By Dalton Ross
March 25, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT

Survivor

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Everyone wants to be the best. But who do the returning champions of Survivor: Winners of War really consider to be the best ever? We asked each of the players in the days before filming on season 40 began to name the best winner ever. There were only two stipulations: They could not say themselves. And they could not say their spouses. (This last stipulation only applied to two of them. We’ll let you figure out which two.) So who did the cast consider the best of the bunch entering the game? For some players, the best ever is not even out there for season 40! Read on and all will be revealed.

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ADAM KLEIN

Sandra Diaz-Twine. I mean, she's the queen, she's done it twice. Unless she can threepeat, someone will match her record in theory, but someone has to win this season and so it's almost like can you even really say that they're on the same level as Sandra Diaz-Twine? I mean, she won against non-winners when she came back right after winning. So Sandra will always be the queen, but it might be time for a king. I want a statue of myself. Like if Rob gets a statue — he played four times and won one of them. If I can go two for two, I think that's statue-worthy.

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AMBER MARIANO

Parvati pops into my head in a sense that she really played Russell Hantz really, really well. Russell is known for playing the women. He got played by her. So I think that's pretty cool and something to be proud of.

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BEN DRIEBERGEN

I'd have to go with Tony. Just, how he got to the end. Tony played the game that I kind of implemented — the idol hound, the out in your face, in the open, like, "Hey, this is me, and this is who I am."

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DANNI BOATWRIGHT

I'd have to say Sandra, I mean, she won twice. How can you argue with that? I would not put people in the category that did not win their first time. I think to be in that category you have to have won your first time. Especially if you play against people who hadn't played before and you win? Really? No, that's just leading lambs to the slaughter. I remember people in my season were like, “Oh, Stephenie! Oh, Bobby Jon!” And I'm like, “No, get rid of them! Especially her! You saw how she played, she's tough.” But they just all catered to her and she cake-walked right through them. So I think to be the best you have to have won that first time.

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DENISE STAPLEY

I'd have to say Sandra. Because she's won twice. You can't recreate the formula, but somehow she got herself to the end not once, but twice. And they let her. So I don't know if that's on her or on the players in the game, but she doesn't hold anything back, and that's one of the things that I love — you know you can expect that from her. Everybody's got something on the line out here, and I know Sandra doesn't leave anything on the table when she comes out to play. In my book, yeah, the queen is the best, and I want that crown.

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ETHAN ZOHN

You know, if it didn't take Rob four times to win, I would say he was one of the best winners ever. But I think Parvati is the best winner ever. She learned from her mistakes from the first time around, she won the second time around. Third time around, she came back and made it to the final two and probably should have won, I feel. She played a much better game than Sandra. So she draws people in, she's smart with their strategy, she uses idols well, she's won some challenges. I think she's a really well-rounded player.

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JEREMY COLLINS

I don't even know if it's the best Survivor win ever, but I give respect to this because it's so hard to play the way he played, and that is Tony. Tony played like crazy, all over the place. It was at times horrible. He has people that are trying to be like him, over and over again. People come and they bring people and they're lookalikes for Tony, they play just like him and they can't do it. And Tony pulled it home, and it's just impressive that he did it like that. That's a tough way to win.

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KIM SPRADLIN

I have that something in me that wants to say somebody that's played one time and really killed it, but nobody comes to my mind when I do that. I mean, I think Sandra's pretty kickass. She's got it all. She's peaceful, she's confident, she's funny. She somehow just makes it work.

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MICHELE FITZGERALD

If we're talking track record, it's got to be Sandra. But if we're talking really who played the most flawless game, I think it's Kim Spradlin. She barely missed a step. She was running circles around everybody else in her season, and I don't think that that's saying that the people on her season weren't strong. I think it just goes to show how strong and capable she actually is. She's definitely my best winner.

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NATALIE ANDERSON

I would have to say Sandra, because you can't argue with the fact that somebody's won twice. It doesn't matter how she got there. People can s— on her gameplay, but if you can stack up the cards, show them the rings. If you've got more rings, technically you're the best, right? I hate to admit that Tom Brady's the best quarterback, but he's got more rings than anybody else, so even though I'm a Jets fan, you've just got to bite the bullet and admit what's right.

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NICK WILSON

I think it's Sandra. She did it twice. Hopefully somebody else will win twice and hopefully it's me, but she did it twice before. Nobody even expected her to win twice, and she was in the final three. Everybody's like, "Well, Russell's got it. But if not, then it's Parvati." She has shown that's what the game is about. At the end of the day, it's about the jury. It's about being social. It's about being well liked. No matter how many idols you find, no matter what any of that means, it's a social game.

