The Popularity Of Cagayan: Recency Bias Or The Real Deal?


Another Monday is here and another feature is here to get your debate on as our favourite Canadian Ozlet Colin Hilding sits down and discusses whether or not the recent Ozcar win for Cagayan as ‘greatest season of all time’ was a fluke with recency bias thrown in or whether it was completely justified. So get your click on by clicking below and put your mind at ease as your Monday morning just got thought provoking!

Most would not argue the point that Survivor: Cagayan was viewed all around as the strongest season since Heroes vs Villains. When Cagayan made the top 5 in the recent Ozcar poll for all time best season, many felt it was a worthy spot. When the final round of voting was finished and Cagayan ended up ranked as the #1 favourite season of all time, claims were made that it was just a result of recency bias. Seeing as Cagayan had just finished airing, and coming off of years of less popular seasons, it is fair to assume that was why it ranked so high in the poll. After all, many other Ozcar categories featured Cagayan right near the top in the results. However it was the main category, the greatest season of all time, which caused the most debate.

Was Cagayan’s win over perennial favourites such as Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia and Pearl Islands a well deserved placing or simply the result of recency bias? Blood vs. Water, the other new season of the 2013-2014 season, also surprised in the results, winding up at #3. There is no question that many of the votes landed in Cagayan’s favour as it was fresh in the viewer’s minds. Having said that, I honestly don’t believe that any season could reach the top spot solely on the basis of being the most recent season. This article will cover a few of the reasons why I personally believe that Cagayan’s popularity will easily stand the test of time.

First we need to look back on the previous Ozcar results. In the 2012 Ozcars, which were voted on following the South Pacific and One World block, neither of the recent seasons placed anywhere near the top. Out of the 24 eligible seasons at that time, One World wound up in 20th place, while South Pacific came in only one position higher at 19. Even though they had just finished airing, both seasons placed in the bottom 6. I know many will claim that those are unfair comparisons to Cagayan, as both were considered poorer seasons from the get-go. Flash forward another year and the new seasons of the 2013 Ozcars performed considerably better. Caramoan finished in 20th place out of 26 seasons, while Philippines ended up in the upper block at 9th place. Now we need to remember that at the time it was Philippines which held the distinction of being the most well received season in years. Even with a large fan base, and the recency bias in its corner, Philippines still only managed a top ten finish. With Blood vs Water finishing the 2014 voting in 3rd place and Cagayan all the way at the top, that’s a huge jump from past years to attribute solely to recency bias.

Survivor Oz host, Ben Waterworth, has said on many occasions since the 2014 Ozcars that the real test isn’t how a season performs on its first time around, but how well it holds up in the following years. Looking at those same seasons over the past 3 years, South Pacific and One World have settled in comfortably in the bottom four spots for the past two years, which is a drop, but a drop of only 2 positions. Caramoan dropped 4 spots in its second year, while Philippines held the same spot at #9.


Survivor: Philippines held the #9 spot in back to back Ozcar years

So even though on average the newer seasons do drop in popularity, the drop is so marginal that is would be safe to assume that Cagayan’s 2014 win will warrant at the very least a top 5 spot next year. Keep in mind that any poll is subjective. Results will shift regardless. Even going outside of the Survivor Oz polls, it would not be unusual to see other polls shift in results from one year to the next. That is why there is no definitive decision on what is the most popular season of all time. One year it may be Heroes vs Villains, another year it may be Micronesia, and another year it may just be Cagayan.

The second thing I want to cover is why I believe Cagayan’s popularity is the real deal, and why its place among the top seasons is here to stay.


First of all there is the cast. Compared to even some of the strongest seasons of Survivor, I believe that Cagayan’s cast is near perfect. In any season it can almost be expected that among the first 5 boots there will be at least a few characters that fall flat. Understandably so, as there is only so much screen time to go around, and unlike earlier seasons which only had 16 contestants to juggle, now there can be anywhere from 18-20. I look at Cagayan and struggle to find any contestants that really fell flat. In the first 5 boots alone, it can be said that only Cliff received the shaft in screen time and character development, and yet he was the famous one going in. Of the 18 cast members, maybe only Lindsey can be considered unmemorable, and that was a clear result of her quitting, which the show obviously chooses to play down to discourage future quitters. I know that everyone will have a different opinion on who is memorable and for what reason, but at the very least I believe it can be said that Cagayan’s cast can stand next to some of the best casts in the shows history. Whether you like certain people or not, the show did a great job of picking different personalities, and an even better job of editing those characters together.


