The Ultimate New-School Survivor Player Rankings: #75–51
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 75 of new school players, and there is a lot more to say about these castaways. We are closing in on some of the best of the best, but we must first recognize the better of the better. You can make the case for every player in this part of the list to be considered an A tier Survivor player. Some cases are stronger than others: but still, the case can be made.
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 challenges the show has had in the past twenty two seasons. This list is incredibly subjective, but a fun thought experiment. Oftentimes I turn my brain off during challenges because there is no typical Survivor gameplay going on, but every now and then a challenge stands out and becomes the highlight of an episode. The immunity challenge is vital to the game as a whole, and Survivor wouldn’t be Survivor without.
For this list, I made the rule that the challenge had to DEBUT in SEASON 21 OR LATER. There are many classic challenges that would sit in the top ten, but it’s more fun to look at how the challenge creators have evolved recently. Any challenge that the Survivor Wiki stated was used in season 21 or later was considered, a grand total of 74 unique challenges. Here is the list of the best of the best I came up with.
- Balancing Point (21,25)
The Survivor Wiki has differentiated this challenge from a very similar one involving plates and bowls, allowing the challenge to be included in the list. Swords are cool, so by the transitive property balancing coins on the hilt of a sword is cool too.
- Splash Back (21,24,26,27,30,39)
A simple but strong endurance challenge, involving people holding horizontally over the ocean. Allows for good banter which every endurance challenge has to have, but is a bit too simple to crack the top ten.
- A Numbers Game (22,27,37)
The simplicity of this challenge is what makes it so enjoyable. Everyone (hopefully) can count, but counting under pressure ramps up the difficulty.
- Game of Bridge (23,27,36)
I’ve noticed that puzzle challenges are surprisingly absent from the top of this list. I guess puzzles are the part of a challenge most commonly reused from older seasons. For a puzzle-focused challenge, the creativity of using bridge planks are pieces for two vastly different puzzles makes the nerd in me happy.
- Keep on your Toes (28,30,34,38,41)
A brutal endurance challenge that keeps castaways uncomfortable by having them balance a wood block between their head and a board while on their tippy-toes. HAs had good moments throughout the seasons, but compared to other endurance challenges it doesn’t have the same potential for banter, because the task takes too much focus.
- EOC (29,34,43)
This is the challenge designed by a make-a-wish kid that shattered Missy’s ankle in San Juan Del Sur. When you read the concept (based on obstacles representing elements), you see how creative the kid was in creating it. Clearly production agreed, since the challenge is still used today.
- Air Raid (30,31,35,36)
Slingshot challenges are a staple of the immunity challenge seasonal rotation, but are usually pretty lame. But put a slingshot fifty feet in the air… now we’re talking.
- Angry Chair (33,34)
One of those challenges where the work to build the contraption does not justify the final result, or the danger it probably puts the person being whisked around at warp speeds 20 feet in the air to reach out and collect hanging boards. But it does look dope.
10. Spit it Out (21,22)
Incredible ingenuity from the challenge creators here. “Let’s make a challenge where we strap contestants to a giant spinning wheel, repeatedly waterboard them, and have them spit the water they swallow into a cup.” I think I understand why the challenge didn’t survive its two season split because it must be incredibly unsafe, but I have to give credit where credit is due: this is one of the most interesting challenge contraptions ever created.
9. Bow Diddley (23,28,31,33,38,41,42)
A staple of post-merge Survivor is the ball-balancing challenge. Balance a ball on a plate, balance a ball on a stick, balance a ball between a rolling pin and a wall, balance a ball within a circular track. I believe the most intriguing iteration of the challenge is the bow, a challenge that no pre-show prep can really prepare you for. I’ve watched this challenge seven times and I’m still not sure what exactly is the best strategy to handle the bow, or how exactly the bow works, which makes the challenge so good.
8. Rise and Shrine (28,29,36,39,40,41)
One of the most interesting obstacles that Survivor has been using consistently recently is the large wall where a tribe must find a way to get everyone to the top of. This multiple wall iteration with a puzzle at the top is one of the best large tribe challenges they do in my opinion, as it requires all facets of skill (brute strength, ingenuity, dexterity, and puzzle smarts) to complete.
