In no particular order, here are my picks for the top ten greatest Survivor players of all time.
People cite Cirie as an inspiration to people on the couch who don’t think they can play Survivor. That’s nice, but it’s simply not true. The truth is she’s one of the best social players the game has ever seen and likely far beyond the capability of your average couch squatter.
Sorry, people on the couch.
In order to succeed in Survivor you need to be able to convince people to vote how you want them to vote. Cirie is a master at this. She once orchestrated a plan that convinced Erik Reichenbach to give up his immunity necklace. She didn’t just have the idea, she helped each person frame what to say to Erik, how to say it, and when to say it.
She seems to intrinsically understand people. Not just who people are, but what they’ll believe. And that made her very, very dangerous.
I loved watching Yul play Survivor. I loved watching people try to play against Yul. Nate, from an opposing tribe described Yul best: “You don’t want Yul in the challenges. Yul is intelligent. I do not want that boy thinking anymore. You know what I’m saying? You don’t want that clock tickin’ there, homey.”
Yul doesn’t get mad very often, he just calmly and logically tells people why he’s doing what he’s doing and states it in such a political, soft-spoken way that nobody feels bad.
Once Yul established power on his season you saw people immitating him. For example, Adam Gentry and Parvati Shallow asked Yul to vote out Jonathan Penner before them, in return for their jury vote. There was no point in Adam or Parvati denying Yul was going to the finals, even with six people left in the game. Yul had already crunched all the numbers.
They let that clock tick too long.
Cutthroat, chaotic, aggressive, egotistical, strategic, bandy-legged little troll. I’m not sure there’s anything Russell wouldn’t do to move himself forward in the game.
He makes quick, firm alliances, dedicates himself to finding immunity idols, and utilizes this foundation to intimidate and overpower the rest of the tribe.
Russell says he, “plays as hard as he can.” He’ll throw away the tribes machete just to create chaos in the camp. While being targetted, he’ll give away his hidden immunity idols. He’ll get in people’s heads just enough to sway their votes. And he invented finding idols without clues.
He’s played three times and got to the end twice. His only failing is that he plays the game so hard that he doesn’t seem to care how he gets to the end and doesn’t get enough jury votes.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains was comprised of a number of great players who had already played and (in many cases) already excelled at the game. And on this season people spent a lot of time and effort targetting Parvarti because they said she was dangerous.
As Jeri said, “she has ways of roping people in even when they don’t want anything to do with her.”
And that’s her biggest asset. She pulls people in, she establishes power, and she gets people to vote how she wants.
On two separate seasons with players that had played before, she established alliances, stuck with them, and manipulated players all the way to the end of the game. To make it to the end on a season with no returning players is impressive, to do it twice on seasons with multiple returning players is an unrivaled feat.
Most of the people on this list (and great Survivor players in general) are very good at two to three Survivor fundamentals: strategic game, social game, and physical game. The most important one is social. I don’t think you can win Survivor without at least some social game because you need people to like you so they will vote for you in the end.
A lot of people wouldn’t put Ozzy on a top ten list because he lacks a good strategic game and his arrogance makes him iffy on the social game. But Ozzy is special. Ozzy’s physical game is so strong that it breaks the conventions of how to judge a Survivor player. And with the exception of perhaps Joe Anglim, he may be the only Survivor capable of doing this. Theoretically, you don’t need a strategic game if you stand a legitimate chance of helping your tribe win every immunity challenge and you win every individual immunity challenge after the merge. And Ozzy is a legitimate threat to do just that.
In his first season, Cook Islands, with one exception, he won every single individual immunity challenge, guaranteeing him a spot in the final three.
In Survivor: South Pacific, he went to Redemption Island on purpose and defeated six straight challengers there, earning him the right to return to the game. Once he returned, he won individual immunity once, and in the final immunity challenge, narrowly lost. Had he won just once more, he would have been in the final three.
It’s not a well-round game, nor an orthodox one, but it is an unbridled force, which, left unchecked, has the power to go all the way to the end.
Watching Kim Spradlin play Survivor makes you believe in destiny. She has a multitude of skills and attributes to win: she’s likeable, she can win challenges, she appears genuine and trustworthy, she can manipulate people to do what she wants, she has these angelic eyes that draw you in, and she never seems to lose her cool.
