Is it Wednesday again? That must mean another SURVIVOR OZ TOP TEN, right? Well, you’re in luck. This week, Ozlet Wowie Lagman brings you his top ten Survivor strategists. These are players that are renowned for using their brains over brawn to get themselves further in the game, sometimes to the very end. So whose strategic game has earned them a place in this week’s top ten? Will a winner take out the number one spot? You’ll have to read on to find out.
Over the years, Survivor has become all about strategy. Physical strength is no longer as important because the stronger players are guaranteed to be targeted; even before the Merge. One shouldn’t bank on his or her ability to win challenges alone to stay in the game. Castaways are now more concerned about aligning with the right people and making the most sensible strategic moves.
After twenty-five seasons, we’ve seen a lot of people attempt to strategize their way to the top, but these ten people have proven that they are masterminds and know how to think clearly when everything else is going crazy!
10. Ken Hoang – Gabon
Ken epitomizes the ‘outlast’ aspect of the game. Though he didn’t get to the end, he managed to last as long as he could and had it not been for Bob’s winning streak, he may have sat at the Final Tribal Council. He was not as physical (though he did manage to win an Individual Immunity) and sociable as the other players, but he definitely knows how to strategize. In a season that was full of big characters, Ken managed to make himself known because of his game play. He formed a strong alliance with Matty and Crystal and convinced Sugar to join them after turning on her closest ally; Ace. After the Merge, he was able to pull Susie by playing the “you’re at the bottom of your alliance” card, and orchestrated a series of eliminations of former Kota members. What makes him a great strategist? No one would’ve thought that the skinny video-gamer would make it very far on his own terms. Others would be brought along by solid alliances, but Ken went far in the game because of his own doing. Despite being on a losing tribe, he managed to form a core alliance and even swayed two people into voting with him. He’s smart and although not very sociable, there’s a quality in him that people like enough to give him their trust.
9. Stephen Fishbach – Tocantins
Stephen is unassuming and you wouldn’t expect him to do well in Survivor. Based on his appearance, you would think he was going to last very long and if he did, it’d be purely based on luck. Luck didn’t have much to do with his fate in Tocantins. This Yale graduate knew exactly what he needed to do and did it to propel himself to the end. Had it not been for a bad performance at the Final Tribal Council, he may have secured at least one Jury vote. Despite his loss, it’s undeniable that Stephen is one of the best players to play the game. In my opinion, his game play is similar to Rob Cesternino. The only difference is Stephen’s fared better based on the fact that he didn’t get a bad rep during the game and got to the end. He’s charming, goofy, strategic, and intelligent: a great formula to get people to trust you and then to slit their throats. He formed the right alliances and made moves when he needed to.
8. Brian Heidik – Thailand
Brian is easily overlooked as one of the best players in Survivor mainly because most think of him as a sleazy used car salesman. I’ve wondered for so long why he’s missing from most Survivor-related events or even talked about. He’s someone I’d like to see play again because he’s intelligent and an interesting character. Because he was a strong player and provider for Chuay Gahn, he was not an early target despite everyone knowing that he was a used car salesman. Everything he did from the beginning was strategic and he didn’t let personal feelings get in the way. He voted for Tanya on episode two and then Ghandia, after the infamous grinding incident with Ted. He had multiple Final Two alliances with Ted, Helen, and Clay and he managed to keep it all on the down low. Personally, I think Brian was the first player to seat next to a “goat” at the Final Tribal Council; which he had planned on earlier in the game. Back when Helen and Ted wanted to eliminate Clay, Brian rallied against it and turned on his ally, Ted, just to keep Clay in the game. Even though he knew Clay annoyed a number of people in the game and on the Jury, he knew that their hatred of Clay and his game play would be enough to secure some votes in the end; and that’s exactly what happened. What makes him a great strategist? Brian knew exactly what he had to do from the beginning and despite not being likeable, he managed to work one-on-one with his tribe mates and made them feel as though they could trust him. He had a plan and stuck to it and he cut people along the way without regret. His win may not be as memorable as others, but he’s clearly among the first who strategized his way to the top.
