In thirty-four seasons of Survivor, there have been some amazing players. It is so incredibly hard to rank them all as they all had to overcome a different set of circumstances and navigate through completely different games. But the nonetheless, The Mastermind has attempted to compile a list of the fifty greatest players of all time. So here are a few things I took into consideration. Just because someone wins doesn’t make them a better player than someone who finishes in second, third or fourth. Similarly, just because someone did more to win their season is ranked higher on our Winner Rankings list than another winner, that doesn’t even make them a better player. This list mostly considers a players’ social game, strategic game, ability to overcome tough situations, how well they did in their season, how in-tune they were with the game and their ability to hypothetically do well in any given Survivor season. Based on those factors, my personal opinion on their capabilities, and the wide-range public opinion on what they have to offer as well, these are The Mastermind‘s top fifty Survivor players of all time after thirty-four seasons of the show.
Just Missed The Cut: Ken Hoang, Michele Fitzgerald, Stephanie LaGrossa
Honourable Mention: Terry Deitz
Terry dominated challenges in Panama, winning 5 on his way to the final three. But, he couldn’t win the most important one of all and got eliminated at that crucial final three vote. If he had made it to the finals he probably would have won. His social and strategic game is actually highly underrated and it often goes forgotten that he found an immunity idol and used it to create fear in his opponents. He also can be credited with flipping Danielle at the final four to try and eliminate Cirie and he was always scheming to try and eliminate Aras the entire competition even if though it never paid off. Terry’s downfall came when he lost the final immunity challenge which was set-up from the start to benefit Danielle. If he had made it to the final two he would have won. Yet he often goes remembered as being strictly a challenge beast and nothing more. His social and strategic game was a lot better than people give him credit for.
Honourable Mention: Natalie Bolton
Natalie is probably the most underrated player of all time. Without Natalie, the blindsides against Jason and Erik don’t happen. Natalie was incredible in both of those moves and allowed her allies to take control of the game where they received all of the credit. Natalie, being a member of the “Fans” tribe, used her good social skills and trustworthy like nature to deceive the other “Fans” in the post-merge like Erik and Jason, into thinking they could trust her when they actually couldn’t. Natalie is particularly crucial in the Erik vote off, as she is the one who manages to convince Erik to give up his necklace, making sure to tell him that it will redeem him in the eyes of the jury. Natalie was ruthless in voting both Erik and Jason out and the way she managed to get them both to trust her so easily only to vote them both out so stylishly was incredible.
TOP 50 SURVIVOR PLAYERS OF ALL TIME
50. David Wright
Despite being on the bottom of his tribe from the very start of the game and coming across at times like a paranoid lunatic, David managed to survive several votes in the early stages of the game and then out of nowhere, take control of the game when the merge hit. Although he incorrectly played his idol on Jessica Lewis, it won her trust and earned him a loyal ally for the rest of the game. From then on, David was a transformed player and was calm and composed in winning several allies over to his side. He made sure that he had people like Ken and Hannah by his side that would never go against him and despite being the figurehead of the majority alliance was able to fly under the radar for several weeks. He also made several correct moves in eliminating players like Chris and Zeke at exactly the right moments and was so powerful in the game that others were just afraid to ever go against him. David nearly made it all the way to the end of the game and had he gotten there rather than ultimately ending up in 4th place, he would have certainly won, possibly by even the same 10-0-0 margin that the actual winner of his season, Adam Klein won by.
49. Benjamin “Coach” Wade
Coach is probably too arrogant to ever win Survivor as well, but he came extremely close to doing so in Survivor South Pacific and very well may have won had he owned his game at final tribal council and not broken so many promises. Forget about Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains he was completely in control of South Pacific…with the help of Sophie of course. Unfortunately, he just underestimated Sophie and Sophie’s final tribal council speech made sure to emphasize how much of the decision maker she was over Coach, when they were in large part equal contributors. Coach also has one of the best moves in Survivor history when he convinces Cochran to flip, changing the course of Survivor South Pacific and allowing his tribe to “Pagong” the other tribe. If Coach ever returns to Survivor, he needs to learn that when the one thing you preach in the game is honesty and integrity and then don’t live up to those expectations, the jury will never respect your game.
48. Vecepia Towery
Vecepia was the first player to use and perfect the under the radar strategy. In Survivor Marquesas, she let all of the conflict occur around her while she remained non-threatening and open to working with whoever wanted to work with her. Then her end-game was pretty impressive as she flipped Kathy at final four to go against Neleh and Paschal and then voted Kathy out at final three to win her season. She was also very good at using people’s ego’s against them like she does with Hunter in episode 4, and it can’t be forgotten how the odds were stacked against her yet she still came out on top to win her season. Vecepia’s not the greatest winner of this game, but a very good player nonetheless.
47. Trish Hegarty
While Tony was burning bridges all over Survivor Cagayan, Trish was working hard to repair them. Every single relationship that Tony destroyed, Trish was right there to attempt to fix it. Trish was the key in so many of Tony’s moves. She was crucial in the Cliff vote off, she convinced Jefra to stay on her team and she was absolutely integral in Kass’s decision to flip at the merge. It’s unlikely that Tony and his allies would have ever been able to take control of Cagayan had Trish not managed to convince Kass to flip. Despite, Lindsey quitting out of fear that she would punch Trish in the face, her social game was actually incredible in Cagayan and with the way Tony was voting people off so rashly, Trish likely would have won had she managed to go to the end with him. If she’s ever given the chance to play again, I expect her to make it just as far, if not even farther than she did the first time.
46. Lex van der Berghe
Lex probably doesn’t have a good enough social game to ever win a season of Survivor, but his strategic game is very solid and possibly even one of the best. Lex ran the strategic side of the game in both of his seasons up until the point where he was voted out, something that cannot be said for very many players of this game. In Survivor Africa, Lex was one of the main architects of all of the vote offs, won challenges and then was voted out at final three due to Ethan being more likable. In Survivor All Stars, everything was coming through Lex and he was the architect of every single move his tribe made. He was only stopped by a better player, Rob Mariano. Someone with as good of a strategic game as Lex could easily return and do very well these days.
45. Ian Rosenberger
If the game of Survivor Palau is played in 2016, Ian Rosenberger likely stays on that pole for another couple of hours, wins the final immunity challenge and wins the game. But, Ian felt far too guilty for double dealing earlier on and after 13 hours perched on top of that pole, he stepped down to save his friendship with Tom and Katie. One could argue that Ian was even more in control of Koror in Survivor Palau then Tom Westman. Him and Tom made the strategic decisions together and Ian’s social and strategic game was pretty much equal to Tom’s, yet Tom to this day still gets all the credit. Ian always kept himself safe in a comfortable spot in the majority and tried not to isolate Colby who always felt at the bottom. Furthermore, when Ian realized that Gregg and Jenn might sway Katie after they took out Caryn at the final six, he gets Caryn on their side and then threatens Katie not to flip by telling her that they’ll go to rocks and Katie could end up going home. Tom actually had very little to do with this whole ordeal and the whole idea came from Ian. Tom gets all the credit for the decisions in the alliance but he didn’t do anything without confronting Ian first. It’s unfortunate that he stepped down at the final three immunity challenge to save his friendship with Tom, because he absolutely would have won had he gone against Katie and could have won had he gone against Tom as well. Instead we remember Tom as one of the greatest winners of this game and Ian as someone who made a dumb move stepping down at final three rather than as a good, maybe even great player of this game. His strategic and social game in Palau has gone down the rabbit whole and often goes completely unremembered but Ian Rosenberger is one of the greatest players to never win and would do well on any given season of Survivor.
