Sunday, February 5, 2012
What is the Best Season of Survivor?
What is the best season of Survivor? I've tackled this question once before - back after Season 17 - but a lot has happened since then, so let's take a look at it again.
Now lists like this always differ from person to person. I look for a few specific criterion when evaluating a season.
1. Was the cast entertaining? - Usually I will use likable, but unlikability is just as important to a season of Survivor
2. Was there someone to root for at the end? You can have a great season, but if there isn't someone to root for in at least the last episode, the season really loses steam.
3. Unpredictability - This will come in two forms, both equally important to Survivor - big moves and blindsides
Other things also come into play like location, challenges, attractiveness, and where I was at the time.
Some of the rankings have changed somewhat dramatically from the first list, some not so much. This time, I saw 4 distinct tiers from my rankings. Tier 1 will be the clear best - picks 1-4. Tier 2 will be good, entertaining seasons - picks 5-8. Tier 3 were normal seasons, better than normal TV, but just average Survivor, unmemorable - picks 9-17, with picks 13-17 especially interchangeable, with little distinguishing them from one another. Tier 4, bad seasons picks 18 -23.
Alright, enough explanation, let's get to the countdown.
Ranking the Seasons of Survivor
23. Survivor Fiji
Actual Season #14
Quality Contestants: Yau-Man
Why 23? Boring. I did not finish watching this season. People were mean and unlikable, challenges unmemorable. Yau-man was the only redeeming quality of this season.
Turning Point: There was this weird haves vs. have-nots motif from this season. The winners of the first challenge got the good camp and then went on to win every immunity challenge, even after the teams were switched up.
22. Survivor Nicaragua
Actual Season #21
Quality Contestants: Marty? Fabio?
Why 22? Again, unmemorable, no big moves or twist, generally unlikable, dull contestants. Again, I did not finish watching this season.
Turning Point: ????
21. Survivor Redemption Island
Actual Season #22
Quality Contestants: Boston Rob, Philip
Why 21? The placement of this season depends on how you feel about Boston Rob. If you like masterminding, boring, predictably TV, you'll like this season. I respect the game he played. It has to be the best ever, but that does not mean that this was a good season to watch. Even with Redemption Island, NOTHING happened.
Turning Point: Rob gaining the confidence of every single person in his tribe.
20. Survivor Thailand
Actual Season #5
Why 20? This is rated the worst season by many and I can see why. It may be puzzling then, that with zero quality contestants, this season still beats out 3 others on my list. I think part of it is due to the newness of Survivor at this point and the fact that the underdog tribe of mostly older people took over the game. Also, it was compelling to see how far Brian's control of the game went.
Turning Point: This was the weird season where when the tribes were tied 5-5 they moved to the same beach, but did not merge. They stayed as separate tribes, and Brian's tribe won the next two immunity challenges confirming their dominance in the game. This could be the inspiration for this season's "One World", but I hope this season is better than Thailand.
19. Survivor Africa
Actual Season #3
Quality Contestants: Ethan, Tom, Lex, Kim P
Why 19? Africa had a lot of good contestants (see above) and interesting people (add Frank and Brandon to the list.) It had the first tribe switch in Survivor history, yet it was a boring, at times hard to watch season. Most of this is due to the locale. It was super hot, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by thorn bushes to protect them from the animals. I think the low rank is also due to the disappointment compared to previous seasons.
Turning Point: There is the obvious tribe switch, where the old people's alliance lost their power, but there was also this odd episode after the merge where Lex was on a mission to find out who voted for him in the previous tribal council. He thought it was Kelly even though she was in his alliance so he voted for her, Kelly voted for him and got the numbers-down tribe to do the same. But for some reason, Brandon went with Lex and voted off Kelly too, sending her home with a 5-4 vote. If Brandon votes for Lex, the Lex/Tom/Ethan/Kim alliance is done-zo.
