In thirty-four seasons of Survivor, there have been some amazing winners. It is so incredibly hard to rank them as they all played vastly different games and had to overcome a very different set of circumstances to win their seasons. Nonetheless, just like every Survivor nerd, The Mastermind has attempted to rank every single winner of this game from worst to first. The list takes into consideration primarily how a player navigated their way through the season that they won, including their social game, strategic game, the difficulty of their win, how in-tune they were with the game, their final tribal council performance, how many votes they got and probably most importantly, how much control they had during the season from start to finish. This list is not a ranking on how good of a player each person is, for that see Top 50 Survivor Players of All Time, this instead a list based on how well each player navigated their way through their specific season. These are my Survivor Winner Rankings for 2017. Enjoy!
35. Bob Crowley (Gabon, S17)
Sorry Bob Crowley, you’re the worst winner in Survivor history. Bob built a fake immunity idol, got dragged into various alliances due to having a likable and flexible personality and won 3 key immunity challenges to keep himself in the game. Other than that he wasn’t really in tune with the game, was always used as a piece to the puzzle for better players and eventually got dragged to the end of the game by Sugar. The fact that Susie Smith almost won this season really says a lot about how bad Bob was as a player of this game. Sorry Bob, you’re the bottom of the barrell and might be forever cemented in that place for all Survivor eternity.
34. Jud ‘Fabio’ Birza (Nicaragua, S21)
That’s right, Jud ‘Fabio’ Birza is a winner of this game. He can’t believe it and neither can I. Fabio made the wrong strategic move at every single turn, he was on the wrong side of a number of post-merge votes, he didn’t have a good social game and he had to rely on winning challenges to get himself to the end of the game. If he hadn’t won the final three immmunity challenges he would never have made it to finals. The one redeeming thing in favour of Fabio was his self-awareness, as he recognized that others were perceiving him as a dumb surfer dude and used that to appear less threatening. Or maybe he actually just was a dumb surfer dude all along and there was nothing strategic about it. Either way, he’s the second worst winner of all time.
33. Michele Fitzgerald (Kaoh Rong, S32)
Michele had a very good social game, but she was never actively building alliances or leading the eliminations. Instead Aubry and Cydney were the ones in control and had it not been for a medical evacuation to Joe del Campo, Michele would have been gone at the final five. But, still the bartender was often in control of her fate in the game, working tirelessly to make sure the majority trusted her so that she could keep the pressure off of herself. Michele remained likable, flexible and open-minded to working with all, she remained on the good side of all of the jury members and she had a good final tribal council performance. She did get incredibly lucky with Joe being medically evacuated as she would have been voted out in the spot had she not won immunity, but she really isn’t that bad of a player or winner. I will always argue that Aubry deserved to win more than she did and that had the Survivor Game Changers final tribal council setup been introduced back then, that Aubry probably would have won. However, she is one of the nicest players to play the game while also being simultaneously one of the best social players of all time. Michele certainly is a deserving winner of this game and as more time arrives in the future to analyze her game, she could climb even higher up the list.
32. Jenna Morasca (Amazon, S6)
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 was also able to take a goat to the end in Matt which severely helped her case to win. Jenna is hurt a lot in the rankings from not really wanting much to do with pre-merge part of the game. She even wanted to quit at one point. She also made some really bonehead moves like telling Dave everything that was going on in the woman’s camp and who she was closest to at the pre-swap feast, which meant that Dave’s first pick in the draft was Jenna’s best ally, Heidi, separating them for the first time in the game. However, she is not a bad winner of this game by any stretch of the imagination and was actually very strategically in-tune with what was going on in the game. Recognizing who was a threat and who was a goat that she could beat in the end.
31. Vecepia Towery (Marquesas, S4)
Vecepia was the first player to use and perfect the under the radar strategy. 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 out Kathy 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. She also overcame a lot of odds to win her season as at one point she was down 7-2 in numbers until she was picked up by better players and used as a number to get out the Rotu 4. Other than that, there isn’t really much that is impressive about Vecepia’s game and just like Aras, she tried desperately to get the one person that she could beat out of the game in Neleh and got lucky that it was an unsuccessful attempt.
