Do I think the finale was fair? No, the production interference Ben received greatly aided his reign and this ranking of worst to best winners will reflect that. Let me clarify, this ranking by no means digests the personability of said winner but uses the below criteria when analyzing their overall game play.
-Did a twist greatly benefit their plight?
-Did they put their game ahead of others, or in some cases, did they put others ahead of them?
-Did they manufacture the use of an idol the best way strategically?
-Strength of cast, quantity of fellow strategists.
As always, will rank in descending order.
35.Rob Mariano: Season 22-Redemption Island
Rob Mariano is a popular contestant amongst fans. However, popularity aside as that was not a criteria for ranking the winners, it took Boston Rob four tries to reign supreme on a Survivor title so that explains to me that were flaws in his game. From a strategical point of view, aligning himself with Philip Shepard was sheer brilliance as Philip was loyal to a fault. Natalie his other finalist sitting beside him when facing the jury was a teenager and didn't have the wherewithal to know when to dispose of the veteran who had returned. I also liked his decision to cut Grant because Grant may say all the right things about being devoted to Rob but in reality he was growing close to Ashley and Natalie and in an ideal world would've envisioned an end game for those two girls. The cast as a whole wasn't particularly apt but their's really not much I can pick out negatively in his game that season. Other than winning on the fourth try for which I couldn't look past that and seeded him 32nd.
34.Ben Driebergen:Survivor 35-Heroes/Hustlers/Healers
Only the "great" Rob Mariano receives a pouros rank as I conduct this list. Some will snark that recency bias and my own personal emotion has heavily swayed this number as I was clear in the opening that I didn't like the way production interfered in a game that was shaping up for a Chrissy victory. Was I necessarily rooting for Chrissy, I wasn't as the story of Ben, the former Marine who overcame PTSD is an admirable one but doesn't translate to him being a deserving winner. I won't even suggest that the convenient stumbling upon three consecutive idols from the final seven onward was manipulated by the production team however the twist they threw in after the final immunity challenge screamed "We want Ben to win". Additionally, the other juncture of the game where Ben was thrown a proverbial bone was when the four person alliance of Lauren, Ben, Devin and Ashley was formed and under Devin's guidance was told to be a double agent unbeknownst to Ryan and Chrissy. When someone allows you, frankly encourages you to work both sides to truly only your benefit you do it and don't think twice. It was a heroic tale for the marine but one of the messiest, contrived wins in Survivor history.
33.Vecepia Towery: Season 4-Marquesas
When you reminisce about Marquesas the turning point for all that are fans of this great game was the moment when faced with the feeling that they were on the outs with Tammy, Zoe and Robert, Neleh and Paschal orchestrated a flop handing the majority over to Sean, Vecepia and Kathy. Retrospectively, if Neleh and Paschal had stayed the course the narrative of Marquesas would be written vastly different The decision shifted the power and put her in a position of power. One of the more underrated characters in Survivor lore is Kathy O'Brien, although she was granted a berth in All-stars, I feel like some of the Survivor historians don't concede that she;s one of the greatest non winners as she ruled the roost that season. Vecepia realizing that Kathy had the respect of the jury was wise, but I remember my sixteen year old self thinking back then that Neleh was going to win and being very surprised when Jeff Probst revealed the votes. So two primary reasons for this ranking, the dominance of Kathy and perhaps some of the remaining Rotu members on the jury being bitter at Ms. Dennis due to the flip.
32.Michele Fitzgerald:Season 32-Kaoh Rong
Our most recent season brought us Michelle Fitzgerald as it's winner. The tribes, as is usually the case in modern day survivor were divided based off themes and this go around saw Beauty v Brains v Brawn for which Michele found herself on the Beauty tribe. Early on her tribe was immune from Tribal Council and based on interviews post-season she can count her blessings as she purportedly may have been an early target. What benefited her post merge was Tai got thirsty for power and with his idols and advantages. he allowed Michele to hide in the shadows as a few of the females formed a alliance in fear that some of the men had bonded together and could combine idols and form this seasons "Super Idol". Michele's victory was a classic case of some of the Brawns and Beauty, Michele's closer friends forming the majority of the jury and ignoring Aubry's excellent game. Michele's happy go lucky attitude endeared her to Scott, Julia and Cydney which unfortunately for Aubry blinded them against superior game play. You can't fault Aubry but having Joe in her back pocket the entire season rubbed some the wrong way as she always had two votes in her stable. At the end of the day, the best player didn't win and the money was awarded to a lady who exuded outstanding morals and a friendly attitude. Morals and attitude isn't enough to get you higher on my list.