44. Colby Donaldson
Colby Donaldson dominated the Australian Outback with his physical and mental capabilities, taking himself all the way to the end of the game. He knew exactly when to flip on Jerri and Amber and join Tina, and he was able to win his way to the end of the game where he only lost the final vote by 4-3. The challenge beast is also very good socially in the Australian Outback and was always on the right side of the vote. Colby wins most other seasons and in fact had he just taken Keith to the end instead of Tina, would be a winner of this game.
43. Cydney Gillon
Cydney might have been the best overall player in Survivor Kaoh Rong. Cydney did incredibly well pre-merge to keep everyone on her side and play to Alicia’s ego and Jason and Scot’s as well. At the merge, she made a huge move to flip against her allies after realizing that she had been replaced by Nick. This moved changed the course of the season and allowed her to remain in power with Aubry for the rest of the game until her elimination at final four. Then when Debbie started to make plans to eliminate her, Cydney quickly and decisively eliminated Debbie. The social and strategic parts of the game came naturally to her and she could have easily exploded at Jason and Scot before the merge when they were acting brash. Instead she bit her tongue and waited for the perfect time to flip. Cydney always knows how to stay in the majority and by proxy will always go far in any season.
42. Jenna Morasca
Jenna was able to win four immunity challenges to keep herself in the game. She also had a slightly strategic mind as she made a push to get Roger voted out pre-jury knowing that he would never vote for a female to win, and also gave up her immunity necklace at final six so that her best ally had no chance of going home and they could blindside Christy instead. Both of these moves proved that she was always able to recognize who was a threat to her in the game and then she was able to eliminate them before they could eliminate her. She knew that she needed to stay with the numbers to win the game and she knew that she needed to take the goat, Matt, to the end rather than Rob. She is very strategically aware of what is going on in the game and it would be fascinating to see how she would do if she ever returned to Survivor.
41. Amber Brkich
Amber latched on to Boston Rob from the very first episode and never let go, but she was almost equally part of the decision making and strategizing of their alliance, while letting Rob do all of the dirty work and get the blood on his hands, knowing she could beat him in the end if they made it there together. She also has to be credited for keeping herself in the game at the swap. We can’t forget the role that she played in that and she used her very good social skills to help convince Kathy and Lex to keep her. It wasn’t just all ‘Boston’ Rob’s work. When you actually look at Survivor All Stars, Amber’s game is actually pretty similar to Boston Rob’s, but she just has a better final tribal council performance and is able to get the respect of the jury. Like Rob, Amber is one of the few players from All Stars that was able to separate the personal bonds she had made with these people before the season started from the strategic moves she made in the game and winning an all-star season is certainly an impressive feat as well. Her strategic and social game-play almost saw no flaws and she’s a highly underrated winner.
40. Ozzy Lusth
Although I always say that Ozzy Lusth is far too arrogant to ever win Survivor, he did come desperately close on two occasions. He was one vote away from winning Cook Islands and then was one challenge away from winning South Pacific. Both times his social game was a mess and he only would have won either game due to his physical capabilities but he did have a half decent strategic game all three times he’s played and it shows in the fact that he came so close to winning two times. The zenith of Ozzy’s survivor career arguably came when he made a very bold move in asking his tribe to vote himself out so that he could go to Redemption Island, eliminate Christine from the game and get the numbers back on to his tribe’s side. Although this was a crazy move it does elucidate how Ozzy is always thinking two steps ahead of his opponent and does have a pretty decent strategic aptitude for the game. However despite coming desperately close to winning two diffferent seasons, Ozzy might actually consider himself lucky to be on this list at all.
39. Rafe Judkins
Rafe was the strategic mastermind in Survivor Guatemala and would have won had Danni not won final immunity. Rafe was Stepahnie’s closest ally. They were burning all of the same people, except Rafe remained likable and in good faith with all the jury members and easily would have had the jury votes to beat Stephanie. On top of his four individual immunity wins, Rafe was the aforementioned strategic mastermind in Guatemala, making all of the strategic decisions but making it look like it was Steph who was the one in control. Moreover, Rafe wanted to eliminate all of the goats in his season like Jamie, Judd and Lydia, to ensure that Stephanie would take him to the end instead of anyone else, but when Danni won the final challenge, Rafe fell short of a million dollars. Rafe has somehow been forgotten in Survivor history and is possibly the greatest ever non-winner to never return. The reason why he often goes unremembered seems to be that the majority of people think he made a mistake by “freeing Danni of their final two deal at final three” BUT Danni was never going to take Rafe. She was always going to take the goat in Stephenie so there is absolutely nothing he could have done. Rafe’s strategic game often goes unremembered and he’s quite honestly one of the most underrated players of all time.
38. Aras Baskauskas
Aras was the figurehead of one of the strangest alliances ever in the history of the show and used his alliance to carry himself to the end of the game. He was always in tune with what was going on and was on the right side of almost every single vote. His social game was decent, his strategic game was decent, but it was never perfect by any means. He constantly had spats with Terry and he even tried to take his biggest competition, Cirie, to the end of the game where he certainly would have lost. When he returned for Blood vs. Water he played a good pre-merge game but then got annihilated and overconfident at the merge when he was given the chance to play with his brother. That being said, his game in Panama was pretty impressive and he certainly knows how to put himself in the leadership position and then stay in control.
37. Spencer Bledsoe
Strategically, Spencer was nearly spot on with every decision he made across the board in two different seasons. Socially, at least in Cagayan, he lacked emotional intelligence and struggled to keep his allies on his side. In Survivor Cagayan, Spencer was constantly in the underdog position yet managed to escape the vote every single time he was in danger. He did have a bad problem with alienating people he didn’t like, but it’s a miracle that Tony kept him around so long, despite knowing how much of a dangerous player he was and it’s a testament to Spencer’s abilities. Spencer understands Game Theory better than most Survivor contestants and it allows him to understand exactly what moves he needs to make to advance himself in the game. In Survivor Second Chance, he was in danger of being voted out so many different times but somehow managed to escape it every single time, as other players always wanted to keep him around, thinking that he could be a loyal ally. His biggest move in Second Chance, comes when he eliminates Stephen Fishbach so that he can make himself Jeremy’s number one ally. This move was incredibly successful and ensured that he would make it to the final three. He played an incredible game to get to the end and was actually incredibly good at backing up his game at final tribal council. Only problem was, that he was sitting next to one of the greatest Survivor players and most likable figures of all time, Jeremy Collins.
36. Stephen Fishbach
Stephen Fishbach was the man behind the curtains pulling all of the strings in Survivor Tocantins, but he let JT take all of the credit at final tribal council and due to being a more likable guy, JT walked away with all seven votes. That’s actually being really harsh on JT who played one of the best if not the best social game Survivor has ever seen but Stephen was an equal contributor to all of the decisions and on a few occasions was the one coming up with the idea rather than JT. It was Fishbach’s idea to get Tyson out and it was his idea to eliminate Taj instead of Erinn at final four but at final tribal he couldn’t find the right thing to say, he couldn’t own up to his game and he didn’t emphasize that the moves in the game that he made.Stephen did everything that JT did, except be that incredible guy that everybody loved. Everyone liked Stephen, Coach even called him “The Wizard”, but they liked JT way more. But, Stephen was still the dominant strategic force in Survivor Tocantins and in most other seasons he might have won. When he returned for Survivor Second Chance he was desperate to make big moves and build his resume so that if he got to the end, the jury would be able to understand his game better than they could in Tocantins. But he flamed out after picking up the advantage and thus becoming too much of a target in the game. But, his game in Tocantins still remains as one of the best games by a non-winner.
