Best Seasons Of Survivor
At its core, the competitive television series Survivor still to this day maintains its traditional format of separating competitors within Tribes, with each episode narrating their challenges across all areas of survival – maintaining their camps, succeeding in challenges, & surviving the dreaded Tribal Council.
For newcomers to the Survivor franchise, it can be tricky to choose just which Survivor season to start with, so we’ve decided to list the best ones. Just which Survivor entry would fans enjoy the most to see the full extent of the show’s motto – to outwit, outplay, & outlast?
Updated on 16 November 2022 by Rhenn Taguiam: Now that the hit Survivor reality show rages on with a 43rd Season that finished airing last March 2022, fans who are itching for Season 44 may have to wait a couple of months to get their next dose of survival entertainment after the Mamanuca Isl&s, Fiji, adventure. And those who couldn’t wait a few more months for a new Survivor season may want to relive some of the best Survivor seasons from the past.
These include early Survivor iterations that tried to switch up the formula among its earliest outings, a comeback season for previous contestants & their loved ones & other seasons with shocking moments that involved unbreakable alliances & outnumbering detractors for a smooth final Tribal Council finish.
15/15 Season 4: Marquesas
Set in French Polynesia’s Marquesas Isl&s, Season 4: Marquesas was a refreshing early twist to the Survivor formula. The season did start ordinarily, with the contestants being divided into the Maraamu & Rotu Tribes, which stood for “Wind” & “Rain” in Marquesan, respectively. In third tribe fashion, the two (2) tribes merged into a singular Soliantu tribe, which the contestants coined to mean “Sacred Allegiance to the Sun.”
Despite the “regular” trends, Marquesas set a precedent on various trends & rules for seasons of the reality show to Approach. For instance, admirable in this season is the effort of the otherwise-regarded “weaker” contestants ganging up to dominate their “stronger” counterparts in voting sessions. However, an internal alliance called the Rotu Four caused a Survivor’s forced “rocking out” due to continuously deadlocked votes in a surprising twist, forcing subsequent seasons to avoid ties. Likewise, this served as the debut of fan-favorite Rob Mariano, who would become a contestant in at least four (4) other seasons after this one.
14/15 Season 10: Palau
It’s not uncommon for a Survivor Season to have a theme, but it’s Season 10: Palau that would probably do a bit of divergence away from the usual “tropical” trends of the isl&-survival competition. This time, the Palau-set Survivor season would have a World War 2 Pacific Theater theme, featuring more intense challenges for Survivors, & a Tribal Council featuring actual World War 2 relics, including barbed wires, cement, weapons, & fallen aircraft.
This time around, Tom Westman of the New York City fire department outvoted advertising exec Katie Gallagher in a final vote, making him the Sole Survivor in a surprising twist. Aside from this win, however, perhaps iconic to Season 10 are three (3) players who would eventually become popular enough to return in other Seasons, such as Tom Westman, Stephenie LaGrossa, & Bobby Drinkard.
13/15 Season 34: Game Changers
As the name implies, Season 34: Game Changers was when the show went full experimental & tried changing a lot of known mechanics in the Survivor reality show. Fans know this season for causing many chaotic changes to the show formula, which the contestants used to their maximum strategic efficiency – quite similar to twists & turns in a crime show.
This strategic supremacy is demonstrated by Sarah Lacina, whose calculated flips managed to take control of critical elements that resulted in her decisive win. A key component introduced in the show is the Game Changers format, where 20 returning contestants return to contend for the title of Soul Survivor. Another surprising twist came from the Exile isl&, where one person without a tribe was sent in exile – only to be given one of the secret advantages, including a challenge advantage, an Extra Vote, or the ability to create a fake Hidden Immunity Idol.
12/15 Season 6: The Amazon
It’s not uncommon for a long-lasting reality show to have seasons that try to change the formula, but it’s usually one season that begins the trend. In the case of Survivor, this came in the form of Season 6: The Amazon, where its Amazon-heavy themes became the first for the show. The season also introduced “twists” in the Survivor formula that heavily influenced the seasons. These included the first instance of a merged tribe & a Final Tribe Council with seven jury members.
