Thailand often gets a bad rap for being the worst Survivor season of all time. Many put this down to the cast and their apparent abrasive behaviour. Thailand however just may have the most underrated cast in the history of Survivor. The Sook Jai tribe, often referred to as the younger tribe, was full of many colourful characters. The tribe was selected by Jake who was a likeable Rodger Bingham type character with a sprinkle of strategy added in. Shi Ann, who is not only the first Asian American contestant but is also the only Thailand contestant to return for another season, was an extremely entertaining commentator on the season. If it wasn’t for the fake merge twist then Shi Ann could well have made it deeper into the game and created Survivor history on being a sole flipper of an entire tribe. Robb (that’s with two B’s!) was perhaps Survivor’s first outspoken villain. Richard was a sneaky competitor and Boston Rob called people names in confessionals, but none compared to Robb’s arguments and antics. Robb’s storyline also came to a fitting conclusion. On the Chuay Gahn tribe we were given a whole host of entertaining characters and strong players. The most obvious of these tribe members was the lord and master Brian Heidik who absolutely dominated the game and proved to be a fitting winner of the season. Ted and Ghandia provided a notable feud during the ‘grinding gate’ saga and were both entertaining on their own. Helen continued in a long line of strong willed and skilled ‘older women’ players and could recite any recipe you asked. Often labelled as the first Survivor goat, Clay provided an array of laughs and shocked everyone with his strong final tribal performance. A great cast for an underrated season.
The first half returning/half newbies season proved to have the best cast of this format and is a large part of what made the season so memorable. The favourites, who largely consisted of contestants post All Stars, had a near perfect cast. Amy and Eliza were two of the strongest female competitors who dominated the largely female centric season of Vanuatu. Cirie was one of the most likeable players in Survivor history and the ultimate underdog. From Cook Islands Penner was a witty and abrasive character, Ozzy one of the most dominate challenge beasts and Parvati, who seemed like a questionable choice to bring back initially, showed why she was worthy. Yau Man was not only a comedic character but also a strategic force from his original season. James won fan favourite from his original season and both he and Amanda were likeable characters in Micronesia. The Fans tribe, with the exception of some were equally entertaining and well-cast in the season. Erik, the young and naïve super fan and perhaps one of the only true fans on the season represented the fans watching at home and gave us one of the most memorable Survivor moments when he handed over the individual immunity necklace. Crazy Kathy was one of the zaniest people to ever play and brought a comedic side to the season that was lost when she quit. Joel is one of the bulkiest contestants who had just as much brain as he did brawn and left fans upset with his untimely exit. Tracey followed a similar thread as an overlooked and often underestimated player and character. Finally who could forget Chet who was fighting a losing battle from the beginning and powered through outlasting his rival Joel (remember that challenge?) and threatened to perform D.I.Y surgery on himself.
China is often labelled as the last ‘old school’ season of Survivor and its cast certainly reflects this. Even the smaller characters were still memorable. The winner of the season Todd, who was a gay Mormon flight attendant, not only was one of the best players of the game but also a great confessionalist. Courtney is one of the funniest and thinnest contestants who embraced her bitchyness and was the ultimate ‘tell it as it is’ contestant. James is perhaps the bulkiest player to date who fans loved to watch pushing over trees and his at times awkward interactions with others and reached an epic conclusion after being voted out with two idols in his possession. Jean Robert was obnoxious, loud and most of all extremely entertaining. Crazy Dave Cruzer and Aaron were two earlier boots who still had a big presence in the game and are memorable players. Younger contestants in the game Erik, Jamie and Frostie all made their mark in the season and were each involved in noteworthy scenes. Chicken (DAMN!) is easily one of the most memorable first boots of all time and had one of the most brilliant tribal council exits to date. Peih Gee was the underdog strategist who has been asked several times to play again and almost sided with Denise, the memorable mullet wielding karate lunch lady. Amanda, three time player and two time finalist, Leslie, Sherea and Ashley round out the season and are names that many fans remember and add to this strong cast.