7. House of the Holey (30,37,38,40)
A great dexterity challenge, and allows for a variety of boards to be used. It is a better twist on past horizontal iterations of the challenge, because it is easier to compare progress and ramp up drama when people are near completion (see Edge of Extinction).
6. The Game is Afoot (29,31,35,41)
No, this challenge isn’t ranked so high because I have a thing for feet. I do not have a thing for feet. I swear, this isn’t a foot thing. The creativity of the challenge to throw a hands-free variable into a simple stacking project gives this challenge added tension and dramatics every time they use it. And pretty much anyone can win it, because this isn’t something people do in their daily life.
5. Cell Block Sea (26,28,34,36,38,43)
One of the best physically demanding challenges Survivor uses in the new school era. It challenges both the swimming skills of its castaways and the teamwork to lift an extremely heavy object over a tall cage in the ocean. Also, snakes are cool, and the big object is usually a snake. If there is a weak link, they get exposed here.
4. You Shook Me (35,39)
The best recently introduced final challenge Survivor has had in recent seasons. It takes a surgeon’s hand to complete and really amps up the drama in a late immunity challenge. Obviously the challenge’s big moment was in its original season, when Ben had one letter upside down which lost him immunity against Chrissy. I’m sure we’ll be seeing this challenge more often in the future.
3. Draggin the Dragon (28,31,40,42)
One of the most creative team challenges, castaways must use a chariot to gather keys, but later disassemble the chariot to pass through an obstacle. They then repair the chariot to finish the course, and then use gathered pieces to finish a dragon puzzle. It’s debut is well remembered as the challenge the Brains tribe royally sucked at, foreshadowing their success as a whole.
2. Uncomfortably Numb (29,32,37,41,42)
If we are looking for a challenge that is consistently great and can be won by anyone, this one I think fits the bill. It has consistently offered highlights in the seasons it has been used, notably San Juan Del Sur, David v Goliath, and Survivor 42. The ability to show off castaways heart and drive, while not being so demanding that it eliminates challenge banter is a beautiful balance this torture challenge combines. Its simplicity is what makes it beautiful.
1. A Bit Tipsy (27,29,32,34,35,36,37,38,40,41,42)
There’s a reason Survivor has used this challenge eleven times since its introduction. It’s creative and takes touch to do, and more importantly, it is very easy to put a spin on yet keep what makes it good. The base challenge just involved stacking the blocks, then they added the word immunity to force castaways to think about order. Then they created a team version of the challenge. Then they added a funky rocking beam to amp the difficulty. Its versatility while still keeping the critical thinking open for players to experiment, while holding over everyone the ticking clock of finishing first makes it the best challenge (in my opinion) in the new school era.
Season — San Juan del Sur (8th)
Survivor Resume — Josh’s boyfriend, coming out of nowhere to dominate the storylines once his boyfriend was voted out, jury speech against Missy
Up until his boyfriend Josh was voted out, Reed’s Survivor performance was nothing of note. Then, once he knew he had to fight for his spot and didn’t have to tank his loved one’s game in the process, Reed stepped up his game dramatically by working to make deals, get ahead of his competition, and cause chaos in the process. He was the brains of the post-merge minority alliance, coming real close to getting off a sneaky blindside on frontrunner Jon only to be thwarted by an idol and Keith’s cluelessness. He went out with a bang rather than a whimper by ratcheting up the intensity with his fights with Missy and Baylor, and you have to wonder what he could have done if he was playing in a non-loved ones season. It seemed he only played hard when he absolutely had to, an sat in the passenger’s seat when he was playing the game with Josh.
Season — Ghost Island (3rd)
Survivor Resume — Cross tribe alliance with Domenick and Wendell that lasted to the end. Competitive nature.
Throughout her time on Ghost Island, Laurel proved she had the strategic and social mindset to be a power player. What was missing from her game was the innate risk-taking you have to do to set yourself in a position to win. As the tribe she began with was picked off one by one, Laurel kept safe and even had power in the game with an alliance with Dom, Wendell, and Donathan. She was essentially safe for the entire game and reached the final tribal council, but got no votes. She had all the tools to put together a winning game but she repeatedly turned down plans to blindside Dom and Wendell. While the loyalty is appreciated, the two people she didn’t turn on were the two people everyone else saw as the favorites to win, so sitting there at the end with them wasn’t the best course of action.