30. Amber Brkich (All Stars, S8)
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, she just has a better final tribal council performance. Like Rob, Amber was 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. A big reason why she is lower on this list than many others is because not only did several contestants bash her at the final tribal council just like they did to Rob, but she won the game by people voting against Rob more than voting for him. As I’ve mentioned before, latching on to the big and brash guy that the jury isn’t going to like is an effective winning strategy but not one of the best ways to play this game.
29. Natalie White (Samoa, S19)
I’ll try and be as brief as I can about Natalie White, but she is seriously a criminally underrated winner and I could say a lot about how good her game truly was. 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. Natalie also needs to be praised for the work she did to get Erik Cardona voted off at the merge and I truly believe this is one of the top 10 moves in Survivor history as it changes the game and clears the path for her and her allies to take control of the game and make it to the final four. At the same time this move is one of many that highlights her incredible social game as the Galu members completely trust and respect everything she tells them and she manages to get most of their votes in the end. Natalie is one of the best social players of all time and she went with Russell to the end knowing that she could beat him. Don’t be fooled by the edit into thinking that Russell brought her there as a goat and that somehow the goat ended up winning, because Natalie White is no goat, and if anything Russell was the goat. 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. But with all the good being said about Natalie, her game although very impressive is not one of the best there ever was as latching on to a brash buffoon who is going to take you all the way to the end is certainly a good way to play but not the best way to play. Still though, Natalie is both an underrated strategist and social player and certainly a deserving winner of the game.
28. Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, S35)
Ben Driebergen is the closest thing Survivor has ever seen to a second coming of Mike Holloway. The main difference between him and Mike however is while Mike screwed up his own game at the Survivor auction or at least gave the other players a scapegoat to blame, Ben’s allies turned on him simply because they all realized they couldn’t possibly beat him. Ben’s social game wasn’t amazing, his strategic game wasn’t even amazing, but he just dug so deep every step of the way. Instead of going to sleep, he looked for idols, day after day, finding three of them and becoming the first player ever to play idols in three consecutive votes. Keeping these idols a secret proved to be his best move of the game as every single time, he ensured all the votes were going for him and then did his best to take out the one person he thought would be best, curving his path toward the final three. With his confidence and bravado that was by no means over-the-top, the jury couldn’t help but be convinced that Ben was always in charge of his fate in the game and he won the final vote by 4-2-1. Ben is an awesome winner of this game and although not one of the very, very best, he still made the game incredibly entertaining and deserved to take home the million.
27. Aras Baskauskas (Panama, S12)
Although it is impressive that Aras was able to be the figurehead and peacemaker in what was probably the weirdest alliance in the history of the show between himself, Cirie, Shane, Danielle and Courtney, he really didn’t do anything at all in his season besides creating this alliance and riding it until the end. He was in tune with what was going on and was on the right side of almost every single vote which does give him the edge above some of the people listed below him, but other than maintaining control of what was going on in the game he really doesn’t do anything else to really win his season. His social game is good but not great as he completely alienates Terry and doesn’t work hard enough at his bond with Shane who eventually votes for Danielle to win. His strategic game wasn’t great either as he tried to take Cirie, someone who would have definitely beaten him, to the end of the game rather than his goat in Danielle and got severely lucky when Cirie lost the fire making challenge and was sent home. Aras won from having a better social game than Danielle DiLorenzo but his social game is still probably worse than the vast majority of the twenty-eight winners listed below.
26. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands, S7)
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 this season. Sandra is also the mastermind of the fly under the radar strategy and makes it all the way to the end in a season where she easily could have been perceived to be the weakest person on her tribe from very early on. Sandra also gets herself into a good position where she can take two unlikable players to the end in both of her seasons, but especially Pearl Islands as Lil and Jonny Fairplay are enormously despised by the jury. Sandra was rarely 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 her. In terms of her win in Pearl Islands, she doesn’t do that much strategically to win other than a nifty move against Burton and a realization that Darah is a threat and has to go. The move against Burton is particularly impressive though as she convinces Burton and Jon that she’s voting for Lill and then rallies Darrah and Lil together to take out Burton. Moreover, 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.
