Ranking the Survivor Seasons
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Survivor and the upcoming 40th season, it’s time to have a little fun.
Back in the Survivor Oz days, we used to release a season ranking every single year alongside our annual Ozcar awards. It was always a bit of fun, and gave me a chance to rank all the seasons and winners each year.
However it seems as though it’s been a while since I’ve done this. Five years to be precise. That’s nearly ten whole seasons to add along the way.
So now is the time to present to you a full list of rankings of each of the 39 seasons leading into Winners at War. Yes, this list is going to long. Yes it’s going to cause some debate. But that’s the beauty of Survivor right? Everyone has an opinion ready to share and everybody is going to either agree or disagree with it along the way.
So without further ado, let’s get this going.
39. Island of the Idols
After such a promising start with such a promising cast, this season went down the drain quicker than cows blood in Africa. It’ll forever be stained with all the terrible nonsense that came around the Dan situation, and no matter what side of the fence you sit on with it there’s no way to remove it from anything else that happened throughout the season. We had a couple of stand out personalities along the way, but even they can’t save this from easily making it the worst season of all time.
38. Edge of Extinction
I would’ve never thought this season would be replaced at the bottom so quickly but hey, look at this list. What else needs to be added that hasn’t already been said about why this season is bad? I mean, everyone on the jury except two players? A winner that didn’t even play the full game? The fact we had returning players that none of us barely even remember came back and played? Just awful on so many levels. So glad I never watched this one live, as I feel I would’ve given up pretty quickly.
37. Redemption Island
The good news for Redemption Island is that there have been two worse seasons in the last year to dethrone it from the ‘worst season of all time’ title it has held for so long. The bad news is that it still remains truly awful and easily forgettable. I actually didn’t mind the twist if I’m being completely honest, at least not as much as everyone else did at the time. But I mean, come on. Rob had this handed to him. There is no denying that. And that can’t be forgotten. I’m usually a big defender of seasons where one player dominates and has an ‘easy’ win. But not when it is way too obvious that it wasn’t really down to the player, more so the players they were playing against. Pass.
36. Ghost Island
This is the season that finally broke me and made me stop watching Survivor. I believe I lasted three episodes watching it live. It was just that boring. Perhaps one of the most boring and vanilla casts we’ve ever seen. Add that to a twist that sounded so promising on paper and then just fizzled out with a whimper. Just so much meh to contend with. The one thing that does elevate it a few spots higher than last is the tie at the end. That definitely was great to see. And Wendell and Dom made that a great tie to have. But it just took so bloody long to get there that it makes it harder to like anymore than 36th.
Just so average and so much of a let down. Pretty average returnees, pretty average ‘fans’ and just pretty average. There were a couple of fans that were stand outs (Matt, Michael, Sherri) and a couple of favourites (Phillip, Dawn, Erik) that were good to watch again but yeah. I mean Cochran won. And won in such a way that just made me like him to really not liking him. And then there was the whole cult of Brenda, to which I’m still recovering from all these years later from. Just nothing worked, and nothing makes this season good.
34. Cook Islands
Apparently this opinion that Cook Islands is a bad season isn’t as rare as I thought, so that to me makes me feel better. What doesn’t make me feel better is this season, because it’s potentially one of the most boring seasons of all time. We get all the entertaining players who would’ve made this season fun (#BringBackBilly) taken out in the first few episodes and then all the juicy stuff mixed with dividing tribes by race taken away in those same episodes as well. Sure it was exciting seeing a mutiny and a group of four come back to win the game, but only the first time you see it. Every other time it’s just boring.
33. David vs Goliath
One word springs to mind with this season: overrated. Why on earth do people like this season so much? It had about two great characters mixed with terrible challenges, some very weird editing and just the usual modern twist heavy gameplay that just over complicates everything. Can we all please just wake up and realise that this is just literally one of ‘those seasons between 36 and 39’ that all basically are the same?
32. South Pacific
It’s weird to me that I have this so low as I feel like I appreciate South Pacific more than most. But on the grand scheme of things there really isn’t much to like about this season. There were some great characters and some fun challenges, and I loved seeing Coach actually come out and play a great game. But outside of that? Religion, crying and yeah. Just other unlikeable moments. 32nd actually seems more appropriate the more I think about it.