Season — Nicaragua (4th)
Survivor Resume — Vandalizing Dan’s shoes. Eventual mom of the season and glue girl alliance member.
Holly had a great player glow-up during this season. On Day 5 she was in hysterics and hiding Dan’s shoes in the river only to pull them out and confess to her sin. By the merge she was sacrificing a reward for extra rice for the camp and contributing to key decisions in the dominant alliance with Chase, Jane, and Sash in the final third of the game. If Fabio didn’t win out immunities I think there’s a great chance she makes the end and has a case for deserving sole Survivor over Chase and Sash.
Season — Survivor 41 (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Shifty social player. Succeeded in the do or die twist despite playing the Monty Hall problem wrong. Betrayed his “Survivor Cookout” alliance
Deshawn wanted to be the active strategist and chose to take risks in the back half of his season, for better or worse. Deshawn early on was in a strong position on the dominant Luvu tribe: his partnership with Danny had the most power in the tribe before the merge. At the merge Deshawn moved into Shan’s all-black alliance, but Deshawn wasn’t satisfied with the power balance in the alliance as he felt Shan had a tight grip on the decisions of the group and steamrolled Deshawn’s opinions. When he and Danny wanted to blindside Ricard, Shan shot that down and Deshawn’s name started to float around. That gave Deshawn enough of a push to break with the race-based alliance and send Shan out the door with much personal strife over “doing it for the culture” versus “playing your own game”. While the blindside ultimately benefited Deshawn (he made it to the end and didn’t have Shan with a better resume or Danny with an identical game to go up against), Deshawn felt like he had his back against the wall. He started to take unnecessary shots with emotion based “truth bombs” at players like Erika, and his social game turned into salesman pitches. While Deshawn made the end his sloppier game didn’t compare to Erika’s clean resume and he took 2nd place, earning one jury vote.
Season — Gamechangers (6th)
Survivor Resume — Old school legend. Great social game. First player ever voted out by default.
The legend status of Cirie carried a lot of baggage in Game Changers, but of the “old-school legends” she was able to get the farthest based around her excellent combination of strategic and social gameplay. Everyone playing knew what she excelled at and she was still able to sneak her way into alliances and use her social capital to save Michaela early at the merge, and blindside Andrea with Sarah later on. This season also had the lowest lows for Cirie, none more weighty than the failed use of Sarah’s advantage (which she somehow wriggled out of the heat for that) and her lack of hustle to get an advantage, which led to being the only castaway in Survivor history to get sent home by default. It was an excellent season to cement her legacy, as a great player who could never get to the end.
Season — San Juan del Sur (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Jon’s fiance. Often played second fiddle to Jon until she got annoyed by him and his boys. Opened up about her inability to have kids. Showed her fiery side after Jon was blindsided.
I feel like Jaclyn would have shined more as a character if she played a season without her fiance. She spent most of the game in the passenger seat as Jon ran the strategy, but don’t confuse that as playing backup to Jon. She was the one that chose to go with Jeremy’s alliance over Josh’s alliance at the merge. She also showed some fiery personality moments arguing with Jon, then by going after Natalie post Jon blindside. I think the strength of her game is weakened by being so tied in with Jon who played up to the “power player” edit better, and she was saved in the final five by Natalie’s idol which put her in debt to Natalie and let the eventual winner walk to the end on Jaclyn’s behest.
Season — Nicaragua (2nd)
Survivor Resume — His eventual career in country music (and cameo in Pilot Pete’s season of the Bachelor), flirtation with Brenda, overly emotional gameplay style
Chase was one vote away from winning Survivor, and from a pure strategic sense, he probably deserved to win. If people who quit weren’t allowed to vote on the jury like in future seasons, he did win (both Purple Kelly and Naonka quit, then voted for Fabio to win). Chase was at the head of the strongest alliance of the season which will usually get you the brownie points you need to get majority votes with a jury. Unfortunately for him, it was more about how he did it than what he did. Chase got the most heat for the biggest blindsides in the game, and throughout the game he was perceived as someone who let his heart dictate too many of his decisions. He blindsided people, but played it off as a sad, unfortunate reality rather than part of the game. At the end of the day, his allies understood that but those not involved in the schemes weren’t so willing to give him the title of sole Survivor over the likable Fabio.
