Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers recap: 'The Devil Survivor'
Plus, the annual season-by-season ranking
I had a babysitter once. I mean, I had a babysitter a lot of times when I was a little kid. My parents were pretty social — hitting parties, hanging out with friends, staying out late…basically, the complete opposite of me. So I had a lot of babysitters. But there was this one babysitter who was the best. She was the best because she just turned on the TV, walked out of the room, and left me alone.
And let me tell you something — I would sit there for hours and hours watching some of the most God-awful television that has ever been put on the air. Reruns of Welcome Back Kotter, televised competitions where Ralph Malph from Happy Days would be trying to out-kayak Tootie from Facts of Life in a swimming pool on Battle of the Network Stars, and even some hysterically terrible TV movie called Dream House where John Schneider from Dukes of Hazzard played a country boy who built a home on the mean streets of New York and had to endure lots of city slickers and street toughs who wanted no part of his good ol’ boy routine.
It was all mind-numbing garbage. And I loved it. (Except for that time I didn’t sleep for three nights due to a super-scary episode of The Incredible Hulk that I am now guessing was not scary in the least save for Lou Ferrigno’s green paint job.) In any event, I loved that babysitter, but let’s be frank — she probably wasn’t very good at her job. However, she was nowhere near as bad as the members of the Solewa tribe were at babysitting Ben.
And you would think they would know better! “That was amazing! That was amazing! That was amazing!” Don’t worry, your Survivor recap is not skipping like that old vinyl copy of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here that you like to pretend you never bought. Rather, that was pretty much all Ryan could say after Ben played an idol out of nowhere in the previous episode, repeating himself out of pure shock over and over. “If there are Survivor gods, then that was a move by the Survivor devil because that was messed up,” said Devon.
They knew whom they were dealing with. They also knew the only way they could get rid of Ben was to make sure he didn’t go out and find another idol. And yet that is exactly what they then permitted him to do. Look, I understand it is impossible to follow a person 100 percent of the time out there. Contestants are often pulled for confessional interviews and can spend some time on the way back searching. Same thing on bathroom runs — and no, that was not an intentional pun with “bathroom runs.” (#SevereGastrointestinalDistress)
But the rest of the tribe — Ryan, Chrissy, Ashley, Devon, Sex Doctor — appeared to make no attempt whatsoever to curb or monitor Ben’s searching. (Nor did they appear to be searching themselves, although that certainly could be a function of editing.) It’s positively crazy how much time they left Ben alone on multiple days to search for his safety. What this tribe needed to do was go full Boehlke. Remember back in Caramoan when Andrea basically babysat Malcolm to make sure he didn’t find another idol? Probably not, because the word Caramoan drags up painful memories of Shamar and Brandon so you’ve done your best to forget and block it all out, but suffice it to say that the point of the comparison is that the other five should have worked in shifts to never let Ben out of their sight.
Ben woke up early, put his boots on — I half expected the idol to be in his boot because producers no doubt would have loved for him to find it — and went searching the morning after his previous idol play. Chrissy finally woke up and realized what he was doing, but did she do anything to stop it? Did she wake everyone else up to go find him? Did she go out searching on her own? According to what we saw: No, no, and no.
And then after Ben did not win immunity, did anyone make any attempt to shadow him? Nope. First thing Ben did when he got back to camp was say he was going to get water, even asking if anyone wanted to go with him. AND THEY ALL SAID NO!!!! Even Ben himself said it was loony tunes that nobody was following him as he went idol hunting. But the other five players seemed bizarrely confident that Ben would not find an idol. Sex Doctor even went on and on about how there was no way it was going to happen — signaling to viewers that it clearly was.
But they didn’t bother, and as a result, Ashley got a one-way ticket to the jury, leading to a fabulously awkward encounter en route with Devon as she refused to hug her former alliance and massage partner. It may just have been the most awkward #Survivor encounter since…
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But I don’t blame Ashley. Not like Devon owed her anything whatsoever, but her assertion that Chrissy seemed to be controlling Devon’s decision making (which she made after Chrissy convinced Devon to bring Ryan on reward instead of her) seemed to hold up with the Tribal Council vote. After all, Devon didn’t appear to want to get rid of Ashley, and Ben openly pointed at the Sex Doctor as the one he wanted out. So how did we end up with a unanimous vote on Ashley? One word: Chrissy.
