In the lead up to the Survivor Premiere on March 8th I have been trying to do some features on the show to get everyone excited. Today I decided to put out my ranking of the winners from each season. This is a ranking from 33 to 1 based on my own personal opinion of how each player played the game. So let me tell you what my criteria for ranking is. I look at their games as a whole, which means looking at the strategic, social and physical aspects. From a strategic point of view I look at how much they controlled and dominated the game. Did they actually have a hand in the outcome of their win and how much of it was due to their own actions. I then look at their social game. Did people like them and did they do anything that negatively impacted in their win in the long run. Finally, I look at the physical. This is the smallest component because to me this a pretty small part of a player’s win, but if you win challenges then that does not hurt your resume. All of these work in tandem to form my rankings. Let’s get started!
33. Bob Crowley (Gabon)
If there was such thing as an accidental win in Survivor then Bob Crowley completed it. In my opinion Gabon was a dreadful season and whomever won among that top three was going to be last in these rankings. Hurricane Sugar completely destroyed this season and was the sole reason for Bob’s win. I mean let’s look at my criteria. Strategically Bob did nothing. He was barely apart of any strategic conversations and when he was it was someone else telling him what to do. Socially he seemed to get along with everyone and many thought of him as a father figure so he is good on that front. Even his social game was not the greatest as he got into spats with opposing alliance members Ken Hoang and Crystal Cox a few times. Finally, if Sugar is the number one reason for him winning, then his challenge prowess is second. His immunity run towards the end saved him in numerous situations. In the end he won by only one vote against Susie “I tried” Smith and that’s an issue that lands him at the bottom of these rankings.
32. Jud “Fabio” Birza (Nicaragua)
We follow one cluster eff of a season with another. Probably one of the only winners to win on likability alone, Fabio is the benefactor of a lot of luck and weak competition. Once again we have someone who is quite strategically inept, but unlike Bob he at least participated in some of these conversations and had some ideas so I give him credit for that. Like I said before, his social game won him this season. His carefree, happy go lucky attitude resonated with a jury who was hurt by the betrayals of his competitors in the final three. He was also helped by his physical game as like Bob and a few other winners on this list, an immunity run late saved him from being voted out. Even then he only won by one vote over the wishy washy Chase Rice. Fabio pretty much won by luck and in a ranking that values self awareness and a sense of direction in your game, he places low.
31. Jenna Morasca (Amazon)
It is with Jenna that we start an interesting tier of winners. None of the people starting from here on, are people who I think are bad players. Many them are very good, but there are certain things in their games that hold them back from being higher up. Before I get to Jenna’s let’s break down her game part by part. Jenna actually had a pretty good strategic game. She was in on many of the conversations about strategy and had a strong hand at the beginning of the merge in who was going home. Her social game is probably her weakest point as she tended to make enemies out of anyone who was not her ally. Her physical was actually very good and, as is the theme at the bottom of this list, she was able to have a late immunity run to keep herself in the game. Jenna’s biggest problem, and why I have her so far down on this list, is that she wanted to quit the game at the point where Heidi left. She really did not have her heart in it for all of the game and that’s huge. She definitely would have moved up this list a few spots if she had her mind in the game the whole time.
30. Amber Brkich (All Stars)
This is probably a controversial opinion, but Amber did actually deserve to win All Stars. You can claim bitter jury all you want, but a bitter jury is only the result of bad social game play by the person they are bitter towards. Now despite saying that, I do have Amber quite low on this list. Her social game is pretty good and her physical game is decent as well. She won a few challenges in the home stretch that proves that. My problem is that it does not appear from what we see on the show that she is actively making any of the strategic decisions. She merely seems to be a sounding board for Boston Rob to bounce ideas off of and that’s it. A strategic conscious if you will who tried to reign him in at times, but in the end the decision came down to what he wanted. It only came down to the fact that Rob was far too ruthless with the way he cut his allies. That is why she comes in a number 30.
29. Vecepia Towery (Marquesas)
Now here is one winner many of you probably do not remember and that is why she is so low down on this list. Vecepia while being a great social player is very unforgettable and quite frankly overshadowed by third place finisher Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien who is the much bigger character. Like I said before, Vecepia’s social game is phenomenal and strategically she was not half bad. Some might say she actually pioneered the “anyone but me” strategy before Sandra, but unfortunately this strategy does not get as much credit as with Sandra for a few reasons. Vecepia is pretty much always in the minority alliance, but does not do much at all to change that. Sean Rector actually does a lot of the work to that effect. Also, her physical game is pretty awful. All of that combines to land her 29th on this list.