When it came around to the first full returning player season, All Stars was surprisingly well cast. While there are some obvious exclusions and questionable inclusions, the season as a whole had a well-rounded cast. Demographics such as age, race, past seasons and winners were all taken in to consideration. The four winners in the season, Richard, Tina, Ethan and Jenna are obvious choices not only because they are past winners but are also entertaining players. The inclusion of Vecepia, Brian and Sandra would have strengthened the cast however. From Borneo, Rudy was the original fan favourite and is one of the most unintentionally hilarious players. Sue is the godmother of Survivor and a worthy All Star. Jenna is the obvious replacement for Colleen Haskell who chose not to compete on the season, she does however hold her own in All Stars and was one of the major characters. Colby from Australia is one of the most dominate Survivors to date and the alpha male favourite while Alicia is a not so obvious yet still entertaining inclusion. Lex and Big Tom were easily the two biggest characters from Africa and both made massive impacts in All Stars. Boston Rob was not the most obvious choice to bring back for a second time but by far makes the biggest impact on All Stars and easily is the ‘star’ of the season. Kathy is a strong and likeable representative of the older lady demographic. Shi Ann, as mentioned above, was a fitting and entertaining choice to represent Thailand. Rob C is a relatable and meta contestant who despite surviving a short time in the season, still added his witty insight and commentary. Finally Rupert, the tie dye pirate from Pearl Islands who proved so likeable in All Stars that he was voted fan favourite by the public and won one million dollars. Definitely a fitting cast for the first full returning player season!
Perhaps this has recency bias written over it, but after four seasons of post Heroes vs Villains blues, Survivor finally hit its stride again with the Philippines, largely due to the cast. Survivor has struggled with producing an even and strong season featuring two/three returning players mixed with a cast of newbies. Philippines makes it work though and this is partly to do with who the returnees were and who the newbies were. Russell Swan and Mike Skupin neither made the merge and weren’t major camera hogs in their respective seasons. Penner was a larger character but is an almost universally loved witty and intelligent character. Not only were two of these players only returning for a second time, they also didn’t ‘steal’ the majority of the airtime like Ozzy, Coach, Russell Hantz and Boston Rob before them. Part of the reason the airtime remained spread out also has to do with the strength of the new contestants. Even the first boot of the season, Zane, was one of the strongest characters ever to be voted out first and gained a large fan base. Roxy, Angie, Dana, Katie and of course Dawson all have at least one notable or memorable moment from their shorter times in the game. The Philippines gave us one of the biggest characters of the post Heroes vs Villains era in Malcolm Freberg. Malcolm was extremely popular and strong player of the game, earning a spot as a favourite in the subsequent season. Denise is one of the strongest winners of recent years and survived every single tribal council, breaking a survivor record. Fans were worried with the news of pseudo celebrities Jeff Kent and Lisa Whelchel into Survivor. Fortunately this risk worked extremely well and added fascinating stories and personal conflicts into the way the game was played. Abi Maria is easily the best female villain since NaOnka and constantly was a talking point amongst Survivor fans. RC received a huge edit for the position she finished in and gained many fans. Pete may have taken a backseat role in the season but still showed a great amount of potential as a great Survivor player.
Gabon, like Thailand, has a strong yet overlooked cast. It is hard to find someone in this group of eighteen that isn’t memorable in their own right. The winner Bob may not be the best player in Survivor history but was a huge fan favourite that fought each week to stay in the game. Bob is the oldest winner of the game and had a massive bag of tricks up his sleeve; take that epic fake idol for example. Kenny had one of the best story arcs of the game as he went from a weedy shy video gamer to the puppet master and finally dethroned just two tribal’s before the end. Who could forget Crystal, the Olympic athlete who failed at every challenge and was the butt of many conflicts? Randy is perhaps one of the best villains of the game who wouldn’t hesitate to speak his mind and had conflicts with numerous members of the tribe. Corinne, the villainess, was the queen of one liners and embraces the mega bitch persona. Sugar spent most of the game either crying or sleeping at Exile Island and was a conflicted player who in turn destroyed several players’ games and aided others. Marcus and Charlie were a powerhouse duo and leaders of the Kota onion alliance who many thought would go on to make it to the end of the game. Ace and GC were both memorable pre merge players and villains in their own right. Add in Matty and Susie, while secondary stars to the leading characters, both played an integral part in how the game would turn out. Rounding out the cast is memorable Fang early goers Gillian “Grandma Thora” Larson and first boot Michele who both remain memorable characters despite lasting just a short time.