31. Millennials vs Gen X
The early 30s seasons are much better than the later 30s seasons but I also think there are two seasons that happen together that are pretty much the same season with pretty much the same players. Millennials vs Gen X is one of those. I honestly get this so confused with Kaoh Rong that I don’t even want to say anything too detailed about it as I’ll no doubt get it wrong. A few stand out players (I’m pretty sure) and a decent winner. But nothing too much to hold it above the rest.
30. Worlds Apart
Maybe the last true unique and individual cast we have seen, Worlds Apart should’ve been a great season. There was conflict, humour, controversy. It had so much going for it. But the negativity around this season and the cast just seemingly can’t make it go any higher on my list. Mike’s win is so odd and unique, and I’m actually sad not to see him return on season 40. As I am sad not have seen the likes of Rodney or Dan return to play for a second time. But in such a uniquely odd season that should’ve been better, it’s good to actually say a few more positives than I thought I was going to. That is definitely a win for Worlds Apart.
29. Kaoh Rong
See my entry for Millennials vs Gen X but switch out the bit where I said Kaoh Rong with Millennials vs Gen X. That’s my summary of Kaoh Rong.
How is a season with so many great players and characters just so ultimately meh? I want to like Tocantins more than I do as it has the advantage of a great location and keeping things relatively simple with an almost ‘back to basics’ feel to it. It also has Coach, JT, Stephe, Erinn, Taj, Sierra, Tyson and Rory. I mean. Come on! Who can’t like characters like that? But it’s just so…meh. So meh. And I hate to say that! JT’s win is one of the greatest wins of all time and he is easily one of the greatest winners of all time. But hey. I’ll say it again. Tocantins = meh.
By far the worst of the original 10 seasons, Amazon has always been that rare little season to me that isn’t terrible, but isn’t as great as people say it is. Sure it gave us Rob C and showed us his unique way of playing the game. Sure it gave us the first gender divide. And sure it gave us one of the most forgotten about great characters in Survivor history in Matt. But outside of that? It was just so snarky. So bleh. And just not what it is perceived as to me. I will say that Jenna is an underrated winner though which I know is an unpopular opinion. But that isn’t enough for me to make it any higher on this list.
As a Russell fan, I feel I should like this season more. But I think that even as a Russell fan I just can’t fully embrace everything about it. And that’s not saying it’s a bad season. I think we’re in the territory now where all the seasons from this point on all have more good things going for them than bad. But there is just some real pointless and forgettable people on this season and some real pointless and forgettable episodes that just makes it tricky to put it any higher. I will say a quick thing about Natalie though, in that no matter what you may think of her win, at least join me in being disappointed she isn’t returning for season 40. Can we just imagine seeing her play and attempt to gain respect and simply not be referred to as ‘the girl that beat Russell’? She deserves that chance and I for one hope she gets it one day in the future.
Palau definitely isn’t a bad season. I just don’t think it’s a great season. It has a great cast, great theme, great winner and great story. Watching Stephenie and Bobby Jon fight their way through all the Ulong crap and then seeing Tom dominate the game in a way that nobody really should is actually really enjoyable to watch. And the location is stunning. But we’re now really in the territory where I just like seasons better than others, and when shuffling them in order that means that Palau ended up in 25th. Sorry Palau fans, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.
24. Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers
People give all the love to David vs Goliath when it comes to seasons in the late 30s but somehow completely overlook Heroes v Healers v Hustlers. Sure it maybe has the single worst name of any season in the history of Survivor, but why doesn’t this get more love? The cast is incredible and fun, the gameplay isn’t super heavy but still enough to satisfy the fans, and somehow they make a tried and tested location in Fiji actually look fresh and new. The fire making twist at the end was a unique idea at the time and seeing someone like Ben win was kind of fun and unique on many levels. Then there is Chrissy who was robbed of more love at the end and Ryan who is just one of those great characters who you can’t help but love. Such a fun season that I hope gets some more love eventually.
Sorry to say Survivor fans but I just find this season to be overrated. Sure it had some great moments, but I’ve just never understood the whole “greatest season ever” argument many have for it. I guess I’m also still dirty on Cirie not winning. Oh, and the fact it didn’t stick at the original plan of being a full returning player season. That to me would’ve made it much better. Still, 23rd is decent. I don’t hate it. But yeah, just not as great to me as everyone else thinks.