It appears to be a very understated game. You aren’t worried about Kim at first because she’s not pushing too hard for anything. By the time you realize how dangerous she is you’re already swept up in the power she amassed.
On her season she built relationships with everyone, made two separate alliances she used to better position herself and gain information, and was the deciding force behind the majority votes.
Watching Kim do this on her season it seemed like she was always just a few feet ahead of people in challenges, a few moves ahead of them in strategy, and all with an unnerving calm that never waivered. Like it was easy. Like everyone else was just getting in the way of her destiny.
Sandra Diaz Twine
I don’t want to put Sandra on the list. I don’t like Sandra, I don’t respect her game, and frankly, I can’t make a strong case for things she does well, other than winning.
I’m even resistant to the idea of picking people for this list based purely on results. There’s a lot of luck in Survivor. A large portion of the game is who you’re playing with and how everyone reacts as the game changes. But the fact that, despite all the game’s swings and luck she made it to the end twice and won twice forces me to take pause. Maybe something is going on there that I don’t fully understand or appreciate.
Perhaps Sandra’s strategy of utilizing the fact that, “there are always bigger fish to fry” other than her, making it to the end, and being a more appealing choice than the people sitting next to her (and winning), makes her the best damn goat the game has ever seen — a super goat. A two-time winning, super goat.
Give it up for the super goat.
Captain Spy Shack. Every time my friend mentioned Tony’s spy shack I always downplayed it. “Who cares about his spy shack, we never see him go in there!” Later I learned it was because the Survivor crew respected his gameplay and didn’t want to screw up his strategy.
Like Russel Hantz, Tony plays the game as hard as he can. He constantly searches for (and finds) idols, he tirelessly gathers information to assess his biggest threats, and then he acts upon them. The biggest way in which Tony differs from Russel is that he’s better with people. Even if Tony is loud, or too straight-forward, or backstabby, somehow people just chalk that up to Tony being Tony.
Tony’s wrecking ball style of gameplay requires a surprisingly delicate skillset that is unique, impressive, and entertaining as hell to watch.
A lot of people don’t like Boston Rob. I’m guessing they don’t like how popular he is, or how arrogant he is, or that it took him four times to win.
To me, Rob’s biggest problem was that the first two times he played, he was too young to temper his personality. And while in All Stars that prevented him from winning the million, his alliance with Amber, his strategic moves, and his domination of challenges got him to the end.
In Heroes vs. Villains, even though he got voted out eighth he was voted out at the head of an alliance.
In Survivor: Redemption Island, Andrea Boehlke made it clear on the reunion show that Rob built relationships with everyone in his alliance, and orchestrated his way into a final three with two other people nobody would want to vote for (just in case he’d pissed the jury off too much). He created a buddy system for his alliance so no one would go off alone to be swayed out of the group. He took all his previous Survivor experience and talent, and applied it in a way to assure his victory. At the trial he presented himself as humbly as he could.
Juror David, said it best:
One person doesn’t deserve it, so we can cut him off. The other one thanked somebody for doing it all. Who’d she thank? The guy sitting in the middle. He did everything. And most importantly, he managed to blindside Matt. And in the process of doing that he sent a message to his tribe that, “if any of you show any signs of not being loyal, you’re gonna go home.” He controlled all of you. He controlled your minds, he controlled what you did, he controlled your thoughts, you all bought it, and one, by one, by one, all of you were blindsided. A little ruthless, but brilliant.
This is a contentious choice because Amanda has never won and might be incapable of winning. To win Survivor, you gotta get your hands dirty and Amanda isn’t cut-throat enough. But there’s a reason she has the record for third highest number of days spent on Survivor.
There is value to supplementary players; people that help others progress in the game and are great to work with. Amanda has proven she is one of those people by getting a top three placing on two separate seasons.
In order to get far in Survivor, it helps to team up with someone like Amanda. These are usually people with one great Survivor tool (social, strategic, physical). Players like Trish Hegarty, Matthew von Ertfelda, Latasha “Tasha” Fox, or even Rupert Boneham (to a degree). Amanda, on the other hand, has mutiple tools. She can help win challenges (making her a strong voting buddy), or she can help you execute social strategy, and she’s likable enough and pretty enough that people want to talk with her. She’s an ideal Survivor symbiont. You really can’t underestimate the power or importance of being likable.