And if that is the case, people need to seriously give her credit for imposing her will — even if I think the logic behind getting rid of Ashley next is shaky at best. Sure, Ashley is a strong challenge competitor, but what has she done game-wise to make anyone take notice? Her résumé is pretty thin. This felt more like Chrissy wanting vengeance on Ashley for her comments after the reward selection. This is not the first time Chrissy was insistent on a making a certain move out of revenge over strategy.
Okay, let’s get to the other notable moments from this penultimate episode because it is also time for our updated season-by-season rankings. Where will Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers fall? Read on to find out after the recap! (Oh, and also make sure to check out our new Survivor winner rankings, as voted on by you, the fans. You all ranked every Survivor winner from first to worst and now you can see where your favorites landed. (Don’t yell at me if you don’t agree. For once, this is not my doing!) All right, on to the rest of the recap. (Recap continues on next page)
Five Rings to Rule Them All
After allowing Ben to hunt for idols unimpeded, the contestants finally showed up at the reward challenge — where they would be divided in pairs and attached to a rope, and have to navigate through obstacles and then land five rings on a target. The winners would get to enjoy a feast containing items of food that Jeff Probst once again sounded like he wanted to have sex with: “Laaaaaaaamb, Chiiiiiiicken, Lobbbbbbbbbbbbster.” And they would enjoy that food at a “private resort on a private island.” Probst kept hammering home that point about the private island, which struck me as a bit odd because, well…aren’t they already living on a private island?
Anyway, the teams were Ben & Ashley, Chrissy & Devon, and Ryan & Mike. This particular challenge featured elements we’ve seen a million times before, but do you know why we’ve seen them a million times before? Because they work! It’s fun watching contestants get tangled up together, and it’s dramatic and easy to track when players have to hit a target a certain amount of times. It usually leads to a somewhat back-and-forth affair, and did again here, with Chrissy and Devon finally winning.
And then came the big brouhaha after Probst told the winners they could bring one person with them. Chrissy immediately lobbied for her biggest ally in Ryan, and Devon folded like an omelet. Ashley made no effort whatsoever to hide her displeasure at being passed over. For a minute there I thought the woman needed a Keystone Light because she was definitely rocking some Bitter Beer Face.
“Shocking for one of them, not so shocking for the other,” Ashley said in terms of the people picking. “So it’s interesting who makes the decisions.” It was interesting. Why had Devon acquiesced so easily? He may have a laid-back vibe, but the dude does not seem like a pushover by any means, so this surprised me. And my surprise continued as Devon made a new final three alliance with Chrissy and the person he betrayed in Ryan. But perhaps there is a method to his madness. After all, Chrissy does not appear to be particularly popular with the jury, and I can’t get a handle on how the others feel about Ryan.
You could actually say that about a lot of players this season. With all the topsy-turvy activity, I feel like I don’t really know how some of these players view each other. For weeks, people voted out in their exit interviews have been saying some not-so-nice things about Chrissy, but that never really made it to screen until her blowup with Ben. I never really knew how folks felt about Lauren. And other than some short-term frustration with the Coconuts, what’s the word on Mike out there? You just can’t tell how many players view each other on a personal level at all, which makes it super difficult for us as viewers to figure out who the best people to bring to the end actually are. Maybe Chrissy and Ryan are the easiest to beat, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by the edit.
Immunity Is Up for Grabs
The second challenge of the evening featured more obstacles. This time, everyone got to race through them solo, do some stuff to release some ladder rungs, and then solve a cog puzzle. It was another challenge that used all very familiar elements – although those ladder rungs were pretty nifty — yet still works after all these years.
As soon as I saw the puzzle I figured it was Chrissy’s to lose, and lose it she did not. Her mathematical, mechanical brain was perfect for this type of contest. But would she let the power get to her head? The answer was…absolutely 100 percent! No sooner had she won than she was telling us all about how it was her time to be in control of the game, and for her, control meant seemingly nonsensical vengeance on Ashley for the reward challenge outburst.
