By this time next year, Survivor will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special 40th season entitled Winners at War. Having just wrapped up its most recent season, Islands of the Idols, the show is quite the talk of the town at the moment. With so many seasons aired, it’s inevitable that the show has produced many beloved and many not-so-beloved seasons. Although I have many that I wish I could place onto this list, it only calls for five, so I will follow suit. Without further ado, here are the top 5 best Survivor seasons of all time, ranked!
5. Borneo (2000)
The very first season of the show, Borneo at times feels more like a documentary than a usual season of Survivor. We get to see contestants deal with being stranded for the very first time, lost in the jungles of Malaysia. But eventually, what started as a game of social dynamics became a game of ruthless strategy. A voting alliance consisting of Tagi members Richard Hatch, Kelly Wigglesworth, Rudy Boesch and Sue Hawk emerged. As their competitors were unwilling to partake in such devious behavior, the Tagi allianced emerged triumphant, with 39 year-old Richard Hatch taking the title of Sole Survivor.
Borneo isn’t the flashiest or most polished season, but it does have many colorful characters who make the journey to the end as interesting as it is. If you want a showcase of big personalities coping and interacting with each other, it’s just the season for you!
4. Nicaragua (2010)
The first season to air after the groundbreaking Heroes vs. Villains, Nicaragua is a season that has been lost to the sands of time by many. It featured a rather eccentric cast, with standouts including Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, school-teacher NaOnka Mixon and college student Jud “Fabio” Birza. As the season progressed, chaos emerged and the larger-than-life personalities eventually clashed with each other. Out of the rubble came the 21-year-old Fabio, who became the show’s youngest winner ever.
While Nicaragua doesn’t have the best reputation with many fans, it’s an underrated gem, with a colorful cast, unique location and several big gameplay moves that keep the action interesting. For those who love big personalities arguing endlessly, this is the season to watch.
3. Gabon (2008)
As high-octane as Nicaragua was, it has nothing on preceding season; Gabon, which can be described as Nicaragua times ten thousand. Indeed, the cast on this season is even more bizarre, with cantankerous wedding videographer Randy Bailey, pinup model Jessica “Sugar” Kiper, Smash champion Ken Hoang and schoolteacher Bob Crowley being notable examples.
While the season progresses, core alliances shift in and out of power due to unprecedented twists, with players you’d normally expect to go early lasting longer. After winning several challenges, 57-year old Bob Crowly emerged the winner and was the oldest one ever.
Gabon is not a season with innovative or in-depth strategy, but it’s a lot of fun and that’s all that’s needed to make a season great.
2. Amazon (2003)
Survivor was in a bit of a slump by the time of Amazon. The show was no longer a massive phenomenon with the public and the viewers mainly consisted of loyal fans who had been watching since the first day. It felt as if the show was tired, lifeless and just trudging onwards without much care.
That all changed when Amazon premiered in 2003. The first season to feature tribes divided entirely by gender, Amazon was a first in many areas. The strategy was more advanced, the players more sarcastic and the environment more fun. The season gave rise to several iconic contestants, notably Rob Cesternino, who remains a prominent figure in the Survivor community via his podcast series; RobHasaPodcast. Eventually, 21-year old Jenna Morasca emerged the winner.
Amazon is a delightful, wild ride from start to finish. The first season to effectively combine great characters with exciting, unpredictable gameplay, Amazon is the perfect season for both strategy lovers and character lovers alike.
1. Pearl Islands (2003)
The greatest season in the series, Pearl Islands managed to get everything correct. It had a phenomenal location, phenomenal characters, phenomenal gameplay and a phenomenal….theme? Indeed, Pearl Islands has gone on to become known as the “pirate season” and for good reason. From top to bottom, everything about Pearl Islands relates to pirate lore in some fashion.
But a season with a great theme only can’t possibly be good, so Pearl Islands contains a fantastic cast to go along with that. From tie-dye and beard clad troubled teens mentor Rupert Boneham, to art consultant Jon “Jonny Fairplay” Dalton, to bank teller Sandra Diaz-Twine, Pearl Islands doesn’t have great characters…it has LEGENDARY characters.
The season doesn’t hold back in strategy either. After an unprecedented twist, the game shifted radically. Alliances turned on each other and loyalties changed every episode. Emerging from the mess was 29-year old Sandra Diaz-Twine.
There is no season better than Pearl Islands. With an outstanding cast, outstanding gameplay, outstanding twists and an outstanding winner, it’s the greatest one of all time.