31.Bob Crowley: Season 17-Gabon
Another likeable personality that triumphed on this show. Here's the thing about Bob, in a season that gets panned for generally producing a boring, unlikeable cast, Bob came in and played off the Grandfather type, someone that everybody would willingly confide in. When I was internally breaking down the game of Crowley, the first thing that came to mind was that yes he won, but I feel his strategy was backwards when he committed to his alliances. Corrine and Randy, two players that he blatantly turned on for no apparant reason. I mean Corinne and Randy were more mature(age wise) and could relate to Bob on a more personal level. Also because Randy and Corinne were so disliked by the other cast members, riding along with those two would've been the ultimate meat shield and a breeze win. His win speaks to the lack of competence from the likes of Matty and Sugar because on no universe is it advised to take the nearly retired Science teacher to the final because his story compared to youthful stalwarts who have a whole life ahead of them wasn't going to compare. Additionally, the moment where Randy is sent home and Bob manufacturers a fake Idol to throw him off was an unnecessary evil and if anything alienated him further with people he should've grown closer to. Too many risks taken but luckily for Bob it didn't alter the path to the winner's circle.
30.Natalie Anderson: Season 29-San Juan del Sur
In this second rendition of the "Blood v Water" format, you could say she had a disastrous start to the game with her sister Nadiya eliminated, or another school of thought will have you believe that this is a blessing which is why this format has it's peculiar intricacies. In the first Blood v Water, Survivor Borneo Alum Gervase Peterson's niece was the first to be booted and by proxy you then become a valuable free agent. No coincidence that Gervase was a finalist and Natalie won the game. By playing singularily, she was able to team up with a duo thus forming a threesome, siding with Missy and Baylor for the end game. She definitely drew fortune when Jon and Jaclyn began to waver with Missy and Baylor which would have been a threatening alliance and by virtue opened the door like I mentioned earlier for Natalie to slide in and ride to the end. Personally, contrary to popular opinion I favor this format but will agree to the notion that this format creates more straightforward play as it's nearly impossible to target the free agent when you need to converge on the pairs. The best move she made all season was Nadiya becoming the early boot which she played no part in so for that I can't justify a hefty ranking.
29.Adam Klein:Season 33-Millennials v Gen X
If this list revolved purely around likeability factor then Adam would be at or near the top. As many have pointed out post-season and I'm in complete agreeance this turned out to be one of the more fun seasons but it doesn't change the fact that his personal game was filled with shortcomings. Obviously the freshest season on our minds so in fairness to Adam it's easier to single out the criticisms. The biggest one for me was how at the final six when David won the immunity in a challenge botched by Jay,Adam's advised play there would've been to keep Jay around because Jay came across as a loyal guy, would be someone David and Ken would've wanted to target at the final five and if Adam's such a super fan of this game which I have no doubt he is then he's got to be aware that historical precedent would be that someone of Jay's elk wouldn't perform well at the final five immunity and could've been targeted then. A trusted ally could've been useful at least one more vote.
28.Tyson Apostol: Season 27-Blood v Water
Wasn't purposeful that I rated the two Blood v Water winners next to each other. When I carefully assessed each winner, particularily with the returning players cast, I tried not to account for pre-game alliances and how they may have furthered a winner's game but in Tyson's game I can't ignore the pre existing friendships he had with the Baskauskas brothers and Gervase and how these friendships protected him in unforeseen ways. Coming into the game, on the returning tribe, a core alliance was in power, you can argue if they had an agreement in place prior to stepping foot on the Island and Tyson & Gerv coasted until it was time to betray a friend and construct a new alliance involving Hayden,Caleb, Monica and them. Aside from the simple fact that I hold the pre-game funny business against him, his non chalant enthusiasm for wanting to draw rocks the week where Katie went home is unforgivable. Between the three finalists he was the deserving winner but the risk taking doesn't make him one of the better winners. Risk taking if a necessity I commend, however sometimes swallowing your pride and moving on to the next move is the appropriate play.