The King of Cagayan: Tony Vlachos

I know one popular opinion coming off of Cagayan was that Tony Vlachos was overexposed. While he certainly had the most screen time throughout the season, I hardly think this was a one-sided show because of Tony. As many people as there seem to be who feel Tony was overexposed, you can probably find many who felt Kass was overexposed, or Spencer, etc. While overexposure among particular cast members would seem to work against the idea that this season’s popularity would stand the test of time, I think it is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction on first view. This was not a Russell Hantz in Samoa, or Boston Rob in Redemption Island situation. In those cases it can be said that everyone else in the cast suffered due to their bloated screen time. The closest comparisons to Cagayan’s distribution of screen time would be Australian Outback and Borneo. In the history of Survivor only Borneo, Australian Outback and Cagayan featured as many as 3 contestants receiving more than 60 confessionals a piece. Tony received 88 confessionals, which is a whopping number, but keep in mind that Spencer received 63 himself, and Kass was close behind with 61. There have been numerous seasons where NOBODY received over 60 confessionals in a season.

Of course there is a lot more to Survivor stars than just confessionals, a fact that far too many fans forget. Confessionals are narration and storytelling, but a memorable character is made of so much more. Take J’Tia for example. Love her or hate her, she was a huge character on this season, with multiple episodes revolving around her antics, challenge performances (or lack there-of) and interactions with other players. The fact is that as prominent as J’Tia was as a character, she had only 7 confessionals in the entire season, landing in the bottom 4 in total count, only a single confessional more than Lindsey.


A star with only 7 confessionals

I believe that unlike so many past seasons, it was the drama that unfolded around camp that made the stories memorable, not just confessional and voice-over time in episodes. You can even look at Tasha, Sarah or Trish. On confessionals alone they wouldn’t be considered star characters, but they were endearing characters for better or worse through the moves they made and how they interacted with those around them.

Another benefit that Cagayan will have in years to come is how unique and game-changing the game itself was. I personally get frustrated when seasons are looked upon highly just because there were countless blindsides one after the other. A blindside alone does not make a great game. The strategy and cleverness in the moves along the way is what makes a truly great game. Cagayan had this from start to finish. Tony Vlachos played a game that was similar to many in the past, but he combined elements of semi-successful players and managed to succeed where they failed. But it is not the winning game that makes Cagayan so memorable, it was all of the failed moves that created suspense from week to week. Spencer has gone down in history as the Charlie Brown of Survivor, in that every move he tried to make failed. I don’t think failure changes the fact that they were interesting moves in the first place. Some of the most popular players in Survivor have always been the underdogs, who although being on the outs every week they keep trying something new.


The underdog “Brains” tribe

What made Cagayan stand out was that these moves from the likes of Spencer, Tasha and Kass actually worked from time to time. This is exactly what separates Cagayan from the pack! It is so hard to edit a season with only good moves. One person ends up looking great while the other looks like a fool. There was very little of that in Cagayan. Kass is by far the most polarising character since Russell Hantz, yet for every person who says her moves were terrible, made no sense, and only sealed her fate, you will also find someone who will defend Kass’ game. A case can be made on both sides. Maybe Kass destroyed her own game, guaranteeing that even if she reached the finals she would have no chance of winning. Maybe she was on one of the worst tribes in Survivor history and made crazy enough moves to keep herself around far longer than she would have been originally. There is so much that can still be debated about the game that transpired, even if you already know the outcome. I can’t help but think that years down the road people will still be talking about these points.

I could go on all day listing reasons why Cagayan was entertaining enough to be considered a classic season, but I won’t. For more on this read Ozlet Noah Groves recent Top Ten list on Cagayan Best Moments.

Now coming back to the original question, which is whether the popularity of Cagayan can stand the test of time. I often wonder if once upon a time people thought that Pearl Islands or Micronesia’s initial popularity came down to recency bias. Obviously recency bias exists, but I firmly believe that Cagayan will go down as one of those perennial favourites, joining the likes of Australian Outback, Heroes vs. Villains, Pearl Islands and Micronesia. Will Cagayan rank #1 in next year’s Ozcar poll? Maybe…. maybe not. Only time will tell.

