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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Analysing The Survivor All-Winners Season

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

The dream season of Survivor is set to happen. Season 40 will bring 20 former winners back to compete against each other in the ultimate showdown. But have the right winners been chosen to return?

Prolific Survivor spoiler site Inside Survivor announced in April that not only was an all-winners season set to happen next year, but that the cast of 20 former winners were about to fly out to Fiji to film the landmark season.

And with the cast being spoiled, the debate over who is worthy and who has been snubbed has been rife amongst the Survivor fans.

So who has been snubbed? Who are the ones being brought back that you can’t help be excited about? And who are the ones that are just meh? Let’s take a closer look.

The amazing choices


Amber Mariano (All Stars), Yul Kwon (Cook Islands), Denise Stapley (Philippines), Tony Vlachos (Cagayan), Ethan Zohn (Africa), Rob Mariano (Redemption Island), Kim Spradlin (One World), Danni Boatwright (Guatemala), Jeremy Collins (Cambodia)

You’ll no doubt notice that for the most part, the majority of choices fall in the ‘amazing’ category. Because honestly, I think we have a very solid cast. When you only have 37 players to choose from, you’re going to land some big fish and they have done a very solid job at getting some to appear on this season. Without any hesitation, the most exciting players to see come back are Danni and Kim. That to me is what sells this season enough for me to get extremely excited. For Danni it’s not only the prospect of FINALLY having an original Guatemala player return, it’s also the fact that we will get to see the most underrated winner of all time come back and have another shot at glory. I have always said that if an all-winners season was to happen, Danni would be my pick to win it, and I stand by that fact right now. Kim, well, this is the greatest female player to ever play the game and a very close second in my eyes overall. She is just such a strong, dominant player that getting the opportunity to see her come out and put her smarts up to a variety of other winners gets me excited beyond belief.

Below those two on the excitement scale has to be Denise, Ethan, Tony and Amber, which might be the most surprising person I have in this category given I haven’t exactly been kind to her in the past. The reason it gets me so excited to see her return is the fact that she will have her husband out there as well and will make for engaging television and gameplay to see just how they are able to navigate the game to make it far. Could we have a Ciera/Laura Blood vs Water situation where Rob or Amber will have to vote each other out? Who knows. And besides, Amber is an OG from season 2 and she won my favourite season of Survivor. I have to be excited for that. Denise will be great to see again as she was fantastic in Philippines and I’ve always been a fan, likewise with Ethan and Tony who both bring their own entertainment factors (Tony especially) as well as their great gameplay.

That then leaves Rob, Yul and Jeremy. Now given I’m not actually a big fan of either Rob or Yul I’m surprised to see that I’m genuinely excited to see both return as I think seeing Rob for a record fifth time will be interesting, as will seeing Yul again to see if he is able to turn around what I think is one of the more boring wins of all time into either something similar or even better a second time around. As for Jeremy, well he was a favourite from San Juan Del Sur and a favourite from Cambodia, so I’m always happy to see him come back and play again. A great solid bunch here which will all bring great gameplay and entertainment.

The meh choices


Natalie Anderson (San Juan Del Sur), Parvati Shallow (Micronesia), Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands & Heroes vs Villains), Sarah Lacina (Game Changers), Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers), Wendell Holland (Ghost Island)

Dropping down a tier we have our next group. Now when I say ‘meh’, it comes from a view that these aren’t necessarily bad choices, they are just middle ground choices that I feel aren’t great but aren’t the worst. These players could easily have been replaced by some of our missing winners, but I also think they will bring something to the season that will be worth watching. Key to me in this section are Parvati and Sandra. Now let me clear this up: I love Sandra. Love love love her. But to me she comes into this season with far more of an obvious target on her head than we saw when she returned for Game Changers and it will be difficult for her to last long which is a real shame. She surprised me with just how well she did on her third outing and I honestly could argue she played a better game that time around than most of her two wins, but fourth time? Don’t count on it. Similar for Parvati. I’ve never been a huge Parvati fan and think we’ve seen what we’ve needed to see of her. Any all-winners season though would be seriously lacking if she wasn’t on it, so I will give the casting that. And she is one of the best players of all time so to see her battle it out against the best once more makes sense. I’m just not super thrilled with her over some of the others.