27.Todd Herzog: Season 15-China
This was a difficult one to appraise. He came in and in his editorials he made it perfectly known that he was a super fan and up until that time, he truly was the first super fan to win the game. It was a perfect storm early on, when you imagine what the perfect alliance looks like, you have the jock who can physically dominate(James), the attractive, innocent yet proficient in competitions(Amanda), the naive who doesn't grasp the game(Courtney), and the Mom(Denise). Credit to Todd, he was gaming as soon as the clock struck twelve and when the idol clues started presenting themselves in China which were in different in the sense that they were on the plaques located right on the shelter. As fate would have it, Todd found the first idol only to bring James into the fold after "kidnapping" him from the other tribe. Listen, I'm all for confiding in trusted allies but there comes a time where too much information is revealed and this was the case in this scenario. A plan that Todd had was to hand the idol over to James to ensure someone they were targeting from his tribe but in all actuality the plan failed and James located the second idol and well......we all know what happens next. The failed Idol plan and the fact that he wasn't covert enough in hiding his super fandom plays well on television but it's never good for your cast members to know your level of game knowledge.
26.Jeremy Collins: Season 31-Cambodia
If you read the Tyson criticism you're then aware I despise the pre-gaming that lends itself to any returning season and this season with America's vote, this was pre-gaming on steroids. Naturally when you get flown to location you first become acquainted with who you'll be playing the game with but in this situation these players knew long beforehand the different permutations and combinations that could exist. Shane Powers who unfortunately did not make the cut this go around went on Rob has a Podcast for an exclusive interview and stated he had a concrete final four deal. As a viewer, I understand this comes with the territory but doesn't make for an enjoyable season of Survivor. Apologize for that tangent, now to dissect Jeremy's game. Jeremy entered the game with the reputation of being really trusting, once he set something up he was content running with it. That was the San Juan Del Sur Jeremy, the strategy he brought forth to Cambodia was more cerebral. His manipulation with Kimmi was stuff legends were made of. Kimmi was loyal to no end to Jeremy as multiple times Kimmi rejected the premise of working with an all girls alliance, much to Jeremy's gain. The logic for placing him this low in my rankings is due to the Savage vote. Unless the edit wasn't representative of his true feelings, Savage was somebody who was on his side but from his ouster what came of it was that it ingratiated himself in further with Stephen as for the longest time Stephen and Savage were butting heads. Savage leaving allowed him to forge more lasting friendships in the game and he can thank Kelley Wentworth for it as it was Kelley's well timed Idol reveal that blindsided Savage and the game shaped up amicably from there. If the idol wasn't played at that exact moment I do ponder at times if we're not having a Andrew Savage champion conversation.
25.Tina Wesson: Season 2-Australia
One of two "pure" winners in Survivor history as the original Borneo and Australia were the two seasons that didn't implement any game changing twists. You landed on your beach, you waited until a certain number and merged the two tribes. There were no idols, there was no mid season tribe swaps, it was Reality Television at it's finest. When I recollect the game of Tina, I pose this question....were any of her actions impactful in the strategy for 3/4 of the game? It's a resounding no, in some respects she utilized the Sandra Diaz-Twine strategy which wasn't a thing back then. You're probably asking yourself, what makes the ideology of Sandra any different than that of Tina? There's one glaring difference and I understand edits can portray stories that CBS wants us to see, but right from day one Sandra made it known that it was "anybody but me" whereas I maintain Tina thought she was making headway with some of the younger ladies in her season when in reality she couldn't make the proper connection to gain traction. In episode twelve, Tina thought she was pulling a fast one by flipping a vote and eliminating Amber. It was after this though that Elizabeth lost complete trust in Tina and it took damage control from Colby to keep her in the game. And speaking of Colby and this is the primary reason why I value her win so lowly is because Colby KNEW, he said as much that he could beat Keith in the end but because Tina was the kinder hearted person, he desired to take Tina to the final two. That's what you get when you cast an aspiring Model and Actor who had no issues making money before the show, he just didn't care. Tina's win is in deference to Colby Donaldson. Any rational player would've and should've cut Tina at three.
24.Chris Daugherty: Season 9-Vanuatu
The first season in it's franchise where the eventual winner due to a poor challenge performance was nearly voted out first. It was a season originally divided by gender and for a someone that exhibited a guy's guy mannerism, he adapted to the female dominated merged tribe surprisingly well. There was clear conflict arising between Scout,Twila and Eliza and Chris acted as a mediator. It was his mediating artistry that allowed him to rise to the cream of the crop. Eliza was under the impression that it was her and Chris ready to take a run at the finals, and even earlier in the season Julie had a corresponding belief. I thought although Chris was very shaky in the early portion of this game, his end game is one of the better finishes out of any Survivor winner because not many physically fit guys surrounded by woman can convince them that he's not a threat, and that's exactly what he did. Going on an immunity run certainly didn't hurt. There was lot's to like about Chris's Vanuatu experience but being in such imminent danger in the opening episode was cause for concern and enough validation that he couldn't be ranked higher.