28. Michele Fitzgerald (Koah Rong)
Michele, like Natalie White and Amber before her shows how powerful the social game really is. In the end its all about making sure you are the most likable person in the final three, because the jury wants to feel comfortable with who they are giving the million dollars to and Michele seemed to know that. Her strategy game was questionable at best and it took a powerful ally like Aubry to get her to the end so that docks her a few points. Her physical game was pretty good so there is nothing negatively affecting her there, but in the end Michele is a victim of the Survivor editors. We did not see enough of her game to realistically place her any higher, so as much as I like Michele she has to place rather low on this list.
27. Natalie White (Samoa)
When I was younger and watching Samoa for the first time, I was incensed when Russell Hantz did not win. In my mind he played the far superior game and deserved it. Boy was I wrong. Having rewatched Samoa as a mature adult, Natalie’s victory makes so much more sense. Natalie’s biggest strength was being friendly and allowing Russell to catch any and all social bullets headed towards her alliance. She made friends with everyone and really bonded with them. It was this connection that propelled her victory. Unfortunately her greatest strength is also her biggest weakness. Her ability to stay in the shadows means that almost all of the strategic prowess in dominating the season went to Russell. She does have one signature move though, which was getting the former Galu tribe members to vote out Erik Cardona at the merge. This signature move is what gets her one spot above Michele despite very similar games.
26. Aras Baskauskas (Panama)
I’ll say it right off the bat, Aras is kind of a boring winner. I love Aras a person and his insight into the game on Rob Has a Podcast is brilliant, but he really did not give off much personality in Panama. Though that is actually what makes him so important to this season and his alliance. The Casaya alliance in Panama has to be one of the craziest groups of people ever. It was Aras’ calm demeanor which kept them together throughout the post merge. Aras also had a decent strategic and physical games as well, but he does have a few black marks on his record that land him this low on this list. First of all he was not the strategic driving force of that seasons, Cirie and arguably Shane were. Also, Aras wanted to take Cirie to the end, which would have been the most idiotic thing ever. Finally, Aras had a tendency to just say what was on his mind leading to a few social blunders. Despite all of this the way he lead the Casaya alliance was impressive and gives him an edge over those below him in the rankings.
25. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands)
The first of Sandra’s two victories lands at number 25. You might ask, why is one of the greatest players of all time so low on this list? The answer is Sandra was basically on cruise control until Rupert got voted off. She did very little and had very little to do with the outcome of the game until that point. From here she would turn on the jets and actually play a huge role in the outcome of the season, but unfortunately being a part of only part of the season’s direction does not land you high in the rankings. She does do a lot of great things in that half though including spying on Burton and Johnny Fairplay, as well as turning Lil and Darrah against them. It is these strategic decisions that land her at number 25.
24. Danni Boatwright (Guatemala)
Danni is another name many readers probably will not recognize. Danni pioneered the stealth bomber strategy of not divulging much of her game to anyone, even production. She flew under the radar from day one while building strong social bonds with every cast member. She was also able to take to the end a castaway who was so unlikable at the time that it would have been very hard for her not to win. Danni is in the lower half of the rankings because she gave us the viewer so little on her strategy and she really had very little to do with the strategic direction of the season. She did pull off one or two big moves, like getting Judd Sergeant out, so like Sandra that lands her a few spots above others.
23. Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart)
In a season of awful people, Mike Holloway stood above the rest and that was the reason I was rooting for him so hard during this season. Unfortunately for him, in no other case can the phrase “immunity run led to his win” apply more. Mike had control of the game up until the auction where he blew it and made one of the biggest strategic blunders by a winner in history. In one fell swoop he turned public opinion in the game on himself and made it so that he had to win all of those immunity challenges. It his control of the game up until the auction and clear strategy after the fact that lands him higher on this list. He also had a few decent moves while in the minority in order to make sure he never went home so I have no qualms about putting him at 23.
22. Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen X)
Our most recent winner fits perfectly one spot of Mike in this list. Adam, like Mike, made a huge social and strategic blunder around the time of the merge which limits his ceiling in this list, but unlike Mike he mad is rebound in the social and strategic games instead of the physical game. Adam made strong relationships with everyone on the jury and put larger targets in front of himself so that he was never the center of attention. Also he made sure his strategy was always out in the open for us the viewer. Adam made some interesting strategic choices we have not seen before and that resulted in a clean sweep for him at the end. Unfortunately his mistakes that he made at the beginning of game are just too big in order to place him any higher on his list.