35. Yau-Man Chan
Yau-Man was Earl’s best bud, making all of the strategic and social moves with Earl and keeping a hidden immunity idol in his pocket on his way to the final four. Yau-Man was always looking for a way to advance himself in the game like when he made a deal with Dreamz that if he gave Dreamz the car he won at the reward that Dreamz wouldn’t take him out at final four. But, Yau-Man was eventually taken out at final four by Dreamz and if he had somehow managed to win that final challenge and make it to the final three, he would have been able to win and possibly would have even beaten Earl. His social game is amazing and although probably not intentional, because he’s just naturally such a great guy, it still will go a long way for him in any given season.
34. Jon Dalton
Playing in the season right after Survivor Amazon, Jonny Fairplay was looking to emulate Rob Cesternino, and did a very good job of it. Fairplay switched back and forth between alliances while always keeping himself out of danger and then just like Rob, he lost the final immunity challenge and was sent home at final three. Obviously there’s the dead grandmother incident which may or may not have bought him some extra time in the game, but there’s also his brilliant move where he pits Darrah and Lil against each other and Darrah ends up going home. Jonny Fairplay is someone who understands strategy and although one of the greatest villains of his time, he’s a very solid Survivor strategist. Fairplay’s social game isn’t great as he typically got into spats with his fellow cast-mates, in particular Rupert and Sandra, but he did have a couple of incredible moves that certainly deserve notice and certainly give him a name as being one of the greatest all time players.
33. Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm is one of those players that is always willing to do whatever it takes and make whatever move he needs to make to advance himself in the game. But unlike Russell, Spencer or Tony, he’s able to remain likable and never alienate anyone. If he had made it to the end of the game either of his two seasons, he would have won. In Survivor Philippines, Malcolm managed to escape every single vote by remaining likable and trustworthy until he was voted out at final four. In Survivor Caramoan, he immediately found an idol, got his meat shields around him, convinced Reynold to give him his idol even though he nor Reynold needed it, and made an incredibly flashy move to blindside Phillip. If Corinne hadn’t foolishly told Dawn their plan at the merge, Malcolm and his allies could have taken control of the entire game. His strategical awareness is fantastic and his social game is really strong as well. He’s a bit of an overrated player but nonetheless, a very good one.
32. Natalie White
One of the greatest social players and most underrated players ever. Natalie recognized early on that the aggressive females of her tribe were all being voted out and so she tended to Russell’s every need, made herself seem unassuming and dumb and played to his ego masterfully while telling Jaison and Mick to stick with him as well, saying that they could both beat him in the end while still making herself look unassuming and beatable as well. She then made an incredible move to get Erik Cardona eliminated at the merge, approaching Galu sweetly and softly and emphasizing that if they eliminated Erik they would still have a seven to four advantage and nothing to lose. But it would turn out that Galu would have everything to lose as Natalie and Russell would take control of the rest of the game. Natalie’s game is similar to Trish’s in Cagayan, yet Natalie managed to win. While Russell was burning bridges and being incredibly rude to the members of Galu, Natalie was working hard at building social bonds with the members of Galu and getting them to trust and like her. In doing this, Natalie always made sure to keep in good name with the jury members and make sure they appreciated and respected her game. At final tribal council, she connected with each jury member on a personal level, she highlighted Russell’s arrogance and Mick’s lack of leadership and she made sure to let everyone know why her game was the best for her and not for anyone else. She was also on the right side of the vote every single time, proving to be incredibly in-tune with the game and the personal connections she had built with the jury members allowed her to win the season.
31. Ethan Zohn
Ethan knows how to get himself in the power position and then remain likable and closely connected to all of his allies. No one has really ever won the game by playing the way he played, which was with politeness, kindness and a sense of calmness and relaxation. He’s not great TV, just a good social player who can build a tight alliance and then go with them to the end of the game. Ethan wasn’t afraid to go against his two biggest allies, Tom and Lex and he still managed to get both of their votes in the end, highlighting his good social awareness and likability. He also made an underrated move to throw the challenge at the tribe swap to eliminate Silas and keep Lex and Big Tom safe. But, like Aras, apart from building a strong alliance he doesn’t do much of anything at all apart from being a polite and nice guy that people want to be around. When he returned for All Stars, he was quickly targeted for being a previous winner, but managed to make it farther than any other winner made it that season, proving again how good of a social player he can be.
30. Mike Holloway
Mike is another highly underrated winner with a great story. On his way to the end of the Survivor Worlds Apart, Mike won 5 immunity challenges and found an immunity idol which he used to eliminate Tyler, coming back from one of the biggest blunders in Survivor history to create one of the best underdog stories in Survivor history. He did destroy his social game, but he worked desperately hard to repair it and eventually managed to get Carolyn and Sierra back on his side. Another really good part of Mike’s game that often goes forgotten is the pre-merge in which he was the leader of “Blue Collar” and purposefully threw an immunity challenge to keep his best ally, Kelly safe and eliminate Joaquin who was stealing Rodney away from him. The “Tonight I’m playing my idol for Shirin” move also shows his strategic savvy-ness and his willingness to always fight for his spot in the game. Mike is a good winner and a highly underrated one as well. I would suspect him to be able to do almost as well in a returnee season.
29. Adam Klein
Adam is just such a smart guy and in any given season has the Survivor knowledge, game awareness and sociability to go extremely far. Although very recent, Adam Klein’s victory in Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X is one of the hardest to dissect. Sure the man won in stunning fashion by a 10-0-0 vote, following in the footsteps of players like JT, Jeremy, Earl and Cochran but had he gone up against several other players he may have actually lost the game which can’t be said for the majority of the winners ranked below him. Adam had a reasonably strong hold of the game, always knew where he stood, was able to separate in-game feelings from real-life relationships (such as his relationship with Jay), and was willing to do anything and blindside anyone to win the game while still playing a pretty low key style in the process. Adam did however make a few infamous mistakes including thinking he could trust Taylor when he couldn’t, coming across as though he was rubbing it in the face of Jay when he blindsided Taylor and arguably incorrectly playing both idols. Again however, if any trust was lost in the Taylor incident he did do an astute job at gaining trust back with his allies to the point where he was never in danger. Adam also knew that he had to eliminate anyone he couldn’t beat in the game like Jay and David and was successful in his attempts. He also eliminated these players at exactly the right moment to solidify his place in the finals. The jury wanted someone to take David out and Adam was the person that did it, which is one of the main reasons why he swept all the votes. Overall the homeless shelter manager benefits a lot from his honest approach to the game which made everyone feel like they could trust him at all times. Adam Klein is not the best player of all time but, a very, very good one and he certainly deserved to win Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X.
28. Aubry Bracco
You can play an incredible strategic and social game but at the end of the day if the jury can’t see it, you won’t win the game. That is exactly what happened to Aubry Bracco and she is unfortunately perhaps the only player who made it to the finals and truly deserved to win her season but somehow lost. Aubry almost certainly would be higher on this list had she been able to get the necessary jury votes to win the game and we have to credit Michele for making her game more visible for the jury to see. But, Aubry dominated Kaoh Rong and should have won. She was almost always in control of what was going on, made an incredible social move to flip Tai on to her side and then throughout the game kept him and her other allies always on her side, to the extent where Tai didn’t want to go against her at final four even though it made the most strategic sense for him. Aubry is a very good strategic player, an even better social player and she absolutely should have won Survivor Kaoh Rong.
