Monday, December 16, 2013

Survivor: Ranking the Seasons (Updated December 2013)

Here are my rankings of Survivor Seasons. A couple of notes:

  • I am writing this prior to the airing of the finale, so there is a chance that I will revisit the Blood vs. Water ranking after watching it. (I will not be able to actually watch it live, or on Sunday for that matter, so my recap - BURNING QUESTIONS RETURN! - will appear on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.)   
  • As has been the case for the last, oh, 5 years or so, I still have to rewatch a lot of these seasons, so there is memory bias in effect.

(At the suggestion of a reader of a previous post, the format of this post is to put a non-spoiler summary at the beginning, with no details as to what happened in each season. Then I will have a detailed listing that will have spoilers in it.)

Ranking summary:

 1. Survivor: Borneo (Season 1)
 2. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)
 3. Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites (Season 16)
 4. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Season 7)
 5. Survivor: Samoa (Season 19)
 6. Survivor: Amazon (Season 6)
 7. Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)
 8. Survivor: Caramoan (Season 26)
 9. Survivor: Phillipines (Season 25)
 10. Survivor: Palau (Season 10)
 11. Survivor: China (Season 15)
 12. Survivor: Australian Outback (Season 2)
 13. Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13)
 14. Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18)
 15. Survivor: Africa (Season 3)
 16. Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)
 17. Survivor: One World (Season 24)
 18. Survivor: Panama (Season 12)
 19. Survivor: Fiji (Season 14)
 20. Survivor: Guatemala (Season 11)
 21. Survivor: Vanuatu (Season 9)
 22. Survivor: South Pacific (Season 23)
 23. Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)
 24. Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4)
 25. Survivor: Gabon (Seaon 17)
 26. Survivor: Nicaragua (Season 21)
 27. Survivor: Thailand (Season 5)


1. Survivor: Borneo (Winner: Richard Hatch)

The original can never be duplicated.

2. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

In this case, familiarity helps. Knowing each of the players going in and how they were likely to play set some expectations. The season lived up to it and more. The casting of players and characters was fantastic. The winner was a bit disappointing, but the lead to the final tribal was great.

3. Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites (Winner: Parvati Shallow)

A lot of blind sides, the single stupidest move in Survivor history and some interesting characters introdued. Awesome season. Though I'm a bit frightened at the similiarities between this and the Ruins III.

4. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

Rupert. Johnny Fairplay. The season that Survivor became fun to watch for reasons beyond the actual game.

5. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)

Putting aside the jury vote, this season was a win simply because of Russell. His play reinvigorated the show and the game.

6. Survivor: Amazon (Winner: Jenna Morasca)

The first season where alliances were fluid. The game was played in a much different manner than before, with votes moving continually.

Oh, and chocolate and peanut butter.

7. Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Winner: ?????)

A lot of people groaned when they heard the details about this season. Half returning players, half family members? The return of Redemption Island? "UGH," they said. As it turned out, both twists helped to carry the season through what would have been (frankly) a boring end game. Instead of just getting (essentially) a Pagonging of the minority, we also saw an emotional challenge between mother and daughter where the loser gets eliminated, a DRAWING OF ROCKS where the clear cut favourite could have been eliminated and some of the most aggressive Tribal Council play from somebody who knew his time in the game was on the line from Hayden.

This doesn't take into account the number of other events that happened - the Codys vs Brad Culpepper feud that cumulated in their battle at Redemption Island; the amazing tribal council that lead to Brad's ouster, where Caleb just flipped the game by announcing that he was going to vote for Brad; the play of the new players, who managed to shake the game up significantly through two blindsides while remaining incredibly inept at any sort of challenge; Ciera voting her own mother out of the game for no other reason than to show she was loyal to Tyson and his crew; the dominance of Laura M. at Redemption Island; the effect of the Blood vs. Water twist on the strategy of the game and in general how it refreshed the game; and the rise of many new players who's return would be welcomed. Plus, it's had an interesting overarching story.

Survivor 28 has a lot to live up to.

8. Survivor: Caramoan (Winner: John Cochran)

In retrospect, I overrated this season. It wasn't the best non-consensus top 3 season ever, but it was still pretty damn good. The focus on the big characters in the first half of the season was a bit ominous for those who prefer the strategy of the season, even if it was interesting to watch (enjoyable doesn't reflect how uncomfortable it could be to watch Brandon break down and Shamar be Shamar.) But once the merge hit, the blind sides came non-stop, we had a shocking tribal council with two idols in play which caused us to see the first ever scramble during tribal council, someone getting blindsided with an immunity idol in their pocket, one of the greatest speech ever getting voted out, a generally likeable cast from final 9 onward and yes, even a satisfying winner. Pretty well everything that you could want in a season, you got.

