After more than 40 seasons and 20 years on T.V., Survivor is still one of the best, most popular, and most successful reality T.V. shows. But with so much history, it’s not surprising that the show has had both good and bad times. Even though no Survivor season is a complete waste with nothing to offer, some seasons are better and more popular than others. Some casts work better together than others at making interesting alliances, rivalries, plans, and all-around drama.
When all of these parts come together perfectly, it makes for a top-notch Survivor season. Survivor has been on for more than 40 seasons, and it still has some of the best drama and excitement on reality T.V. every year. Screen Rant has added five more great seasons to the 15 discussed here because there is so much history to draw from.
Survivor: China (Season 15, 2007)
Survivor China aired in the summer of 2007 and had everything a season with new contestants could offer. It was the first American T.V. show ever to be filmed in the People’s Republic of China. It was also the first time to Asia since Survivor Thailand. This Season’s cast was solid, and it was the first time Amanda Kimmel, Courtney Yates, and James Clement was on Survivor.
Clement was famously caught off guard with two idols, which was unheard of at the time, thanks to the eventual winner, Todd Herzog. People thought of Herzog as a top winner because he didn’t mind getting blood on his hands and did whatever he had to do to get to the top. He gave one of the best jury speeches ever, and by appealing to professional poker player Jean Robert-huge Bellande’s ego, he brought him to vote for him in the season finale.
There was a lot of funny banter during the Season, but Robert-Bellande did some disturbing things at camp, which Yates and other women found annoying and sexist. Even so, this Season had tough physical challenges, great gameplay and strategy, and a colourful cast, putting it right on the top 10 list.
Season 25: Philippines
Even though the idea of three Tribes isn’t new to the Survivor series, it wasn’t until Season 25: the Philippines that it became something to look forward to. Even though this is the seventh Season with returning castaways, three people in the Philippines were all medically evacuated in previous seasons, so this is their time to shine.
Tandang (Rooster), Kalabaw (Carabao), and Matsing (Monkey) were the first tribes in Season 1. And Sole Survivor Denise Stapley might be interesting because she is not only the oldest woman to win the show but also the only one who is still alive. Instead, Stapley is the only person in the Season so far who has been to and survived every Tribal Council meeting.
Survivor: Gabon (Season 18)
Gabon is one of the seasons with the most split fans of the show. Fans either like this Season or dislike it. Most people who don’t like Gabon don’t like the Season because there isn’t much to do. Almost no one has a well-thought-out plan, and the winner seems like an afterthought.
But what makes Gabon great is the weirdness of characters like nerdy Ken, grumpy Randy, professor Bob, and Sugar, who live in a different country and never return. Like a great cult movie, Survivor: Gabon may not be popular with most people, but those who can tune into its unique weirdness love it.
Season 33: Millennials Vs. Gen-X
With a title like “Millennials vs Gen-X,” people who watch the show might think it’s about time for these two generations to show who is better. Instead, the cast became close, with friendships and rivalries that stayed with viewers long after the show ended. Not only that, but it was fun to watch David Wright go from being one of the “weakest” members of the Gen-X team to becoming one of the show’s stars. Even when one of the castaways was betrayed, it became one of the most exciting parts of the show.
Survivor: David vs Goliath (Season 37, 2018)
Even though the Season’s theme was a little silly, Survivor needed a good season after four mediocre ones in a row, and this one did not disappoint. In keeping with the theme, the underdogs (the David tribe) eventually beat the longtime favourites (the Goliath tribe). Nick Wilson, an actor and writer from Los Angeles, was the only one to make it to the end, beating out actor and writer Mike White.
This Season had the best gameplay ever. In one of the most shocking tribal councils we’ve ever seen, the Davids used a split vote from the minority to their advantage. This was the moment when the Season turned. After the Goliaths played two idols, the Davids split their minority vote 3 to 2 and beat the Goliaths, who seemed unbeatable. If you haven’t seen it before, the way this scene was cut together was also exciting:
Seeing the David tribe stand up for themselves and outsmart their opponents was fun. In this season, there were so many characters that most people could relate to. With his Jim Parsons-like personality and incredible stamina, Christian Hubicki quickly became America’s favourite. He beat Goliath Alec Merlino in a five-and-a-half-hour endurance challenge that was one of the best challenge moments of the last ten years.