23.Natalie White: Season 19-Samoa
Personal disgust with Russell Hantz aside, CBS's preference to flood our T.V screens with the elder Hantz, and little did we know that was just the beginning of the Hantz/CBS relationship took away from most of the game play showcased by the others. I want to make this statement, and feel free to disagree that the alliance, and I'm terrible with alliance names that was cultivated among Natalie, Russell, Jaison and Mick was more of a collective effort than the certain few wanted us to have believe. At any point, Natalie or any one of the Foa Foa four(their I go!) could have turned against the dwindling group and rode on with the numbers but the ardor exuded wax exemplary. There was a turning point where Natalie grew self aware that Russell was becoming public enemy # 1 and everybody sent to sit on the jury viewed Hantz in ill will so I partially equate that to why Natalie stuck by his side. Cushioning up next to a "villain" is a tip of a cap move, however we must also analyze the bad. It took a lot of foresight, perhaps too much that Russell wouldn't eventually view her expendable. As much as the name of the game is sitting beside someone you think you can beat, if I'm playing in Samoa I'm at least a little weary that I'm not next on the totem pole. She admitted as much that her level of knowledge headed in wasn't all that strong and in a sense her naivity prevented her from fearing the wrath of Russell. A good winner, a winner that many pendants can't accept but with me she's the twenty second best winner.
22.Amber Brkich: Season 8-All Stars
There's a unnoticed craftiness in her repertoire that doesn't get discussed often enough. Rob was the vocal leader of the romantic duo, but take a second to appreciate who they were aligned with in their end game. Alecia and Amber were castmates in Australia. Jenna and Amber being Survivors in the first couple years of the franchise attended countless charity events together, much more than the modern day Survivor partakes in now a days. If Jenna were to of conquered the final immunity challenge, she clearly is taking Amber along with her, Amber is winning the game under less clouds of controversy. The masses don't respect the win because Rob was the "voice of reason", but in every decision that was made, it was made mutually with shades of aiding Amber moreso. Let's look at the season's most climatic moment where their was a tribe switch and Rob pleaded with Lex and Kathy to do everything in their power to keep Amber safe. While Lex and Kathy exerted sour grapes towards Rob when it was all said and done, you're not going to keep somebody around that you feel isn't workable. It was the intuition of Lex and Kathy that proved incorrect and they have no one to blame but themselves. Do I think Amber reigned supreme due to bad blood towards Rob, sure that played a small part but I want to ensure Amber receives enough credit because like mentioned earlier, every decision made helped both but helped Amber more.
21.John Cochran: Season 26-Caramoan
For clarification, I happen to like Cochran. The part where I'm torn is in the competence of the cast. The cast for Caramoan was similar to Big Brother 13(US) where in a Fans v Favourites theme, essentially all the fans were star struck by the returning players. Here's another, to reference a word Survivor Tocantins alum Stephen Fishbach loves to repeat, "truthism" was that the decision by Sherri to scrap the fans alliance sealed the deal for Cochran. With Sherri's vote in tow, it gave him numbers to go after Andrea,Brenda and Philip. I'm sure I could cite better examples but from my vantage point I don't think there's been a finalist then their was with Sherri who had a less compelling case to win a million dollars. A business owner who didn't make any personal connections, that sounds like my kind of ride or die. Cochran's jury management was brilliant I refuse to look past Sherri's willingness to hand the game over to him.
20.Sarah Lacina:Season 34-Game Changers
I briefly considered bestowing Sarah a better ranking but I couldn't look past one particular instance that a good winner should ever find themselves in. Full disclaimer that I'm probably critiquing this move too harshly, that's for you to decide but when Sarah had the advantage and wanted to ingratiate herself with Cirie by gift wrapping the advantage to her to gain her trust, it reminded me of the move infamous Erik Reichenbach tossing over his immunity to Natalie Bolton, the only difference being she wasn't privy to the consequence. Also, I'm a bit impartial negatively speaking as Game Changers as a whole was one of my least liked casts which could represent this average allotment.
19.Jenna Morasca: Season 6-Amazon
If I were to construct a ranking where I listed my seasons based on enjoyability, the Amazon would be right up there. When profiling the triumph of Jenna Morasca it's a difficult one to prognosticate. In my opinion, the tale of the tape of this season revolved around certain players getting thirsty with power(Deena and Dave come to mind) that allowed the people on the outside such as Jenna to align with others in a similar boat out of necessity. The great Rob Cesternino who's solo efforts have revolutionized the state of Reality Television made a mistake that season, his idea that just because he taught Mathew the game meant that Mathew would be internally reliant on him where in reality Mathew who fell for Jenna and Heidi's physical attributes was relaying pertinent information to the two girls. Jenna's strength was her ability to soak information in and use it against said individual at the absolute right time. The majority of men didn't take her seriously, because to be perfectly honest at that time in history, a young aspiring model arch type failed miserably. The pre conceived notions on her character carried her to victory.