Season — Worlds Apart (10th), Second Chance (8th), Edge of Extinction (14th)
Survivor Resume — Golden boy. Good at challenges.
Joe Anglim picked up the golden boy mantle for his three season stretch in Survivor. Joe entered his first season on Worlds Apart as the likable and capable survival expert, quickly earning an excellent reputation among his No Collar tribemates. His strengths were so visible that it made him a target for many from the get go of the season. Joe survived one scare against Vince the coconut vendor and avoided an early exit because Will flipped his vote. Joe survived another scare after a tribe swap, where Joaquin was blindsided instead. Once at the merge the rest of the players could not ignore Joe any longer, and once Joe lost an individual immunity he was sent packing. Joe returned the very next season on Second Chance and played a similar game as the castaway who is an excellent tribemate in the team portion and an excellent target after the merge. On Second Chance he hung around longer because he strung together more individual immunities and was playing with better players (and therefore more threats), but Joe would eventually bite the dust after losing an immunity challenge that he tried so hard to win that he fainted. In Joe’s third season he was going to make a conscious effort to lower his threat level and stay under people’s radar. We soon learned that Joe is simply doomed from the start: his Kama tribemates are set on voting out their two returners, and they vote Joe out at the merge when the opportunity was finally available to them. Joe ultimately was always hit with the curse of competency: he was too naturally good at the physical and survival aspects of the game, which meant that he had to pull together a near perfect social and strategic game to stick around long-term. And Joe was never good enough as a strategic or social player to fall back on that when his physical abilities failed him.
Season — Survivor 42 (4th)
Survivor Resume — Singlehandedly winning a team challenge. Monke run. Wildly impressive physical skills. Rivalry with Lindsay
With Jonathan entering the Survivor landscape in season 42, we are introduced to one of the most physically impressive players to ever play the game. Jonathan had muscles on muscles and incredible coordination in challenges early, peaking with an individual performance in a team challenge where he single-handedly pulled his tribe to immunity victory while the other tribes couldn’t even finish the challenge. Early on strategically Jonathan was able to find his footing as well in an alliance with Omar and Lindsay. Jonathan entered the majority at the merge because of preexisting alliances with Taku tribemates and a new alliance with Mike, but was always viewed as a threat by his allies due to his strength in challenges. A competitive rivalry began to form between him and Lindsay during challenges, which evolved into distaste and hatred from Lindsay later in the game. A lot of this was due to a deterioration in Jonathan’s social game as the elements wore on him and his pushiness to strategize over allies to get his way soured his allies, especially women who felt he was talking over them. Despite being targeted for his physical attributes Jonathan navigated the strategic intricacies of the late game with Mike and assisted him and Maryanne with the Omar blindside, but fell short of making final tribal council after losing in firemaking. While he may not have won over Maryanne or Mike in a final tribal council situation, you have to commend Jonathan as a one-of-one type of player who actually succeeded in playing the shield strategy that many other obvious physical threats failed to execute.
Season — Blood vs Water (9th)
Survivor Resume — Colton’s fiance, led the blindside of Brad
It was a shock for many to see that Colton’s fiance seemed like a completely normal and level-headed person, and in fact a pretty strong Survivor player. Once Colton had quit Caleb knew that he had to start playing harder, and he did just that by making a great tribal council play against Brad and sending him home, completely changing the power of the relatives tribe. He then became a key piece of a “lost loved ones alliance” with Hayden, Gervase, Tyson, Ciera, and Monica in the post-merge. Later in the game he tried to make a move against front-runner Tyson, but he was shut down by Ciera and sent home. If not for his unfortunate passing, I feel confident in saying that Caleb would have gotten another invite for a returner season.
Season — Island of the Idols (7th)
Survivor Resume — Goofy country gal. Class clown around camp. Her social game was respected among the fellow castaways.