The David tribe was on track to win the whole Season. Still, after sending Terlino home (the only person in the history of Survivor to be voted out after playing a hidden immunity idol), they decided, for some reason, to turn on each other and start eating their own.
Survivor: The Amazon (Season 5)
The Amazon is one of the best episodes from the show’s first few seasons. It’s an excellent place for new fans to start if they want to see what the show was like at the start. The Amazon still has the documentary feel of the first few seasons of Survivor, but this is the Season where strategy and gameplay took the lead. Rob Cesternino, one of the first Survivor super fans to play the game, is mainly responsible for this. People think that the strategic smart aleck is one of the best Survivor players who never won. He brought humour and smarts to the show that made it better for good.
Season 31: Cambodia – Second Chance
What better way to make a Survivor season more interesting than to let fans vote? This is what Season 31: Cambodia – Second Chance did, and it made for one of the most exciting seasons of Survivor ever shown on T.V. Even the way it was made was exciting because fans got to choose the contestants, who were all people who had been kicked off the show in previous seasons.
Aside from these tricks, voting blocs were put together before each vote. This made the game much harder to plan for since long-term alliances weren’t always important in the long run. This season was one to remember, as the castaways had a good amount of strategic skill and natural charm.
Survivor: Pearl Islands (Season 7, 2003)
Sandra Diaz-Twine became the Survivor queen in her first Season on Pearl Islands, full of action and drama thanks to the lousy boy villain Jon Dalton, also known as “Jonny Fairplay.” Fairplay was quickly one of the most hated contestants of all time. He had many memorable moments during the season, but the one that stands out is when his longtime friend came on the show and told him that his grandmother had died while he was on the island. This is the most famous lie in Survivor history.
The only problem was that she wasn’t dead. According to Fairplay, she was at home the whole time “watching Jerry Springer,” so she wasn’t finished. Fairplay said some pretty offensive things on Pearl Islands, and it was also where Rupert Boneham first appeared as a Survivor contestant. Boneham was known for acting like a troglodyte and having the personality of a big teddy bear. He was a provider for his tribe and was one of the most loyal tribe members that Survivor had seen up to that point.
This Season also had the first “battle back” competition, in which the first six people who were voted out of the game competed to get back in. To the surprise of the people who were kicked out, Burton Roberts and Lillian Morris were voted back into the game. Roberts ended up in sixth place, and Morris lost to Diaz-Twine in the final tribal council by a 6-1. Jeff Probst famously asked the jury at the reunion show after the season finale if they would have voted for Morris over Jonny Fairplay. The jury answered with a 4-3 vote in favour of Morris.
Season 1: Borneo
If you want to talk about the most exciting season of Survivor, it might be hard to beat the first one. Season 1: Borneo helped the show get off the ground more than any other season. And unlike the weird twists of modern plays, Borneo shows over and over again that Survivor’s simple format can still be entertaining.
Aside from the usual Immunity Challenges and Tribal Councils, the game quickly set trends that the rest of the seasons would follow. These include merging Tribes, a Summit where Tribe Ambassadors could choose where to set up camp, and even a Final Tribal Council decided by a jury.
Survivor: Micronesia – Fans vs Favorites (Season 16, 2007)
This picture of Eliza Orlins’ face says a lot about how Survivor: Micronesia (Fans vs Favorites) turned out. This Season had ten brand-new players and 10 of America’s most popular cast members. It was a season for the ages. Some ten people who came back were well-known, like Jon Dalton (Jonny Fairplay), Yau-Man Chan, and Ozzy Lusth. With so many good players returning, the “Fans” didn’t have much chance. But what makes this season so special is how it went, and we’ll talk about the two most significant moments that are also among the biggest in Survivor history.
The first was the blindside hit that killed and shocked Ozzy Lusth. Lush is one of the best “challenge beasts” to play. He played his best social game to date, even though he knew that one part of his game was the weakest. He felt in control at the start of the game and confident during the merge.