27. Tina Wesson
Tina played one of the best social games of all time and it is the reason why she won over challenge beast Colby who was seemingly more active in the season. She was on the right side of almost every vote and made a key move to sway Colby on to her side away from Jerri and Amber in the pre-merge part of the game. She also played a very key role in keeping the members of the other tribe on her side at the merge as she was able to pick up Elizabeth and Roger, use them to her advantage to take out people like Jerri and Amber and then discard them at final five and four. Tina’s social game also arises out of the fact that she’s just genuinely an amazing person. She’s just a lovely lady and to me that makes her social game even more impressive that she was able to both use her amazing personality as a means of advancing in the game strategically and as a way of building friendships and trust with other people.
26. Kelley Wentworth
Like Drew Christy, I saw the potential that Kelley Wentworth had to be a dangerous player in Survivor San Juan del Sur, and it was disappointing when she kind of got screwed over by a tribe swap. When she returned for Survivor Second Chance, she was ready to show what she was made of. On the very first day, she found a clue to a hidden immunity idol and then retrieved it at the next challenge. She then kind of floated under the radar, going with the numbers, remaining open to all ideas and then at the tribe swap, she was willing to throw Terry under the bus so that she could keep herself in the game. After making it to the merge, despite being on the bottom as one of the members of “The Three Witches”, she managed to keep close relationships with Keith and Joe who both mistakenly told her that she was going home at final twelve, allowing her to use her idol to eliminate Andrew Savage. After that, she was still on the bottom, but she managed to continue to escape the next couple of votes as she continued to remain open to all ideas, found another idol, played it to save herself again, and was one challenge away from making it to the final three. In Second Chance, Wentworth was always on the bottom, yet she almost came out on top. If she had won the final challenge, there’s every chance that she could have even won the game.
25. Russell Hantz
In back to back seasons without really ever having time to evaluate his game, Russell played two of the best strategic games Survivor has ever seen. But, as good as his strategic game was, his social game was equally bad and he ended up losing horribly both times to players who used his ego to their benefit. But, we still can’t ignore how he’s one of the greatest strategists of all time. One of the best moves in Survivor history is when Russell tells Tyson that he’s voting for Parvati, gets Tyson to flip his vote to Parvati, and then uses his idol to save Parvati, sending Tyson home. But he’s also the strategic mastermind behind getting Shambo and Fincher to flip in Samoa. Actually he’s the strategic mastermind behind everything that happens in Samoa. He found three idols and used them all to great effect, flipping Shambo, saving himself and eliminating Kelly, and creating fear against voting for him. He also told that lie on the very first night to get people to trust him and endear themselves to him when he told everyone that his dog died in Hurricane Katrina. This is probably the most elaborate and amazing lie since Jonny Fairplay’s dead grandmother incident and it was totally unnecessary. Samoan Russell was just a freak of nature and he may not have ever been able to win the game but had he managed to do it some way, shape or form, he would have easily gone down as one of the best winners of all time. Every time someone “threatened” Russell, he immediately sent them packing before they could do anything about it. But the major knock against him in Samoa was that he didn’t recognize however how much of a threat Natalie was to his game, and lost to her catastrophically. Whatever people want to say about his social game, Russell does have this uncanny ability to get people on his side and make them think that he is a viable option to work with. Shambo didn’t just flip to Russell’s side for no reason in Samoa. Jerri and Coach didn’t just flip on to Russell’s side in Heroes vs. Villains for no reason. Russell made those moves happen by knowing how to play the hidden immunity idol and how to create paranoia in other people’s minds to the point where they wanted to work with him. This just shows how savvy he is in the game and how Russell is strategically one of the best in the business. His game in Heroes vs. Villains is slightly less flashy by Russell standards, but he still has a number of good moves, as mentioned he does brilliant to flip Jerri and Coach, allowing him to go on and dominate the rest of the game, but he also allows JT to think that there’s a women’s alliance going on and retrieves the idol from JT before giving it to Parvati, he eliminates Danielle when he realizes that Danielle and Parvati are closer than him and Parvati, and his play against Tyson is again, one of the best moves of all time. But the point of Survivor is not to make big moves, it’s to make subtle moves and then make the jury like you and win the money. Russell can’t do either of those things and that’s why he is not as good of a Survivor player as he would like to believe. His social game is incredibly bad at times and even though he played a near flawless strategic game in Heroes vs. Villains and Samoa, he was never going to get the necessary jury votes to win and that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad player, but it certainly makes him lower down on this list than others. With all this being said, you can’t deny that in HvV and Samoa, Russell always got his way. Anytime someone gunned for him, they were taken immediately disposed of because of Russell. Whether this is the right approach to the game or not, you can’t deny that Russell Hantz was a special Survivor player that always found a way to make it work for him and get to the end of the game.
24. Sarah Lacina
Sarah was absolutely stellar in Survivor Game Changers. She came into the season as someone no one would have even thought to be a good player of this game and completely surpassed expectations with her fantastic social and strategic play. The way she maneuvered through the game, swinging back and forth yet still maintaining positive relationships with everyone in the game was incredible to watch. Sarah by no means played a flawless game as stated by Michaela Bradshaw, one of the seven out of ten to vote for her in the end, but she did play excellently well and somehow she was able to be a driving force behind practically every single vote without ever making herself into the next big target, something very few others have been able to do in this game. By constantly playing the middle, she was able to always be able to vote for the person that went home and simultaneously stay in good faith with every single person in the game regardless of where her vote actually went. Moreover, she always remained in the know of what was happening, which is why she was such a crucial deciding vote every single time and the way she cut certain players like Andrea, Michaela and Zeke in pretty ruthless fashion while still getting their votes in the end was pretty amazing to see. It might take some time to fully analyze Sarah’s game and where she should truly rank but my initial instinct is to put her as one of the best players to play this game. She truly did an amazing job to win her season.
23. Amanda Kimmel
Very few players have been able to play the game of Survivor three times and do as well in all three of their seasons as Amanda Kimmel has done. In Survivor China, Amanda was Todd’s right hand woman and succeeded in going all the way to the end of the game with him. It was her idea to blindside James with two idols in his pocket and she was an equal part of the decision making to Todd for the majority of the game. She just had a really poor performance at final tribal council that let Todd take the win. When she returned for Survivor Micronesia, she quickly formed another unbreakable bond, this time with Parvati. Amanda and Parvati were working strategically together the entire game, Parvati’s game was just slightly more impressive as the numbers she kept on her side stayed in the game compared to the people that Amanda was closest to who were eliminated like Ozzy and James. She also saved herself with a hidden immunity idol to eliminate Alexis and had a slightly better final tribal where she managed to pick up three out of the eight votes. When she returned for Survivor Heroes vs. Villains she was always in the best position out of everyone in the heroes tribe and everything was coming through her. Finally, she seemed to be more of the figurehead of her alliance and was on a really good path to the end of the game. But, she got outplayed by Parvati once again and was eliminated at the final nine for being the most threatening of the remaining Heroes. But, if the Heroes had been able to take control at the merge rather than the Villains, Amanda absolutely would have gone to the final three again and very well may have won.