25. Ethan Zohn (Africa, S3)
Ethan’s win in Survivor Africa was so long ago and with it being from a season that is hardly ever talked about today, people often forget how good of a social player and likable guy he was back in his season. He’s not great TV, he’s just a good social player who builds a tight alliance of people and then goes with them to the end of the game and then wins. 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. Ethan does have a good social game and no one has been able to win quite so politely as he has. His politeness and likability can be highlighted by the fact that he never received a vote against himself the entire game and was always on the right side of the votes. 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.
24. Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart, S30)
Mike is probably one of the hardest winners to rank because his strategic game is okay, his social game is okay but he wins in a manner that has never been done in Survivor before, by winning challenges. Mike won 5 immunity challenges, and came back from being one of the biggest underdogs in the show’s history to somehow win the game, playing the type of game that has never been able to win a season of Survivor ever before. But, the reason why Mike had to win those 5 immunity challenges was because he blew up his social game when he tried to get an advantage at the auction rather than letters from home which was what everyone else wanted. This put him at the bottom of the merged tribe for the rest of the game and the only way he was going to win the game was if he won his way to the end and win he did. A good part of Mike’s game that often goes forgotten is a solidly steady pre-merge game in which he’s the centre of an alliance and in which he purposefully throws an immunity challenge in an attempt to save his best ally and in the process sends home somebody that was pulling another one of his close allies away from him. Mike’s win is satisfying from a viewer standpoint because he is certainly the most likable player on the cast and he also wins in an entertaining way, but he isn’t really one of the best Survivor strategists or social masterminds you’ll ever see. I do admire the “Tonight I’m playing my idol for Shirin” move as it does almost save Shirin and almost sends Dan home, but although that move demonstrates his willingness to fight for his spot in the game and shows him as a decently savvy player, we can’t even credit that move too highly because it didn’t work. Mike is a good and unique winner of the game but not an amazing one.
23. Sophie Clarke (South Pacific, S23)
Sophie Clarke is a fantastic winner of this game because she manipulated Coach into thinking that he was in control when in realitly it was the University student that was really making the vast majority of the decision. Sophie plays off of Coach’s ego perfectly and uses him to advance herself and her goat in Albert in the game. Her social game is nowhere near as good as people make it out to be as she was hammered at final tribal council for being condescending and negative and was constantly called a spoiled brat by Ozzy during the season. She was however very involved in voting people off as she convinced her allies to take out Brandon when she realized how much of a jury threat he was, before convincing Coach to take out Rick to save herself and Albert. Sophie is very perceptive and always aware of everything that is going on in the game and how others are perceiving her, which is one of the most important Survivor skills to learn. She also wins that crucial final four immunity challenge to help not let Ozzy win the season and deserves some brownie points for saving Survivor (See Survivor Season Rankings for more information). Although she is a very good survivor strategist, she isn’t one of the best social players by any means and I tend to rank the social players higher than the strategic one’s as this is a game about likability in the end. Although I dock her some points because I think her margin of victory could have been a lot narrower and could have easily ended up in a Coach win, as far as winners go she’s one of the one’s who is helped by luck the least as she is always in control of every single situation and makes smart strategic moves to ensure that she is never in danger of going home. Sophie Clarke is a very good winner of this game, a little undervalued and definitely deserved to beat Coach in the end.
22. Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen X, S33)
Having the distraction of a mother ill with cancer the entire time and still managing to stay so game-focused and so aware of everything that was going on must have been so hard for Adam Klein to do. But somehow he managed to do it and came out on top to win the game. Adam is one of a few players in the history of this game to sweep all the jury votes, winning in stunning fashion by a vote of 10-0-0 to join an elite club of JT, Jeremy, Earl and Cochran. 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 below. But he himself recognized that and waited for the exact right moment to take every single one of his threats out! Adam had a reasonably strong hold of the game, always knew where he stood, was able to separate in-game feelings from real 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. 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 he is a very, very good one and he certainly deserved to win Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X.
21. Tina Wesson (Australian Outback, S2)
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. Then at the merge, she gathered very crucial information from Kimmi about who had votes cast against them previously in the game, thus Tina and her allies targeted Jeff and were able to take control of the post-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 and then take them out with ease and no love lost at final five and final four. Tina’s social game also arises out of just genuinely being part of her personality. 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. Despite playing a very good social game and deservedly beating Colby, she doesn’t do as much as other winners have done to keep themselves in the game and win, which is why she is ranked lower than some.
