Now that we know the end result to “Survivor: Philippines,” we’re back to doing what has become a biannual tradition here at the site: trying to size up where both the season and winner Denise Stapley each stand when compared to some installments from the past. There’s not necessarily any criteria here outside of our own opinion, but we try to focus on winners who either overcame obstacles or dominated rather than those who got lucky, benefited from a twist, or were carried there to the end. As for seasons as a whole, we just prefer some that are exciting versus some with boring five-person alliances that lead to a post-merge game that is akin to watching paint dry.
Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Be sure to share below, and we are also going to have some dream casting for next season along with interviews this afternoon with every member of the final four this year. Stay tuned.
Absolutely terrible choices
25. Amber (All-Stars): To this day, we’re still trying to figure out how in the world a jury was so bitter that they wanted to award Amber the money over Boston Rob — even though he played such a better game that it was obvious to just about everyone in the known universe.
24. Natalie (Samoa): Natalie did help get rid of Erik — but that’s really all she contributed and she was clearly not the deserving winner of this season (and this is coming from someone who is far from the biggest Russell Hantz supporter out there).
Wait … why did these people win?
23. Bob (Gabon): We like Bob, but we might as well be honest when we say that he only made it into the final three thanks to Sugar gift-wrapping it to him over Matty (who probably should have won). Hats off to Bob for winning immunity challenges, but that’s it.
22. Tina (Australia): You can really make the same argument with Tina than you did with Bob. If Colby had actually been thinking for himself rather than being the good guy, she wouldn’t have been there.
21. Vecepia (Marquesas): Sometimes, the fact that you are barely memorable keeps you from being ranked higher. Out of the final five for this season, Sean and Kathy largely dominated the game more than Veceptia.
20. Aras (Panama): It was one of the best seasons ever when it came to drama, so it’s a shame that Aras (who really only got angry when Terry made him) won out over characters like Shane, Cirie, and the aforementioned pilot. When you winning leads to producers instituting a final three, you know you must have not been a very good winner.
19. Jud a.k.a. “Fabio” (Nicaragua): You can give Fabio credit for playing the game with a unique strategy — acting so wacky no one would take him seriously — and he also did win three straight immunity challenges to make it to the end. At the same time, does any of this make him a great winner? Not necessarily; his win was mostly the product of a jury that was just bitter at Sash.
18. Sandra (Heroes vs. Villains): Sandra’s second win was not as impressive as the first, mostly because Parvati really should have won this season. However, this does not mean that she was a terrible player. She made some moves, but there was a better choice.
17. Ethan (Africa): Ethan was the guy you wanted to root for to win this season — and if he played again, he’d fill the same role. The problem is just that Lex did the majority of the heavy lifting while he was on.
16. Sophie (South Pacific): Some people out there think that Sophie is one of the worst winners ever, and she’s really not — while there is a good argument you could make about Coach deserving to win instead, Coach really shot himself in the foot by not owning up to all of his strategy. Meanwhile, Sophie was honest — and without her immunity wins, Ozzy would have won the season.
15. Jenna (The Amazon): Jenna did a great job when it came to aligning with the right people and manipulating — but so did Rob Cesternino, and his impact on the game lessens her own victory. (If the final three was still around back when Jenna played, we doubt she would even be on this list.)
14. Earl (Fiji): The main reason Earl is ranked higher than Jenna is simple — he had to do more strategic work. His win would not be possible without Yau-Man, but he was the first unanimous winner ever for a reason.
13. Sandra (Pearl Islands): Sandra’s first win was impressive mostly in that she managed to make it to the end while never really being too targeted, and she proved to be one of the game’s first masters of numbers.
12. Denise (Philippines) – The thing about Denise here is that most of her strategy involved getting herself in a position where she was never the #1 target, and then not doing anything to mess it up. She was great in challenges, worked hard in camp, and knew when to cut her top ally in Malcolm. She’s not a flashy winner or one who made a ton of enormous moves to get to the end, but she really didn’t need to, either.
