19. Thailand (Season 5)
Winner: Brian Heidik
Some things never change. I didn’t like it then, I don’t like it now, and you’ll notice nobody from this season was invited back for Heroes vs. Villains.
18. Marquesas (Season 4)
Winner: Vecepia Towery
It was our fault. We take the blame, but this was just a snoozer. The good news? We didn’t come away empty-handed. Boston Rob remains one of our greatest players ever and is coming back for Heroes vs. Villains. Meanwhile, Gina Crews is now making jewelry. In fact, she made the necklace that I wore on Survivor: Samoa.
17. Fiji (Season 14)
Winner: Earl Cole
If it weren’t for Yau-Man and Dreamz, this might have edged out Thailand as the worst season ever. No offense, Earl, but as nice a guy as you are in real life, the charisma didn’t carry on screen.
16. Guatemala (Season 11)
Winner: Danni Boatwright
No. 16. Why not?
15. Vanuatu (Season 9)
Winner: Chris Daugherty
I always liked this season more than the audience did, and that has probably influenced why it has dropped since my last ranking. Chris has to be acknowledged for doing such a good job of turning the women against one another so that they gave him the million dollars. The lack of huge characters and huge moments makes this one just another very good season of Survivor, but nothing more.
14. Gabon (Season 17)
Winner: Bob Crowley
I loved Bob and his fake immunity idol; we needed an older winner to remind people it was possible. But it was the ongoing battle between Randy and Sugar that had people talking and makes them the perfect pair to ask back for Heroes vs. Villains.
13. Panama: Exile Island (Season 12)
Winner: Aras Baskauskas
I can still remember Cirie coming into the Survivor audition squealing like a schoolgirl at the thought of getting on the show. She was such a fish out of water that she became an instant underdog. She is now one of the best ever to play. And if we’d had one more spot on Heroes vs. Villains, Shane and his imaginary BlackBerry would have landed it.
12. Africa (Season 3)
Winner: Ethan Zohn
One of the biggest moves up the chart since my last ranking. This season has stood the test of time better than I expected. Some great characters emerged, with Big Tom and Lex. Ethan is not the most memorable winner, but nobody has done more good with his Survivor fame than Mr. Grassroots Soccer. I’d also like to extend an olive branch of love to Lex. I’ve forgotten exactly what I did that you’re mad about, but will you forgive me?
11. Tocantins Season 18
Winner: J.T. Thomas
In a word, Coach. The ”Dragon Slayer” is one of the most unforgettable ever to play. Tocantins also gave us J.T., one of the most likable winners since Tom Westman, and although Tyson’s time was cut short, he proved a worthy enough villain to be invited back to play again, along with J.T. and Coach, in Heroes vs. Villains.
10. The Amazon (Season 6)
Winner: Jenna Morasca
The battle of the sexes revealed so much about how easily men can be played by women. It also provided a top 10 Survivor moment when Jenna and Heidi took their clothes off for peanut butter and chocolate. As a result, peanut butter and chocolate are now on hand for any food-related challenge.
9. Cook Islands (Season 13)
Winner: Yul Kwon
We took a lot of heat for dividing the tribes up based on ethnicity. I supported the bold move by Mark Burnett and CBS, but then we bailed on the concept very early, which I hated. The Cooks gave us one of the greatest comebacks we’ve ever seen when Yul, Ozzy, Sundra, and Becky fought back and made it to the final four.
8. Australian Outback (Season 2)
Winner: Tina Wesson
Their names are forever etched in the minds of Survivor fans: Colby, the prototype for a Survivor ”hero”; Jerri, the original ”black widow”; and Elisabeth ”The View” Filarski (now Hasselbeck). Who will ever forget Michael Skupin killing a pig, then nearly burning his fingers off in the fire? The single biggest blunder in Survivor history happened when Colby lost out on a million dollars by trying to be both the good guy and the winner.
7. All-Stars Season 8
Winner: Amber Brkich
After returning from my therapist’s office for treatment of PTRD (post-traumatic reality disorder), I can now share that I still like this season for everything that drove me crazy about it six years ago: the Sue Hawk incident where she screamed at me, Boston Rob’s legendary betrayal of Lex, and the incredibly bitchy attitudes that infected every single returning Survivor.
6. China (Season 15)
Winner: Todd Herzog
A really well-played game by the gay Mormon flight attendant. Todd was a great strategist, James emerged as one of the most likable players, Courtney as one of the lippiest, and Amanda as one of the hottest and yet most frustrating Survivors to play the game.
5. Pearl Islands (Season 7)
Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine
Thanks to Rupert, Johnny Fairplay, plus fish-catching, shoe-stealing, and our first-ever Survivor quitter (Osten), this is a season I would recommend showing to someone you want to introduce to Survivor. Only regret of this season was the Outcasts twist. We blew it. The Cub Scout leader should have never been in the final, and Andrew Savage should have never been sent home. Had we not done that twist, I believe Savage would have gone deep in the game and probably become an All-Star. Sorry ’bout that. Rupert and Sandra both get another shot in Heroes vs. Villains. Unfortunately for Fairplay, he is no longer a villain — simply a quitter.
4. Palau (Season 10)
Winner: Tom Westman
My favorite memory is the final challenge where Tom and Ian set a record, hanging on to those ”bah-bah buoys” in the water for 13 hours. The fireman from NYC went on to become one of our greatest winners.
3. Samoa (Season 19)
Winner: Natalie White
Go ahead and start screaming, but this is my list, so bug off. It’s not the most exciting cast overall, but sometimes it takes only one, and Russell is in the Survivor hall of fame. Burning socks, lying about Katrina, emptying water from canteens, finding idols without clues, and then getting blown out in the final vote make this a season worth watching again and again.
2. Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16)
Winner: Parvati Shallow
The Parvati-led women’s alliance produced some of the most memorable moments in the history of the show, including the greatest blindside of all time when Ozzy was taken out while in possession of the idol. It also gave Erik (the ice-cream scooper from Hell, Mich.) the sex education of a lifetime. He will never look at breasts the same way again.
1. Borneo (Season 1)
Winner: Richard Hatch
This spot will never be replaced. Like my first girlfriend, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It birthed the show, laid the foundation for how the game would be played for the next 10 years, and also helped me buy a house. Too bad Hatch was under house arrest and prohibited from traveling out of the country for Heroes vs. Villains. As a result, nobody from our first season will appear on season 20.