In what world — unless you are terrified of an idol, which they weren’t because they didn’t even make an attempt to obstruct Ben from looking for it — does getting rid of Ashley before Ben make any sense? And Chrissy’s excuse that “there’s two more Tribals before we get to final three. He’s not going to win both [challenges]” is pretty flimsy. Rightfully or not, Ben is the one who has continually been labeled as a great and dangerous player. Hell, Joe has been literally applauding his moves from the jury! How do you not take that guy out?!? As the Sex Doctor so eloquently stated, “We have an opportunity to get this guy out. Get him the f— out!”
Of course, there would be no getting Ben out anyway, because he predictably found the clue telling him the idol was hidden under the shelter, which he then secured while Ryan and Sex Doctor argued about where you can get the best bagels. (Incidentally, anywhere but New York City is the wrong answer.) And as soon as Devon angered the Survivor gods AND the Survivor devil with his comment that “I truly think Ben is going home tonight,” Ben couldn’t resist the opportunity to create a little theater — putting the idol around his neck, making exaggerated bomb explosion sounds like he was a little kid blowing up the Death Star in an extended Star Wars Kenner action figures battle (not that I did that every day for eight years of my life or anything), and chanting “secret, secret, secret,” the same way the creepy magician from Frosty the Snowman chants “messy, messy, messy” or “busy, busy, busy.”
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And he wasn’t done! For an encore, Ben stood up, walked over, and handed Jeff Probst the idol — before anyone had even voted — and basically told everyone to vote for the Sex Doctor. Which they then did not do because either: (a) They wanted to spite Ben by not picking whom they told him to pick. (b) Chrissy had this weird bizarre insatiable thirst to take out the one person who seemingly was the most beatable at the end. Or (c) they decided to take mercy on the producers and the viewers by taking out the least dynamic personality before the finale. Who knows, maybe it was a combination of the three. (Recap continues on next page)
Whatever the reason, Ashley is gone. So who’s the favorite to win among those left? My guess is that it would come down to Ben or Devon. Ben has been seen as the biggest threat going all the way back to the merge. If he makes it to the end, you have to feel that the jury would respect that. Archnemesis Joe certainly seems to. But Ashley brush-off aside, Devon is probably the most universally liked by the jury. Again, it’s been very hard to tell this season and I really have no idea what anyone makes of Ryan, but it seems like Devon is a guy most people would feel good handing a million dollars to, and he could point to his ideas to make Ben an undercover agent and lying to the Coconuts about Lauren using her extra vote, which totally kept them from flipping. The fact that Devon can make a case and also does not seem to rub people the wrong way could make him a millionaire.
Of course, I have a rooting interest in Ryan because he was my episode 1 pick to win it all and I would love to put an end to my 20-season streak of misery, but his path seems tougher. He is a great talker though, so he could definitely sway some votes through the mighty power of words! But that’s only if he makes it to the end. Chrissy seems to not have many fans or friends on the jury so it would be surprising to see her take home the title of Sole Survivor, but if she can pull out a few more immunity wins, then I suppose there is a chance.
And I don’t know what to make of Mike, at least in terms of how others view him. His one big move was flipping the vote onto Ben last week when Chrissy wouldn’t commit to voting out Lauren. But then Ben played an idol and Lauren got voted out anyway, so I’m not sure what he can point to as his signature imprint on this game. Again, it just looks and feels like a Ben or Devon victory — which means it probably won’t be.
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Okay, we need to get to the new updated season rankings now and see where Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers falls, but since the rankings tend go for a bit, just a reminder to read my weekly Q&A with Probst and to check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode on the last page. Okay let’s get it to it, and please feel free to put your own rankings in the comments section as no two lists are ever the same.
SURVIVOR SEASON-BY SEASON RANKINGS
(From best to worst)
1. (Tie) Survivor: Borneo
(Winner: Richard Hatch)
and Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites
(Winner: Parvati Shallow)
I’ve gone back and forth with these two over the years. After Micronesia aired, I named it the best Survivor season ever. Upon reflection, while I still considered it the most enjoyable, I also worried I was understating the impact of the first season, which became a national phenomenon. (Yes, Borneo now seems dated and tame by comparison, but it’s the biggest game changer in the past 20 years of television.) So then I returned that to the No. 1 spot. If I wanted to watch one season again, it would be Micronesia. If you ask me which is the most important season, well, obviously it’s Borneo. So instead of constantly flipping them, they can simply share the top spot…until I change my mind again.
3. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains
(Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)
The Russell vs. Boston Rob feud made for the best pre-merge run of episodes ever. And the greatness just kept on coming. Filled with huge memorable moments like Tyson voting himself off, J.T. giving Russell his immunity idol, and Parvati handing out two immunity idols at one Tribal Council. Loses a few points for having so many three-timers, though, including a few (Amanda, James) we simply didn’t need to see again. I know many people would consider this No. 1, but it’s all returnees. For me, the fresh blood of Micronesia keeps that season higher.
4. Survivor: Cagayan
(Winner: Tony Vlachos)
Quite simply, the best Survivor season ever with all new players since the very first one (which is only better by the fact that it was the very first one). It was an intoxicating mix of terrific and terrible gameplay in which the big personalities (Tony, Spencer, Kass) weren’t just personalities — they actually were there to play the game. (Maybe not well at all times, but at least they were playing.) The casting was killer, the challenges were solid, the boot order was completely unpredictable, and the creative twists worked (although I was not a fan of the return of the post-votes read idol; thankfully that never came into play). The fact that Woo inexplicably brought Tony to the end with him added one last great “WHAT THE HELL?!?” moment to a truly intoxicating season.
5. Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance
(Winner: Jeremy Collins)
The first thing to note about Cambodia is how well all the production twists turned out. Letting fans vote in the cast? Brilliant. Hiding idols at challenges? I think you all know how I feel about that. Tempting people to quit an immunity challenge for a mystery vote steal advantage? Loved it. All the tribe switcheroos? They played out to perfection. The Survivor producers always throw a bunch of twists out there. Usually some work and some don’t. This season, they all paid dividends.
I also appreciated how hard the bulk of the cast was playing. Usually you get a small handful of big-time gamers. This season you only had a handful who weren’t going hard (which, granted, is somewhat a function of returning player seasons in general). Another plus: The votes were completely unpredictable from week to week, leading to some truly crazy Tribals. Sure, the challenges were a bit blah, but still, a rousing and triumphant success.
6. Survivor: Amazon
(Winner: Jenna Morasca)
Probably the first truly unpredictable season ever from week to week. Some people hate on Jenna as a winner, but she won challenges and played an effective social game.
7. Survivor: Pearl Islands
(Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)
Rupert stealing shoes. Fairplay getting drunk at Tribal Council. Osten sucking at everything. It was all delicious. Loses points, though, for the awful Outcasts twist, which also led to a disappointing final two (Lil? Seriously?).
8. Survivor: Palau
(Winner: Tom Westman)
I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor’s best ever. What’s interesting about Palau is that we basically all knew Tom would win from episode 1, but it was still gripping nonetheless. (Recap continues on next page)
9. Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X
(Winner: Adam Klein)
With the exception of Caramoan, I’ve never had a season rise so much through the rankings from week to week. When Millennials vs. Gen X started, most us of were like, “Yeah, it’s fine. Not amazing, but not terrible either.” But then things kept happening. And everyone kept flipping on one another. And everyone kept getting blindsided. And everyone kept futilely using their idols for other people.
It was madness and chaos in the best way possible. And what was so fascinating was that (with the exception of Michaela) nobody took their ouster personally. This was a season remarkably free of any sort of fighting whatsoever. None of the ugliness of Worlds Apart or Kaoh Rong permeated the proceedings, even amongst all the lying and backstabbing. Everyone seemed to legitimately appreciate and respect the competition they were going up against, and, as a result, so did we.
What seemed like a so-so cast at first ended up giving us a fair number of breakouts: Michaela, Zeke, David, Adam, Jay. Even Hannah was entertaining with her neurosis. Even Ken was entertaining with his late-game cluelessness. Bret gave us a touching moment where he came out as gay to Zeke. Sunday outsmarted Adam and Hannah with a ruse at Tribal Council. Everyone contributed something.
10. Survivor: Blood vs. Water
(Winner: Tyson Apostol)
The returning contestants playing with/against their loved ones twist added new dimensions and forced players — and us — to think about the strategic elements of the game in an entirely new way. And for strategy nerds like myself, it was like opening a brand new Christmas present each and every week as new layers were revealed.
