I'm A Survivor

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I'm a Survivor of the Survivor fans. I've watched every season, and nearly every episode. I still love the show, I still believe it's not staged (unlike 90% of most shows out there), and I still think it has plenty to offer the viewing public. I will be heartbroken the day it ends, even with some of the more lacklustre seasons the show has had. After this week's 'upset' of sorts between Natalie and Russell, I felt compelled to sit down and look at all the past seasons and see which ones ranked the highest in my memory. To be honest, many of them are a bit of a blur, particularly towards the end, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them back in the day.

I'm also eagerly anticipating Season 20 of Survivor - Heroes vs. Villains. Although the gimmick may not play out as I think the producers will anticipate, I am excited to see some very familiar faces (third time's the charm?) return to meet some less familiar ones, in particular Russell, who will be both evenly matched in gameplay (him vs. Boston Rob? Wow) but also have the advantage of no one knowing what he's capable of. Nice.

Without further ado, here is my in-depth, shallow analysis of every season of Survivor to date:

S1: Borneo
The original and in many people’s minds, the best. It’s funny to watch reruns of it now and see the less polished, tentative side of the show. In actuality, I disagree with the sentiment that it was the best – while it was definitely a strong introduction to what this show could do, it was actually pretty frustrating that no one clued into the whole alliance thing. Plus the fun tribe, Pagong, got voted off. There was definitely a strong mix of characters – the forced casting they do today couldn’t have done it better! Rudy, Rich, Sue, and sweethearts Colleen, Gervase, and Jenna. Plus the final tribal was pretty thrilling, and the fact all the spoilers in the world still didn’t reveal the true winner. Classic, if only for the pop culture factor.
Grade: A-

S2: Australia
A change of scenery and overall an amping up of the game, including pushing it to 42 days (unnecessarily as it turns out) instead of 39 and generally polishing things up a bit. The ending was disappointing as who honestly liked any of the final three – Keith, Colby, and Tina? That being said, there were lots of great happenings this season. The unfortunate ‘tiebreaker’ incident that ousted male cheerleader Jeff, Michael falling into the fire, Kel (go Canada) and the beef jerky, Jerri’s general bitchiness, Colby’s controversially questionable relationship with his mom and their slumber party in his new Aztec, the camp flood, and oh yeah, Elisabeth Filarski / Hasslebeck before she went crazo. TBQH, I was rooting for Elisabeth the whole time though, back when she was an innocent shoe designer. Ah how far she’s come. I’ve heard we look alike as a sidenote.
Grade: A-

S3: Africa
Many people would put this at the bottom of their list of best seasons, and I can’t say I disagree. The main plus for this season is the fact I was rooting for Ethan from day 1 and he walked away with the win – one of the few if only times that’s happened on any reality show that I watch. Tom was annoying, despite him being one of the more memorable characters this season, and Lex was also a big fave of mine. Kudos to Ethan for being the first one to pull off the nice guy takes the cake strategy. Too bad the rest of the season (owing to the lack of mobility by the tribes) was so snoozeworthy. Interesting sidenote on a topic Survivor has yet to come to a formal decision on: the tiebreaker. In the previous season, Jeff was automatically out because he’d collected the most votes previously. In this season, they did a nature quiz. More drama on tiebreakers to come!
Grade: C+

S4: Marquesas
For various reasons, I quite enjoyed this season. For one, it had one of the most stunning (dare I say, cushy) locations ever used on the show, including the gorgeous Oceanside tribal council beach hut. Boston Rob, reality TV’s most notorious star, also made his debut here, although his torch was snuffed out far too early (kudos to the producers for spotting what an interesting / strong player he is, although at the time I hated him. Other reasons why I loved this season? The destruction of the morally ‘good’ Kathy / Neleh / Pappy trio. All three of these people were nauseating and it was nice to see them crumble at the 11th hour, as mean as that sounds. Additionally we had the biggest upset in Survivor history that strikes fear in a Survivor’s heart to this day – the tiebreaker rock challenge, where the innocent bystander Paschal was blindsided by picking the wrong colour rock, just shy of practically winning the thing for being a nice, old man. Cue Neleh turning on Kathy, and presto, you have an electric final tribal that saw the well-deserving Vecepia take home the crown. Did I mention the merged tribe’s pink buffs were awesome?
Grade: B+