The goofy country girl quickly earned a reputation on the Lairo tribe as both a class clown and strong social player, and that defined her solid gameplay on Island of the Idols. Elaine survived early threats against her place in the game when she was targeted for her late-game potential, but her genuine honesty put her into both a girls alliance and a more general group of players who wanted to keep her around over Ronnie in the first vote. Surviving that vote allowed Elaine to establish trust and a presence in the strategy of her tribe, which kept her safe at the tribe swap. When she swapped onto a deadlocked tribe Elaine benefitted from Island of the Idols, and was able to take a chance in the mini-IOTI challenge to get a steal a vote advantage to guarantee the numbers advantage. That extra vote was used to get Jason out of the game and keep Lairo from fracturing. At the merge she joined with the Vokai majority to target Kellee and the other outcasts remaining in the game, but after Missy and Aaron were blindsided Elaine was backed into a corner. She extended her survival in the game with an idol but there was no way out of her fate, and Elaine was sent home shortly before finale night. Elaine was a bit of a casualty of her tribe losing out in the number early, but her social game and ability to build trust with players has to be respected.
Season — Survivor 41 (6th)
Survivor Resume — Former football player. Behind the scenes he almost quit due to the hourglass twist, becoming the driving force for its eventual removal. Husband of Kiki.
Good guy Danny put together a respectable performance in Survivor 41, but his main alliance ran out of steam at the end of the game. Danny was part of a highly successful pre-merge tribe, and established a position at the top of its hierarchy with Deshawn. Even though the hourglass twist tried with all its might to ruin Danny’s game, he settled in nicely post-merge with Shan and Liana. However, as tensions rose between Deshawn and Shan, Danny chose to follow Deshawn in his blindside of Shan, unfortunately leaving him on the outs when new alliance lines formed without him. While Danny was never the star of the season, his general likability made him a standout in Survivor 41, and got him an invite to Challenge USA, where he thrived more. If he were to come back to Survivor, it would have to be a Blood vs Water season where he can bring his lovely wife Kiki.
Season — Cagayan (5th)
Survivor Resume — Tony’s ally. Down for verbal assaults on anyone who crosses her.
Trish was very much the “glue girl” of the dominant Cagayan alliance. She from day one was a team player, as when she was given the choice of extra rice for the tribe or an idol clue for herself, she chose the rice. The other aspect of Trish that defined her in Cagayan was her unfiltered rage towards the people she did not like, particularly Lindsay and Kass who got a mouthful from her (it was enough to make Lindsay quit the game). That side of her makes it difficult to tell if she had any chance of winning, as she was very much a player that people aligned with her liked and people not aligned with her did not like. Tony would eventually vote her out on a blindside, worried about her influence on their alliance and threat of beating him in the end, and Trish would give Tony the business during her jury speech.
Season — Kaoh Rong (3rd), Gamechangers (4th)
Survivor Resume — Pet chickens. Honest soul. Falling apart in the final third of the game.
The dichotomy of Tai is one of the most interesting character arcs in new school Survivor. Tai, the peaceful animal lover on the Beauty tribe in Kaoh Rong, won people over with his unique charm and love for his pet chicken. He transferred that social game into strong strategic positions on his tribe, keeping himself safe despite being someone many would see as a “shoo-in to win” based on his personality. As the pressure ramped up and the game moved closer to the conclusion, Tai started to see his game crumble. He waffled between an alliance with villains Scot and Jason and with strategist Aubry, which climaxed at a tribal council where Tai could have saved Scot with a super idol, but chose not to. Tai stumbled to the finish in Kaoh Rong, being left out of some votes, misusing his advantages, and finishing without getting a jury vote in the Final Tribal Council. Tai gets the invite to Game Changers, where he plays a similar game. He found his way into the majority using his charm, and on top of that was able to find hidden immunity idols a few times over the course of the season. However, just like his first season, when the pressure ramped up at the end of the game Tai struggled, making strategic mistakes at Tribal Council with Ozzy and at camp with Sarah. Tai goes home fourth after a brutal couple days where his game is shut down by Brad Culpepper’s intensity. Tai solidified himself over two seasons as someone who starts strong and falls apart at the finish. In both of his seasons Tai found a good alliance and unearthed hidden immunity idols to set himself up well in the first half of the season, but in the post-merge he makes social and strategic mistakes that ruin his resume. Two key Tai traits seem to be the reason for his second half falters. First off, Tai was bad in tribal councils, often getting himself into hot water with his allies (possibly because English is his second language?) which takes away the weight of possible accomplishment. Secondly, the strategic game he wanted to play went in contrast to the “kind soul” persona he was. Tai wanted to play cutthroat but struggled to execute as he wasn’t a natural deceiver. It’s what often got him the “flipper” label as a player, because people saw his personality and did not equate that with a person who could easily lie to your face. Two players he betrayed in his two seasons (Scot in Kaoh Rong and Brad in Game Changers) were the decisions where you could point at his game and say that is where he began to lose his chances at winning. Regardless, Tai achieved results despite never bringing home the title of Sole Survivor, and that is a nice consolation prize.