7. Kim Spradlin – One World
If there is anything new Survivors can learn from Boston Rob’s win in Redemption Island, it’s how to develop alliances within alliances. That’s what I saw in Kim’s amazing run in ‘Survivor: One World’. Kim made sure that she always had somewhere to go as she aligned with almost everybody on her tribe. Whilst this strategy normally “kills” people in Survivor, (how often have we seen castaways get eliminated because everyone else has discovered they had multiple deals going on), but it didn’t happen to Kim. What’s amazing is she was able to call the shots every single time. Kim masterfully controlled everyone in all the tribes she was in. Her level-headedness allowed her to see things clearly and make well-thought decisions. She used the girls as her core alliance and then formed bonds with the men, (Jay, Mike, and Troy), as back up. The great thing was everyone trusted her whole-heartedly; mainly due to her eyes that seemed to see through anyone she spoke to. Another great feat that Kim accomplished was making it possible for an all-female final five – a Survivor record. She dominated in challenges, (winning four Individual Immunities), established strong bonds with everyone, had a Hidden Immunity Idol in her pocket and had a flawless strategy. In my opinion, she is the female version of Boston Rob and the only reason other players are higher on the list is that they have played multiple times or were underdogs from the beginning.
6. Yul Kwon – Cook Islands
I don’t think there’s a player before Cook Islands who displayed the kind of strategy Yul used that went onto win. Only Richard Hatch and Brian Heidik come to mind when thinking about winners who were strategic from the very start; and they were not as likeable as this Yale graduate. What makes Yul a great strategist is that everything he did was calculated. His moves were not meant to sabotage other people’s game but to further him and his alliance. He always thought of all possible scenarios and chose the path with the highest probability for success. It helped that he had someone as intelligent in Becky working as his right-hand man. They were able to figure out all the right moves and execute them. The highlight of his game was when he managed to turn the game around at the Merge, (despite being outnumbered), by blackmailing Jonathan Penner with his Hidden Immunity Idol. In previous seasons, most people would not reveal they had the Idol, but Yul saw it as an opportunity to tell everyone to back off him because he will use it against them. This strategy is what got Penner to turn on his alliance and side with the Aitu Four. That brilliant move propelled his four person alliance to the end of the game.
5. Sandra Diaz-Twine – Pearl Islands & Heroes Vs. Villains
Records don’t lie. Sandra has played only two times yet managed to win both times. No one has ever done that and that’s a true sign of a great Survivor. Before anything else, I acknowledge that many people criticize her for her lack of strategy and physical strength. The funny thing is, she may be weak but she is smart. She knows how to use her strengths and weaknesses to her advantage. Let’s get things straight: Sandra does have a strategy and hers is one that not many people use. Logic would tell us that her “anyone but me” strategy is effective because it helped her snag two victories. She’s smart, savvy, sociable, fierce, flexible, observant, strategic, and ruthless. People easily dismiss her lack of physical strength as a weakness and her flexible strategy as not a strategy at all. It’s funny because it’s still a strategy, and an effective one at that. In Survivor, when no one thinks of you as a power player, the smartest move is to stay under the radar, observe, and wait for the right moment to strike. Sandra knew what was happening around her. She made moves without bringing attention to herself and she knew how to convince people to listen – except in the case of the Heroes. More importantly, she knew which moves were going to benefit her. That’s a winning strategy.
Add to that the fact that she didn’t let anyone dictate what she was going to do and that she isn’t afraid to let others know what she’s feeling and you’ve got a winning combination. She made solid alliances and was loyal to them. Another admirable trait is that she doesn’t try to appease the Jury. Most finalists would apologize and appeal to the personal relationships they had made with the Jury to get votes. Sandra doesn’t do that; she tells things as they are and why she did what she did. A strategy where you take care of your interests is a fool-proof way to sail past any bitter Jury and win. Her record of being the only two-time winner is not something anyone can ignore. Winning two times isn’t an easy feat and it certainly isn’t due to luck. No one can be that lucky, not even the guy on top of my list.