11. JT (Tocantins): Did JT really deserve to win this season? While he was a major player physically, he also was a bit lucky in that nobody on the jury realized just how much of a strategic player Stephen was throughout the season.
10. Yul (Cook Islands): Clearly the smartest person ever, and in some ways a similar player to Kim from “One World.” He controlled an alliance effectively, and often spearheaded decisions while making others feel involved. Did he have to rely on his immunity idol a bit more than she did? Yes, and Ozzy’s immunity wins also helped him out a bit more when it came to keeping his alliance intact.
9. Brian (Thailand): Definitely not the most likable guy, but in many ways Brian’s game in Thailand is similar to how Rob has played Redemption Island — he made a number of deals that angered people, but he put himself in a position to go the end with a man who was even more despised.
8. Chris (Vanuatu): The most underrated male winner ever. He nearly left the game immediately after getting sick, but then somehow managed to go deep and trick a dominate female alliance into keeping him around with some well-placed lies.
7. Danni (Guatemala): A tough player who never really has received her proper due. She was wise enough to call out Gary, and was unafraid to take on Stephenie in a final tribal council when few people were unwilling to do so.
6. Tom (Palau): The most dominant winner ever from a physical standpoint. He was lucky to have people around him not too interested in backstabbing him, but even with that what he still managed to do in decimating Ulong (and then his own Koror tribe) was impressive.
5. Parvati (Micronesia): Nearly winning “Heroes vs. Villains” helps to make this win even more impressive. She may have had some series help from Cirie in making it as far as she did, but it’s ultimately still hard to argue against someone who may be one of the best manipulators in the history of the game.
4. Richard (Borneo): The standard from which all winners are judged. Richard is the original, and many will insist that he is the best.
3. Todd (China): It’s still hard to argue against Todd as a great player after all this time, since he managed to control the game mentally, help orchestrate some of the best blindsides ever, and even convince people to keep him near the end when they really had no business doing so. He also gave the best jury performance in the history of the show, finding the perfect balance between groveling and demonstrating that this was a game, and that the moves he made were strategic rather than personal.
2. Kim (One World): How can you not like Kim’s win? While he may not be the biggest personality ever on “Survivor,” it was entertaining to watch her completely outwit and decimate the entire men’s tribe through some sly trickery and alliance-making. Not only could she tell a lie effectively, she could do so without making anyone so furious at her that they wouldn’t vote for her in the end. She also was a huge challenge threat, and had an immunity idol that she never even needed to make it to the end.
1. Boston Rob (Redemption Island): In trying to rank Rob’s fourth performance, it’s hard to put him anywhere but the top. He dominated physically, had a whole tribe under his thumb to the point there was a cult mentality, and even made sure he brought people to the end who would never beat him. Yes, he did have an advantage in playing four times and with people who were often passive — but his presence alone made him a gigantic target, more so than anyone else on this list. We’ve never seen anyone run a show like Rob did — and we don’t know if we ever will again.
Ranking the seasons
25. Thailand: There’s nothing good to say here. Nothing. If we don’t talk about it, maybe we will forget it ever existed.
24. Fiji: Redeemed slightly by the fact that Yau-Man and Earl were both likable guys, but then hurt yet again by a ridiculous twist, a largely bland cast, and Dreamz doing one of the most heartless things ever on the show.
23. The Amazon: Overrated by many, the setting was the best thing about this season. If you take away Rob and a few moments of Jenna and Heidi that have been stuck on “Survivor” clip shows, what else is there?
22. Redemption Island: As a form of entertainment, this season is marred thanks to a boring post-merge dynamic where the Ometepe tribe were living, breathing zombies. Yes, Rob is the best winner ever — but a good winner cannot save a season.
21. Guatemala: All in all, this one just didn’t bring too much new to the table. There were not very many “all-star” characters, and the most memorable thing about the setting were the ruins.