9. Survivor: Philippines (Winner: Denise Stapley)

This season had a couple of epic tribal councils and the most inept tribe ever, and a complete flip of the game when that inept tribe ended up in the final four. Plus Penner's final jury questions/speech. Combine that with the existance of Abi-Maria and you have a very great season.

10. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)

The first season where we saw a true dominant tribe. Then came Stephanie's survival for 2 weeks, then Tom's bold move to threaten to tie a vote to get people on side with him (looking back at it, it doesn't seem to be as bold but at the time it was an amazingly ballsy play). Very underrated year.

11. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)

Looking back on this season with the knowledge of how Todd has fallen apart since it aired, it does make ranking this season within the context of just the season more difficult. But looking at it from just the season itself, it has James' stupid non-play of a hidden immunity idol, Todd wearing his bad deeds, and Amanda's first final tribal council failure. A pretty good year.

12. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)

The beginning of the Jeff Probst/Colby Donaldson bromance. Also the first ever major strategic blunder, though it was at least done out of some sense of loyalty. What ever happened to Elisabeth anyway?

13. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)

Two of the most likable players in Yul and Ozzie. It also had the funniest Survivor moment, when Sundra and Becky "battled" to build fire. Taking 90 minutes to do so. After being given matches 30 minutes in.

(Hmmm. In thinking about that moment again, maybe Cook Islands should rank #1...)

14. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)

The year of Coach! Also, a great blindside of Tyson and a domination of challenges by J.T.

15. Survivor: Africa (Winner: Ethan Zohn)

Oh Kelly. If only Brandon hadn't have gone into business for himself, we would have had the first momentum swing post-merge ever, and you might have stuck around longer. Also notable for Lex getting eliminated in the Fallen Comrades competition even though he answered a question correctly. That earned him (and Big Tom) 2nd place money.

16 . Survivor: Redemption Island (Winner: Rob Mariano)

The Boston Rob show gets up here because of Boston Rob's hilarious confessionals, his running of the show from start to finish and Phillip's wackiness. In an unrelated note, if Rob didn't win I would have rated it lower.

17. Survivor: One World (Winner: Kim Spradlin )

The removal of Colton stopped us from seeing him get his comeuppance that we so richly needed. But at the same time, we had great characters in Tarzan and Kat, an amazing situation where a tribe won immunity then decided to give it away so that they could vote somebody out and possibly the greatest game ever played on Survivor by Kim. I think this could move up when given more time to reflect on it (and other seasons.)

18. Survivor: Panama (Winner: Aras Baskauskas)

The Terry year, where his loss of the final immunity challenge (under questionable means) ended up giving us Aras as a winner. Awesome for Terry's dominance, not so awesome for everything else.

19. Survivor: Fiji (Winner: Earl Cole)

Yau Man and Earl were the stars of the season. The have/have not twist and the inevitability of Earl winning once Dreamz refused to hand over immunity to Yau Man were the downfalls.

20. Survivor: Guatemala (Winner: Danni Boatwright)

Stephanie gets a second chance and turns into a mean person. Still an attractive person, but a mean person nonetheless. And then she loses to Danni.

21. Survivor: Vanuatu (Winner: Chris Daugherty)

Probably the most difficult to place. Chris's victory when outnumbered 5-1 and with not winning immunity was impressive, but the show was horrible before that.

22. Survivor: South Pacific (Winner: Sophie Clarke)

The editing ended up hurting this season, as they built it up to show why Coach lost, instead of why Sophie won. Maybe that happened because they had very little to use to show Sophie as a great player, but that's an even bigger damning of the season.

(Also, the first half of the year with Brandon acting very creepy towards Mikayla was uncomfortable at the best of times.)

23. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)

It gave us Boston Rob and Amber as a power couple, but it also gave us the biggest farce of a final council before Samoa. And the overriding theme of the previous winners didn't deserve to stay around becaue they had already won was annoying and uncomfortable.

24. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)

This should rank higher. It gave us Boston Rob, whatshername being carried to the island like Cleopatra, and the first shakeup of the status quo. But it was the most frustrating final two ever, with both not really deserving of being there.

25. Survivor: Gabon (Winner: Bob Crowley)

You remember how great it was that Bob Crowley won, but when you think about it more, the season was pretty terrible. Bob Crowley was just a likable person, not a good player. When the most memorable things to have happened was an amusing fake hidden immunity idol and Bob making his buff into a bow tie, you know you have a terrible season.

26. Survivor: Nicaragua (Winner: Judson "Fabio" Birza)

It was a tedious season until Fabio went on his immunity streak. By breaking up the boot order, Fabio rode to victory, and gave us a likeable winner, which puts this ahead of...

27. Survivor: Thailand (Winner: Brian Heidik)

Easily the most unlikable cast in Survivor history. No tribal swap, no merge until the jury and we were left with waiting for the Pagong-ing to finish so Brian Heidik could win. Cool final challenge though.

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