18.Judd Birza: Season 21-Nicaragua
The man affectionately known as Fabio was the fun loving goofball that joked his way to the winners circle. I've taken a lot of grief for this summer of Big Brother eighteen proclaiming that Corey adopted a similar strategy, even at one point citing Judd as a comparison and what most fail or refuse to believe is that just because you don't uphold the Master strategist label doesn't mean that you're not well liked within the confines of the game and if you're sitting in front of a jury you stand a good chance. For the record, I was debating where Judd belonged on this list and let the record be shown that I have a slight reservations that he needs to be higher(lower) on this list. Nicaragua one of RHAP staple Josh Wigler's favourite seasons was a fun season, fun from an entertainment perspective any way. Due to the lack of game play it's hard for me to sit here and critique areas where Judd could've improved but I will say one point distinctly stands out and that was the respect he earned from some of the "elder" tribemates. Sitting next to Sash and future Country phenom Chase Rice, Fabio was really the only one who didn't recieve an earful. Even firey NaOnka vocalized early on in the game that she found Fabio annoying but as the game progressed came around to his personality. Game wise I maintain that Chase and Sash didn't do anything less, it just boiled down a likeability and respect factor. One of those seasons where he didn't really do anything wrong or right so when I dug deep his personality meshed well for the cast at hand and will likely be rated higher then most doing a comparable list would have him.
17.Ethan Zohn: Season 3-Africa
Evidently when a season hits the airwaves this long ago, in the case of Africa it hit the air in October 2001, prevalent details become fuzzy but after some quick google searches regarding the finer details, a couple thoughts became clear. For starters, after catching wind of an RHAP interview featuring Lex and Big Tom Buchanan who came on to promote their short lived National Geographic series, it didn't take a rocket scientist coming out of that interview for how well spoken Lex really is and if I was behind the RHAP bookings, I'd try to get Lex back on for a Survivor recap....just saying Rob. Secondly, and more importantly when assessing the winner of the season, I had forgotten how much he really controlled that season. The turning point was when Lex convinced Brandon to flip on his trusted comrad Kelly that opened the door for the Ethan, Lex and Big Tom threesome to rule the roost. While the game is in progress, you can only make internal assumptions about what you perceive is going, but post show interviews hammered down that Lex and Big Tom had entered into a pact and put the pact above a more realistic chance of winning a million dollars. They valued the friendship which was commendable but because Ethan already had the image of being the leader, he was almost assuredly guaranteed victory. I was a big fan of Ethan if for no other reason than his goals to open up recreational camps for under priveleged children but from a game overview, the fact that two in particular valued friendships so greatly widened the room for error.
16.Sophie Clarke: Season 23-South Pacific
We just got off a season that for all purposes abandoned loyalty, whether due to weekly voting blocks are "trust clusters", however what happened in the South Pacific as the evolution of the season masked the original Borneo season, as best it could any way. Sophie found a devout group to walk in front of. The edit had us believe that Coach was the individual in charge but because this was Coach's third rendition natural resentment was evident on someone receiving three cracks and from my vantage point Sophie was respected by the masses. Originally I had Sophie much higher on my list but then had an epiphany that her game was largely benefited by one Brandon Hantz. Hantz's decision to forego individual immunity to Albert opened the path to axe Brandon on that very vote erasing the volatility he brought to the game. Coach and Rick were robotic in their actions,refused to decieve and due to Sophie's scholar approach was able to manipulate that to her advantage. Brandon voted himself out of the game essentially and the self removal of the wildcard slightly diminishes her personal greatness.
15.Earl Cole: Season 14-Fiji
Not withstanding the fact that Fiji(the season fourteen escapade) was one of the more unlikable casts manufactured by CBS in quite some time, I don't necessarily agree with the notion forged by many that Earl played such a flawless game. Earl capitalized on the naivity of "Dreamz" to put plans in motion that often times went against the better interests of the first ever homeless contestant. Earl knew that in order for him to reign victorious he had to devise a plan that would eliminate Yau-man which was sound logic as Yau-man had many friends on the particular jury. The eventual 'Truck for immunity" deal orchestrated between Yau-man and Dreamz, a deal later reneged on was a turning point that further turned the voters against Dreamz. Earl did what he needed to do to cement a path to final tribal council but one of my biggest problems with the season was there were too many players who were there to create egregious moves as opposed to formulating strategic maneuvers to move forward in the game. Alex, Edgardo and Mookie are three that clarify the angle I'm critiquing. Three educate young men should've been adversaries to Earl but instead were more interested in goofing off and making good television. I can't discount the clean sweep in FTC but not enough saviness for my liking. Almost a win by default. Probably much too high on these rankings.