20. Sarah Lacina (Game Changers, S34)
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 this season.
19. Jon Cochran (Caramoan, S26)
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. So on paper it all looks like roses, but in reality Cochran’s win isn’t actually as impressive as others. The edited version of the show constantly wants to show Cochran as the leader of his alliance and although he’s an important person in every single vote, he’s actually never the one in the driver’s seat calling the shots. Dawn is actually far more in control of the votes and possibly should have been seen as the more deserving player. But at the same time Cochran used that to his advantage, letting Dawn get all the blood on her hands while he remained in the good graces of the jury. One of the keys to Cochran’s win was always talking to his fellow cast-mates on a strategic level. Dawn meanwhile 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. Again though, Cochran was rarely if ever at all, the one calling the shots. It was Andrea’s idea to take out Michael, it was Dawn’s idea to take out Corrinne and Brenda and it was Brenda’s idea to take out Andrea. Cochran was an important piece of the puzzle to executing each and every plan but not the executioner himself. the plan like we are made to believe. Nevertheless, his win is very solid and doesn’t have any real flaws. The fact that he won by getting all eight votes, tells you how good of a game he played.
18. Danni Boatwright (Guatemala, S11)
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. She honestly does really well on reward trips to get Stephanie to like her and trust her and she never gave up or stopped fighting until she won the season. After Gary was sent home, Danni was going to be the next one to go but she outbid everyone at the Survivor auction to win an advantage at the upcoming immunity challenge, which she used to win the challenge and keep herself safe that night. If she hadn’t won that challenge, it’s almost guaranteed that she would have been voted out. She then won the most important challenge of all at final three to take out her biggest competition and take someone to the end of the game in Stephanie who was fairly disliked by the jury. I also want to propose that she played a similar game to Jeremy Collins, keeping all of the big targets in an alliance with herself so that she would never become the target and she also let 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.
17. Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu, S9)
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.
16. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Heroes vs. Villains, S20)
Sandra’s game in Heroes vs. Villains was a lot better than her game in Pearl Islands, she again got herself into a strong alliance immediately and then when she ended up being the last remaining member of that alliance and knew she was in danger of being voted out she told Russell that Coach was trying to get him out so that Russell would go after him instead of her. The main problem with Sandra’s win in Heroes vs. Villains is that she tried to jeopardize her own good position in the game by trying to work with the heroes to take out the only goat she had in Russell. But her willingness to work with the heroes on top of a solid final tribal council performance ends up winning her the season so it all worked out in the end. Sandra also does a really good job of convincing Russell that she would never win any jury votes, constantly saying how she’s fine with third place and doesn’t need the money because she’s already won once. So Russell takes Sandra to the end thinking that nobody likes her and that she didn’t do anything strategically to get herself there, but Russell was horribly wrong like he usually is and the jury respected her as a player far more than the other villains. This was partially because she remained open to working with them and then argued her case better than Parvati and Russell as to why she should win, making her victory all the more impressive. Heroes vs. Villains was definitely a difficult season to win and Sandra deserves a lot of credit for managing to do so.
15. Denise Stapely (Philippines, S25)
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. She 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 also always in tune with what was going on in the game and was only on the wrong side of the vote one time. However, she really wasn’t ever the one calling the shots or making the moves in the post-merge part of the game despite her and Malcolm dominating their pre-merge tribe, Matsing. Denise’s social game is so good that she managed to keep herself out of danger for the entire game despite being a clear threat for jury votes. She was helped a fair bit by Malcolm being such a strategically sound player and unlike many other winners, she does have several votes cast against her throughout the season, but she is still one of the most impressive winners of this game. She knew she had to eliminate Malcolm at final four and did, which is another example of her being very in tune with the game and a solid player. Again, Denise is another solid winner of the game but not one of the very best.
14. Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water, S27)
Tyson Apostol is one hell of a Survivor player and is a whole lot better at this game than people give him credit for. Tyson was 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. This allowed him to take out Aras at exactly the right time and then go on to dominate the rest of the season following that. On the negatives for Tyson, the way he came across to the jury at times like in sort of rubbing it in Katie’s face after she was eliminated might have meant that had he not managed to make it to the end with Gervase and Monica, he might not have won. One criticism I also often hear about Tyson is “besides the move against Aras what moves did he make?”. But that’s the thing, he was so well positioned and so in control that he didn’t need to make many moves to get himself to the end. That in itself is a testament to how good of a game he played. Tyson is a great winner of Survivor, and really is just such a great player of this game. However, he is just not one of the best as others have overcome greater odds or accomplished far more in their seasons. Still though he had a strong iron-fist over the game and was so strategically sound that he certainly deserves to be ranked high up on this list.
13. Brian Heidik (Thailand, S5)
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 winner 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. Although he is able to control the members of his alliance and manipulate them into thinking he’s an amazing person, he kind of alienates the people not in his alliance and at one point he can’t even remember Shii Ann’s name. His final tribal council performance is also probably the worst by a winner as he almost loses to his goat as Clay gets three votes and he gets four. Nevertheless, Brian is an incredible winner of the game and although a terrible person, he probably would be an amazing person to watch on a future returnee season should he ever get that opportunity. I know he’s consistently ranked as a top five winner, but I just really don’t see it. I see a guy who was kind of a jerk, somehow convinced people in his alliance that he wasn’t a jerk and was actually a nice guy and then used that to his advantage to make it to the end. His game certainly is not as impressive as the twelve listed below.
12. Richard Hatch (Borneo, S1)
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.
11. Natalie Anderson (San Juan Del Sur, S29)
Natalie’s win in Survivor San Juan del Sur is incredible. 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 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. Then she blindsided Baylor in fantastic fashion right in front of the jury’s eyes by playing her idol for Jaclyn. These moves right in front of the jury gave them no choice but to vote for her in the end. 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.
10. Tom Westman (Palau, S10)
Kicking off the top 10 is Tom Westman, one of the most dominant winners in the history of the show. Tom won 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. 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.
9. Yul Kwon (Cook Islands, S13)
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 at negotiation and is always able to look at the options that everyone else has in the game to further his own game. He does this perfectly when he secures Adam’s jury vote by eliminating Jonathan Penner and even better when he flips Jonathan Penner to almost make Penner feel like it was his own idea by asking him who he would like to see go home. 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 though 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.
8. Earl Cole (Fiji, S14)
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 with him. 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 with two hidden immunity idols on his side. Then he’s able to take two goats to the end and win 9-0-0 after he takes out his best bud Yau-Man, recognizing how necessary it was for him to win the game. Earl managed to pull off a near-perfect game in his only time playing the game. He was the leader of his main alliance, helped arrange the fall of the four horsemen alliance without any of them being bitter towards him, and was so likable that he had multiple paths to the final tribal council despite being the biggest threat to win the game. 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 most amazing things about Earl’s win is that he was recruited just two days before filming began after someone else dropped out and 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 Survivor 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 win in a blowout victory.