Come back next week for more on why I believe Tony Vlachos, the winner of Survivor: Cagayan, will go down as one of the all time great winners.


Do you agree or disagree with Colin? Do you think Cagayan is the greatest season of all time or overrated? Comment below to let us know!

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13 Comments on The Popularity Of Cagayan: Recency Bias Or The Real Deal?

  1. IMO Recency Bias is a thing but you can always rewatch previous season on YouTube/CBS/DVDs/DVRs etc. and TVGN tends to replay seasons in between current seasons, so it always comes down to the true Survivor fans. The big Survivor fans are the ones who always maintain a sense of which seasons were stronger than others even after years past, and I feel like Cagayan is definitely a top half season. Top 5 top 10 probably but a lot depends on opinions and what players you root for. If you love Ozzy and Coach you’ll rate South Pacific higher than most people will.

  2. While Cagayan is without a doubt a stellar season, it really has no business being in the top spot, or top ten for that matter. I think the only issue with these polls are that many people vote in them who a.) Just recently started watching and haven’t seem every season or b.) HAS seen every season but has never gone back to rewatch any.

  3. Also do you realize how stupid you sound when you say Cagayan was good because three people got 60+ confessionals and then condemn seasons that don’t. Um that’s a GOOD thing because it means the confessionals and editing were more evenly distributed.

    • Tommy, I didn’t say that Cagayan was good because of 3 people receiving more than 60 confessionals, and I never condemned any seasons in the article for any reason. The point of looking at confessionals is that nobody can consider someone over exposed on confessionals alone (as I mentioned about J’Tia only receiving 7 confessionals andbeing the primary focus of the first part of the season). The other thing I mentioned was that with 3 players receiving over 60 confessionals a piece that puts Cagayan up there with only Borneo and Australian Outback for overall top 3 confessional counts, and with a few more episodes airing, and 2 more players per season, it shows more even distribution overall. But as I said in the articles, confessionals mean very little when there was so many real stories unfolding in Cagayan, andnot just off camera narration

  4. Lol I’m posting again. Sorry I called you stupid for one. Anyways one thing I love about Cagayan was that it was the perfect blend of strategy AND characterization, much like my past favorites in Pearl Islands and China and Philippines. I guess what keeps it from being a top-tier season is the overexposure of Tony and Spencer, both who I found extremely annoying (I loved Kass, and she is probably in my top 20 of all-time lol.)

  5. I like the Confessionals analysis here – I know a lot of people count and pay much attention to the confessionals, but I feel in more recent years when contestants outwardly talk of strategy to each other, and talk about how they feel about others to their tribemates, the editors rely less on confessionals to tell the story, so certain characters are very large and important favorites, despite not getting a lot of confessionals, as compared to early seasons where they were very necessary to tell the story. So I think confessional counting is a bit less important than it was previously.

  6. it had too many duds to be in the number one spot. Lindsey, Jeremy, Jefra and Alexis were quite bland, as were the “VIPs” David and Cliff, Morgan had her boobs, LJ barely did anything, and Woo just coasted only to reveal his glorious stupidity in the end. At least that was something!
    if we don’t count Woo, that’s almost half the cast.

  7. Screw the haters. Cagayan was great. Sidenote: Amazon is also fantastic and is soooo underrated on Survivor Oz.

    • I’ll agree with you on Amazon, Gabriel. That’s a perfect example of a season that gets better with age. I originally hated it because of what I viewed as a sour ending, but years later it is easier to put aside disappointment with the results and just appreciate it for the non stop entertainment

  8. Cagayan is an incredible season, one of the top 3 for sure.

  9. Great unpredictable season, but the strength of the (good) cast is a little overrated in my opinion.

    • I agree with you on the second part. I think most of them were more over-thinkers than true strategists, and a lot of them were either annoying (Tony, Kass, J’Tia) or nondescript (Jeremiah, Jefra, Alexis). I loved it as I was watching it because I hadn’t REALLY liked a season since way back in China to be honest, but now the over-hype for Cagayan’s cast is starting to wear on me.

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