14.Parvati Shallow: Season 16-Micronesia
This, like many others is a difficult one to rank not due to the winner herself who undoubtedly is one of the series most popular winners but some of the dubious game play. Parvati has penned quite the lengthy legacy in her three season Survior career but the move that everyone correlates her game with was the decision to convince Erik Reichenbach to hand over his individual immunity in the final five Natalie Bolton. Now was Parvati instrumental in this? Sure but more credit honestly needs to be forwarded to Natalie for engaging in a private conversation with Erik that sealed the deal. As much as I give full marks for Natalie for that, the creation of the All girls alliance, one that actually worked has Parvati written all over it. In Big Brother, producers have desperately tried to cast females that could work together with little accomplishment and what Parvati did was show that a group of strong females CAN work together and flourish as evidenced by the all female final four. I know in lists I've read throughout the years the consensus is that she's a top three player of all time and while I commend her competence, the move by Erik knocked out somebody that had he gotten to the finals would've likely won. Good but not great.
13.Tom Westman:Season 10-Palau
This in many respects was the tail end of the original era of Survivor. From season eleven onwards we started to notice network executives at CBS really put together storylines revolving around the characters and less around strategical game play. In Palau it was all about creating unbreakable bonds and solidifying those bonds throughout the course of the game. This season will also be remembered by the imbalance competitively from the tribes. The 'Koror' tribe dismantled the 'Ulong' tribe to a point where future three time contestant Stephanie Lagrossa was on a tribe by herself until she was absorbed by the other tribe. In doing some reading about this season eleven years later I think a giant misnomer was that a core five person alliance controlled the game consisting of Gregg, Caryn,Katie, Ian and Tom but truthfully from my recollections it was a trifecta alliance of Ian, Tom and Katie with the other two trailing behind. Palau was unquestionably one of my favourite seasons and Tom one of my favourite winners but the reason he doesn't hold a more prestigious ranking is due to the final challenge. Ian wins and he's not being beaten, no if's ands or buts. It was the "guilt" that Ian felt for properly playing the game that had him remove himself for the challenge with the amendment that Tom take Katie to the final.No idea what Ian is upto in life now but that definitely was a million dollar blunder.
12.Tony Vlachos:Season 28-Cagayan
"Spy Shack", "Bag of Tricks", all unique to Vlachos' game, all wonderfully translated to the television screen but not necessarily prudent strategy in a game in it's essence built around outwitting, outplaying and outlasting. In what capacities did Tony excel? For starters, Tony was all business out on the Island. He didn't care to cater to the pre-existing popularity that former NBA star Cliff Robinson had among other things. His no care perceptive attitude as aforementioned related admirably to the audience and where Tony flourished was he left no stone unturned. The most memorable episode in my opinion was the episode where Tony had provided trusted alliance member L.J a false sense of security by playing an idol on him after L.J had just finished distributing an idol his way. The false sense of security came from the fact that Tony was self aware that he needed LJ as a, to steal an overused reality television adjective', "Meat Shield" and it worked beautifully. Not only was L.J due to his physique always going to go before Tony but conversely he didn't have to worry about getting plotted against because of the loyalty factor. A great game but it just speaks to some of the gems further down on this list for why he's only ranked at the twelfth position.
11.Richard Hatch:Season 1-Borneo
The man that paved the legacy for this crazy yet wonderful game to remain on the airwaves sixteen years later. The strategical concepts of Borneo pale in comparison to the way the game is played now. For the original season the only thing on people's minds was to survive both in the game and ensuring sufficient nourishment. Richard Hatch presented us with this archaic character who was further evolved then his fellow castmates. He was competent as a provider which during those seasons wasn't viewed as any kind of threat, he connected with everybody on a personal level even Rudy Boesch, the former U.S. Marine who had zero similarities with Hatch. These bonds propelled him to victory when he ultimately reigned over Kelly Wigglesworth. The area in his game that leaves some to be desired was his decision at the final three. Philosophically he made an egregious decision although there will be some surely who will argue that when weighing the complexity of the game in this current era forfeiting your shot at immunity could be construed as sheer brilliance depending on the particular circumstances. Stepping off the mantle and allowing Rudy and Kelly to battle it out for immunity was far too risky of game play because had Rudy won then Rudy would've been the player receiving the cheque, not Hatch.