There were also interesting twists that changed the dynamic of the season entirely, which can be a breath of fresh air for TV fans who got used to comedies. For instance, Day 13 had the youngest members of the tribe go on a summit where they decided on a “remix” of the tribes, as they had been initially separated as men (Tambaqui) & women (Jaburu). Moreover, this was the first season to feature a Survivor contender with a disability, in the form of Christy Smith, who was hearing impaired.
11/15 Season 27: Blood Vs. Water
Reality show contestants who are blood-related often have the expectations of teaming up together. This same notion is broken early in Season 27: Blood vs. Water of the Survivor reality show. In this Survivor season set in the Palaui Isl& of the Philippines, the “Blood vs. Water” mechanic is emphasized, where contestants – returnee Survivor contestants & a loved one – were sent to the isl& a day before (Day 0) under the notion of being in the same tribe, only for the biggest shocker the next day to reveal that returnees & their loved ones would be in separate tribes.
Not only that, but the season also features a Redemption Isl&, where everyone voted out will be sent here first. When the Redemption Survivors reach three, they must conduct a three-way duel to officially kick someone out while the two (2) remain & afterward engage in a match that returns them to the game. Exciting events in the season include early-game domination between strategists MAras Baskauskas & Brad Culpepper before returning players Gervase Peterson, Monica Culpepper, & Tyson Apostol created a powerful three-way alliance. Despite efforts from contenders Hayden Moss & Ciera Eastin to destroy the team, Tyson won Sole Survivor due to this play.
10/15 Season 25: Philippines
While the idea of three Tribes isn’t at all new to the Survivor franchise, it’s in Season 25: Philippines that transformed the tri-tribe concept into something to look forward to. Although this series is the seventh to feature returning castaways, three of the returnees in Philippines were all medically evacuated in previous Seasons, making this their time to shine.
Starting tribes in the Season were T&ang (Rooster), Kalabaw (Carabao), & Matsing (Monkey), respectively. And what’s perhaps interesting would be Sole Survivor Denise Stapley, who serves as not only the oldest female winner in the show’s history. Rather, Stapley also became the only person thus far to have attended & survived every Tribal Council meeting in the Season.
9/15 Season 7: Pearl Isl&s
Fans of Survivor who thought it was high time the series explored pirates would delight in Season 7: Pearl Isl&s. Set in the Pearl Isl&s close to Panama, the Season lasted for 39 days, with 16 castaways duking it out for the title of Sole Survivor.
What’s perhaps interesting about Pearl Isl&s has to do with the level of intrigue castaways were willing to indulge in for the purposes of executing their plans. For instance, castaway Johnny Fairplay faked his gr&mother’s death in order to gain sympathy from his Tribe. Not only that, but a shocking twist that brought two castaways back for another shot at the title of Sole Survivor was a thrill to watch at the time for a show that was just getting its footing.
8/15 Season 40: Winners At War
Celebrating the series’ 20th Anniversary, Season 40: Winners At War had 20 previous Sole Survivors return to once again compete for the much-coveted title. Set once more in Fiji, the game brings back the “Edge Of Extinction” as a game mode, whereas eliminated players are sent to a desolate isl& to wait for an opportunity to get back into the game.
The game also offered Fire Tokens as a new form of currency, allowing players to purchase advantages such as food & items. What’s perhaps tenser are the strategies the winners used throughout the match. After all, they first started eliminating people with deep connections outside the show, such as spouses & children. Afterward, they were able to target the older, “old-school” Survivors as well.
7/15 Season 33: Millennials Vs. Gen-X
Given the premise of a season title such as Millennials Vs. Gen-X, viewers of the show would at first think it’s about time these generations proved their superiority against the other. Instead, what resulted was a tight-knit cast with friendships & rivalries that resonated with viewers even after the show had ended.