18. Survivor All-Stars
Actual Season #8
Quality Contestants: Most
Why 18? This is another season expectations were high, but disappointment abounded. This lends to the low rating. Mostly, though, it was players already knowing each other and having established relationships that made it a bad season. People knew each other, how they played the game, and knew them outside the game. This added a very negative personal element to the game. There was no feeling out period, no forming of strong teams, just getting rid of people perceived as threats.
Turning Point: Lex believes Rob and protects Amber. Next episode, Rob votes out Lex. Rob and Amber go to the final.
17. Survivor China
Actual Season #15
Quality Contestants: Todd, Amanda, James
Why 17? China had some good contestants. It was entertaining and I guess good television, but other than James being a beast and Todd controlling the game, I don't remember a thing about the season.
16. Survivor South Pacific
Actual Season # 23
Quality Contestants: Coach, Jim, Brandon (purely as entertainment)
Why 16? South Pacific was the second of the two Redemption seasons. Ozzy and Coach were the returning players, a much less significant draw than Russel and Boston Rob. Not a great season, but some great big moves by Cochran and Ozzy. The moves, though actually did very little.
Turning Point: Cochran betraying his tribe when the merged 6-6.
15. Survivor Amazon
Actual Season #6
Quality Contestants: Butch, Rob C
Why 15? This was the first gender divided season. Kind of a weird one. Lots of sexual talk. Lots of the women playing the men. No hugely likable characters, but entertaining. Probably the first season based primarily on strategy instead of alliances. That might for lots of backstabbing and betrayal.
Turning Point: Quite a few but mostly the women conning the men, expect for Rob, who was usually in with the women.
14. Survivor Tocantins
Actual Season #18
Quality Contestants: Coach, Taj, JT
Why 14? Another season not very memorable. No real big moves, but some good contestants. A satisfying season as the underdog tribe going into the merge watches the larger tribe self destruct and the underdogs come out victorious. This is running theme in Survivor.
13. Survivor Guatemala
Actual Season # 11
Quality Contestants: Rafe, Gary, Bobby Jon, Stephenie
Why 13? Again, not a hugely memorable season. A pretty good cast, and a tough, tough locale - starting the game with the 12 mile jungle trek. Love Bobby Jon!
Turning Point: Probably the early alliance formation after the tribe switch - really cast the die for the entire season.
12. Survivor Samoa
Actual Season # 19
Quality Contestants: Russell, Shambo
Why 12? The ranking of this season depends on how you feel about Russell. I like Russell as a villain, but not really as a player. It's great to have someone to root against, and I totally see why he did not win. This season again saw the underdog tribe at the merge stay together as the larger tribe totally self destructed. This time, though, not really many likable people on the underdog tribe - kinda dull in fact, excluding Russell.
Turning Point: At the merge the leading tribe was up over Russell's tribe 8-4 (7-5 if you count Shambo) and they voted off Erik, one of their own for no real reason. Then things went downhill from their with Russell using his idol and players being concerned about pulling a rock. Also, black Russell's having to leave due to injury should not be downplayed. I think his tribe would've stayed together if he were still there.
11. Survivor Panama
Actual Season #12
Quality Contestants: Bruce, Sally, Aras, Cirie
Why 11? Lots of unlikable characters - Shane, Danielle, Terry, Courtney and a season where the underdogs do not make a comeback like in Samoa and Tocantins. Still a good season though, due to good challenges, and the immunity dominance of Terry.
Turning Point: Actually Terry winning every challenge kept Aras in the game. If Terry would have lost along the way, he would have used the idol and that would have sent out Aras, the eventual winner.
10. Survivor Marquesas
Actual Season #4
Quality Contestants: Paschal, John, Kathy, Young Boston Rob
Why 10? Interesting season, not really a lot of likable people, but some good players. This season saw another tribe switch (only the second time) and the first ever big alliance break (see below). It also had the purple rock, a young Boston Rob - much funnier, but not a smart player -, "I need somebody to pee on my hand", and some awesome scenery.