4. Rob Cesternino – The Amazon & All-Stars
Jeff Probst has called him “the best player to never win the game.” I believe he was; however, there is now somebody who has taken that title away from him. What’s great about Rob C. is that he knows his strengths and weaknesses and made all of them work to his advantage. He was not an alpha male but he did well in challenges. He aligned himself with the right people and was in charge of his fate during the game. He wasn’t a leader most of the time but he’s definitely not a follower. He made moves when he needed to and made sure that they all work well. Rob was a clever, funny and witty player who refused to go down without a fight. He had such an amazing knowledge about the show that worked to his benefit. He found out where he was really standing in his alliance and made big moves to counter that position. Back in the days of Survivor when people relied on the loyalty of their allies, he switched and flipped when he needed to; he didn’t rely solely on one alliance to get him further in the game. He was aggressive and made sure that his fate was fully in his control. Jenna Morasca, who won his original season, even admitted that had she taken Rob to the finals, he would’ve won.
3. Cirie Fields – Panama, Micronesia & Heroes Vs. Villains
One of only three female players in my list, Cirie epitomizes what a real strategist should be: intelligent, witty, likeable, and able to work unnoticed. We may never have seen how this self-confessed couch potato could work magic in two very entertaining seasons when her tribe lost the first Immunity Challenge in Panama. It was amazing how she was able to convince Melinda and Ruth-Marie to vote off the one person who could provide for them. It was Day One! No one votes off someone like that at the first Tribal Council, but Cirie was able to pull it off. However, it wasn’t the end of her problems. When she was absorbed into Casaya, she was still on the chopping block, but her charming smile and observing skills allowed her to work her way to the final six where she proved herself to be a force to be reckoned with. From being first on the chopping block, she managed to form multiple alliances and got people to vote for anyone she wanted. By sitting back, observing, and patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike, she systematically eliminated all threats to her game and she did all that without upsetting anyone. She even managed to appease Shane right after Courtney’s boot and then slit his throat immediately after. Had she been blessed with better fire-making skills, she would have had a shot at the Final Tribal Council and in my opinion would have won.
She proved that she was no ‘one-hit wonder’ when she returned in Micronesia for ‘Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites’. Despite her obvious disadvantage in physical strength, she managed to keep her tribe from voting off the weaker players, thus saving herself from the vote numerous times and cleverly putting herself in a position of power within the alliances she had made. Unlike her first season, Cirie was able to strategize right off the bat and fight for survival. She didn’t rest on her laurels just because no one was targeting her. Cirie went to work immediately and convinced her group to eliminate Yau-Man on Day Eight, believing he was a huge threat. Though nobody really liked the idea, Parvati, Amanda, Ozzy and James were forced to go with her plan because they knew she wouldn’t budge. Each time someone brought up the topic of getting rid of the weaker players, Cirie would retaliate and turn the finger on another player because she knew that once the other weak players were eliminated, she’d be next. That’s what happened when she managed to get the new Malakal tribe to eliminate the second biggest guy on the island; Joel. When the all-female alliance of Dabu was formed, Cirie was still in a position of power and was never considered for elimination. She played a hand in several amazing blindsides involving Ozzy and Erik. While Ozzy’s ouster could be credited more to Parvati, the brilliant plan to make Erik give up his immunity was Cirie’s.