Again you will be screaming ‘recency bias!’ but I truly believe that there is no fault in Cagayan’s cast. Survivor avoided all newbie seasons due to the failure and backlash of One World and its cast. The all newbie cast was so popular and made such a good season that Survivor will continue to use all newbies for season 29 and season 30. First of all, is Tony not one of the liveliest and entertaining winners in a very long time? Mixing entertainment and aggressive gameplay to create a unique ‘Hantz-esque’ winner Tony was one of the most effectively aggressive players we have seen striking the right balance of strategy and social awareness. Spencer embraced the ‘John Cochran that doesn’t suck’ persona and was a likeable underdog who surprisingly excelled in the challenges. Self-titled #ChaosKass was the butt of most of the drama in the season and produced one of the most entertaining, shocking and noteworthy Survivor moments of all time when she flipped on her alliance. Tasha sassed her way through the challenges and gained a huge cult following and the approval of Jeff Probst. Also being elevated to cult status was Trish who started the game quietly but quickly rose to popularity with her low key strategy and out there humour. Woo’s carefree attitude and heroic nature added another layer to the game. Sarah received a huge edit for the position she finished in and was a tough competitor. Many likened LJ to Brian Heidik and thought he would go on to dominate the game until he was shockingly blindsided. Morgan also shocked fans as she was colourful and aggressive, avoiding the ‘Purple Kelly” edit that wannabe Nostradamus’ predicted she would. Jefra. Jeremiah and Alexis also broke out of the beauty stereotype to prove they were worthy players of the game. The brains tribe had their fair share of crazy and well-cast characters during the initial stage of the game. Garret studied Survivor endlessly before appearing on the show, only to inflict a regime on his tribe, fear spiders at tribal council and be voted out second with an idol in pocket. J’tia gained a fan base for her crazy antics and rice chucking, only to be voted out fourth. With the addition of the two celebrities David and Cliff, who both suffered an early vote out and self-professed beauty Brice, Cagayan has not only one of the best casts of recent years but in the entire history of Survivor.
Wow Pearl Islands has an amazing cast. The last ‘epic’ cast perhaps. Both tribes are equally weighted with great players and memorable characters. Sandra is one of the feistiest and funniest winners to ever play and can definitely get loud too. She has since become perhaps the most renowned Survivor. Pearl Islands also produced two other Survivor legends, Rupert and Jonny Fairplay. The dichotomy of the ‘good’ pirate in Rupert and ‘evil’ weasel in Fairplay was a compelling storyline of the season. Rupert became the most popular Survivor of the time and Fairplay became the first mainstream villain in the game. Andrew Savage was the alpha male leader of Morgan who was dethroned at the merge and cut short from the game, largely due to his actions regarding the outcast contestants. Ryan O, the popular pelican whisperer is still active in the Survivor community and an equally strong player. The outcast twist gave us two brilliant characters that could otherwise have been dissolved into the Survivor ether, Burton and Lil. Lillian Morris was entertaining as heck and someone who you would perhaps expect to see voted out early. When she returned, Lil guided her way through the game and owning the final immunity challenge. Burton’s vote out was less expected but gave him the drive and when he returned, Burton played a strong and hard game. Darrah, the strong accented and beautiful mortician owned the challenges and could well have beasted her way to the end had it not been for a poor twist. Christa was the kooky and fun character of the cast who accusingly spilt her way out of the game. Tijuana rounds out the merge cast and was a charming and tough competitor in the game. A round of memorable and well-cast characters were also present in Pearl Islands. Shawn played a villainous role, Michelle was a tough challenge competitor who owned the food eating competition, Trish was the first person to attempt to vote Rupert out of the game, Skinny Ryan was the nerdy kid who just couldn’t work his way into the alliance and Nicole, the first boot, was causing drama from the beginning. There is just something memorable and awesome about every single member of this cast added significantly to why the Pearl Islands is so renowned.