Season — David vs Goliath (8th)
Survivor Resume — “Nerd whisperer”. Emotional player with a chip on her shoulder. tight alliance with Christian that she unsuccessfully tried to blindside.
Gabby’s game in Survivor: David vs Goliath came with a lot of ups and downs socially, but strategically went quite well until her demise near the end of the season. On the David tribe, Gabby quickly partnered up with Christian as a self-proclaimed “nerd whisperer” and was able to shift the numbers on her tribe to vote out Jessica over Elizabeth in the first tribal council. It left her in a good position in the game until a tribe swap. At the tribe swap she was still paired with Christian, but the threat of Christian joining up in a guys alliance with John and Dan (they were calling themselves the “Brochachos”) left Gabby feeling very insecure of her position in the game. The tribe doesn’t see tribal council and once at the merge, Gabby sticks with the Davids as Goliaths start to get picked off. Entering the final third of the game Gabby began to feel that she needed to make a big move to differentiate herself from Christian and his large shadow, so he spun the wheels on a blindside on Carl, as the two had a little rivalry going due to Carl’s distrust of her. Carl gets blindsided after Gabby and Christian flip the vote, and now Gabby sets her sights on blindsiding her number one ally. The plan needed to be executed without a leak because of Christian’ hidden idol. but Davie tells Christian about the plan and Christian uses his idol, sending home Gabby instead. When Gabby was able to overcome the emotional stress of the game, she proved to be a strong strategist and someone who understood her path to victory had to be through Christian, not with Christian. It would be interesting to see how a jury would have perceived her game: would she have been the silent but deadly strategist she aimed to be, or would people see her emotional insecurity (fairly and unfairly) as detrimental to her game?
Season — Millennials v Gen X (T-2nd)
Survivor Resume — A nervous wreck, played the middle down the home stretch
Hannah was the unlikely under-the-radar player who you wouldn’t have expected to be sitting at the final tribal council given how she started the season. Early on she was defined by her panicky reactions from the intense tribal councils. In the first Millennials tribal councils she was influenced on the spot to vote against the person she was aligned with in Mari. She even had a panic attack during a challenge as the intensity of the game seemed to be too much for her to handle. Once she got to the merge however, Hannah found a spot to operate in the game by playing the middle between the “power players”. She got comfortable with the pressure and played off of these strategic rivalries, such as David vs. Zeke, to stay in the know. She did what she had to do to get to the end by joining whatever side she had to, most notably as the swing vote to blindside Bret instead of David. In the end, Adam’s case for the money proved to be too strong to compete against, despite what I thought was a good FTC performance from her. It was unfortunate for her that her season was defined by power players and leading big blindsides, because her game this season was more subdued and going-with-the-flow, but you have to commend her improvement in composure from where she started.
Season — Blood vs Water (3rd)
Survivor Resume — Inaugural season player back after 26 seasons off. Alliance with Tyson
While season one of Survivor completely lacked in strategy, Gervase showed a lot of potential as someone who could’ve been a good social player in a future season. In my eyes Blood vs. Water proved that. Gervase made an early alliance with Tyson that in combination ran the game from beginning to end. He had a say in just about all the moves, especially in leading the blindside against Aras. In the end however, Tyson got the credit for the duo’s actions and Gervase left the final tribal council without any winning votes. Nothing about what Gervase did in the game was bad at all. In fact, Gervase was not threatened with going home until around the final five, and he really only got votes because Tyson won all the final few immunities (or else Tyson would have definitely been voted against first). He just couldn’t get out from under the shadow of Tyson, who was seen as the leader and the better player of the two. If Gervase had found and taken an opening to blindside Tyson, he very much could have won if he was sitting there at the end.