7. Jeremy Collins (Second Chance, S31)
Let me just say before I forget it that the reason I have Jeremy as low as six is that I had him written on as the winner from the moment he was voted on to the season. I always saw a Jeremy win, I predicted him to win, never changed my mind and then he won. In contrast, it’s still unbelievable to me how the top five players won their seasons and it’s incredible to me that they were able to win at all, compared to Jeremy who I always saw as the likely winner. With that out of the way, Jeremy played one of the most incredible games Survivor has ever seen. His game was one of the best from a social and strategic standpoint, and he set the whole thing up so masterfully and cleverly that it makes me giddy with joy when I talk about it. Jeremy learned from all of his mistakes in Survivor San Juan del Sur, like when he aligned himself with players that were lesser targets than he was and voted people off that were going to be bigger targets than him, like Josh and Drew Christy. So, from the moment he set foot on the beach in Cambodia, he knew he had to get all the big targets around him and be the centre of a massive alliance without anyone even knowing it. He aligned himself with Andrew Savage, an arrogant leader who would always look like the one in control, Tasha, the strongest female player in challenges who tends to alienate people she doesn’t like, Joe the strongest male player in challenges who everyone is going to want to get out the moment he loses individual immunity, Stephen a known Survivor strategist and Spencer, a known fighter and well rounded player who can maneuver out of any tough situation. Next to the Black-Widow Brigade and Russell’s Heroes vs. Villains contingent, this might be one of the most bad-ass alliances ever in Survivor and Jeremy had it set up in such a remarkable way that every single person in the alliance came to talk to him about the game before they talked to anyone else. Every single one of these players became a bigger target than him at some point in the season, which is exactly what he wanted. This constantly allowed Jeremy to keep the pressure off of himself, even though the pressure should have always been on him. The most impressive thing about Jeremy’s game that I’ve already briefly alluded to is that everything came through him. 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. Every single player talked to him about what they wanted and then he would go talk to the others about it. Yet no one ever picked up on that fact and he ended up cruising through the game until they could no longer take him out as he won the final four immunity challenge. He also has two impressive idol plays. One to save himself and one to save his strongest ally Stephen Fishbach, playing both at exactly the right moment, showing how aware he always was of everything going on in the game. In addition, Jeremy kept the fact that his wife was pregnant a secret the entire season, knowing that it would just make him a bigger target as someone who could win 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 and win in the biggest margin the show has ever seen. Another impressive thing about Jeremy’s win is that Second Chance was possibly the most complex season from a strategy standpoint and was an incredibly hard game to win, making it all the more impressive that he did. While everyone else was running around trying to build their resumes by making big moves, Jeremy remained relaxed and calm through the storm and kept everyone under his wing until they could no longer take him out. His final tribal council performance was masterful but his game as a whole was even more masterful and will go down as one of the best games Survivor has ever seen.
6. James ‘JT’ Thomas (Tocantins, S18)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, JT has the best social game performance in the history of Survivor and his win is one of the most incredible ever. 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.
5. Parvati Shallow (Micronesia, S16)
In Survivor Micronesia, Parvati played one of the most incredible strategic games in the the show’s history. She quickly formed a four person alliance at the start of the game and then convinced Cirie to join her side, giving her and her allies the numbers advantage for the rest of the pre-swap. Then at the swap, she made an alliance with Natalie and Alexis so that when the swap ended and the two tribes reconvened at the merge, Parvati now had numbers all around her in every direction. She then led powerful moves against Ozzy and to an extent Jason, before leading her women’s alliance all the way to the final four and then final two. There were absolutely zero goats in Micronesia, yet Parvati managed to emerge as the strongest player out of every single one of them, Cirie included. 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 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. The one thing against Parvati is that Cirie probably wins if it’s a final three and Cirie was arguably the one making more of the strategic moves against the people that the Black Widow Brigade eliminated. It’s a really narrow margin though as Parvati forms all of the bonds that create the Black Widow Brigade and without her the Black Widow Brigade would have never even existed. If it had existed in some bizarre scenario, it certainly wouldn’t have been as successful. Parvati was absolutely crucial to every elimination and she absolutely was the one in control of the game for most of the votes. The fact that her moves were so big and epic allow her to stand out as one of the best ever winners and her ostentatious and audaciously brave game play will forever be appreciated as one of the best the show has ever seen.
4. Tony Vlachos (Cagayan, S28)
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. Tony is the fourth greatest winner in the history of Survivor.
3. Todd Herzog (China, S15)
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. Todd also has to be credited for how he managed to turn Courtney Yates, who could have easily been one of the first boots of the season into his loyal ally that he would keep around the entire game. 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 but hopefully one day he will return and show everyone how good of a player he really is.
2. Kim Spradlin (One World, S24)
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.
1. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island, S22)
Rob’s game in Redemption Island is the best one ever. 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. Just look at how happy the other two finalists are when he wins! Everyone knew they didn’t have a shot against Rob in the end but were always afraid to go against him, making this the most dominant win in Survivor history. 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 is 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 and I probably would have been just as starstruck by him as Phillip and Andrea. 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.
So there it is. My Survivor Winner Rankings for 2017. What do you think? Who is too high and who should be higher? Let me know in the comment section below! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
PS make sure to check out our updated Top 50 Survivor Players of All Time very soon and see where Sarah Lacina ranks.