22. Sophie Clarke
Sophie Clarke is excellent in all areas of the game. She was always so calm and composed in her season yet was willing to seperate all emotions and eliminate her opponents pretty ruthlessley. Her control and social awareness was better than anyone on South Pacific and she played off of Coach’s ego perfectly and let him take all of the heat for the blindsides at final tribal. Sophie used Coach to advance herself in the game and although Coach thought he was the leader of the alliance, Sophie was just as much in control. Her social game wasn’t always as stellar as it could have been but it was good enough to win 6 out of 9 votes, including the vote of Ozzy who seemed to dislike her during the season. It was also her idea to take out Brandon and Rick, saving herself on both occasions and demonstrating her awareness of who needed to go home in what order. She also won that crucial final four immunity challenge to help not let Ozzy win the season and to save Survivor. She’s also one of the winners that is helped by luck the least as she was always in control of the situation and was never left out of the loop.
21. Denise Stapely
Denise probably overcame more odds to win than any other Survivor player in history as she attended and escaped every single tribal council of her season. She was good in challenges, and gave everyone a reason to keep her around even though they didn’t have any obligation to. Denise used her social skills as a sex therapist to be able to connect with every single person on that island, somehow even managing to win the jury vote of Brazilian dragon Abi-Maria. She was always aware of what was going on and knew it was necessary to eliminate her partner in crime, Malcolm, at the final four. As a slightly older woman, it’s very difficult to advance yourself in the game, but Denise somehow managed to do it and win. She was never the one calling the shots, but her good social game allowed her to perfectly connect with others and made them all want to keep her around. Denise’s social game is very good, her strategic game is solid and she’s a very good winner of this game.
20. Danni Boatwright
Danni overcame one of the greatest odds to ever win the game, overcoming a 6-4 numbers disadvantage, that was later reduced to a 5-1 disadvantage, with her being the one. She was horrendously disadvantaged in the game but she managed to perfectly ingratiate herself well into the Nakum tribe and get them all to trust her and respect her, making a final three deal with Rafe and Stephanie that saw her make it all the way to the final two and win the season. At final seven, Danni votes off her strongest ally in Gary, to allow her to be able to work with the rest of the group. She also wins a crucial advantage at the Survivor auction the next day, which she uses perfectly to help herself win the next immunity challenge and keep herself safe. Danni played a game similar to Jeremy, keeping all the bigger targets in an alliance with herself so that she would never become the target, while also letting the big players from both sides go after each other while she was able to fly under the radar. What makes Danni’s win even more impressive is that she is probably one of the only winners who could play the exact same way a second time and win the game again. Her game is very much an under the radar one but it’s very subtle, low-key and social as well.
19. Chris Daugherty
Chris Daugherty overcame more odds to win than almost any other player in the history of Survivor. Also, his final tribal council is one of the best, if not the best, of all time. He plays an incredibly key role in the destruction of the women’s alliance and him siding with the three most unlikable out of the group was certainly intentional. He’s able to get Julie to trust him and she constantly gives him useful information that he is able to use against her. Then he somehow manages to convince Eliza to join in an alliance with her two mortal enemies Twila and Scout. Once he flipped the game around and came into power, his strategic game flourished as he eliminated the immunity challenge threats to give himself a shot at winning immunity challenges, including vital final six and final four wins and the most important one of all at final three. The amount of lies he had told in the game and the amount of personal bonds he had broken with the women should have meant that he wasn’t going to win, but his final tribal council performance was incredible and he secured fives votes out of seven to give him that win. At final tribal, he was apologetic, he owned up to his game, and he gave every single jury member exactly what they wanted to hear, even if it wasn’t true. Chris Daugherty is a truly underrated and amazing winner of this game.
18. John Cochran
His game in South Pacific wasn’t great, but he returned in Caramoan a changed man. Cochran was the mastermind of Survivor Caramoan and led a string of impressive blindsides before taking two goats to the end and winning 8-0-0.He also never had a vote cast against him, won 3 crucial immunity challenges and was always on the right side of the votes. Cochran used his non-threatening nature and the other players in the game to his advantage. He let Dawn take all of the heat for the moves their alliance made even though they were equally responsible. One of the keys to Cochran’s win was always talking to his fellow cast-mates on a strategic level. Meanwhile, Dawn constantly spoke to her fellow contestants on a personal level which led them to feel more betrayed by her than Cochran when they were voted out. Even though Cochran was rarely the one calling the shots, he managed to get each and every jury member to respect his game and give him the votes to win. The fact that he won by getting all eight votes, tells you how good of a game he played.
17. Tyson Apostol
Although he struggled in Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains, Tyson returned to Blood vs. Water a changed player. Tyson instantly made himself part of a strong alliance at the very start of the game and he rode it all the way to the end, never losing power. He had a very good read on players and tried his best to make Ciera feel as comfortable as he could as he knew he needed a fourth person in his alliance. But, Gervase and Monica constantly referring to her as “number four” screwed that up for him a little bit. It wasn’t just with Ciera though, Tyson worked very hard to make everyone in his alliance feel valued and a part of the group and he always asked for their opinion before stating his own. He was also incredibly aware of everything that was going on in the game and voted the right way almost every single time. The nice thing about Tyson’s win is how much he learned from his previous seasons and from the previous winners of his season. He used everything he learned to benefit him in Blood vs. Water and came out on top. He also cleverly went to the end with the two people that he had done all of the backstabbing with, forcing the jury to vote for one of them and Tyson was the obvious choice. Tyson is a great winner of Survivor, just not one of the best as others have overcome greater odds or accomplished far more in their seasons but because he’s such a strategically sound-player and he always knew what was going on in BvW, so he certainly deserves to be ranked high up on this list.
16. Brian Heidik
As Survivor Thailand is one of the seasons that was the hardest for me to watch, I don’t have as good of a read on Brian Heidik as many others, but I still know how good of a player and winner of this game he was. Brian played the game in a similar fashion to Kim, Rob and Jeremy except he was the first to do their strategy effectively. Brian made everyone around him feel comfortable and made everyone feel like they were going to the finals with him, even though he knew that he was always going to take the biggest goat to the end in Clay. He had close bonds with everyone in his alliance, but they didn’t have particularly close bonds with each other, allowing everything to always come through him. He also intentionally kept the weak players around knowing that it would help him win immunity challenges which proved to be absolutely crucial as he won the final three immunity challenges to take himself into the final two. His social game wasn’t actually as good as people make it out to be though. He somehow also manages to convince everyone in the game that he was an amazing person that they all wanted to be around even though he was actually kind of a jerk behind their backs in confessionals. His social game and final tribal council performance aren’t amazing, but he’s still a very good strategic winner of this game.
15. Rob Cesternino
Rob is responsible for revolutionizing strategy in the game of Survivor more than any other player has ever done before. He invented things like aligning with the people on the bottom to take out the people on the top, taking out the swing vote, and switching back and forth between alliances to always keep the pressure off of himself. Christy thought she was in the best position at the final six of Survivor Amazon, but Rob quickly demolished her hopes. Rob’s move to take out the swing vote in Christy was masterful but what often goes forgotten is that at every single stage in the game, Rob was positioned in the best possible position to win, and nearly did, falling just one challenge short. He had goats around him in every direction. Matt the biggest goat of all was his strongest ally, but Butch, Jenna and Christy would have also been suitable options to take to the end. He was so incredibly unlucky not to win that final challenge and if he had done, he would have gone down as one of the greatest winners of all time.
