetic to the jury. It’s what lost him the season in a 3–6 vote. It was Coach’s season to lose, and that’s what he did. But don’t let the last 5% take away from how great he played the first 95%.
34. Brad Culpepper
Season — Blood vs Water (15th), Gamechangers (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Monica’s football husband. Ran the show on the BvW family member tribe. Winning challenges in Game Changers.
Entering the Survivor world as Monica’s husband and former football player, Brad came out the gates very fast in Blood vs. Water, leading the dominant guys alliance in the loved ones tribe and determining the first three people to be voted over to Redemption Island. His “kingpin” status caught a ton of heat from loved ones on the other tribe, with many demanding that his tribe step up and vote Brad out. It would eventually come to fruition in a last second tribal council move by Caleb and a Vytas flip, sending Brad out early, but not before undoubtedly making his mark on the game. In Game Changers, Brad toned down the aggressive move-making game style for a more nuanced social approach, making connections with various players that allowed him to build the majority alliance in the post-merge section of the season. Once the alliance fell apart, Brad kept power by simply winning immunity. He won five of the last six immunity challenges, allowing him to have a say in much of the flow of the late game. While Brad had a solid resume for the final tribal council, Sarah’s was just a bit more impressive to the jury and left Brad in second place with a 3 to 7 vote. Brad had a great all-around skill set for the game: he could think strategically, he could play socially, and he could compete at a high level in the challenges. His intensity was his biggest flaw over his two seasons, as it made him a target or soured him with people, like Tai in Game Changers where his bully attitude towards the end was off-putting.
Season — Heroes v Healers v Hustlers (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Stay-at-home mom turned challenge beast. Friendship turned rivalry with Ben the Marine.
During her time in Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, Chrissy’s strength as a player grew as the season went on. She went from throwing up at the first challenge to winning multiple individual immunities, and as a strategic and social player became more confident with time. She used a day one super idol as currency for a tight alliance with Ryan (the person who gifted it to her) and saved that idol itself to use as a fake in the final six, which would be an incredibly smart play if Ben had not found the real idol the night before. She’s one of the rare older women in Survivor that grew into a power player. She built relationships that got her through the early votes with Ben and Ryan, and when the numbers flipped on her late in the game she won immunities for the self-preservation to reach the end. Her resume, more than many other good players, is that of a winner with the strategic, physical and storyline accolades, but Ben’s fight against the majority (and a firemaking twist that did not allow for him to be voted out in the final four) made it too hard for her to win.
Season — Kaoh Rong (4th)
Survivor Resume — Muscles. Blindsiding the Beauty/Brawn alliance in Kaoh Rong.
Cydney was in a good position with her Brawn tribemates heading into the merge of Kaoh Rong, but decided to take the game into her own hands. The Ivy League educated bodybuilder, annoyed by Nick’s arrogance, rounded up the girls and took control of the game by blindsiding Nick in the first merge vote, and from then on ran much of the post-merge strategy with Aubry to blindside Debbie and pick off the rest of the brawn alliance. Once the game reached the conclusion Cydney connected with Michele in hopes of reaching the final tribal council with her, but lost in firemaking to Aubry, missing out on a real chance to win the season. Strategically Cydeny was in a great position all season, and you have to wonder what made Cydney diverge from playing with Aubry for Michele at the end. Maybe it was the social allure to hanging out with Michele or the belief that Aubry beats her in FTC; regardless, she built a nice resume off smart strategic play. The one what-if left is if she would have gotten the votes, given that the guys she backstabbed were in the jury.
Season — David vs Goliath (7th)
Survivor Resume — Supernerd. Uses big words. Won a 5 hour challenge. Survived longer than usual despite being labeled a threat early.