S5: Thailand
This is one of the lowest ranking seasons in my mind. I remember next to none of the characters other than the fiery Shii Ann (who went through another tumultuous run in All Stars), the smarmy car dealer Brian (/winner), and the way old third place finisher Jan. The one interesting thing is this is the first time they pulled the old tribe leader / pick your own tribes thing, which made for a good start, but alas, things crumbled when a nasty final four emerged.
Grade: D

S6: Amazon
Another season I quite liked. There were a lot of egos coming into this game, which were only enhanced when the tribes were divided into men vs. women. This season did a fantastic job of battering the male egos (if by editing more than anything) between the guys losing the first challenge, ‘sports fans’ wunderkid Dave being blindsided, and the final four episode being totally intense. Jenna and Heidi stood nary a chance, and this is the one time the ‘give your immunity necklace to someone else’ rule totally paid off. Injured and weak, Heidi passed on her necklace to Jenna who completely dominated the final challenges and rightfully took home the crown. Plus you had that psychotic dude Matt hanging around, and another sporadic camp disaster (fire!) which made for some editing fun.
Grade: A

S7: Pearl Islands
This season made the show pretty fun again – admittedly Amazon and Marquesas had their ups and downs in the fun department and this season just brought back the crazy spirit of ‘anything can happen’ on the show. For one, the contestants had to wear the clothes on their back for the first time, which made for some fun stories throughout the season. For another, the pirate theme was used quite effectively – I’d go so far as to say this was the first time a season was properly themed beyond the location. Rupert, America’s Survivor sweetheart, was also amazing as the pirate master and generally made the show great (even if he was a bit aggravatingly nice at times). While America found a hero in Rupert, they also found a villain in Jonny Fairplay, who executed the most insane lie of all time with his ‘dead grandma’ routine that basically earned him the reward challenge win. The biggest downfall of the season was the way the final two were edited – they were both given pretty unlikable, forgettable edits (Sandra who? Lil the crazy Scoutmaster?) which made you not really care so much about the outcome. Overall a strong season though.
Grade: B

S8: All Stars
Hot off of filming Pearl Islands, the producers stuck around in the Pearl Islands and were even wise enough to recruit Rupert to come back and compete with some of the most memorable characters from past seasons. The decision to split them into four tribes at first was smart as it probably put a kibosh on many pre-show tentative alliances. The problem with most All Star seasons is people are so busy trying to take out the big guns, they often forget about the little people, who tend to take the title. That being said, Boston Rob and Amber made for an interesting pairing – the debate on the realness of their romance, their overall skills at manipulating everyone, and the fact they managed to dominate all the way to the final two made for a solid storyline (although a bit depressing towards the end as Rupert and Jenna both got the shaft). This season exemplified the ‘bitter jury’ problem, with Rob failing to take home the million – although really him and Amber have probably earned more than their keep by this point. I’m personally a Romber fan and was happy to see them on this show, TAR twice, and their wedding special (I skipped the poker show though).
Grade: A-

S9: Vanuatu
Another season of chicks vs dicks and this time it turned out pretty differently – the women were way more steadfast (perhaps owing to their older ages) than the last time around, and the men were even more pathetic. There was a good deal more of the man burliness and girl cattiness at play this season, and it was fun to see how far the firm as glue all-girl alliance would take things, but unfortunately this is another season marred by a horribly annoying final four. I’m looking at you Twila, Scout, and Eliza. Kudos to Chris for snatching the win back from the girls – had they listened to Ami they never would have been in that mess.
Grade: C-