Season — One World (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Key piece of Kim’s alliance in One World
Of the non-Kim castaways from One World, Sabrina showed the most skill by using her social game to establish a respected position among her peers. It was enough to earn herself two votes from the jury while Chelsea, who mostly played alongside Kim, got zero. She was able to differentiate her style of play within the girls alliance, and even Kim saw Sabrina as the smartest player remaining in the game. Her Survivor game is a great example of why you can’t be satisfied with being a “glue guy/girl” in alliances, because when push comes to shove, masterminds will always get the credit, not the followers. Kim was the mastermind, Sabrina was the follower.
Season — San Juan del Sur (11th)
Survivor Resume — Losing the alliance war against Jeremy. Reed’s boyfriend/fiance.
In the pre-merge portion of San Juan del Sur, Josh was the mafia boss in his tribes. He was the swing vote early on at tribal councils, and after a tribe swap he consolidated his numbers and prepared for the merge with a large group of players supporting him. The biggest turning point of that season was Jon and Jaclyn’s decision to side with Jeremy over Josh. The season plays out very differently if Josh is able to recruit them successfully. Would Josh, who was the unofficial “leader” of his alliance, be able to avoid betrayal if he gets past that key merge vote over Jeremy? I think he could have.
Season — Edge of Extinction (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Got married to his wife 2 days before going on the show. Under the radar player.
While Rick Devens had the flashy game in Edge of Extinction that got all the shine, Gavin played a more measured Survivor social game that got him safely to the final tribal council. Gavin developed relationships with the members in his original Kama tribe that would pay off in the post-merge. He helped reinforce the mentality that returning players should be voted out, and played a key role in voting out both Aubry and Joe. When the game got hectic Gavin stayed consistent with the Kama players he trusted, and joined forces with other players to attempt to get out Rick Devens. While Rick stayed around the target was never on Gavin, and he reached the Final Tribal Council unscathed. But when placed next to a flashier player in Chris Underwood, Gavin’s reserved personality and gameplay didn’t grab the attention of enough players, and he finished second, getting four votes from the jury. Nothing was wrong with Gavin’s game. In a normal season where players didn’t come back into the game, maybe he could have won. But it was the big gamers like Rick, and like Chris, who caught the eyes of the jury, and Gavin simply did not have the big plays or the accolades to convince the jury he was a worthy winner.
Season — Millennials v Gen X (6th)
Survivor Resume — Blindsiding Michaela, general broeyness
With his charm and his smart strategic mind, Jay had a great season in Millennials vs. Gen X. He was the brains of the “Triforce” alliance that formed with Figgy and Taylor on day one, and along with Michelle gained control of the tribe with some savvy strategic maneuvering. A tribe swap further strengthens Jay’s power with an idol, an alliance with Will, and a cutthroat blindside of Michaela that she did not see coming. In the post merge the power shifted and Jay had to rely on self-preservation, but his rivalry/friendship with Adam was a highlight of a new-found reliance of the social game to get further. Jay goes home in shame in the final six as the victim of a (somewhat cruel) move by David, where Jay thinks he has found a genuine idol but it’s really a cleverly planted fake. Jay was a big winner from the season as he balanced a solid strategic game with a likable social game which he ended up taking him over to the MTV universe as a contestant on “The Challenge”.
Season — NIcaragua (6th)
Survivor Resume — The old endearing country lady who won physical endurance challenges, getting pissed after her alliance tells her she is getting voted out
I don’t think anyone “won” Survivor more than Jane did in Nicaragua, putting together a hero performance as one of the oldest members in the game. She prepared for the physical difficulties of Survivor while at home and it paid off in two individual immunities in two endurance challenges. She brought the right amount of prickly honesty and charm, and was one of the best personalities of the season. Strategically she found a place in the Chase Holly Sash alliance, but once the game got into crunch time she was viewed as a serious threat to win at final tribal council so her alliance betrayed her. She was told to her face that she would be voted out, and she responded by chewing them out and pouring out their fire. While she never returned for a second season (probably due to age), she was one of the highlights of her season.