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PARVATI SHALLOW

I think I'm going to have to say Sarah, actually. She's the same person who I want voted out early. She's really good because she played in an arena of competitors that was really good. She played in Game Changers, and the moves that she made, I was blown away. I just think she's really very good at this game.

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ROB MARIANO

Parvati. Because she understands all aspects of the game and her ego doesn't get the best of her. She's smart, she's strategic, and she's social. She can do what she needs to do to get her alliance further. She's not in her own head.

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SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE

I've always thought Tom Westman was an awesome winner. Palau is one of my favorite, favorite seasons, bar none. Man, I would've loved to see him out here. I mean, I haven't seen who the men are. I did see the spoiler list, he wasn't on it. But Tom, by far. He has all my respect. All of it.

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SARAH LACINA

Richard Hatch. He's the original, he's the O.G., he paved the way. He's not the only reason, but we wouldn't be at season 40 without season 1. There's a lot of iconic moments from that season that people still talk about. There are seasons that people couldn't even name, but everybody can pick out three things from season 1 that are memorable. I think when everybody can do that, it tells you that's a pretty good season and there's something special about it, and for him to walk away with the win, I would say he's going to be the best.

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SOPHIE CLARKE

Cochran. There's definitely a little bit of hometown bias. But I think Cochran played in a way that I really respect. I'm more excited by players who don't win out. I'm more excited by players who kind of are underestimated, or people are misjudging their ability to win. And I thought that Cochran's strategy played on his strengths as a person, which is that he endears himself to people and he endears himself to people in a way that makes you forget that he has his own agenda. And I just thought it was such a clever way to win and it's so remarkable. You look at this sweater-vested redhead and you think, “This guy could never win Survivor.” And It proves that everybody has a way to win Survivor, they just have to tap into it.

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TONY VLACHOS

Richard Hatch, because that was a raw game. There were no advantages, there were no idols. That was just him with his mouth politicking and socializing that made him win that money. As much as people didn't like him, he won. He just knew how to work it. That, to me, hats off.

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TYSON APOSTOL

Sandra. Because Sandra does something that I actually learned from on Heroes vs. Villains that nobody really gives her credit for, but is going to come into play so much here, which is telling lies about pregame. And I caught Sandra on day one whispering to somebody that Tyson and Coach were talking in the bathroom at Ponderosa pregame and she heard us from outside the window. And I pulled her aside, I said, "I love the lie. I love it. But don't use them on me anymore and let's get together and run this s—." And it's so easy to come up with pregame lies that cannot be fact-checked in any way.

For me to say, "Okay, I want Rob, Sandra, and Parv all out in one fell swoop." Okay that's so easy. Like this: “Aras, who's good friends with Parv and John Fincher, got a call from John Fincher, who then told Aras that Parvati said she would only come out and play if she got paid the same amount Sandra and Rob got paid to come out last season, which was $200,000.” Boom, boom, boom. Easy. Is that brutal? Wendell’s been writing in his journal every day. Easy for me to pull whoever I need to and say, “I saw a boot list when I walked past Wendell's journal, and it had your name on it as number three. So do what you want with that information?”

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WENDELL HOLLAND

The best Survivor winner ever is Jeremy Collins. Man, there's something about that guy. I've told people, I thought that when I walk into a room, I can light up the room. I'll make people happy, or whatever. When I see Jeremy Collins walk into a room, it's just like, yo, he's on another level. If we walk in there together, all eyes are on Jeremy. There's just something about him, and then he's also a beast of a competitor.

Looking at him now, in pregame, that guy's ready to go. You could put him on a football field, he's ready to kill somebody. He's jacked, and he's such a good person. So, to the game he played, he kept his heart in the right place. Val came out. He showed her mad love. I modeled my game after his game. So, yeah, he's my favorite winner, and that means I've got to get rid of big bro. So, what I would like to do, I'd like for him to sit on the jury. I want Jeremy sitting on the jury. So, if I can find a way for that to happen, that's what I would do.

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YUL KWON

Best Survivor winner ever? That's tough. Where it gets tough is you have people who have played multiple times before they perfected the game. You have other one-time winners who played very strong games, but luck plays more of a role than anything else in any season. I would say if I had to pick, it'd probably be Kim Spradlin. She's a one-time winner, but she played every facet of the game superbly. And for that reason, and the fact that she only had to do it once, I'd probably give the nod to her.

Also make sure to check out the Winners at War cast sharing secrets about their winning season, and for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @Dalton Ross and Instagram @thedaltonross.

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