And although I am certainly no fan of the Redemption Island twist due to the fact that it neuters the show’s most dramatic moment (the vote-off), it is undeniable that the RI element is what led to many of the intriguing strategic decisions of whom to vote out and why. (However, I still can’t figure out why they went with three-person duels — a.k.a. truels — and they definitely should have stopped RI at the merge.) Yes, the challenges were a letdown and there was a bit of a lull just after the merge, but all in all, this was a super solid season from top to bottom and a nice change of pace.
11. Survivor: Philippines
(Winner: Denise Stapley)
This season was all about one thing: casting, casting, casting. When you look back on what happened, while there were a lot of shake-ups with the voting, there weren’t a whole lot of jaw-on-the-floor shocking moments. So why is it so high? Because the casting and story lines that developed gave us people to root for and against — something every great Survivor season needs. And the fact that Philippines had such a strong final four also doesn’t hurt.
12. Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites
(Winner: John Cochran)
A tale of two seasons this was, and I can already hear people yelling that I am putting it too high. But hear me out first before you Russell any feathers. If I were grading this solely on pre-merge episodes, this would be waaaay down the list due to the emphasis on big personalities (Shamar, Brandon, Phillip) as opposed to big gameplay. It was flat-out grating. But everything post-merge was spectacular. There were so many moves and countermoves galore down the homestretch. The same way it is more important for a sports team to play well in the second half of a game as opposed to the first, a great season needs to build momentum, and Caramoan definitely did that with six fantastic episodes in a row.
It’s much more important to finish strong than to start strong, so I definitely put more weight and emphasis on post-merge episodes when doing the rankings, and this season made a remarkable comeback. Also, don’t overlook how great the bevy of water challenges was. Should I push it down in the rankings due to the lackluster Reunion show that followed? Perhaps. Kind of not sure how much I should take that live show into consideration when ranking what happened out on the island.
13. Survivor: Samoa
(Winner: Natalie White)
I like this season a lot more than most people, but Russell’s controlling of the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.
14. Survivor: Marquesas
(Winner: Vecepia Towery)
An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy’s hand. Plus: purple rock!!!
15. Survivor: China
(Winner: Todd Herzog)
I’ve always loved this season. It featured a really good cast stuck in a really bad location. Todd completely owned that final Tribal Council. That’s how you win a million dollars.
16. Survivor: Cook Islands
(Winner: Yul Kwon)
What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Plus, just look at all the great first-time contestants (Parvati, Penner, Ozzy, Yul). Mutineers must die!
17. Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers
Here it is. Like Game Changers below it, Triple H comes in right in the middle. The reason it comes in before Game Changers is because, like Millennials vs. Gen X and Caramoan, it built momentum as it went, finishing with a strong run of post-merge episodes after a truly underwhelming start to the season. (At least we hope it finishes strong with Wednesday’s finale.)
Of course, I struggle with the fact that much of the drama came out of there being an overabundance of idols and advantages, but producers did something very smart with those advantages to make sure nobody else got Ciried: They limited most of them to a specific single Tribal Council. They also forced contestants to make decisions on those advantages — like whom to help or hurt from another tribe — that played dramatic dividends. And, outside of one mind-bogglingly boring loved ones reward contest, the challenges were strong.
The only thing holding this season back from a higher ranking is that the cast was solid, but unspectacular. There are indeed several players worth seeing again — and I’m sure we will — but there seemed to lack a true rooting interest in the final grouping. This may just be me, but I am totally fine with any of the final five winning. On one hand, that’s great! On the other hand, it lessens the stakes a bit for me in that a season works best when you have people you are clearly rooting for and against.
Still, I always love to see a season gain momentum as it goes and that is exactly what Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers has done. And could continue to do depending on what happens in the finale. (Recap continues on next page)
18. Survivor: Game Changers
(Winner: Sarah Lacina)
What a weird season this was. On one hand, there were a bevy of huge crazy Tribal Councils with last-second whispering and maneuvering leading to jaw-dropping exits. We were treated to two titans of the game (Tony and Sandra) going toe to toe. We saw one of the ugliest moments ever (Jeff Varner outing Zeke) turn into a shining instructive example of how to handle insensitive bullying via the reactions from Zeke and his tribemates. But something was missing. It’s hard to put your finger right on it, but it felt that this season lacked a consistent flow. Instead of a gradually building arc, we were instead presented with what could be best described as a random series of events. Said events were all exciting, but they failed to form a cohesive unit.