10.J.T Thomas:Season 18-Tocantins
The unsuspecting partnership between Southern Boy J.T and New York nerd and RHAP staple Stephen Fischbach was a beautiful friendship that played out in front of our very eyes. Stephen was labelled as the strategist and J.T the competition beast but this assertion is a major slight on J.T. The Alabaman Thomas was very much engaged in the strategical discussions as although the show portrayed Stephen having his fingers in many alliances and close knit bonds it was the innocent aw shucks personality of J.T that drew him to Debbie, Coach, Brendan and others. There was a memorable scene where Brendan confides in Sierra where he states that he'd be happy if J.T won the million bucks. I'll cosign the following, Stephen Fishbach is a exceptional strategist but in his outing, at some point he lost sight of the prize and the blinders were put on far too early by aligning with someone he frankly could never beat.
9.Mike Holloway:Season 30-Worlds Apart
I vividly recall watching the pre-season press and quickly identifying Mike as a winners pick. In his interviews, he came across as a hard worker, a type of player that's almost always assured of reaching the merge. In the first few episodes, I started to develop a fear that perhaps he was too interested in preaching hard work at camp and wasn't exhausting enough energy into solidifying bonds. As much as I'm willing to credit Mike for playing a great game which my ranking of nine should clearly illustrate that, the point I'd like to make is the inclusion of Tyler signalled a dynamic that not many have spoken of from articles that I've read. Tyler, and I'm sure if you asked him in interviews would admit that he thought he had control of the game and by proxy was using Mike as a puppet when in actuality it was Mike using Tyler. When Tyler led the charge along with Carolyn and Joaquin in an effort to work alongside the Blue Collar remaining players it was believed by him that Mike would be a shield and his majority(turned out to be minority) numbers. The misnomer of this season was that Tyler was an irrelevant character but from where I stand was a principal reason for why Mike succeeded.
8.Danni Boatwright:Season 11-Guatemala
As I eloquently opined in the Palau synopsis, season eleven in Guatemala marked a noticeable change in the way CBS began to cast it's players. Less on strategy and more on personality. My point is confirmed by both Judd and Jamie. All you had to do is watch the season premiere for no more then two seconds to understand that these two had a 0% chance of winning the game. What Danni's best move was very subtle and that was ingratiating Stephanie, the returnee from Palau. Stephanie "Yaxha" tribe members were unwavering in their loyalty and had numbers as we headed to the merge but to further touch on what I opened with, the wacky characters Stephanie brought over from her tribe drew no fear into the opposition and on the laurels of a couple clutch immunity wins victory was all but assured. I don't take Danni's win lightly and originally I had her inside the top three but had to back off the lofty rankings after realizing there were just too many players on the cast that couldn't win.
7.Brian Heidik:Season 5-Thailand
As a disclaimer, a boring season does not correlate with an undeserving winner. As a super fan of this game I'm not afraid to label this season a flop but that shouldn't take away from the greatness of Brian's game. As a used car salesman, especially in the early days of the game the attributes taken from that profession came in quite handy because the game hadn't seen many ruthless schemers which defined Brian to a T. Those that may disagree with the ranking, the question I pose to you is where did his misstep happen? I vouch to say that there was no misstep as he elected to work with individuals that weren't challenge threats, didn't know a lick of strategy and could be construed as relative fodder. The term goat is thrown around frequently in this era, not so much in 2002 but if it was Clay Jordan would've fit that bill. Clay alienated castmates with his pompous attitude, showed no willingness to work around camp and was the obvious runner-up to just about everyone. Look at the final five of this game, the aforementioned Clay, Helen, Ted and Jan along with Brian. I don't think anyone would classify Brian as an athletical specimen but against this particular crop always went into the challenges the favourite and should be commended for being vocal when it came to the Ken Stafford and Penny Ramsey votes.
6.Denise Stapley:Season 25-Phillipines
What a disastrous tribal draw to commence the game for Denise. The Matsing tribe was a trainwreck from the start and as the numbers begun to decimate and the inevitable tribe shuffle became a reality the odds were stacked against her and betting money would've suggested that she was destined to get eliminated in week five or six in the game but found loopholes in her Kalabaw tribe that gave her life. Dana's medical evacuation didn't hurt the cause but where Denise took the bull by the proverbial horns was taking advantage of the fact that her new tribe consisted of a lot of players who fell into her age bracket and she quickly befriended both Jeff Kent and Penner providing her goodwill. I sat back and tried to pinpoint mistakes she made, a critique that could be a stretch was how she was confrontational with Abi-Maria at times but her decision to sacrifice Malcolm in the final four thus weaving a better final tribal council alignment was one of many prudent moves.
