No season of Survivor would be complete if we didn’t compile the all-time list of winners each season. With 22 seasons in the rear-view, we saw that the 21st winner of Survivor was a very familiar face…but where does Boston Rob fall on the all-time list?
Each season of Survivor is unique, featuring it’s own set of rules, and players. Sometimes, comparing who is “best” comes down purely to one’s own personal opinion.
All 21 people who won Survivor obviously did something right in their season to have won. So this ranking is based on 3 things, and it’s quite simple: How the person played the game according to Survivor’s moniker of “Outwit,” “Outplay,” “Outlast.”
21. Vecepia Towery – Marquesas With a season featuring Boston Rob, and other memorable players like Paschal, Kathy, and Neleh, how did Vecepia make it to the end and win? She had no clear strategy, but was the first Survivor benefactor of the “bitter jury.”
20. Earl Cole – Fiji Earl won with a unanimous vote, and never had a vote cast against him. But his season was a sleeper coupled with the fact that he really didn’t do much to arrive at his fate.
19. Natalie White – Samoa She used a strategy used by several others lately, which is align with someone more strategic than you, and then win the “bitter jury” vote in the end. It worked for those like J.T. and Amber, but Natalie will go down in history not as a great winner, but for being the person who stole the glory from Russell Hantz, who deserved to win Samoa maybe more than any other runner-up ever has.
18. Tina Wesson – Australia Tina showed us in Season 2 that good people (or those with an un-Hatch-like approach to the game) could win Survivor. But she was more surprised than anyone when Colby chose to take her to the Final 2 instead of Keith. To most, Tina’s win seems to be remembered more for Colby’s bad decision than for Tina’s strength in the game.
17. Ethan Zohn – Africa Ethan has quite possibly left the greatest legacy of anyone to ever play the game, couragously battling cancer, and starting non-profit organizations like Grassroots Soccer. But in Survivor, Ethan benefited from being a part of the decision-making alliance, and being the least noticable. When Ethan lost the final challenge, Kim Johnson picked Ethan to go to the Final 2 with her, saying he played a better game than good ole’ Lex. Lex would have been remembered as a great Survivor winner based on his gameplay…Ethan, however, is not.
16. Amber Brkich – All-Stars Amber’s masterstroke involved flirting and eventually falling in love with Boston Rob Mariano. She used what still seems to be one of the surest bets to win Survivor: align yourself with a high-profile strategic player, let him make the bold moves, and then collect a million dollars at the end when the jury casts a vote AGAINST him, not necessarily for you. Rob was the real winner here, as he married Amber (a priceless reward in and of itself), and most assuredly shared in the money.
15. J.T. Thomas – Tocantins J.T. ranks just above Amber for his impressive physicality. But “Heroes vs. Villains” reveals what would have happened to J.T. if not aligned with a brainy partner, a la Stephen Fishbach, who carried J.T. strategically through Tocantins. He was a likable winner and had the charisma to get the final votes, but without Stephen, J.T. would have been gone much sooner.
14. Aras Baskauskas – Panama Aras played a good game overall, but was also the benefactor of great gameplay from others within his alliance, namely Cirie and Danielle, whom along the way determined much of his fate.
13. Danni Boatwright – Guatemala Danni was vulnerable for much of her season, yet was that one person that nobody felt threatened by. She made strategic moves when needed, and ultimately found herself in the end. She too, was the benefactor of some luck, as all winners need in order to get to the end. But Danni gets props for being the rare Survivor finalist to actually choose someone to go up against that they actually end up beating.
12. Bob Crowley – Gabon The most unlikely of Survivor winners, bow-tie wearin’ Bob Crowley’s best move was his creation of a fake hidden Immunity Idol, that was played by Randy who was promptly voted off. But how did this 57 year old high school teacher make the Final 3? By winning a tie-breaking fire challenge against the much younger Matty.
11. Jenna Morasca – Amazon Jenna is underrated as a gameplayer, but was immensely influential, using her flirtation and charm to get her far in the game. She was the last female standing however, and when needed she won the last two immunity challenges. I personally think she gets props for being responsible for Rob Cesternino’s ousting, when she refused to strike a deal with him in the Final Tribal.
10. Jud “Fabio” Birza – Nicaragua. Fabio is the youngest winner ever, and employed a “just be cool” strategy, a mix of playing dumb and going with the flow. He was also perhaps one of the more likeable winners ever, and this carried him far in the game. He didn’t make any real big moves and often seemed surprised at what was happening, but he always ensured someone else had the target on their back. Late in the game when he finally was the target, he was able to pull of several Immunity Challenges in a row to ensure him a place in the Final 3.