Natalie, Sarah, Ben and Wendell. Again, nothing terrible here. I’m just not sure we’re going to get anything amazing from these players again. Natalie is great entertainment don’t get me wrong, but I still stand by the fact that her win doesn’t rank amongst the greats, and I don’t see her game changing all that much a second time around to warrant too much excitement. Sarah played an awful game first time around and then came out swinging to really change things up and give a very solid win. But people are going to see that coming now and I feel she doesn’t have enough going for her to provide a level of entertainment and gameplay that brings an excitement level from the viewer. If she manages to get close with Tony again, that would be great. But we hoped that would happen on Game Changers and it never came about. Ben and Wendell are just too new and are the only two newer winners that I can feel a small sense of excitement for. The big negative to come for many fans is that the season is so heavily weighted towards the newer winners, a fact that sees every winner between season 23 and 37 return with the exception of two of them (Cochran and Mike). I have nothing against either Ben or Wendell, both bring a level of entertainment that I’m excited to see again and it will be interesting to see how their newer gameplay based heavily around advantages will compare to some of the old school players who have never experienced such twists. But to me Ben just falls a tad too flat compared to what we missed out on with some of the other non-returning winners, and Wendell needs Dominic to be there to complete the package to really bring the goods. I do hope I’m wrong with this group as the potential is there, but it’s just not on the same level as the ones that I’ve mentioned before.

The bad choices


Michelle Fitzgerald (Kaoh Rong), Sophie Clarke (South Pacific), Adam Klein (Millenials vs Gex-X), Nick Wilson (David vs Goliath), Tyson Apostol (Blood vs Water)

Oh boy. Here we have five spots that really should’ve gone to five different winners. At the end of the day, all five of these players won and that automatically makes them great players. It’s just there are easily five other players that can be placed her that are greater and would’ve made for far more entertaining television as well as much more interesting gameplay. I can honestly say of all the winners, Michelle is the one I forget the most. I can barely tell you anything she did to win the game, and even on a re-watch of Kaok Rong, she is very much overshadowed by the majority of that cast. Sophie, well, I’ve never been backwards in coming forward over my thoughts over her win, and I still stand by that to this day. Adam, Nick and Tyson, well, they are just bland winners who I think really will struggle to keep up with the majority of this cast. And as mentioned several times, there were so many other better choices to put in their spots from the players who were snubbed. Do we really think that Richard Hatch, Brian Heidik, Chris Daugherty and even Mike Holloway would not have made 10x better choices than these three? It’s a bitter pill to swallow knowing these are the choices that made it when the others missed out. But despite this disappointment, I will say two things. Firstly, I would say that any of these five can easily win. More so Michelle, Sophie and Adam, who I think will avoid enough drama to move with the pack and put themselves in very good positions. Secondly, as I mentioned previously, they are all winners of Survivor. And I would take a season where I get to see 20 of the worst winners play against each other over pretty much any other non-winner all-stars season that you could throw at me. So yes, it sucks to see these players over some others, but I’m still thrilled to see this season happening with them on it.

The snubs


Richard Hatch (Borneo), Tina Wesson (Australian Outback), Vecepia Robinson (Marqueses), Brian Heidik (Thailand), Jenna Morasca (Amazon), Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu), Earl Cole (Fiji), Todd Herzog (China), JT Thomas (Tocantins), Natalie White (Samoa), Fabio Birza (Nicaragua)

So yeah, this list is pretty weighted, but take your pick from this group and replace any of the bad choices I’ve listed or even some of the meh choices and you have a perfect cast. You know I’m going to bemoan the lack of Brian, the greatest ever player to ever play Survivor. But in all honesty I never expected it to happen. He has long been snubbed by the show and the fans still hate Thailand to this day that there was no chance it was going to happen. Weirdly I’m at peace with it given I know his legacy will remain in tact, and he will still be one of only 11 winners (including the season 39 winner) to have played once and won once, keeping a 100% record. So that will sit well with me. Outside of Brian, the ones that hurt the most are Richard and Todd. How they can have an all-winners season without the original winner of the show is an absolute travesty. The fact that he apparently wasn’t even called is even more of one. That is something that I expect Jeff Probst to face the music to at some point and it will be interesting to hear just why he was snubbed. Todd too. Yes, he has had some personal issues over the last few years. But what a redemption story it would be to see him come back and play. That sort of story should be eaten up by CBS and it’s a shock not to see them do that. For such a great winner of this show, it’s a shame to see him not get the second chance he deserves.