It didn’t help that most of the big players and personalities went out so early: Tony, Malcolm, Sandra, J.T. — all gone before the merge. Then Ozzy went home in the merge double-episode and we hardly saw Cirie until the merge because she never went to Tribal Council. That means we did not get a lot of bang for our buck when it came to the biggest players in the cast. No offense to someone like Sarah — who played a very strong game and deserves to be applauded for it — but she and most of the others we were left with at the end were simply not as dynamic as the personalities we lost early on.
That was always my big fear about this season — that as exciting as the early episodes were, those high-profile exits were diluting the cast and leaving us with players that we, as viewers, were not fully invested in. As despite the gameplay and unpredictability down the stretch, that is kind of what happened. I would say that could have just been me, but I heard similar concerns from a lot of people.
And then there is what happened to Cirie in the finale. Some may have loved the insane drama of having five out of six people immune due to idols and advantages — but I found watching someone be “voted out” even when zero votes were cast against her to be a case of a season run amok by simply too many bells and whistles. (The fact that it happened to a true legend in Cirie made it even harder to swallow.) And while I was prepared to drop the season ranking down a spot or two due to that Tribal, it held steady thanks to the new final Tribal Council format in which there was more of a conversation than regimented Q&A, which had grown predictable and stale over the years. That’s a great example of natural show evolution that worked and the producers deserve to be commended for it.
Also, contrary to what the paragraphs above may lead you to believe — I don’t by any means think Game Changers was a bad season. I’m just explaining what kept it from being a truly great one in my book. Because there were a lot of great moments, and judged on their own you would think this should be a top 10 entry. It’s not in my book, but it is a perfectly fine one.
19. Survivor: Australian Outback
(Winner: Tina Wesson)
An overrated season in my book. Probst loves it. I didn’t. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.
20. Survivor: South Pacific
(Winner: Sophie Clarke)
Here’s another one that I like more than most people, which is curious considering how much it has in common with the season that aired directly before it, which I didn’t like: the same twist of two returning players, Redemption Island, the predictable vote-offs, no real water challenges, etc…But there is one thing I really did dig about this season, and that is the cast. I was invested in the players and their fates — the ones I wanted to do well, and not so well. Plus, this season gave us three signature moments: Ozzy volunteering to go to Redemption, Cochran flipping, and Brandon giving away his immunity.
21. Survivor: Kaôh Rōng
(Winner: Michele Fitzgerald)
Not one of the best seasons ever; not one of the worst. Working in this season’s favor was the sheer unpredictability from week to week in terms of who was aligned with whom and what would happen at Tribal Council. That’s always exciting. Working against this season is the fact that there simply were not enough transcendent players in the cast. Talking to fellow fans of the show, I did not find a lot of passion or hardcore rooting interest for any of the folks who made it far in the game (especially after Tai sabotaged the tribe by putting out the fire). That’s a problem. Another problem (for me) was the selection of an underwhelming winner in Michele, as Aubry was denied at the end by an unsurprisingly bitter jury.
While the reward challenge that caused three players to collapse was certainly riveting (and scary as hell) to watch, it also robbed us of one of the most charismatic contestants in Beast Mode Cowboy, which was a shame. The other medical evacuations (Neal and Joe) meant we were denied chances to see how those pivotal votes would have gone down, and the challenges in general were at times too heavily reliant on balancing.
All that said, there were legitimate moments of glory — like when Tai turned on Scot and Jason — that elevated the proceedings and turned this season into a solid, if unspectacular, entry. (I originally had the season ranked as 16 out of 32, but then dropped it two slots after the finale, and then three more to make way for Millennials vs. Gen X, Game Changers, and now Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.) (Recap continues on next page)
22. Survivor: Tocantins
(Winner: J.T. Thomas)
Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach 1.0. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifted this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn’t involve the Dragonslayer?
23. Survivor: All-Stars
(Winner: Amber Brkich)
Overall, a bit of a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)
24. Survivor: Worlds Apart
(Winner: Mike Holloway)
The main problem, of course, was that there were not enough people to root for. Worlds Apart got somewhat hijacked by an assault of offensive comments to and about women by some of the male characters. It’s too bad because there was actually some interesting gameplay — mostly thanks to Mike. And there were some big moments at the last few Tribal Councils as well. This season moved around a bunch for me. It started off middle-of-the-pack, went WAY down during all that Dan and Will ugliness, but slowly crept back up after that.