14. Richard Hatch
Without Richard, there is no game of Survivor today. Richard changed the way the game was played by inventing the way the game was played. He created a strong four person alliance when everyone else refused to make alliances at all and then used his four person alliance to make it all the way to the final four and then final two, where he was able to win over the jury to give him the million dollars. Rich is seriously a strategic mastermind who probably would still be able to play a very good game if he were to play again today. At the final three immunity challenge pictured above, Richard stepped down, knowing that both Rudy and Kelly would take him to the final two but knowing that if he won he would have to betray Rudy which wouldn’t have looked good in the jury’s eyes and would have possibly lost Rudy’s vote as well. Richard’s also very clever at the Jenna vote as he used Sean’s alphabet strategy against him, knowing that Jenna was the next name in the alphabet and that Kelly was starting to drift away from his group, Rich, Sue and Rudy put their votes on Jenna knowing that Sean was going to as well which secured Richard’s stay in the game. The most impressive thing about Richard’s win is of course the fact that he invented the game itself, but he also made some deft moves to secure himself a place in the final two and secure the win as well which can’t be forgotten.
13. Natalie Anderson
Natalie’s win in Survivor San Juan del Sur is incredible and I really wish I could rank her in the top ten because of how highly I think of her as a player. Early on in the game, she quickly got herself in the majority by aligning herself with bigger targets like Jeremy and Missy and was the only female member of Huhnapu to truly be in the good graces of both the females and the males of the tribe. Drew Christy even said in his boot episode “I’m counting you as one of the guys”. Natalie really came to life though after her biggest ally, Jeremy Collins was voted out of the game at final ten. This acted as a wake-up call for her and she went on to blindside Alec, Jon, and Baylor in a really flashy fashion while remaining calm, cool and level-headed throughout the game. Everything Natalie did in the game was calculated and well-thought out out to a tee. She would do things like give up rewards for other people to solidify them in her alliance, volunteer herself to go to exile so that she could find the idol and eliminate Alec but then lie and say it was a mistake and that she thought that was the plan. She also somehow managed to blindside Jon with an idol in his pocket by making him feel so comfortable with her in the game as she would constantly take him on rewards. The she blindsided Baylor in fantastic fashion right in front of the jury’s eyes by playing her idol for Jaclyn. With all of these big moves playing out right in front of the jury’s eyes, they had no choice but to vote for her. Natalie was brilliant, savvy and an incredible winner of the game. Her win is enough to make even Jeff Probst proud as she arguably made more “big moves” than anyone other than Tony and played the most Parvati like game since Parvati herself.
12. Tom Westman
Tom is one of the most dominant winners ever in this game. He controlled every fibre of his alliance and won by a score of 6-1, only losing Coby’s vote. He was a strong leader of a strong tribe and is probably the main reason why Koror was so dominant and didn’t lose a single immunity challenge. Tom also won 5 individual immunity challenges post-merge to propel himself in to the finals, including the final three challenge where he manipulates Ian into stepping down. He was also always one step ahead of his competition, eliminating Greg, Coby and Stephanie before they became too dangerous in the game. The way he was voting people off was actually quite ruthless, yet the jury still respected him incredibly because of how good of a social player he was. The only qualm I have with Tom is that he doesn’t make Coby feel like he’s a part of the group enough, which is why he ultimately votes against Tom and votes for Katie to win instead. But the fact that he only has one flaw in his game speaks for itself. When he returned for Heroes vs. Villains, Tom actually did very well. He was just on the wrong side of the numbers and targeted early because everyone knew how big of a threat he was. Tom was constantly trying to find cracks in the majority alliance, found the hidden immunity and played it perfectly by flipping JT over and voting out Cirie. Tom is a very incredible winner and it’s unlikely that anyone could ever play the game quite like he did and win ever again.
11. Yul Kwon
Yul Kwon is probably one of the best Survivor strategists of all time. He also has one of the best moves in Survivor history when he flips Jonathan Penner on his side to decrease his 5-4 numbers disadvantage. He says to Jonathan if you don’t come over with us, I’m going to use this idol and we’re going to vote for you, which forces Jonathan to have to join his side and allows Yul to take control of the game. He also keeps his promise to Adam by eliminating Jonathan Penner before him and securing his vote at the the end of the game, which just might have been the deciding vote as Yul beat Ozzy by 5-4. Yul is a master of negotiation, strategy and mathematics and it is absolutely what won him the game. He was always looking at what everyone else in the game’s best options were and finding a way to work around that to benefit him, like he did with Candace, Adam and Jonathan Penner. His social game is also really excellent as he remains cool and level-headed the entire game and is the figurehead of his alliance without ever being directly targeted. Other than that incredible idol play, being the figure-head of his alliance and a solid social game, there’s not too much more we can say about his game. He and all of his allies certainly would have been voted off had he not flipped exactly the right person in order to take control of the game at exactly the right time. Being such an incredibly intelligent guy, he could certainly win this game again.
10. James “JT” Thomas
As I’ve mentioned before, JT has the best social game performance in the history of Survivor and his win in Tocantins is one of the most incredible ever as well. Everyone loved JT, Brendan even said in the merge episode that JT winning would be the most satisfying outcome if he wasn’t going to win. JT lied several times to Coach and even though Coach constantly raved about how he valued honesty and integrity in the game above all else, he still voted for JT to win, that is just one example of many of how good of a social game he had. With his charm and likable personality, everyone wanted to form an alliance with JT and he was able to navigate his way through the game without ever having a single vote cast against him. He also overcame some incredible odds simply due to his likability factor as he was down 6-3 in numbers after Joe’s medical evacuation but was then used as a way for the Timbira members to get out each other until only Erinn was left. Like many other winners as well, he won the last three immunity challenges to keep himself safe in the game and take whoever he wanted with him along the way. Although Stephen played a better strategic game, JT walked away with all seven votes, proving how important social game is in Survivor and proving how much of a dominant player he was. I don’t think that an alpha male with the size, stature and challenge ability of ‘JT’ would ever be able to win in quite the same manner, making his win all the more impressive.
9. Earl Cole
Earl’s win was incredibly commanding. He was able to align himself with a strong group of people, most notably his best bud in the game, Yau-Man, and then take his alliance to the end of the game with two immunity idols on his side. He also convinced Dreamz and Cassandra to flip on to his side allowing him to easily take control of the post-merge part of the game and then he knows exactly when to cut his best ally loose and take two goats to the end in order to win the money in an amazing 9-0-0 vote. His social game is amazing as he is able to connect with every single player in the game on a personal level, and make people like Anthony who was completely disregarded by many others in the game, feel a part of something in the game and feel appreciated. One of the things that I found most amazing about Earl’s win, although I don’t honour it as merit to include him higher in the rankings, is that he was recruited just two days before filming began after someone else dropped out. He went into the season with little to no knowledge on Survivor at all, yet somehow managed to win by playing one of the best games the show has ever seen. Earl doesn’t have one particularly standout strategic move besides eliminating Yau-Man which was always the obvious thing to do, but he is seriously one of the best social players in the history of the show and an incredibly deserving winner, as one of just four players to ever win in a blowout victory.
8. Jeremy Collins
In Survivor San Juan del Sur, Jeremy dominated the pre-merge part of the game, leading a solid alliance into the merge with numbers around him on all sides. He was tactically and socially brilliant and was in the best position to win the game right up until the point where Jon and Jaclyn flipped because they knew they could never beat him. So when Jeremy returned to Second Chance, he had learned from his mistakes of not keeping bigger threats around and hit the ground running by creating an incredible alliance of people that throughout the course of the season would all make themselves bigger targets than him, exactly what he wanted. As everyone else was running around trying to build their resume’s, Jeremy remained calm, relax and cool and let the chaos erupt around him while he remained under the radar. Knowing that Stephen, with the advantage in his pocket would always be a bigger threat than him, Jeremy played his idol to save Stephen at the exact right moment. He also played an immunity idol again at final five to save himself, showing how perceptive he was in the game. The most impressive thing about Jeremy’s game in Cambodia is that everything came through him. All of his allies talked to him and then he would go talk to everyone else. Spencer was closest to Jeremy, Tasha was closest to Jeremy, Stephen was closest to Jeremy, Andrew was closest to Jeremy, everyone in his alliance was closest to him, allowing him to always be in control without the others really even knowing. In addition, Jeremy kept the fact that his wife was pregnant a secret the entire season, knowing that it would only make him a bigger target as someone who could win more and more jury votes. He waited for exactly the right moment to tell everyone, in his final words at final tribal council to secure all ten votes, winning in the biggest margin the show has ever seen. Everyone who has played since has tried to emulate Jeremy, emphasizing how much he revolutionized and popularized the modern strategies of the game and how much of an impact he has made on the evolution of strategy on Survivor.