21. Ethan Zohn (Africa)
Ethan, the first nice guy winner of the show lands at number 21 on my list. Ethan is probably the first one I have got to on this list that actually dominated all facets of the game. He was a great social player, a great physical player and had some decent strategy as well. He did what he had to in order to win. The thing that lands him so low on this list is that he really took no risks. Also he some ways he is out shined by Lex and he also has a pretty bad Final Tribal. He quite honestly should have swept that vote, but lost two votes to Kim. Overall Ethan is a great winner and one the show needed at that time, but in many ways he is too bland to place much higher on this list.
20. Tina Wesson (Australian Outback)
Tina in many ways is very similar to Ethan, but just a little more cutthroat. Tina also lacks the physical game Ethan had, but her social and strategic games were much stronger. It was due to her foresight that the Ogakors even ended up the majority after the merge. Tina is just plain badass and one tough winner. Unfortunately she loses points in the dominating the season department because in reality this was Colby’s season and it is only by his good grace that she ends up in the final two. She and Colby were the two headed dragon at the head of the Ogakor alliance though and that ears her major props.
19. Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur)
We have now reached a tier of winners in numbers 17-19 on this list who never dominated all three aspects of the game, but still had a significant hand in how the seasons played out. The first of these winners is Natalie Anderson. Once her best ally Jeremy Collins was voted off, Natalie kicked herself into a whole new gear and seemed to run circles around her competitors. Strategically she was able to outshine every single person left in the game and it was not even close. Realistically she never should have got to the end, but did so. Despite dominating this post merge game, Natalie loses points for not appearing until then. Her pre merge game is rather quiet and that causes her to drop a few spots in the rankings. I love Natalie a lot and it shows how many good winners that this show has that she is not even in the top half.
18. Sophie Clarke (South Pacific)
In my mind Sophie is one of the most underrated winners in Survivor history. Despite what the show might have you think with the edit, Sophie was the actual leader of the Upolu Family Alliance and real strategic force. She reigned in both Coach and Albert and really held everything together while pinning every bad thing on the other two. She let Coach be the figurehead so that when they had to vote out members of their alliance she would not catch any heat. Sophie was also no slouch at challenges and really had a good final tribal council despite a weak social game. Also if you listen to any of her episode recaps with Rob Cesternino on Rob Has a Podcast, you can tell she really has a grasp on this game. Sophie is definitely one name that I hope you have a better opinion of once reading this list.
17. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Heroes vs. Villains)
Sandra’s second and arguably more impressive win came in here in Heroes vs. Villains. Despite coming in as a former winner, Sandra was never a target and almost always written off. Her social game was once again on point as she pinpointed the most hated person on the season and deflected all of her ire toward him. This is a perfect social strategy because then it automatically makes you like more among the jury. Though her strategy game may not have been the best, she pretty much did what Adam did last year by making it known who her target was the whole time. That way when she ended up with that target and one of his followers in the end she was the clear alternative to rewarding “evil”. Heroes vs. Villains also has arguably the best cast of all time so it is even more impressive to come out on top in this season. Sandra’s inability to control the game though hurts her and that is why she just barely makes the top half.
16. Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water)
Tyson, one of funniest Survivors of all time, places rather high on this list for ingenuity and creativity. Tyson like a few winners before him is rather hidden until the merge, but as he tells us that is all a part of his strategy. He knows that he is a physical and social threat so he plays it all down by pretending to be injured and keeping a low profile all the while regaining strength through stolen food. He also builds strong loyal allies and while proving his strategic mettle once the merge hits and the big dogs target each other. He also manages to position himself with two rather grating personalities at the end so that his charm and personality can carry him. Tyson does have a few notable strategic blunders in the post merge though mostly concerning Ciera and Katie Collins so that keeps him from going much higher on this list.
15. Denise Stapley (Philippines)
One of the most impressive things a Survivor winner has ever done is go to every single tribal council possible in a season and still win. Denise did that and that cannot be ignored. It is crazy to think that she managed to survive every single possible vote out and that starts her at the top half at minimum. You follow that up with a superior social game learned through years of being a therapist and you have superb winner. Denise also had great strategy too. She knew when to float between alliances and often pinpointed who she should talk to in order to stay alive. Her biggest blemish comes in her handling of Abi-Maria, but who can really blame her for that. Denise, like Sophie, is one of the more underrated winners in the history of the show and she deserves her top 15 spot.