22. Blood vs Water
This is one season that drops down a lot on a re-watch, but is still a fun season. I remember hearing the twist for the first time and hating it and thinking it would be terrible. But it actually turned out to be pretty fun and entertaining. Seeing the likes of Gervase, Tina and Monica return and also make it far was so satisfying, and even though I’m no Tyson fan it was still interesting to see him win Survivor. We also got to see Laura Boneham play. And any season that has Laura Boneham on it is an automatic winner.
Always regarded as the ultimate middle season, Panama has maybe one of the most unique and original casts of all time but just can’t hit a home run enough to make it into the top 20. I actually really enjoy everything about it for the most part and can’t say too many negative things about it, but it is missing something completely unique and awesome to fully make it great. The birth of Cirie is a huge positive, as is seeing Shane in all his glory. But yeah. Panama. Okay. Next.
20. Game Changers
Calling this Game Changers was a stupid idea, but that to me is the worst thing about this season. There is just something so appealing to me in this season in seeing the different sides of so many players. From seeing Sandra somehow enhance her legacy despite getting voted out for the first time, to seeing Brad and Sarah completely change how they are perceived to all but run the game. It was so great to watch. There were also entertaining early moments with Tony, JT and Malcolm and then seeing the emergence of Sierra as a great Survivor player. I just enjoyed the entire experience. Definitely a season that needs more love.
Gabon is a shit show of a season with some of the worst gameplay you will ever see and a bunch of people who are just a trainwreck to watch. But that all doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad season. Far from it. Gabon is just pure fun. Seeing Corinne, Sugar and Randy together is amazing. Watching Bob win and be so nice is also amazing. And then the likes of Crystal, Matty, Kenny and Gillian. All such unique, stand-out characters that any Survivor fan will instantly remember. Just so good. Gabon is a unique gem of a season that only comes along ever so rarely.
Hey, did you know that Marquesas never aired in Australia? No? Cool. No you do! Anyway. Marquesas is a season that ages very well and gets better with every single watch. There is just a lot to like. From the underrated winner that is Vecepia, to the fun in watching innocent little Neleh actually be a bit of a bad ass, right through to the legends of John and Sean. This season has so much going for it that I actually feel bad ranking it so low. But with so many other seasons that I like better, 18th will just have to do for Marquesas. A season that never aired in Australia. Again, did you know that?
A season that was once hated is now pretty much loved and that makes me very happy. Vanuatu is what Amazon should’ve been when it came to the gender divide and I think that came down to just better casting. We weren’t simply watching a bunch of 20-somethings flirt with each other and talk about sex. We saw a group of mixed ages who brought strategy, social and conflict to the table and mixed it with a great location. It was just great to watch. Add to that Chris winning in what is perhaps the greatest storyline of any winner, and you have one damn good season of Survivor.
The concept of bringing back players who had been medically removed from the game was always going to happen, and for this season it worked a treat. Each of the three returning players made their impact, but each also didn’t take away from what was a pretty amazing cast. This season was just fun. It had great challenges, great gameplay that wasn’t too much and just a great vibe that made it incredibly watchable. It also had a great winner too. Overall, it’s just great.
15. Pearl Islands
A popular season that many people list as their favourite, Pearl Islands was just like magic in a bottle. A fantastic theme, an incredible cast with some of the greatest characters the show has ever seen and just a great overall season that is very re-watchable. Watching this live during ‘Rupert-mania’ was an added bonus, as was witnessing the ‘grandma lie’ for the very first time. An incredible season.
Definitely a season that loses some appeal on a re-watch but still a fun season. The excitement of seeing so many players come back who only a few years prior seemed impossible was great, and when so many big name and fun players made it to the end it made it even greater. I mean, Kimmi Kappenberg could’ve actually won a season of Survivor! Let’s just think about that for a moment! It was tough to put this so much higher than Game Changers as I feel that it is very close between the pair, but Cambodia had Kelly Wiglesworth, so that gives it the win. Although it should’ve also had T-Bird and Shane on it, but hey, let’s not open that can of worms again…
I’ve never understood why people call this a bad season. Africa is so damn great. The cast is incredible, the location is perfect and it perhaps has the greatest integration with the local culture of any season to date. How we haven’t had anybody return since All Stars is just ridiculous. There are so many untapped players that would make for epic television on a returning season. Frank, Kelly, Lindsay, T-Bird, Clarence. So damn many. Hopefully one day CBS will realise this, and fans will also realise just how incredible this season actually is.