What makes her a great strategist is she’s very smart about her moves. She’s constantly thinking long term and doesn’t let anyone dictate otherwise. She’s stern and can manipulate others without looking arrogant. In fact, she’s so well-liked and always has a smile that no one would talk about her being the manipulator. She can work her schemes completely under the radar and while she’s ruthless when it comes to slitting throats, she managed to form genuine relationships. The sad thing is she’s the best player to never win the game. I doubt she’ll have a decent shot should she play again after Heroes vs. Villains. She’s done everything she could to get far in the game but challenges in the final days have screwed her up. Had she managed to keep her ball balanced in the Final Immunity Challenge in Micronesia, I don’t believe Parvati would be as popular because I think Cirie would’ve won. It was exciting to see her come back a third time but it was clear from the beginning that she was on an uphill climb. Tom and Stephenie wanted her out early and it’s not hard to see why. Cirie may have done it again had it not been for J.T.’s flip, which caused her to be blindsided and sent home early in the game. I think she is the best female strategist in Survivor history. She’s like Boston Rob on many levels. It may be impossible to see her win if she ever plays again just because she has become such a huge threat.
One doesn’t win a completely unknown social game without being cunning, smart and manipulative. Richard Hatch was able to figure out the formula to outlast fifteen other people in a mentally and physically exhausting game. While the others were voting out people who annoyed them or chose to write down names in alphabetical order, Hatch formed a voting block and started the most powerful tool in Survivor history: an alliance. He put himself in a position of power where he was able to decide who went home next. By earning his allies’ trust, he didn’t even need to exert any effort and secured a spot in the Final Tribal Council. Clearly he had carefully thought through everything because the majority of the people he voted out liked him enough to give him a million dollars. There are so many reasons Richard Hatch is one of the best strategists the game has ever had. He set the precedent for future players. Each season, an alliance is one of the first things castaways work on and it’s something that can be directly attributed to him. Another notable thing about Hatch is that he isn’t necessarily nice to everyone. In fact, he came across as arrogant a lot of the time and yet, he was liked well enough by his tribe. When compared to the other people on this list who won their respective seasons, Hatch is clearly villainous, which brings up something very interesting. His personality is the kind that gives people a reason to throw a vote his way, yet no one did. This is another reason why he is such a great and effective strategist. He didn’t need to suck up to others and could be completely himself without the worry of getting voted out.
1. Rob Mariano – Marquesas, All-Stars, Heroes Vs. Villains & Redemption Island
Being asked to return three times after your original season definitely says something about someone. For Boston Rob, it’s because he’s such a captivating player that viewers want to see more of. He’s engaging and entertaining. His win was a result of more than a decade of playing the game. By his fourth time, he had mastered his strategy, learned all the lessons and everything fell right into place. He’s clearly on the top of my list of best Survivor players ever. It’s not just because he played four times and won once because even in Marquesas, we all saw the potential in Boston Rob.
Back then when the game was more about surviving the elements and winning challenges and less about blindsides and Hidden Immunity Idols, Boston Rob overthrew a leader and quickly figured out how he could get people to follow his lead. Even when he was outnumbered when he became a Rotu member, people were wary of him, which resulted in his ouster. To me, his performance in All-Stars was his best, mainly because he was playing with the great players and everyone knew his game play. He formed an early alliance, stuck with Amber, led his tribe to victories, had multiple alliances and even managed to dictate how his opponents should vote – I’m talking about the Lex and Kathy incident. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone save someone not in their alliance because they were afraid of how someone on the other tribe would react. Boston Rob was able to do the same thing over and over. In Heroes vs. Villains, he had the majority of the tribe on his side. However, even with his strategy, you can’t outsmart a stupid move. Fortunately, he redeemed himself in Redemption Island and went home a millionaire.
What makes him a great strategist? The reason he’s number one on my list is he did everything right every single season he has played in. The results may be different each time but his game play was solid. He instils fear in people, he makes the right moves, and he thinks long term. He knows what others need to hear and tells them that. Most importantly, he knows how to get people to follow his lead. Take Ometepe as an example. He was able to ostracize the former Zapatera members after the Merge by prohibiting his alliance from talking to them. Who does that!? He’s a Survivor dictator. Everything he does is calculated and he knows how to implement it and that’s why he’s the best strategist Survivor has ever had.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!