S10: Palau
I didn’t particularly care for this season. Stephenie and Bobby Jon were definitely the most interesting people around and the fact they continually got beaten down was painful. I do give kudos to the producers in some ways for making it so dramatic and never allowing a merge / shift of players to rebalance the two tribes. Plain and simple, Ulong died, which is ultimately why this season failed. The other tribe didn’t have to be strategic at all, and all of the strategy on the Ulong side was rendered pointless by the time the season was over since all those folks were gone. I didn’t particularly like the winner Tom (smug) unlike some of the other ‘good guy’ winners like JT and Ethan. Additionally the fact that dolphin trainer Ian dropped out of the finals basically made for a stupid final two – there was no way Katie should have been there in one of the worst cases of riding coattails I’ve ever seen, she never had to fight, not once.
Grade: C

S11: Guatemala
Another season I didn’t love, mostly because it really destroyed the warm and fuzzy memories I had of Stephenie and Bobby Jon. BJ became a bumbling, boring fool and Stephenie was forced to be a ruthless, reckless competitor that cost her the win. It did prove that Stephenie had what it took to make it *to* the end (if not win) based on her strategy, social gameplay, and overall physical dominance, but she played the game with a vengeance which cost her a lot of fans. Additionally it was pretty heartbreaking to see former partners in crime turned distant enemies when it came to BJ & Steph. It was interesting to just bring back a handful of all stars (as they would again down the road) and see how they’d fare, but the overall cast dynamics this season were pretty lackluster. I do remember foul-mouthed Judd, obnoxious Rafe, the first ever hidden immunity idol, and forgettable winner Danni, and that it was really hot, but that’s about it. Snooze.
Grade: C

S12: Panama / Exile Island
Ah finally the slow boil of elements from the past few seasons came to a head with Exile Island – namely, the concept of hidden immunity idols, isolation from your tribe (as in past tribe members being temporarily captured), and general hellacious experiences in solitude. I’m not a big fan of Exile personally, although it tends to make for some interesting moves throughout the years its been used, especially with the hidden idols. With this being the first time it was experimented with, there were some hits and misses. Aside from that, to address another issue many people have with this season – are there seriously that limited of destinations out there? Why are we in the Pearl Islands AGAIN? Ah well, this is another example of the show theming itself on something other than destination. Now…notice I haven’t talked about the people this season yet? That’s because this was a brutal season for ‘characters’. It took me till the sentence about ‘hits and misses’ to even remember who won…homeless yoga instructor Aras after a relatively placid, boring run. The initial split of the tribes into four was an interesting twist again although I recall it didn’t have a huge impact on the game – young men, old men, young women, old women. I believe the final four ended up representing these four groups which was neat. Anyway I hated Terry, I had no feelings towards Aras, I wanted to be sympathetic to Danielle (girl spent a lot of time on Exile!) but found her annoying, and although I generally like Cirie, I’m not an avid fan of hers. Also this season marked the most painful tiebreaker of all time – the dreaded firemaking challenge in which the girls eventually had to be given MATCHES to make their freaking fires. Brutal!
Grade: C-

S13: Cook Islands
A surprisingly great season despite the dodgy premise of breaking up tribes based on ‘race’ there was so much at play and a ton of great characters. The most exciting thing is the way the underdogs (much like in this last season) of Ozzy, Sundra, Becky, and Yul managed to dominate all the way to the top of the game after Candice and Jonathan mutinied like idiots. Yul and Ozzy are possibly the greatest final two of all time as they represented two such different sides of the game – outwit and outplay respectively, which made for a great final tribal. The twist that it was a final three was a good one in this case – not because there was any point in Becky being there, but because it eliminated the possibility of Ozzy or Yul not taking the other one and completing running away with the win. I was quite in awe of Ozzy in particular this season but Yul was one of those likable strategists that I really respected. A welcome shift after several snoozy seasons. Oh but sidenote – how did Parvati ever make it onto Favourites?
Grade: A