Not to mention, David Wright’s start as one of the “weakest” members of the Gen-X team & eventual rise into one of the powerhouses of the show was a delight to watch. Even the betrayal experienced by one of the castaways became one of the most memorable moments of the show.
6/15 Season 37: David Vs. Goliath
One of the most suspenseful Survivor seasons out there, Season 37: David Vs. Goliath evidently introduced some of the most thrilling components of a Survivor show out there. Aside from the initial Survivors being segregated into underdog “Davids” & overachieving “Goliaths,” other exciting twists were introduced. Aside from the Hidden Immunity Idol, there was a one-time Exile Isl& that contained an Idol Nullifier that would render Hidden Immunities useless.
There were also incredible moments of sheer human amazement. This was especially when the “Davids” had encountered dangerous moments that they managed to reverse with quick thinking & tactical prowess.
5/15 Season 31: Cambodia – Second Chance
What better way to spice things up for a Survivor season than to actually give fans the chance to vote? This is what Season 31: Cambodia – Second Chance has done, & this gimmick resulted in one of the most interesting Survivor seasons to ever grace television. Even its conception was a thrilling new gimmick, as fans had the chance to choose its contestants – all returning castaways who were eliminated in previous seasons.
Aside from these gimmicks were organized voting blocs formed before each vote. This added a lot of strategic complexity, as long-term alliances weren’t necessarily important in the further context of the game. With the castaways boasting a fair degree of both strategic prowess & innate allure, this was definitely a season to remember.
4/15 Season 28: Cagayan – Brains Vs. Brawn Vs. Beauty
Unlike other Survivor seasons, Season 28: Cagayan – Brains Vs. Brawns Vs. Beauty was one of the best seasons in the context of newcomers. The premise of the show was to prove whether the sole quality of “brains,” “brawn,” or “beauty” would be enough to outwit the rest & win the title of Sole Survivor. As such, these were the predominant qualities of the Survivors of each Tribe.
Much to the credit of the show, the gimmick worked – with all Tribes defying first impressions & preconceived notions about their specializations. Not to mention, the victory of Sole Survivor Tony Vlachos wasn’t simply well-deserved; it was a cleverly-revealed moment courtesy of a fellow tribemate whose decision rocked the minds of viewers even to this day.
3/15 Season 1: Borneo
When it comes to the best seasons of Survivor, perhaps not many could top the appeal of the first in the series. Of all seasons in the show, it’s Season 1: Borneo that helped the show gain its footing. And unlike the odd gimmicks of the modern shows, it’s Borneo that proves time & time again that Survivor can remain entertaining despite its straightforward format.
Aside from the typical Immunity Challenges & Tribal Councils, the game was quick to introduce trends that the rest of the seasons would follow. These include merged Tribes, a Summit where Tribe Ambassadors could choose a camp location, & even a jury-based Final Tribal Council.
2/15 Season 20: Heroes Vs. Villains
It’s in times of crisis that people often reveal their true character, & Survivor castaways have proved that some would go out of their way to play the role of heroes & villains in these trying times. And in the context of Survivor, sometimes these people just make a mark in the hearts of viewers. Thanks to Season 20: Heroes Vs. Villains, fans are treated to yet another appearance of fan-favorite honorable castaways pegged as “Heroes” & deceiving “Villains.”
And the cast didn’t disappoint! Heroes Vs. Villains is known for a lot of its surprise moments, especially during Tribal Councils where alliances may be forged or broken with a single stroke. Memorable moments include some giving Idols to members of the opposing Tribe, castaways being manipulated into voting themselves, & castaways using their immunity twice in the same Council.
1/15 Season 16: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites
Perhaps the best & the most thrilling of Survivor has to be Season 16: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites. After all, this was where viewers could finally see people who claim they “can do challenges better” prove if they’re worth their words. As literal as the title claims, Season 16 featured ten series “super-fans” & ten returning favorites.
There were certainly a lot of entertaining side plots within the series as well. These included the constant bickering between two hilarious castaways, an all-female alliance, & constant backstabbing between various factions.
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