7. Tony Vlachos
Tony did what Russell couldn’t, vote people off in a flashy way and use hidden immunity idols to brilliant effect, but then still get the respect of the jury and win the game. I rank Tony’s win so highly because it is so incredibly hard to follow and so incredibly hard for him to achieve. Whether he made it more difficult for himself by constantly flip-flopping back and forth every vote, he still managed to pull of the win by playing in one of the most crazy and ridiculous manners ever seen on the show. Tony was all over the place in Cagayan and constantly chopped and changed who his strongest allies were voting both his best friends and enemies out of the game in an incredibly flamboyant manner. He also used the immunity idol in Yul Kwon fashion, protecting himself from the vote and scaring others into voting against him as he would metaphorically shove his idol in the faces of the other contestants by constantly wearing it around his neck and telling everyone that it had special powers that he could use to get whatever he wanted in the game. Tony is one of the most truly unique Survivor players and winners and no one, not even Tony himself could play the game the same way he played and ever win again. It was just that crazy of a game. As soon as Tony saw someone as a threat he eliminated them straight away, using his precise reads on people and the skills he acquired over his lifetime as a police officer to sense danger at every turn. He also built this incredible spy shack which he used to spy on the other contestants of his tribe and gather useful information like the fact that Lindsey and Cliff didn’t trust him, which he used to vote Cliff off right away. This type of game-play has never been used before and the fact that he was never caught spying on his fellow contestants is simply one more thing that makes him amazing. Moreover, how he managed to convince Woo to take him to the end of the game is absolutely amazing as well. This is usually seen as by a dumb mistake by Woo, and people often forget how much of crucial role Tony had in making it happen. Tony manipulated Woo by playing to what he knew Woo valued most which was honesty, integrity and all that other stuff that Coach also likes, and then using that against him by saying to Woo that it would go against his whole personality, values and beliefs if he were to vote him out at final three. Tony convincing Woo to take him is the crucial move that Tony makes as it allows him to win the season and although he didn’t do himself any favours at final tribal when he put in a relatively poor performance, he was never going to lose this season as he played one of the most ridiculously incredible games ever on Survivor and the jury couldn’t help but reward him for it. I would love to see Tony again but I just get the feeling that he’d be the first person voted off because everyone would be so scared to go up against him knowing how much he is capable of. He remained loyal to nobody, even those that were never going to go against him like Woo and Trish and his 8-1 win was incredibly deserved. His reputation will not be tarnished for his lackluster performance in Survivor Game Changers when he got caught trying to play to the audience rather than trying to play the game and went out in 19th place. Tony is still one of the greatest winners and characters in Survivor history.
6. Todd Herzog
Todd is one of the most self-aware, in-tune and strategically sound players in Survivor history and his win is just absolutely incredible. Early on John-Robert sees him as a threat and so Todd makes himself appear like he’s not a threat and tries to get John-Robert on his side so that JR doesn’t go against him. He then builds strong bonds with Amanda and Aaron, hoping that they would both take more of the blame for the strategic moves that the three of them could make in the game. Then when Aaron gets eliminated at the swap, Todd absorbs Courtney and lunch lady Denise into his alliance, which were brilliant choices as both were never going to go against him in the game. At final nine, seven of the nine thought that they were best friends with Todd, even though he was only really loyal to Amanda and Courtney. Everyone trusted Todd even though no one should have trusted him. He’s one of the slimiest players to ever play this game after all! The fact that everyone was so trusting of him allowed Todd to be on the right side of every single vote, also being the driver for many of the votes. He also had what many consider to be the best final tribal council performance ever. As James Clement says, Todd “Shut John-Robert up and John Robert never shuts up” with an incredibly good answer to JR’s question as he stroked John Robert’s ego amazing well which won his vote, the crucial vote in a 4-2-1 win. He also owned up to his game, made no apologies and outlined why he needed to do everything that he did to win the game which easily earned the respect back of the jurors. One more incredibly impressive thing about Todd’s game was that he was only 22 when he did it all, proving age is just a number. The fact that he hasn’t returned to Survivor is really unfortunate and I really hope that one day he does return and shows everyone why he is one of the greatest players this game has ever seen.
5. Cirie Fields
Cirie is one of the greatest social players and one of the greatest strategic players of all time Survivor. Also, not only is she the greatest player to never win, she’s my choice for the fourth greatest player of all time. In Survivor Panama, Cirie was incredible. From the very first vote, she was in danger of going home but managed to get herself out of it. At the tribe swap, she was again at the bottom and in danger of going home but managed to get out of it by working hard around camp and building strong social bonds with the people who held the most power. When she finally became in power herself, she remained non-threatening and likable, acting as the mother around camp. Then she made an incredible move to eliminate Courtney, the season’s goat, so that she had a better chance of going to the finals, knowing that everyone wanted to take Courtney to the end rather than her. She was never the leader of her alliance, but she didn’t need to be. She let others take control of the main stage while she pulled subtle and incredible social and strategic moves behind closed doors. Her social game was so good that Aras was willing to jeopardize his own game to take her to the final two. Then when she returned for Survivor Micronesia, she made the right move in siding with Parvati and Amanda, remained in power the entire game, worked with Parvati to blindside Ozzy, worked with Natalie to blindside Jason and then she was the most crucial person in the Erik vote off. In the Erik blinside, Cirie was the one who came up with the idea for Natalie to try and convince him to give her the necklace, she was the one who made the best effort and best arguments for Erik to give up his necklace and then she was the one that made the plan for Amanda and Parvati to be bitter against Erik at tribal council that night while she and Natalie would seem like they were still open to working with Erik. If Micronesia had been a final three like the four seasons before it, Cirie probably would have won. When she returned for Heroes vs. Villains she somehow managed to keep herself out of danger for a while again. She had the numbers around her once again and was in a good spot to take control of the game. Unfortunately, JT flipped and she was sent home when Tom played his idol. Cirie still though is one of the best players to ever play this game and her games in Survivor Micronesia and Survivor Panama are just absolutely incredible.