Tina is a huge disappointment given that she is the original female winner, she had such a great third game on Blood vs Water and is just a hoot to watch. I would’ve put money on her going deep into the game as it was shown in BvW that everyone underestimated her, and there has been plenty of fan backlash over her being snubbed. Vecepia seemingly was always going to be a long shot at coming back, but she is another one I would’ve seen going very deep into the game a second time around. Jenna and Natalie might be a bit of a shock to see in this section, but I’ve always been a fan of Jenna as a winner and feel she doesn’t get the respect she deserves for her game. Added to the mix seeing her play against Ethan would’ve brought some very interesting and frosty television, and also seeing her compete against someone like Parvati who you could argue was the second coming of Jenna, I feel we’ve missed out on something big there. And Natalie. Someone who is always regarded as one of the worst winners, imagine the redemption story of seeing her out there without the burden of Russell to overshadow her gameplay and finally get the respect as a winner she deserves. It would be great to watch.

As for the remaining four, Chris, Earl, JT and Fabio, well they are just personal choices who I think would all make great TV. JT has shot up the ranks for me over the years due to his amazing game in Tocantins, and I still stand by the fact that both his Heroes vs Villains and Game Changers games weren’t bad. He just made opportunistic moves that if they had of worked we would be applauding him as perhaps the greatest player of all time. Earl falls into the category of one of the most underrated winners of all time, and having him back would put him alongside Danni and Kim to me as getting me the most excited to return. Sadly the timing of his new baby wasn’t the greatest otherwise I think we would’ve seen him return. Chris was always sadly bound to be snubbed as he has forever been ignored on the same level as Brian has been. It does seem this is down to more personal reasons by Probst which is a shame, as I think Chris is someone who would’ve gone deep and played another very strong game. And then that leaves Fabio. I’m sure for the most part every Survivor fans aren’t losing any sleep not seeing him return. But come on. How great would the season be seeing his antics on screen? His personality is one of the best ever on Survivor, and he is just so damn likeable that he would go deep into the game whether people think he is a great player or not. Could you imagine the scenario in which he ends up deep into the game, at the final tribal and somehow wins a second time around? Man, what a result that would be. It’s such a damn shame it won’t happen this time around.

The rest


Tom Westman (Palau), Aras Baskauskus (Panama), Bob Crowley (Gabon), John Cochran (Caramoan), Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart), Chris Underwood (Edge of Extinction), Island of the Idols Winner

It’s hard to really say much about the remaining seven winners who I haven’t mentioned. Well, with one of them we don’t even know who they are yet of course! But for the most part I think that Tom, Aras, Bob, Cochran, Mike and Chris all would’ve not brought that much extra to the season. Tom is a tricky one to put that label on as I’ve become more of a fan of his over the year, same with Aras who I’ve always been a fan of. But both had a second crack at the game and I think both gave all they could and that’s all we would see a third time around for either of them. It’s just a similar situation to some of the cast who I’ve spoken about who made the season, so I feel as though there isn’t too much extra to add with them. Bob, I love. He is such a nice guy and entertaining to boot. But I wouldn’t see him lasting long at all sadly so I think that it’s fine that he isn’t coming back. I briefly mentioned Mike above as someone who would’ve provided more than some on the cast that made it and I stand by that, but I really don’t think we’re missing out on too much by not seeing him return. He is someone who I think wouldn’t last all that long so I’m sure he is satisfied that he can keep his 100% record. Then there is Cochran and Chis. Personally I’m not a fan of either, I think both of their wins are easily in the lower group of wins and there is nothing that I would want to see of them on a return. So really nothing too much to add there. And the of course there is whoever wins season 39. They could end up being the greatest player of all time, but there is no way they would’ve been given the chance to play as that would’ve spoiled for them that they had won before they had been announced. So it just sadly wouldn’t work for them.

So with all of that in mind can we be excited for this season? The answer of course is a resounding yes. Because no matter what any Survivor may say, the ultimate dream of any season is easily an all-winners season. We finally will get the chance to see these great titans of Survivor compete against each other to show just how much game they’ve got. Sure people might think that’s what we had when it came to season 8 with All-Stars, but it was never going to play out that way when you mix winners with non-winners. This time it’s an even playing field. All of these players have won, they all come in having experienced the same thing before. It’ll just be a question of who wants it more. Who is willing to risk their legacy to achieve ultimate greatness. And who is ready to take up the ultimate challenge once again to climb that ultimate Survivor mountain once more.

Sure the last few seasons haven’t been great. And season 39 looks incredibly laughable. But I for one haven’t been this excited for a season of Survivor since All-Stars and can’t wait to see it all play out. Bring it on!

For more of my Survivor opinions and coverage head over to my podcast The Oz Network as we record some special episodes in the lead up to both season 39 and season 40 and expand our coverage of Survivor in the coming months.

You can also check out some great articles written about the prospect of an all-winners season from my former podcast Survivor Oz, with contributing authors Cable Brandon, Lancey Morris and James Pickering giving their take in an article here and here.

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