Nothing will ever touch this season in terms of the uniqueness that it brought when watching it live back in 2000. There was simply no way of knowing just how big of a deal this would become and how much it would change television. It also holds up more so than anybody gives it credit for. Sure it’s not as flashy and strategy heavy as modern Survivor but that’s fine by me as I much prefer a season focused more on the characters and relationships than simply 13598 twists, idols and blindsides. Borneo is the complete perfect season when it comes to simply showing a bunch of strangers playing a game and surviving off the land they’re living on. And that will never change.
Fiji is an incredible season that is seemingly slowly getting more love as time goes by. It has one of the most underappreciated winners ever, with one of the most forgotten about casts in a season that actually is really fascinating to watch. It always gets hate for the ‘haves vs haves not’ twist, and I never understand why. That was just so much fun to see, in the same way that watching Ulong get decimated on Palau was also fun to see. Then you have amazing characters like Yau-Man, Dreamz, Boo and Lisi. You have the four horseman, the entire cast living on an island together at the beginning not knowing what is going on and the whole Rocky vs Anthony drama. There is just so much to love about Fiji and I’m actually sad that it narrowly misses out on my top ten.
Such a similar season to Fiji in that I think it’s slowly getting more appreciation over the years and it also just gets overlooked for how much fun it is as a season. It perhaps is the most batshit crazy season of Survivor there ever has been. With such a warped cast and some absolutely terrible gameplay, I can see why some people have hated on this season for so long. But why do they have to bad things? A warped cast to me is a good thing, as you get television gold in NaOnka, Marty, Holly and Fabio. And terrible gameplay also makes for great television. I mean, who would’ve ever guess someone like Fabio could win Survivor? That to me makes it worth watching for that alone. There is just so goddamn much to like about the shit show that is Nicaragua that I can’t help but be entertained. Plus it has Purple Kelly on it. And yes, that makes it top ten worthy by far.
Guatemala has had a renascence over the years and actually is now fairly highly regarded. And that makes me very happy. I sound like a broken record when it comes to praising casts that are kinda crazy, but Guatemala is one of those seasons. Think about Judd, Lydia, Jamie, Cindy, Amy, Brian, Rafe. And then think about how the hell none of these players have returned. Then we have Danni. To me the most overlooked winner in the history of Survivor. She literally manipulated the TV show in order to help her win. If that isn’t thinking out of the box to make an incredibly smart winner, then I don’t know what is. And finally the location. What an incredible location and by far the most gruelling there has ever been. If you want to watch a perfect mix of cast, gameplay and location, then Guatemala should very much be near the top of your list.
8. San Juan Del Sur
In all my years covering Survivor Oz I don’t think I enjoyed a season as much as San Juan Del Sur. My top ten is filled with seasons that are often hated on, and SJDS is one of them, but I also think that as time goes by this season will get more and more love. The cast is just gold and had some incredible characters along the way. It also had some very unique moments, with the family dynamics overshadowing the original Blood vs Water by a large margin. The Josh vs Jeremy feud post-merge is among some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen on Survivor, and the fact that both went out after each other made it one of the most unpredictable seasons I’d ever seen. Everything to me just worked, and I hope that with every passing year people will see it in the same way that I do.
7. Heroes vs Villains
Hadn’t been this excited for a season since All-Stars and it mainly lived up to the hype. It was so much fun and entertaining seeing so many big players actually get a chance to head to head, especially the winners. One of the few seasons where I actually don’t get sick of all the idol plays and blindsides, it was just so much fun to watch every week. And seeing the ultimate redemption of Jerri Manthey just added icing to the cake.
I remember explicitly reading this season out as the winner of our ‘Best Season of All Time’ category during the Oscars that we held directly after it had aired and everyone screamed murder that it was simply ‘recency bias’. Well here we are seven years later and the season stands as the last time we had a truly great season and still goes down as one of the greatest of all time. How on earth did Tony win? Seriously. How did he win? Nobody like Tony should ever win Survivor and somehow he did. He was the complete package and brought television gold each week. As did the entire cast. Such an incredible season and one that will hold up for a very long time.