Season — Worlds Apart (2nd)
Survivor Resume — Crafty and smart white-collar mastermind in Worlds Apart. Idoled out Dan the mailman.
Carolyn was a no-nonsense behind-the-scenes kind of player that saved herself with an idol when she absolutely needed to. Carolyn consolidated power in the white-collar tribe early with Tyler, then found a place in the game to align with the blue collar power once the merge hit. From then on Carolyn stuck with the alliance, keeping the focus from the outside against Mike and his allies while leaving that door open just in case she needed his help. It paid off with the idol play to save herself and get Dan out, and in the final four when Mike was willing to let Carolyn fight for her spot in firemaking. While Carolyn got respect for the under-the-radar game she played, Mike’s uphill battle to reach the end was too much to overcome at the final tribal council. She was a smart player who could read people really well: she was just missing a flashy play or two to round out the resume.
52. Stephen Fishbach
Season — Second Chance (9th)
Survivor Resume — Nerdy runner-up in Tocantins, big-game player with a second chance to fix his past Survivor mistakes
Stephen returned to the game after thirteen seasons looking to redeem himself for the mistake he felt he made all the way back in season 18 when he finished runner-up to JT. He responds well in Second Chance with a more aggressive and forward-looking game than the first time around. While he put some people on edge with his idol searching early, the awkward but relatable strategist made it to the merge relatively unscathed. Once at the merge he started to come on strong by making alliances and targeting strong players like Joe, communicating with many people in order to create the right opportunity. His biggest alliance was with Jeremy early in the merge, which paid dividends when Jeremy used his own idol in order to save Stephen from a blindside. Stephen doesn’t expect the target to end up pointed at him right after Jeremy saved him, and he was blindsided by Spencer before his rival Joe could get the boot. I would say with Spencer that result doesn’t mean as much then the game he was playing up to his blindside. He was a key voice in many of the voting blocks, as they became called in Second Chance, that emerged in the pressure moments of the season. Narratively Stephen was at the center of it all season, and being in the center is what motivated others to get him out the game before it was too late.
51. Sandra Diaz-Twine
Season — Gamechangers (15th), Island of the Idols (Advisor), Winners at War (“First Out”)
Survivor Resume — 2 time champ and Mt. Rushmore player. Tony rivalry in Gamechangers. Getting flexed on by Denise in Winners at War.
The two time Survivor champion made an unexpected but highly anticipated return to the game of Survivor in the all-returners Game Changers season, and immediately was back on her bullshit. On day one it looked like she and Tony were going to make an alliance together with other “threats”, but that almost immediately went south when Tony’s paranoia ramped up, which left the two in a heated rivalry that had to be settled in the immediate vote. Sandra won out over Tony and gave him a few parting shots on the way out. Sandra from there got into a groove with her tribemates and played the game the way she always did as a charismatic social player who treasures self preservation over all else, and she used her winner status as a way to present herself as a goat in the end (because who would vote for her to win a third time?). Sandra was comfortable after one tribe swap, but an unexpected second tribe swap left Sandra in a clear minority position, and she was voted out before the merge. After a cameo in Island of the Idols as an advisor with Boston Rob, Sandra came to play again for Winners at War. Sandra quickly aligned with players she knew from Gamechangers in Tony and Sarah and targeted castaways who had ties with Boston Rob in Tyson and Amber. Sandra then tried to get creative and save Denise secretly by trading a temporary idol she received from Edge of Extinction for fire tokens, but Denise burned her and used Sandra’s idol to send Sandra home instead. Once on Edge of Extinction Sandra bowed out immediately for understandable reasons: she felt like she had no chance of winning an Edge of Extinction challenge so she didn’t want to starve for 20+ days. If you look at the full picture of Sandra’s Survivor career: she’s clearly an all-time player. If you just look at just Sandra’s new school seasons, she definitely lived up to her reputation in skill, but clearly reputation also comes with a target on your back. It’s incredibly hard for winners and iconic players to avoid the vote, and when you win twice it becomes virtually impossible. And yet, Sandra was able to show why she was held in high regard, even if the results don’t hold that up at a glance. She was by far the hardest person to rank because her reputation obviously affected her results. I can’t justify putting Sandra in the top 50 of a new school only ranking, but I have to respect how good she is at the game too.