From minute one you know exactly what you are getting from Christian as a character: he is the eccentric nerd who sets himself apart from other people as a personality. While Christian was nervous that he wouldn’t be able to connect socially or be accepted by tribemates, he had no issues making allies: in fact, he thrived on his social game early. Christian had made alliances with Gabby, Nick (the “Mason-Dixon Line”), and John and Dan (“The Brochachos”) which kept him in a great position before the merge. Once at the merge Christian was painted by the Goliaths as the biggest threat because of his social game, concluding that his universal likability would be unbeatable in the end. It would have been easy for Christian to just get booted at the merge, but his alliances with fellow Davids came in the clutch, as advantages were used by Davie, Nick and Carl to protect his place in the game. Christian then collaborated with Gabby to blindside Carl, then saved himself with a hidden idol after Gabby decided to turn on him. Unfortunately, that perceived threat level stayed high throughout the post-merge, and Christian was voted out (somewhat confusingly) advantageless in the final seven. Christian was a David but his game felt like a “Favorites” type game: he was bursting with personality and filled up his season resume with strategic blindsides and entertaining moments, most notably when he beat Alec in a hotly contested torture challenge.
Season — Heroes v Healers v Hustlers (4th)
Survivor Resume — Good guy Devon, part of the Ben Lauren trio that flipped the post-merge of HvHvH on its head
For a player who physically stands out with looks, Devon was surprisingly able to find his way in Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers by playing an alliance and a trust-based game. Early on in the Hustlers tribe Devon made an alliance with Ryan where he was ok with being more of the number two (at least that’s how Ryan had advertised it in confessionals). Devon safely made the merge and joined the Heroes and Hustlers alliance that looked to vote out the remaining healers. Within that alliance he had made a tighter connection with Ben and lost some trust in Ryan as he learned that an immunity idol that Ryan had “exclusively” shared with him was not so exclusive. On a reward he becomes a key part of an alliance with Lauren and Ben that blindsided JP and backstabbed Ryan and Chrissy, coming up with the plan to have Ben play “undercover” on the vote. Once Ben became enemy number one Devon was on a safe path to the end, and saved himself in the final five by throwing a vote towards Mike to force a tie when Ben played his third idol. Devon ends up going home on fire in the final four. While Devon was never the “mastermind” of an alliance, he was always a key piece in the game, using his honest social game to build trust with people. He had a great chance of becoming a Survivor winner if he was able to beat Ben in fire.
Season — Survivor 41 (Winner)
Survivor Resume — Behind the scenes social player. Tight alliance with Heather. Used the hourglass twist. Under edited for a winner.
Erika’s sneaky strong season in Survivor 41 that benefited from the hourglass twist earned her the victory. Erika started on the strongest tribe in Survivor 41 and didn’t see a tribal council pre-merge. However, she seemingly was facing an awful situation entering the merge, as a twist put her on exile island while being part of a group of half the castaways in danger of being voted out. Her former Luvu tribemates were more than happy to vote her out, as people like Deshawn and Danny had already considered throwing a challenge to send her home as a strategic threat. But as it turns out, she received the hourglass twist that allowed her to completely flip the results of the previous immunity challenge, guaranteeing her safety and completely changing the dynamics of the future of the game. Erika remained in relative safety, sticking mainly with Luvu but only truly having allegiance to her number one ally Heather. She was only truly targeted by Shan, but after her blindside Erika slid unscathed all the way to the final tribal council, where the respect she earned as a non-threatening Survivor threat got her the vast majority of the jury votes. Erika had no big moves to her name and she wasn’t a major character in the season beyond the hourglass twist: but some of that was on purpose (and some of that was Survivor’s editing). Erika wanted to lean into her smaller presence with a low-key game, and it worked because it was acknowledged and recognized by her peers. She played smart, flexibly, had a vote in her pocket in Heather, and peaked right as the end-game was beginning.
Season — South Pacific (Winner), Winners at War (10th)
Survivor Resume — Key member of Coach’s cult alliance. Winning Final Tribal Council performance. Sneaky good WaW performance.