China has one of the top three casts in the history of Survivor and one of the greatest winners we’ve ever seen. It also has an incredible location, some incredible challenges and some incredibly memorable moments that make it iconic. There isn’t a single bad character on this season, and every single episode had me glued to it each week. Todd is just an amazing player, and the first superfan to really win the show. And THAT final tribal performance. Damn. If you want to see a masterclass of how the game should be capped off at that moment, then watch Todd. The guy is a master. And it’s such a damn shame we won’t see him return on season 40. An incredible season that easily makes the top 5.
4. Australian Outback
I have never been as emotionally invested in a season as I was with Australian Outback and I don’t think I ever will be again. It is the most perfect cast we have ever seen, in one incredible location with more incredible and iconic moments than I can name. Seriously, this season is just perfect. And no, not just the first half. The ENTIRE season. It annoys me to hear people call the final few episodes boring. They’re not. They’re character driven episodes in a true survival situation that make it captivating television. I don’t watch Survivor purely for strategy. I watch the show for a nice mixture of everything. And to me I was so drawn to the players and characters that seeing them struggle to cope in those conditions (and actually try to…you know…SURVIVE) was just so entertaining. This season took everything Borneo built and perfected it and there’s no way that this season will ever be removed from my top 5. Pure perfection.
The perennial hate dog of the first ten seasons, Thailand has seemingly gained some respect over the years. And why shouldn’t it? It has the greatest player of all time on it! But outside of that, Thailand is just incredible. Yes, Brian is the king and the master and just the absolute GOAT. But let’s look at everything else. The location was unique and interesting to see. The challenges were iconic. The cast was so much fun. And the drama and controversial moments actually make it great television. I’ve never ever understood why this season gets hate. Never. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And it’s another season that we need to see more players return from. Celebrate Thailand everyone. It’s finally time to fully embrace it.
2. One World
My top three are filled with three seasons that are often hated upon. But perhaps more than any of the three seasons in my top three, One World gets the most hate for absolute no reason. Please, tell me a valid reason why this is a ‘bad’ season? It’s not boring. It doesn’t have bad players. The twist wasn’t terrible. And it isn’t hard to watch. It’s the complete opposite of everything I just mentioned and a season that needs to be appreciated for what it actually is: pure fun with an incredible winner. It’s that simple. The cast on One World is one of the best casts in the history of Survivor and their interactions with each other just make it so much greater to see. Even if Kim didn’t win and just destroy everyone with her pure genius, this season would still rank highly for me based entirely on the cast being so amazing. But Kim DID win. And Kim DID destroy everyone with her pure genius. And that easily brings it into my top 2. Do yourself a favour and go and watch One World again and actually pay attention to the cast. Pay attention to their quirks. Their intricacies. Their uniqueness. And then watch how that blends into some overlooked gameplay and then watch for just how Kim can take all of that and use it to her advantage to walk away a millionaire. Go ahead and just watch it and see for yourself why this season is just absolute gold. I’ll be saying that as loudly as I can for as long as it takes to get some long overdue appreciation.
Hasn’t been removed from my top spot since it aired and I think it’ll remain this way for as long as Survivor exists. Everything about this season to me is perfect. From the hype that came with it before it aired, to the eclectic mix of players that all just went from having a fun holiday to hating on each other quicker than Rob and Amber fell in love. It just all clicked. Even all the negative stuff people talk this season down for is actually incredible television and Rob’s mastery of manipulating people along the way helped shape this game into what it is today. Without All Stars you wouldn’t have modern Survivor, something it ultimately never gets credit for. It took all the small little moments we had seen in the previous seven seasons and made it all complete to essentially create the Survivor we all know today. And while I do long for ‘classic’ Survivor, it’s also important to shape a show and develop it as time goes on. That to me is what All Stars help do and something that needs to be acknowledged. It’s also a season that had it aired today would’ve probably been far more appreciated and respected than it was at the time. The true king of all Survivor and to me an easy choice for number one.
What are you favourite seasons? How would you rank them from worst to best? Let me know in the comments below, and stay tuned for my winner rankings tomorrow! You can also hear me discuss some of these rankings in The Oz Network’s rankings cast which you can find here.