14. John Cochran (Caramoan)
From here forward on this list, all of these winners are legendary in my book. Not much separates them and generally speaking it is minute differences that affect the rankings. John Cochran is one of my all time favorite Survivors. His character arc over two seasons is rather incredible and his storytelling ability in confessionals stands up to legends like Boston Rob and Jonathan Penner. Cochran did have to work hard for his win, working around big characters and personalities like Malcolm, Phillip and Corinne. He won challenges, made bonds, and had a superior strategic game in which he cut allies right before they became dangerous with almost scary foresight. His one blemish is that he really does not have much to do in the pre merge, but his post merge game is so fantastic that he gets a high ranking on my list.
13. Richard Hatch (Borneo)
Now we get to the godfather of the game in Richard Hatch. Some of you may wonder why he does not make the top ten and to me its because of his level of competition. Nobody really knew what they were involved in and Hatch really ran circles around his whole cast strategically. His move to step down at the final three immunity challenge was brilliant and the alliance he cobbled together ran the game. He also gets points for being likable enough to pull his whole villain persona off. In the end he also loses points for having really no physical game and only winning against the inferior Kelly Wiglesworth by only 1 point, but otherwise its hard to go below this point for this legend of the game.
12. Earl Cole (Fiji)
Probably the second most likable winner of all time, only to J.T. Thomas, Earl Cole was the beneficiary of having relatively weak cast as his competition. Earl’s social game was the smoothest of any we had seen up to this point in Season 14 and he easily won over every person he came into contact with in the game. His strategic game was also on point as he was the silent leader of a powerful alliance. Earl is above Hatch because he gets points for cutting his biggest competition at the very end. The reason Earl falls just outside the top 10 is that despite actually cutting Yau-man when forced to, he did not really want to and most likely would have lost to him in the end.
11. Yul Kwon (Cook Islands)
In all honesty, Yul is probably the smartest person to ever play the game of Survivor. His reads on people and his strategy was impeccable. He was able to manipulate people and make every situation bend to his will, earning him the nickname the Godfather. He also made the right deals at the right time, winning him the game over the arguably more likable Ozzy Lusth. Yul also earns the distinction of working his alliance out of nearly impossible odds. He managed to knock off every member of the opposite of alliance despite being in the minority come merge time. In the end, his crutch of the all powerful god idol hurts his chances of making the top 10 winners, but he really is a fantastic winner.
10. Todd Herzog (China)
Two of the top ten all time final tribal council performances are from winners in the top ten here and the first one appears here. Todd Herzog is probably one of the most paranoid winners of this game, but his strong social bonds and sheer charisma won him the game. He also had a strong strategic game with his partner in crime Amanda Kimmel practically dominating and being a puppeteer for every part he could control in China. Also his final tribal council performance cannot be talked about enough. They way he expertly won the vote of Jean-Robert is phenomenal and one of the key reasons he won the game. In the end China really was Todd’s season and that earns him a place in the top 10.
9. J.T. Thomas (Tocantins)
Of all of the seasons I have watched of Survivor I was the most blown away by J.T. Thomas’ game in Tocantins. To see other contestants willing to throw away their life in the game just to see him win was amazing to watch. I really could not believe what I was watching. J.T. somehow managed to have probably the greatest social game of all time. Everyone loved him and no one hated him. His physical game was also unmatched in this season. In the end J.T. does not get the number one spot on this list for one reason and that is his strategic game. In order to succeed he needed someone like Stephen Fishbach to reign in his wild ideas and help them move forward. In the end, no one charms like J.T. and its hard to not put him any lower than this.
8. Jeremy Collins (Second Chance)
Probably the second best social game I have seen ever was that of Jeremy Collins in Second Chance. It was here that I realized that in the paranoid game of Survivor, people value comfort. Jeremy provided that to them and much more. Despite being this big brawny guy Jeremy found a way to make it to the end based on social game and strategy. He listened to people and made moves when he had to. In the end his game was practically flawless. It is really hard to pick apart Jeremy’s game in Cambodia because there really is not much you can say that will bring it down. He really dominated this seasons from front to back and that is the case with most of these winners from here forward.
7. Brian Heidik (Thailand)
One of the most reviled people to ever play Survivor is “The Iceman” Brian Heidik. I will admit that this guy is most likely a sociopath, but there is no denying what he was able to do in Thailand. Brain turned on a switch in himself that made himself a metaphorical killing machine in this game and turned it on the rest of this cast. He made a strong alliance from the beginning and cut all of the threats at the right time. His sociopathic tendencies allowed him to put on a likable and friendly face that made even his social game very good. Brian also won a lot of challenges down the stretch thus cementing Thailand as the Brian Heidik Experience. The only reason Brian does not make the top 5 is that he somehow only beat his goat Clay Jordan by one vote. Otherwise Brian was a machine and executed his plan perfectly all of the way to a million dollars.