Turning Point: Biggest switch ever, and a precedent setter for Survivor going forward - one tribe has numbers domination at the merge and the people at the bottom of this alliance sense that they are at the bottom and jump to the side with the numbers disadvantage, thus switching everything up.
9. Survivor Gabon
Actual Season # 17
Quality Contestants: Bob, Matty, Corinne (good villain)
Why 9? A more interesting Africa than Season 3. Not the best cast, but a quality, likable winner and some good villains put this season in at number 9 on the list. Interesting idea of ranking the tribe members based on importance, then letting the tribe members pick new tribes based off that.
Turning Point: The early tribe switch along with the method for choosing new tribes mentioned above made for some strong alliances. Then the tribes switched again. The dominant alliance had the numbers in both tribes, but then Susie switched and voted off Marcus, thus changing the numbers. The role of Matty, though must be noted here. He won immunity for his tribe in this challenge. If he had not, he would have been voted out by Corinne, Charlie,and Randy. Whew, a long explanation, but an important one.
8. Survivor Pearl Islands
Actual Season # 7
Quality Contestants: Rupert, Darrah, Johnny Fairplay (great villain)
Why 8? This is the one that changed the most since my original rankings. Wow, this was a wild season. Pretty much every episode was a new betrayal, alliance, backstab, and blindside. Some of the best Survivor characters ever in the form of Rupert and Johnny Fairplay and nice eye-candy in Darrah. The Outcast thing, though, really lowers the rank of this season, especially with the unworthy uber-annoying Lil making it to the final.
Turning Point: When the outcasts came back tribes were even. Burton was integrated back into his original tribe whereas Lil rejected her original tribe, going with the other tribe and handing them the telling advantage.
7. Survivor Micronesia - Fans vs Favorites
Actual Season # 16
Quality Contestants: Favorites
Why 7? Wow, some of the best blindsides ever! Really, the women PLAYED the men amazingly a few times this season. Only comes in at 7 though, due to injuries to Jonathan and James, and the overall weak play of the fans - some pretty poor contestants among them.
Turning Point: I guess you are judging which blindside is the best here - I'll go with the one against Ozzy. Also, Cirie choosing early in the game to align herself with Amanda and Parvati proved an important move.
6. Survivor Vanuatu
Actual Season # 9
Quality Contestants: Julie (hot), Ami, Sarge
Why 6? Lots of people don't like this season at all, but I love the self-destruction of the women coupled with the subtle manipulation Chris uses on them. His comeback was epic. He should have been voted off after not being able to cross the balance beam on the first episode! Also, the attractiveness of many of the women and the amazing locations and challenges helps move this season up the rankings.
Turning Point: 6 women left and Chris, Chris finally gets the women to break their alliances as he gets the weaker women - Twila, Scout, and Eliza to form an alliance with him.
5. Survivor Palau
Actual Season # 10
Quality Contestants: Bobby Jon, Stephenie, James, Tom
Why 5? Lots of great Survivors and the biggest domination of one tribe over another in the history of the game. How could you not be engrossed by the total decimation of this tribe? Would they ever win? What would happen if they didn't? Would there be a merge? How would a tribe continue to dominate when they couldn't vote off their weakest players? All these questions were answered in Survivor Palau. Unfortunately, this was the odd season where the first half was much better than the second, because there were a number of weak players on the winning tribe that stuck around too long because there was never a need for tribal council.
Turning Point: No real turning point, just a slow, inevitable rise to the top.
4. Survivor Borneo
Actual Season # 1
Quality Contestants: Rudy, Richard, Greg, Colleen
Why 4? The first season ever brought us many great things. Sure it was pretty simple compared to later seasons - smaller challenges, less big moves, less strategic play, but the newness was awesome. To see it so quickly transform into a game of survival to a social game was pretty amazing. Also, some great characters in the first season, almost everybody that made it to the jury. Props to Richard Hatch for making the show what it is today.