5.Yul Kwon:Season 13-Cook Islands
A 'controversial' season only from the standpoint that the contestants were divided based on ethnicity. Yul Kwon could safely be classified as the series smartest winner.His educational background served him well on the Island as he was able to connect on an intellectual level to each and every opposing comrade. Whether it was conversing with Penner or Becky on a complex strategical level or bro'ing down with Adam and Ozzy, he was able to escape from ever being on somebody's radar even though at a particular challenge he blatantly showcased his immunity Idol and due to relationships formed even that didn't make him a threat for others. Yul receives a great deal of commendment for being a intellectual but I think the most impressive part of his game was that he excelled in most challenges and still was an after thought for the opposing alliance though having challenge beast Ozzy in the game certainly didn't hurt. Without knowing why each respective juror placed their vote towards Yul in a tight knit 4-3 vote, I could surmise that the reasoning was due to at the infamous mutiny he stood his ground at the expense of staying in a staggering minority and I think as eliminated contestants look back they appreciated the loyalty.
4.Aras Baskauskas:Season 12-Panama
What I'm about to say may ring hollow amongst fellow Survivor enthuiasts while others may vehemently disagree and that is Aras is the ONLY winner in the franchise history that came into the season as 'the athlete' and reigned supreme and I don't take that feat lightly. Some will frantically argue J.T from Tocantins is another example of this but I suffice to say that Tyson was the more physically imposing player, after all he had a professional cycling background. The fact that Aras walked onto the young males mat on the opening day and looked around and quickly asserted himself as the challenge dominator and still survived being picked off is a miraculous endeavour. Additionally for those reading this with their arms up in the air pertaining to Terry Deitz....get over it....he was a forty something that was exceeding his physical will. Aras a collegiate basketball player and that will always take the cake. Aras should've been an early merge boot, we've seen this arch plenty of times before and after Aras' season and I thoroughly maintain what he was able to weave through deserves utmost admiration, A useless tidbit about this season, I'm generally staunch about avoiding spoilers but to this day Panama remains the only season I accidentality spoiled myself with.
3.Kim Spradlin:Season 24-One World
If Sandra Diaz-Twine hadn't returned a second time and won then Kim Spradlin is the runaway choice to be ranked the greatest winner ever. As I hinted on in an earlier synopsis, in the history of reality television the premise of forming all girls alliance falls by the wayside almost every time. The reason I view Kim's win over Parvati's in a much greater light is because Kim didn't need the presence of a Ice Cream truck operator who was so desperate to make good television that he forfeited immunity in the final five. For Kim, she had all her bases covered. Her alliance was carefully picked to ensure that it included females who each brought with them their own deficiencies. For Kat, it was the over emotional outburst and childish antics that led to some bad blood amongst her tribemates. With Alecia, it was her mouth that often got her in trouble and would have trouble winning at a final tribal council. Both Sabrina and Christina gave off the perception that they had more interest in just advancing vote to vote compared to actually playing the game. With Chelsea, and to my knowledge she's never stated this in any of her interviews but I refuse to believe that given the opportunity to dwindle down to the final two that she would've actually taken Chelsea. She played a perfect game to that point, why would she change then?
1/2. Sandra Diaz-Twine:Seasons 7 and 20-Pearl Islands and Heroes v Villains
"Anybody but me". It's a glorious strategy that doesn't always translate well to televison. For production it would be difficult to build a season solely around Sandra because frankly she doesn't have an interesting enough story but the facts do speak for themselves, she's played twice and won twice. In the Pearl Islands, it was Lill who wasn't popular among her tribemates because in their minds she harped on honour coming from a boy scout background but seemingly were a okay handing Sandra the money who didn't push herself in any challenge, never really worked her way in any core alliance and was the lesser of two evils when it came down to who Lill wanted to sit next to in the final vote. Arguably Lil was the deserving winner that season. In the returning season of Heroes v Villains her advantage was that the season was flooded with larger than life personalities who were targeting each other while Sandra hid in the background, The label of "villain" for her is about as laughable as it was when Monica Culpepper got brought back a second time for making zero impact in her first go around. You'll be able to opine that I don't think too highly of her game play but two wins in two attempts she stands in a class of her own.