SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

We recently asked all you Survivor super-fans to rank all 34 Survivor winners from first to worst. (And you can still get in your last-minute votes.) Those results will be revealed next week.

But since I am asking you all to name your pick for the best Survivor winner ever, I felt it was only fair to share my selection as well. First off, a note about the criteria: As I explained in the poll article, players are supposed to be judged solely on how they played during the season they won and during that season only. What that means, for example, is that Sandra Diaz-Twine should not necessarily get extra credit for winning twice (unless you want to factor in having to overcome being a target as a winner her second time out when grading her Heroes vs. Villains performance). Nor should she have points deducted for her Pearl Islands performance due to an early exit her third time out in Game Changers (although more on that later).

It also means Tyson Apostol essentially voting himself out of Heroes vs. Villains should have no bearing on how he did while winning Blood vs. Water. Same thing for J.T. Thomas. His love letter to Russell in Heroes vs. Villains or telling Brad where their vote was going in Game Changers should not detract from what he did in Tocantins. Everyone should be graded only on how they did in that particular season they won.

So who is my numero uno? Part of me thinks it should be Richard Hatch because he set the template and came into that game miles ahead of everyone else in terms of the way he thought about it strategically. But picking him because he had the first crack at it just seems a bit too easy. I don’t necessarily think you are wrong if you pick Hatch, but I wanted to open it up to look elsewhere.

If you ask me who the best player ever over all of his or her performances is, my answer would most likely be Parvati Shallow. But that doesn’t mean she had the most dominant single-season outing. In fact, I would argue that she was even better in a season she did not win (Heroes vs. Villains) than she was in the one she did (Micronesia) — especially because she walked into Heroes vs. Villains as the biggest target in the game (along with Cirie) and still made it to the end. (I know because I was out there and asked all the contestants the day before the game began.) So my answer in this case is not Parvati.

Boston Rob absolutely obliterated everyone in Redemption Island, but he was playing for the fourth time and on a tribe with star-struck newbies. I don’t want to take away from what he did on that season because he was flawless, but I can’t help but deduct a few points due to the incredible advantage he had in having played three times before against all new players (after the other tribe quickly dispatched of Russell), and the lack of any sort of competition he faced.

Sandra won twice and I love Sandra, but in some ways her most impressive outing was actually her third one in Game Changers where we saw her pulling more strings than in her first two times combined. Sandra belongs on the Survivor Mount Rushmore for sure, but I wouldn’t say she gave the best single-season performance ever. So who did?

J.T. made everyone fall in love with him in Tocantins and played an incredibly well-rounded game. He may not win any “Most Likable Survivor” awards, but to discount the dominance of Brian Heidik in Thailand is to view his season with subjective blinders on. The guy ran the game from start to finish. Some might say the same about Earl Cole in Fiji. And let’s not forget that Tom Westman hit the total trifecta of physical, social, and strategic mastery in Palau. He owned that installment. But I’m not picking any of them either. My pick actually comes from one of my least favorite seasons, Survivor: One World, and it is the one and only Kim Spradlin.

Survivor: One World
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS/Getty Images

Kim dominated just like Boston Rob did, but she did it her first time out instead of her fourth, and on the same level as all her competition. Kim ran the game in all three phases from start to finish just like Tom, but did so with more twists, turns, and tribe swaps along the way. (She also was not helped by having a dominant tribe that won every single immunity challenge until the merge as Tom was… if you want to call what happened in Palau a merge.) Kim was as in control like Brian, but when she won, you didn’t feel like you needed a shower after.

In short, Kim played as close to a perfect game in imperfect conditions with the perfect attitude as you can, and that’s why she’s my pick for the best Survivor winner ever. But the nicest part about all of this is that you don’t have to agree. (And my sneaky suspicion is, most of you will not.) So register your pick as you rank all 34 winners before voting closes and we tabulate the results. We’ll then see how Survivor nation truly feels.

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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