25. Survivor: Panama — Exile Island
(Winner: Aras Baskauskas)
Ah, just writing the word Panama gets me daydreaming about Survivor Sally and her intoxicating knee socks. Terry was robbed on a final challenge that may or may not have been completely fair. Another unmemorable final two. Shane Powers should have been brought back for Heroes vs. Villains. And the Second Chance season, for that matter.
26. Survivor: Gabon
(Winner: Bob Crowley)
It got better near the end, but it was still a case of too little, too late. The fact that so many unworthy players went so far is simply too damning.
27. Survivor: Redemption Island
(Winner: Boston Rob Mariano)
The first three episodes were dynamite, but then the fuse blew out. It certainly was entertaining at times watching Rob strategize (the most dominant showing ever) and Phillip philosophize (the craziest showing ever), just not very dramatic. Most of the vote-offs were clearly telegraphed and the Redemption Island twist sucked the life out of Survivor’s signature moment — the vote-off.
28. Survivor: Africa
(Winner: Ethan Zohn)
Some great challenges. Not that much else was great.
29. Survivor: Guatemala
(Winner: Danni Boatwright)
One of the more unlikable casts so far. (Remember Judd? Jamie? Stephenie’s evil twin?) Rafe was good for a few laughs, though. Especially on rope obstacles.
30. Survivor: Vanuatu
(Winner: Chris Daugherty)
I don’t blame producers: The battle of the sexes worked well the first time around.
31. Survivor: San Juan del Sur
(Winner: Natalie Anderson)
The cast was for the most part boring if not boorish, and when you look back on this season, does any one big moment even stand out? Anything? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? I will say there were a few strong post-merge episodes, and it definitely got better over the last few weeks thanks to Natalie’s strong play. That counts for something. This is not a season that inspires anger or rage, just apathy, which is maybe the worst indictment of all.
32. Survivor: One World
(Winner: Kim Spradlin)
Look, I have total respect for Kim’s game. Like Tom in Palau and Rob in Redemption Island, she excelled strategically, socially, and physically. Unfortunately, that is really the only good thing I can say about this season. And that’s too bad, because I do think the “One World” concept was a solid one. But, man, what a thoroughly uninspiring cast. Colton was more a horrible human being than a classic villain, and the rest of the players were mostly either completely forgettable or people you wish you could forget. I worry I am being generous by putting it even this high, but out of respect for Kim, it goes here.
33. Survivor: Thailand
(Winner: Brian Heidik)
The fake merge and brutal last challenge — where the final three had to hold coins between their fingers in a crazy painful pose — keep this dud out of the bottom spot. Barely.
34. Survivor: Fiji
(Winner: Earl Cole)
With the exception of Yau-Man and Earl, a true bummer of a cast, and the “Haves vs. Have-Nots” twist was one of the worst creative decisions in Survivor history. Speaking of awful creative decisions…
35. Survivor: Nicaragua
(Winner: Jud “Fabio” Birza)
It’s at the bottom for a few reasons. (1) Splitting the tribes up by age and the Medallion of Power were both enormous flops. (2) Like One World, Thailand, and Fiji, Nicaragua had just too many unlikable players. (3) Two people quitting with only 11 days left. (4) No big memorable moments. Even Thailand had the fake merge and Fiji had the big Yau-Man/Dreamz free car deal gone bad, but what was Nicaragua’s signature moment? Unfortunately, it was people quitting, and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Interestingly enough, Survivor viewers recently picked Fabio as the worst Survivor winner ever in our fan poll, so I’m apparently not alone in my lack of enthusiasm.
Well, there you have it. My complete season-by-season rankings that you no doubt disagree with vehemently. But disagreeing is half the fun of Survivor! As long as it is a healthy, happy debate, that is. So please feel free to disagree in a respectful manner in the comments below, or tweet me @DaltonRoss. Also make sure to check out that exclusive deleted scene from the episode above after the West Coast airing, as well as my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And the very first place you can hear from the ousted Ashley is on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40 a.m. ET, and we’ll have that up later on the EW.com as well.
Now it’s your turn. Who do you think is gong to win Survivor, and whom do you want to win? Plus, where does this season rank for you overall? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I will be back next week with a huge finale/reunion sized scoop of the crispy!