Also, the final immunity challenge and tribal council are still unrivaled - Richard bowing out immediately telling both people (correctly) they have to take him to the final, Rudy's loss of concentration giving immunity to Kelly, Sue's speech, Greg's "pick a number" - love it!
Turning Point: Tied going into the merge - one tribe realizes they have to talk about who they are voting off. The other doesn't. Survivor history.
3. Survivor Australian Outback
Actual Season # 2
Quality Contestants: Colby, Mike, Rodger, Elisabeth
Why 3? Survivor at the height of it's popularity. You had increasingly better challenges, the start of a real strategy based game, yet the focus was still on surviving - floods, lost food, starving, killing pigs. Mike falling in the fire!!!! You had truly likable characters and the first Survivor villains. Unfortunately, Colby's not winning does drop the season down a notch.
Turning Point: Once again tied at the merge, this time the team's see the need to stay together. Keith wins immunity, so the votes are tied between Colby and Jeff. Jeff has previous votes against him and is gone. Colby and Tina's tribe moves on to victory.
2. Survivor Heroes vs. Villains
Actual Season # 20
Quality Contestants: Everyone but Sugar and Randy
Why 2? 3 and 4 were a close call and the same goes for 1 and 2. Heroes vs. Villains was a great season. It only comes up short due to the fact that none of the final players were likable. There was no one to root for in the end. The final 5 were a shadow of the former Colby, Jerri, Russell, Parvati, and Sandra. Another negative is your favorite players diminishing their legacies. Tom who was beyond awesome in Palau was pretty pedestrian here. Stephenie was voted off second. James got hurt again. JT orchestrated one of the dumbest moves in Survivor history. Boston Rob passed out.
That being said, still so close to being #1 on the list. Great contestants who knew how to play the game. The Heroes vs. Villains format worked much better than Fans vs. Favorites. You had Boston Rob vs. Russell, Tyson pulling a dumb move which got him voted off, Tom, Stephenie and Cirie not pulling the strings for a change, Amanda again blowing it, and Candice flopping over to t he Villain's side. (Why was she a Hero anyways?)
Turning Point: Lots of big moves as seen above. JT giving his idol to Russell was amazing, but the biggest move of all, and the BEST MOVE IN THE HISTORY OF SURVIVOR was Parvati giving her secret idol and the idol Russell gave to her to Jerri and Sandra. It was just the perfect example of playing the odds, reading the other players, and looking forward in the game. It was 5-5 at the Merge. Parvati knew they Heroes would not vote for her or Russell, so used both idols to keep her tribe ahead in the game.
1. Survivor Cook Islands
Actual Season # 13
Quality Contestants: Yul, Ozzy, Parvati, Jonathan, Cao-Boi
Why 1? Cook Islands just doesn't have the negative aspects that H vs V did. This was the "race season" and that has nothing to do with my ranking, but I do think the diverse cast did help the season. Anyways, lots of great characters - both likable and unlikable. Great challenges, maybe the best ever and a good number of twists and turns. The biggest reason this is #1 was due to the "Mutiny" twist. After a tribe switch and the knocking out of the weaker players, the teams were integrated and tied 6-6. Contestants were given the choice of switching tribes. Candice and Jonathan did so, totally switching the game, giving one tribe a 8-4 advantage. This gave the audience a clear underdog team - Yul, Ozzy, Becky, and Sundra - to root for and a clear villain team to root against. The underdog team went on a winning streak and ended up being the final 4.
Turning Point: After the Mutiny, the underdog tribe won a bunch of challenges in the row to almost even out the game, but their work was not done yet. When the merge took place, they were still outnumbered 5-4. Yul used his idol to get Johnathan to switch back over to his tribe, getting the numbers in his favor and then voted off Johnathan 2 votes later. Epitome of the Survivor Puppet Master, -carefully calculating every possible move and how certain players would respond to it. Rivaled only by Parvati's move in H vs V. Love it.