The original season of Borneo set the standard extremely high in terms of casting. It is difficult to find someone in this cast who isn’t memorable or engaging TV in one way or another. Richard Hatch has since become a Survivor legend after his shocking win, at the time revolutionary game play and nakedness around camp. Kelly dominated the individual immunity challenge and still holds the record for the most female challenge wins. Rudy, to date, is the oldest contestant to ever compete on Survivor. He could still hold his own at 72 and his bond with Richard was one of the most fascinating things to ever see on television. Sue Hawk, the open and proud redneck seemingly always failed to write a castaways name right at the tribal council. She opened the season with a classic quote that Survivor wasn’t like corporate world and closed the season with the infamous rats and snakes speech. Gervase, who related woman to cows and still managed to stay in the game, famously ate rats and beat a rowing guide at a rowing challenge despite not even being able to swim. Coleen became ‘America’s sweetheart’ that many fans went on to cheer for as she smiled her way through the game. Similarly was Jenna, who filled the other ‘hot girl’ role and provided one of the most talked about moments when she was the only contestant not to receive a tape from her loved ones at home. Then there was Doctor Shawn, the ‘hip’ doctor with the nipple ring and the alphabet strategy. Gretchen, the extremely tough ‘older’ woman, who was the first person to be blindsided from the game. Greg, the out there character who didn’t have a care in the game and went along making joke after joke and having fun with the experience. Early boot greats include singing Sonja, cooking pot BB, part time gangster/part time Christian Dirk and challenge beast Joel. The first season really did set a huge bar for what was to come and to date has only had one cast that has bettered it.
The Australian Outback’s cast really is the best of the best. Season two adapted Borneo’s casting recipe to mix a cast of pure greatness. Every single cast member is memorable and have remained remembered over the years. Six individuals have returned from the season to play again, a record for any season. Colby Donaldson is one of the most praised and likeable Survivor contestants to ever play. He was arguably the first alpha male to compete in the show. Colby’s sidekick Tina owned her win and shocked everyone at just how tough she was. Who could forget her swimming across the flood to save the rice? Jerri became Survivor’s first true villain and was one of the most entertaining players to watch. Elisabeth followed in Colleen’s footstep and perhaps became even more praised for her involvement in the season. Alongside Elisabeth was her sidekick and father figure Rodger. Unlike Rudy and BB who filled the older male role in the previous season, Rodger was extremely nice and a gentle addition to the tribe. Mike Skupin made Survivor history from pig killer to the first contestant to ever being medevac’d from the game. Jeff Varner was the jokester of the season who seemed to have a game planned out before being voted out at a tie breaker. Deb is easily one of the best first boots and ‘rawked’ in her short time in the game. Kel was involved in the beef jerky saga, Mad Dog took her teeth out, Mitchell sung and Kimmi fought over the survival of the chickens. Alicia is to date one of the toughest female challenge competitors and will always wave her finger at you. Rounding out the cast is future all-star winner Amber, furniture maker Nick and Keith, the hilarious chef who struggled to cook a successful meal. This cast really is Survivor at its best. We have heroes, villains, mixed ethnicities, challenge beats, kooky characters and everything in-between. Survivor will likely never match a cast that is brilliant as The Australian Outback and this cast is so good that it really doesn’t even matter!
Samoa: A season heavily dominated by Russell is still well liked and respected. The cast must have something to do with that!
Vanuatu: Loses points for many of the younger men being bland.
Panama: Everyone here is good but some cast members sit on mediocrity.
Guatemala: A whole host of great characters mixed in with some boring ones.
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!