That was until Parvati Shallow did something that will go down in Survivor history as one of the most unbelievable things that had ever happened on the show. This blindside was so big that you could see Probst’s hands shaking as he reads the last vote for Lusth, sending him to the jury with a nail-biting 5-4 vote.
Survivor: Palau (Season 10)
Palau is different from every other Season because of the challenges it brings. The Ulong tribe was one of the most cursed tribes in Survivor history. Before the merge, they lost every immunity challenge, and their members were eliminated one by one until fan favourite Stephenie LaGrossa was the only one left. She was voted out soon after merging with Koror, but she returned in Survivor: Guatemala and Survivor: Heroes vs Villains.
Palau was also an excellent place for the tribes to live because they could fish and see exciting animals. During the merge, two native Palauans taught the tribe how to feel and made a feast for them. Even better, the winner of the Season, Tom Westman, got drunk on rum from a local bar. This was a hilarious thing to see, given how quiet Tom usually is.
Winners at War: The Survivor (Season 40, 2020)
Even though there will be another all-winner season at some point, Survivor: Winners at War gave us 20 of the best winners ever to play the game, and it did not disappoint.
Even though it was said that the new school players picked on the old schoolers and sent people like “Boston” Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, and Ethan Zohn home early, we understand why the edge of extinction was in play. It was to give the people who had already been voted out more camera time and keep them on the show as long as possible.
Tony Vlachos played the perfect game to win the game. This is especially true considering that he was known on Survivor as a hyper-aggressive loose cannon who did everything he could to make everyone in camp afraid of him. Vlachos knew that at the start of the game, he had to stay out of sight and keep players with big targets on their backs close to him. This way, there were always several threats to choose from.
Vlachos somehow made it through the game without getting a single vote, which makes his game in Winners at War so unbelievable. He was a master puppeteer who controlled the votes without drawing attention to himself by pulling all the strings from behind the scenes. This Season was so much fun to watch because of how well he could change from his natural tendencies.
Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28, 2014)
The Survivor franchise was in dire need of a good season, and Survivor: Cagayan gave it one with a lot of strategies, fun, excitement, and, most importantly, chaos. One of the cast members, Kass McQuillen, was called “Chaos” on the show because she blew up voting blocks and switched alliances at any time. This Season was so popular because so many characters knew how to play the game. This made for great T.V., and an impressive 30 per cent of the cast (six people) were brought back for more seasons.
Spencer Bledsoe came out of nowhere during this Season and quickly became one of America’s favourite players because of how harshly and bluntly he sometimes criticised other players and how well he knew the game. Before the Season began, Probst told him he had “zero chance” of winning. During the finale, he said, “I’ve never been more wrong about a player than I was about Spencer.”
McQuillen and Bledsoe fought pretty much the whole game, which made for great T.V. However, as mentioned in Winner’s at War, it was Vlachos who won the hearts of Americans with his stealth operations, crazy antics, the building of a “spy shack,” an uncanny ability to talk his way out of any trouble he got into. Vlachos found three idols, one of which was a “super” idol that gave him immunity after the votes were read.
Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains (Season 20)
Heroes vs Villains is often at the top of lists of the best Survivor seasons, but it’s not at the top of this list. Even though it may seem like a hot take, the fact that the cast of Heroes vs Villains never got to see villain player Russell Hantz play before competing with him seems silly, if not unfair, and moves the Season from the “best season of all time” to “second-best season of all time.”
Even so, it’s still a top-tier season that will never go out of style. Heroes vs Villains kept people on the edge of their seats every week, and the all-returnee camaraderie and Heroes vs Villains theme made for great T.V., Not to mention that the Season is funny, with J.T.’s letter to Russell and James Clement’s thoughts on “banana etiquette” and “Superman in a fat suit.”
Cook Islands (Season 13)
Players of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian descent were put into different groups. Even though it was very controversial and probably shouldn’t be done again, this Season’s tribal divisions led to the most diverse group of Survivor contestants, making the Season even better. We might get another season like Cook Islands (minus the segregation) thanks to CBS’s new diversity programme.