S14: Fiji
Jeff Probst has gone on record to say that this is one of his least favourite seasons, and while it wasn’t as horrible as Thailand, it certainly had its weaknesses. Namely the whole haves vs. have nots thing was really lame and unfair – the underdogs had no chance in hell of breaking free from that cycle of horribleness. Ideally they should have made the teams swap conditions halfway through but that never happened. Another major problem was the fact nearly everyone this season (except ONE player) was recruited vs. actually applied for the show. That made for a lot of uninterested, unmotivated players – Earl, the valiant if slightly boring winner, hadn’t even seen the show! In the good news department we had Yau-Man to make things interesting, the controversial Dreams & Yau-Man bargain falling through, and there was good fun with the hidden immunity idols for the first time (rather than just holding onto them as in past seasons). I also particularly loved the destruction of the Four Horsemen alliance and poor Edgardo falling in the crosshairs.
Grade: B-

S15: China
Another welcome return to form for the show. For one, the change of scenery was very notable – I don’t think another season had quite the look and feel of China (maybe Amazon), plus the theming was totally different than what we’d seen previously. For another, there was tons of great drama and backstabbing this season – and also people who were there to play the game (most notably, winner Todd). The major blindside of James (swoon) and his two idols was fantastic, as was Jamie’s playing of the faux idol. The final three was a colourful and interesting group and the vote could have played out a bit differently – Todd was one of those players where even if you didn’t like him, you had to respect the sneaky little game he played being a tiny, weak guy. Poor Amanda though, twice that girl makes it to the end and twice she is shafted for being a nice snake of a player (how can one be ‘more honest’ about lying?). Also the removal of exile was a nice change in lieu of the kidnapping.
Grade: B+

S16: Micronesia / Fans vs. Favourites
I think I actually preferred this all star edition to the first one, as there was this element of mystery that didn’t exist previously – the favourites were probably expecting some people to be there that weren’t, and they had no clue how to deal with the fans. On the flip side, the fans were a totally wacky bunch for the most part – it was hilarious to see them fawn over the favourites but also have that hero complex where they felt like they’d be bigger if they could be responsible for getting rid of a certain favourite (see: Ozzy). That being said, I was definitely rooting for the favourites – the unfortunate part of bringing on superfans is that they were all a little weird, unlike the typically quite diverse and fun casts the show brings on to generate NEW favourites. Parvati played a solid if slightly irritating game, Amanda got told yet again, and Cirie again did a great job – but again I was secretly rooting for P & A to take it to the end. Also of course, the dumbest move in Survivor history – Erik giving up the necklace Natalie. Wow. Another perfect example of the big guns getting voted off because they’re all so busy worrying about each other that the sneaky, smart ones slip by and take the win (Parvati). Perhaps Candice will do the same in Heroes vs. Villains? PS Survivor – big marks off for not only returning to the same filming area (Pulau) but for actually putting the Survivors on the exact same beaches previously used. Are you kidding?
Grade: A-

S17: Gabon / Earth’s Last Eden
The first high-def season, and what a beautiful setting for it – sweeping vistas, tons of natural wildlife (that scene where the Survivors got up close and personal with an elephant was wicked), it was great. Unfortunately I wasn’t as big a fan as the characters this season. Technically speaking I was rooting for Matty, Krystal, and Kenny – but they all showed really obnoxious sides (like Matty’s teary proposal, Krystal’s psychotic rants, and Kenny’s general evilness). The other ‘good’ tribe was one of those nauseatingly happy ones that I wanted to see fall apart. I don’t get how Sugar was such a hero, I found her totally obnoxious and annoying. I did like Bob and thought he was very crafty in staying in the game when the chips were so brutally down, and while he outplayed and outwitted when he needed to, I felt he wasn’t really playing the game all that hard until that point. Plus the exile concept totally bombed, it was way too easy for Sugar to find the idol and with her returning there everytime and choosing the luxury option, it was pretty lame. There were a few choice moments that I can recall – Bob’s fake necklaces, Krystal’s hilarious vocal rant when she finally got to vote off Randy, and uh, did I mention the cool up close encounter with the elephants?
Grade: B