9. Yul Kwon – Cook Islands Yul Kwon was intelligent, calculating….and well liked by his tribe, a rare mix for a Survivor winner. He had an Immunity Idol, yet never had to play it. His own tribe called him “Ringleader”, yet he went to the end. He is the rare Survivor winner who was well-liked despite strategic moves, and was ultimately rewarded for his hard strategic gameplay.
8. Todd Herzog – China Todd deserves props as one of the best for being a strategic player, who made bold moves. But unlike Russell Hantz, Todd’s best move was actually owning up to his actions in the face of the jury. He was deceptive, knew the game, and orchestrated much, and yet used his moves to flatter the jury by complimenting others as being “stronger” or “better” than him, which is why he had to get rid of them…What do you know, it worked. Keep that in mind, future Surivor players…
7. Chris Daugherty – Vanuatu Chris is up the list because there has been no bigger underdog to win Survivor. As the last male member standing, and a tight female alliance, Chris somehow made moves, or knew when to shut up, with brilliance. He took advantage of the catty jury and was rewarded the million.
6. Parvati Shallow – Micronesia: Fans vs Favs On the flip-side of Vanuatu, Parvati, in this her second season, was masterful at keeping together her “girl-power” alliance. Her best move was the Ozzy blindside, one of the best in history. She was also up against Amanda in the end, which is a sure-fire way to win the votes.
5. Tom Westman – Palau Tom dominated his season, and is perhaps the most well liked Survivor in history behind maybe Rupert. It was hard not to root for Tom, and his gameplay in Palau changed the game forever…here was a guy who yes, played strategic, but somehow did it with honor, and looked people in the eye. The game continues to evolve, but Tom reminded us that you don’t have to “lie, cheat, and steal” in order to “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”
4. Brian Heidik – Thailand After Richard Hatch miraculously won the first Survivor, the next three winners were Tina, Ethan, and Vecepia, all well-liked, stand-up players. At the time, it was thought that no one like Hatch could ever win again, now that people know the game and what to look out for. And then there was Brian Heidik. He manipulated, lied, and outplayed everyone. Like Richard, he seemed to be a step ahead of the competition and had it all figured out. Unlike Richard, he seemed to drift through the season without even caring, like it was easy. Maybe it was for Brian. He is so despised that he has never been asked to play again, which I for one thinks is a shame.
3. Richard Hatch – Borneo The original winner, and arguably (?) the best…He tops nearly every “Survivor LIst” as being the original snake, the original strategist, the father of the “alliance” that has become a staple of every reality competition show, even outside of Survivor. Why is he ranked #3 then? Keep reading…
2. Boston Rob Mariano – Redemption Island I’ve described it as the “perfect game” and there is no better way to refer to Boston Rob’s performance this season. All winners require a degree of luck (can you imagine of Rob had started off on Zapatera instead of Ometepe?) but Rob re-defined what it meant to play a “social game.” Others described his control over his alliance as “cult-like” and indeed he brought a Final 6 with him to the end, all of which firmly believed that Rob was taking them to the end. Even that phrase – “taking them” – shows the control Rob had…nobody was taking Rob with, he was “taking them.” He kept control of the game by constantly checking in, and not allowing opportunities for his alliance to discuss things with one another. He made all the right moves, said all the right things. He simply put on the best strategic performance we’ve seen. What hasn’t he done that keeps him from being the best winner in history?
1. Sandra Diaz-Twine – Pearl Islands AND Heroes vs Villains Won the game not once, but twice. It is hard to argue with the cold hard fact that Sandra has now won Survivor twice. It can’t be called a fluke, and it was done in two different seasons, with two different groups of people. Even Richard, even Rob, couldn’t win twice. Nobody has, which by default puts Sandra in a league of her own. Is her strategy of “anybody but me” the key to winning Survivor? Only partially, in my opinion. It basically comes down to knowing, and using, your strengths. Sandra is not a physical threat, so is not often targeted early. She has a rare quality (Hatch and Rob had it too) where she knew when to speak, and knows when not to. Information is power in Survivor, and her tribemates were always kept on a “need to know” basis. She also possesses a strong ability to sniff people out, like she did with Russell very early on in Heroes vs. Villains. Until another player wins twice (will that ever happen?), it is hard to argue against calling Sandra the top Survivor to have ever played the game….and win, twice.
What do you think? Do you have your own rankings? Let me know what I got right, and what you think is way off below!