20. One World: The best part of the season was the women’s alliance dominating. The worst? Colton’s behavior, the guys making horrible decisions, and a series of weeks from Michael’s exit up to the finale where it was pretty obvious that no one was going to challenge Kim (who was a pretty predictable winner from about the third week on).
189. South Pacific: As much fun as Cochran was to watch, the five or so weeks after the merge were akin to an afternoon nap that you forget to set the alarm for, and then when you wake up you realize that you slept away half the day.
Good until some bad votes
18. Samoa: There were some great moves, but this season was too much Russell and not enough of the actual setting. This is where “Survivor” started to really move away from the survival aspect altogether and into some predictable plotting.
17. All-Stars: The feeling of new faces got old thanks to hum-drum performances by memorable characters (Richard and Colby), and there was also a terrible jury vote in the end.
16. Marquesas: When you can barely remember the contestants, it’s not a good sign. It wasn’t a terrible season, but it was not what this show needed with just its fourth installment.
15. Cook Islands: One of the most beautiful places ever, but there was really too much Ozzy and the racial twist still has a bad taste to it.
14. Nicaragua: It was definitely unpredictable, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for. A couple of boring weeks were offset by great TV moments (NaOnkia and Purple Kelly quitting, Fabio urinating in the middle of a challenge), and at least the editing was pretty even.
13. Vanuatu: Take away Rory, Sarge, Eliza, and Twila, and this would have been a yawner of a season. The underdog drama at the end helped save it.
12. Africa: The beautiful setting made up for what was ultimately a predictable game, even if it did bring us a score of memorable characters in Ethan, Lex, and Big Tom.
Seasons worth watching again
11. Heroes vs. Villains: On the surface, there is a lot to like here. There were great blindsides (JT and Candice), lots of idol drama, and even James completely blowing a gasket. The only sad thing was that being a “hero” this season meant acting arrogant and forgetting to really play the game.
10. Pearl Islands: Why, outcast tribe, why? The original “redemption” was terribly unfair to the castaways, and it damaged a pretty awesome season with plenty of fights, Rupert channeling his inner pirate, and Johnny Fairplay lying about his grandma.
9. Panama: Exile Island: Quite possibly the greatest tribe ever here with the doubled-up Casaya. Entertainment galore. You could bring back most of this cast again and still have a great season.
8, Australia: Memorable largely as a piece of nostalgia, this is a vintage example of the adventure the show has lost in favor of tiny islands and multiple food challenges. Some of the strategy was a bit boring, but this was a season that felt more like actual survival than any other.
7. Tocantins: If you hate Coach, you hate this season. Thankfully, we find Coach entertaining. Plus, there were so many great blindsides here to talk about (including Brendan, Debbie, and the epic exit of Tyson).
6. Philippines: A great comeback for the show after a few weak seasons in a row. Quite possible the most-likable final four ever, and you had everything from great characters (Malcolm, Denise) to villains (Abi-Maria) to a lot of people who really knew how to play the game. This was modern “Survivor” the way it should be played.
The best of the best
5. Gabon: Some people hate it, but the craziness of the season made it worth watching. Thanks to people like Sugar and Kenny, you never really quite knew what was going to happen week to week — and even though there were only a few top-notch characters, the effectiveness of the overall cast made up for it.
4. China: A largely fun cast, some great challenges, plus James getting booted with two idols. What’s not to like? This was a season that really managed to balance out great strategy with the location and its culture.
3. Palau: So many touching moments here, from Stephenie’s one-person tribe to Ian’s departure to Tom’s win. There was really never a dull moment this season, and it remains one of the most entertaining to watch back again.
2. Micronesia: One blindside after another made for the most entertaining strategy session the show has seen yet. Cirie and Parvati literally controlled this game — and the fact that some of the fans (see Erik and Jason) did so many dumb things only ends up helping from the standpoint of entertainment.
1. Borneo: Nothing will ever top the original’s sense of adventure. It’s hard to even criticize something so new, so exciting, and such a landmark part of TV history.
Of course, we do as always want to hear what you think about these choices below, and you can also take a look ahead to next season over at the link here.