4. Sandra Diaz-Twine
Sandra knows how to keep the pressure off of herself and remain under the radar. The key to Sandra’s game is that she remains in the majority and open to voting whoever the power-players want out, while always keeping the target off of herself. Whenever she’s in danger she’ll make a nifty maneuver to get the target off of her back like she does with Burton in Pearl Islands, and Coach in Heroes vs. Villains. Sandra is the mastermind of the fly under the radar strategy and makes it all the way to the end in both of her seasons despite being perceived as the weakest person on her tribe from very early on both times. Sandra also gets herself into a good position where she can take two unlikable players to the end in both of her seasons, Parvati and Russell in HvV and Lil and Fairplay in Pearl Islands. Sandra was never the decision maker or the one building or leading alliances, but she was always right there in the majority always keeping the pressure off of herself and always voting with the majority as well. In terms of her win in Pearl Islands, she doesn’t do that much strategically to win other than a nifty move against Burton. But, her final tribal council performance is one of the best ever and she is really good at connecting with each jury member and giving them a reason to vote for her. Although she absolutely plays the best game for what she is capable of, it’s not even close to one of the best winning games in Survivor history. But the magical thing was that she was able to do it again in exactly the same way in Heroes vs. Villains. Sandra once again got herself into the majority alliance early on and was planning on riding that to the end. But, once the power of the Villains camp turned over to Russell and Parvati, Sandra made that incredible move to save herself and get Coach voted off. She then remained in the majority and continued to make Russell think that she would never win by saying that she was fine with third place and that nobody would vote for her, so Russell took her all the way to the end of the game. Then at final tribal council she was once again able to argue her case for why she deserved to win better than Parvati and Russell. At the end of the day, this is a game about likability and Sandra managed to get the jury to like her in both of her seasons, giving her the win both times.
3. Kim Spradlin
Apart from ‘JT’, Kim played the best social game that Survivor has ever seen. Kim played the ‘make everyone think they’re going to the end with you’ strategy better than anyone has ever before and was one of the most dominant winners ever. Although I have her at number two, it must be noted that most have her at number one, including one of the greatest ever players to ever play the game who now studies the game for a living, Rob Cesternino. Despite being the figure-head of her alliance, she always remained democratic and impartial and at the same time was able to persuade everyone else to vote for whoever she wanted to vote for, an incredibly magical way of playing the game. Kim always kept her options open, allowing her to swiftly navigate her way through the game and whenever someone emerged as potential threat, like Michael, Tarzan, Troyzan, and Jay, she quickly eliminated them before they could eliminate her. All four of the men mentioned above that she blindsided were all incredibly clever maneuvers that she managed to pull off. Firstly with Michael, she told Troyzan that Michael was trying to get him out, even though he wasn’t, so Troyzan flipped and voted him off. This move put the women in control and they were able to dominate the rest of the game. But, Kim always kept her options open with Jay and Troyzan and made them feel comfortable right up until the point where she cut their throats. In Survivor One World, everyone trusted Kim and wanted to be her best friend. She also won four individual immunity challenges to help take her all the way to the end of the game where she was able to win by a vote of 7-2-0. Leif was the only person on the island that she didn’t have a strong enough connection with and didn’t work hard enough to get the vote of. But hey nobody’s perfect. Her social game was incredible, her strategic game was incredible and she most likely would have been able to do the exact same thing to better players as well but it’s certainly the one knock against her that everyone else was so nonstrategic. Irregardless, she is still one of the greatest winners of all time and the manner in which she won was so incredibly hard to pull off that it’s just fascinating that she was able to do it.
2. Parvati Shallow
In Survivor Cook Islands, Parvati played the flirt card better than any player has ever before. BUT, her game can’t simply just be described as that. Her social game was outstanding and she was absolutely in the best position to win out of the Rarotonga members. If Yul hadn’t been such a strategic mastermind or if Penner hadn’t flipped, Parvati absolutely could have won her season. When Parvati returned for Fans vs. Favourites, she evolved into one of the best players Survivor has ever seen. She immediately made a pact with Amanda, Ozzy and James and then convinced Cirie to join her side, allowing her to remain safe in the early stages of the game where she was the biggest target that the other side wanted to eliminate. When the tribe swap happened, Parvati pulled in Natalie and Alexis, adding more numbers to her side, so that when the merge happened, she was again in the best position to win the game. She then blindsided Ozzy with an idol in his pocket, something absolutely was her move, and then she led her alliance of strong-willed women all the way to the final four where she won the game. Every single one of those women in the Black Widow Brigade probably would have taken Parvati to the end of the game because of how good her social game was and how non-threatening she made herself seem. Every single person that Parvati voted for was eliminated from the game, proving she was always on top of things, aware of what was going on and always in control. She was also responsible for many of these eliminations, most notably the Ozzy blindside which was certainly her biggest move in the game and still one of the best moves in Survivor history. Without her, the Black Widow Brigade never happens and does not take control of that game. She then returned for Heroes vs. Villains and played what I sometimes call “the best game Survivor has ever seen”. She was immediately a target yet again, coming in to the season with a huge reputation for being one of the most lethal Survivor players ever but managed to escape by tending to Russell’s every need and with the help of Russell’s idol play, she managed to get the numbers eventually back on her side despite so many players not wanting anything to do with her in the early stages. She then made that incredible move at the merge to boldly play her idols for two other people, which sent JT home. Throughout all this time, she continued to play to Russell’s ego masterfully and succeeded at winning immunity challenges. In the end, the jury just saw her as being too attached to Russell and because they hated him so much, they ended up disrespecting her as well and decided to give the win to Sandra. She absolutely should have won Heroes vs. Villains and it’s still remarkable to me that she didn’t. Parvati is the second greatest Survivor player of all time.
1. Rob Mariano
In his first season, Marquesas, Rob created a whole new host of strategies that had never been seen before on Survivor. He was only voted off at the merge due to not winning enough tribal immunity challenges and being too much of a threat to the rest of the players in the game. In Survivor All Stars, Rob dominated the game and controlled every single vote he was involved in, before losing just by one vote to Amber. Then in Heroes vs. Villains, Rob was on a similar trajectory to playing the way he did in Redemption Island when he won, until Tyson messed it up and Rob was voted out again for being too much of a threat. In his fourth and final season, Redemption Island, Rob showed everyone why he is the best player to ever play the game. You can say it was his fourth time and that it was against a weak cast but I don’t care, what he managed to achieve was more amazing than what any winner has ever achieved before. Everyone that Rob aligned himself with trusted him to the maximum. From early on Rob made a strong alliance of people who were starstruck and in love with him and using psychological mind tricks only he knows how to use, he convinced each and every single one of them that they were at the top of the pyramid with him. Early on Rob sensed that Kristina was dangerous and was the only player that was fighting to get him out so he quickly eliminated her. Then when he sensed that Andrea was becoming closer with Matt Elrod than with him, Rob quickly and decisively eliminated him as well. When Matt returned from Redemption Island and showed signs of wavering towards Zapatera, he quickly eliminated him again, scaring anyone from ever entertaining the thought of going against him for the rest of the game. The other piece of brilliance from Rob’s win in Redemption Island was his “Buddy System” in which he made everyone in his six person alliance have to have a buddy with them at all times so that there was never any chance that Zapetera could talk to an Ometepe member alone and infiltrate their alliance in an attempt to get Rob out. Rob let his allies be arrogant towards the other tribe, while always making sure he wasn’t being arrogant, so that he could get the votes in the end. He also made his tribe of Ometepe hate the Zapatera tribe, making them eat at separate times and sleep at separate times so that no one ever entertained the idea of trying to go with them to vote him out. At the end of the game, the only vote he didn’t get was Ralph’s who believed that a returning player didn’t deserve to win. Other than that, Rob swept all the other votes winning in one of the most commanding fashions ever by a vote of 8-1-0. Rob’s win comes against one of the least impressive casts, but it’s still the most impressive win in Survivor history. The psychological brilliance he has to know how to keep all of his allies loyal to him and scare them into ever going against him is incredible. Rob Mariano played the greatest winning game in Survivor history and you’d be foolish to disagree as Rob would spin you around in circles and manipulate you into riding along his side until the right time came to blindside you, just like he did to so many players from Redemption Island.