S18: Tocantins
Between the last two seasons, major props to the location scouts for finding such interesting vistas to set the show – the desert atmosphere of Tocantins was completely different than anything we’d seen (maybe a bit like Australia) to date which made for more great high-def action. I have mixed feelings about this season. On one hand, it was a very lame season strategically – the only person playing the game was Stephen but even HE wanted JT to win. Never before has a game been so readily handed over to a single player. Granted, JT was all kinds of awesome, I definitely had some love for him. Had the secret exile four alliance worked out better, that also would have been bonus points for this season. Beyond that, despite the total lack of strategy and interest this season, we did have a ton of interesting characters. I was a Sierra fan despite some of the nastiness directed at her, Tyson was a great villain and it was fun to watch him knocked down, Coach was one of those loose cannons that made for some fun, I generally enjoyed Taj, and how could you not love JT? No wonder they scooped several of these folks up for the next all star edition?
Grade: B

S19: Samoa
This is almost the exact inverse of the last season. Again we had a standout character that dominated the season, and his name is Russell. That man singlehandedly made this season exciting, and the overall show feel fresh again. He changed the game, much the way other players have been innovative (or tried to), Russell actually did it, although unfortunately it cost him in the end. The character of Russell also provided a moral dilemma for the viewers – he did some deliberately evil things at the beginning of the series (burning socks, pouring out water, etc.), made some extremely condescending and rude remarks (“my dumb girl alliance”), but he also dominated the game strategically and socially (through character analysis, not actual friendship) to take his Foa Foa Four nearly to the end. Unfortunately the jury, being made up of sensitive dumbasses, took their rage out on Russell and voted ‘against him’ rather than ‘for Natalie’. That being said, I actually thought Natalie played a pretty good game – it was her performance at final Tribal that pissed me off more than anything because she totally sold herself short and still won it. The reunion show, and her claim that her biggest move was orchestrating Eric’s departure, was exactly what I was screaming at the TV throughout the whole final tribal. It was like watching the show was a wake-up call for what a big role she played in that particular key point of the game – either that or she was deliberately keeping mum about it for the purposes of the jury not getting pissed at her as well. I don’t know. I would have been happy with Natalie winning a couple of episodes ago but her lackluster performance at selling herself to the jury has really soured most people against her win. Oh, and did I mention the rest of the people this season were pretty big idiots? Yeah, that kind of put a damper on super Russell’s super season.
Grade: B+

S20: Survivor Heroes vs. Villains
And here we are with another all-star edition on the horizon. Quite frankly, I wish they’d waited till Survivor 21 to do another all-star season and brought back all the winners (if they could spring Richard Hatch from prison) for a battle royale, but I also don’t mind the concept of this season. My only beef is that it’s only been a few seasons since our last all-star edition, so we’re seeing a lot of the same faces for the third time. Granted they are some of the ultimate favourites (James, Amanda, Parvati (?), Cirie) so it’s not all bad. I’m curious to see how Russell will fare amongst the All Stars that won’t have a clue about what he’s done in the past, but ALSO will be wondering why he’s on the villains tribe, and they’ll also be playing the game WAY harder than anyone in Samoa did. Also curious to see if Danielle and Candice, as the two WTF are you doing here? Contestants, will manage to fare well as past WTF contestants have (Amber, Parvati). This may very well be the best all-star edition ever and I’m eagerly anticipating it! Plus they had some sort of Tsunami / torrential storm while they were filming it. Fantastic!
Grade: TBD!

Till later,

Britt's On


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