6. Tony Vlachos (Cagayan)
Perhaps the only literally insane man to ever win Survivor, Tony Vlachos is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma with no key to be found. From spy shacks, to llama talking, to lying to someone just to get them to lie, Tony is a legitimate crazy person. Tony managed to somehow whirlwind himself all of the way to a victory. I may joke and say how crazy he is, but Tony really is a very smart and creative guy. He found three idols, managed to mastermind many blindsides and did what he needed to do in order to win. Tony’s greatest skill is his ability to read people and that shows in probably his greatest move ever which is convincing Woo to take him to the end. This shows how fantastic of a player Tony is an why he deserves his spot at number 6.
5. Parvati Shallow (Micronesia)
Out of the top 10 Parvati and the next person on this list are the only two to not dominate their whole season from beginning to end. Parvati makes number five on this list because she managed to cobble together the greatest alliance in Survivor history and live to tell the tale. The Black Widow Brigade is legendary and was only brought together by Parvati. She also has one of the best social games in Survivor, with her flirty personality disarming people at just the right times. Parvati is also no slouch in the challenges and knows the strategy book front to back. One also cannot underestimate her ability to stay calm in the final tribal council when so many have crumbled. Her willingness to cut people she cared about also gains high marks as she puts herself above everyone else in the game as you should. Her post merge game is one of the best in the show’s history and earns her this spot on the list.
4. Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu)
I have talked a lot about underrated winners on this list and perhaps the most underrated of them all is right here at number four. Chris Daugherty was a name I had not herd in the Survivor community until I watched Vanuatu and when I was done watching I could not believe this was the case. Chris has one of the most interesting rides to victory in the show’s history. He singlehandedly destroyed an alliance of six people from the inside while paving his own path to victory. He also has one of the best final tribal council performances in history, literally spouting bs to every single juror telling them exactly what they need to hear. Chris’ victory is so impressive that despite making major strategic miscalculations at the merge, he makes the top 5. Everyone loves a good comeback and his is the best in this show’s history.
3. Tom Westman (Palau)
The top 3 are all people who dominated every aspect of the show from start to finish with practically no mistakes and small blemishes. Tom Westman comes in at number three because he was the leader of the most successful tribe in Survivor history. Tom also was able to out strategize and out muscle everyone else in the game. He was also respected enough to gain nearly every vote at tribal council. There is no doubt that Palau is Tom Westman’s season and its not hard to see why. The only reason he is at three instead of one or two is the fact that he becomes kind of a bully at the end in order to get his way and that reflects worse than the top two.
2. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island)
Ironically enough, two of the worst seasons have produced two of the best winners for my money. Coming it at number two is none other than Boston Rob Mariano. Rob literally and figuratively controlled every single aspect of this season. It is sometimes said that he ran his alliance like a cult and that is what makes it so brilliant. He was able to create an us vs. them mentality that brainwashed everyone and kept them distracted. He was also able to win challenges and keep the opposing alliance in awe so that he could even win their votes in the end. There really is not much to say about this win because it was so like clock work and efficient. The domination was from end to end and that’s what makes Rob a good winner. His only con that keeps him from being number one is that this cast almost feels like it was hand picked for him to win as a returning player.
1. Kim Spradlin (One World)
For my money the most impressive win in Survivor history belongs to Kim Spradlin. Kim showed everything you are looking for in a great winner. She won multiple challenges, was a friendly face to all castaways, and played the perfect strategic game. She also did it on her first time out with no previous experiences to shape her win. That is what makes it more impressive that Boston Rob’s. She played the Boston Rob game, but with not experience. Some may say she had weak competition, but I do not care. She still was able to manipulate a whole group of people into loving her despite the fact that she slit their throats constantly. If you want to know how to win Survivor, go watch Kim’s game. It is the prototype and why she gets the number one spot on my list.
Well there you have it! That is my list of winner rankings from number 33 all the way down to 1. It will be interesting to see where this coming season’s winner ranks come May. Keep in mind this is all based on my personal opinion. You may have different thoughts and that is cool too. Share them with us and comment down below. Let me know who I have too high and who I do not have high enough. Keep an eye next week for my season rankings and in the future I will be doing more Survivor stats posts so keep an eye out for those as well. Until next time!