Definitely the Survivor winner that I wrote the least notes on in a season. She aligned herself early with Albert and Coach, and the three of them dominated the strategy of the season. The trio used Rick, Edna, Brandon, and Cochran as numbers to dictate just about every vote from day one to day thirty nine. While Coach was the figurehead of the alliance, Sophie contributed to the strategic choices, and once she got to final tribal council she owned her game while Coach was non-committal and apologetic, which earned her a 6–3 victory over him from the jury. Coach and Ozzy’s dominant presence on the season and the lack of interesting strategy as a whole in South Pacific hurt Sophie’s winning legacy, though you have to give her props for beating Ozzy in the final immunity challenge. Because Coach was in the position of manipulating a lot of the extra numbers to vote with them (Edna, Cochran, Brandon), it makes South Pacific feel a lot like Coach choked the win away with a great resume rather than Sophie taking it. So when Sophie returned a part of the Winners at War cast, it was important for Sophie to validate her winners legacy. She proved herself capable in a stacked winners cast, being a part of multiple alliances (one with Yul, one with Sarah) to keep herself in a very comfortable position while having a hidden immunity idol in her back pocket. It looked like Sophie could coast her way to finale day, but Tony put together a last second move to blindside her out of the game, because of how tight she was aligned with Sarah. But Sophie had done her job protecting her legacy: she improved on her winning season strategically and showed that she is one of the best alliance players in the new school era, using strong bonds to ensure safety and keep her threat level low to those who aren’t locked in.
Season — Millennials v Gen X (4th), Edge of Extinction (11th)
Survivor Resume — Really skinny and not at all prepared for the survival aspect, fake idoling Jay, big used car salesman charm/energy, friendship with Rick Devens
A production darling, David overcame his own fears in his first season to get out of his shell and play the aggressive Survivor game he always dreamed of. David joined his Gen X tribe and was immediately scared of all things wilderness and paranoid that he could be voted out at any moment. But once he got a few days under his belt and a few allies on his side, the social and strategic chops he had began to shine. David connected early on with Ken and saved Jessica with an idol to build a strong alliance base, and took that into the merge to wield a lot of power. He was seen as a big threat due to his story, but he recovered from losing Jessica to rocks to bring in young Will to vote out his rival Zeke in the next tribal council. David was able to further slither his way through the game, highlighted by a brutal fake idol play against underdog Jay, all the way to the final four when his number one ally in Ken finally turned around to vote him out right before the final tribal council. In a firemaking challenge season it was very possible that David could have earned his way to the end, where he had a chance to beat out Adam. David returned to play a second season on a tribe with Kelley Wentworth and a bunch of first time players, where he played the same type of game. David had a tight alliance with Rick Devens and talked his way into the merge until he was voted out as a strategic threat. Being placed on a poorly performing tribe early on left too big of a hole for David to dig out of. David in his two season run used his car salesman-like charm and strategic ingenuity to great success, but he was always hampered by having to rely on a strategic and social game that was too aggressive. That aggression raised his threat level, and he wasn’t going to be winning too many immunities to protect himself when it mattered.
Season — Redemption Island (5th), Caramoan (7th), Gamechangers (8th)
Survivor Resume — Flirtation with Matt. Consensus most threatening player of Rob’s cult. Breakout sophomore performance. Idol-blocking Malcolm’s idol search. Aggressive new-school strategist.
Andrea Boehlke entered the Survivor universe as part of the dominant Boston Rob alliance, making it to the final six until being consensus blindsided as a threat. While she didn’t get much chance to shine (other than winning her way back into play through Redemption Island), she was viewed as a good player, and among the allies of Boston Rob was most likely to lead a blindside through a flirtation with Matt. She learned her lesson from her first season and came to play in Fans vs. Favorites with a breakout performance. She was much more aggressive in building alliances and controlling the vote, often looking like the true strategic mastermind over figurehead Phillip in the “Spies-R-Us” alliance. She led the crusade against Malcolm and used her charm to win people over socially. People saw her threat and chose to blindside Andrea herself over going with Andrea’s blindside ideas. It was a season of establishment for Andrea: after Boston Rob outshined just about everyone in Redemption Island, Andrea was able to prove her Survivor ability in a season full of returners. And while Andrea was not a primary character (or even a secondary character at times early on) in Game Changers, she established allies to make it safely to the merge, and later on called shots to blindside Zeke and vote out Sierra. Andrea over her three seasons is a proven strategist and big game player, but was never able to get over the hump. She was an impact player in higher difficulty returner seasons so you have to put the respect on her name. Her aggressive mastermind playstyle made her an easy person to target for blindsides in the final third of seasons, because she had a clear Survivor resume by that point of the game, and her elimination could then become someone else’s resume builder.