This week our pretty Pennsylvanian Ozlet Kristan Knarr shares her top 10 memorable storylines in the history of Survivor. From the rise and fall of powerful alliances, to underdogs coming out on top, seemingly unlikely winners and many more, these 10 storylines definitely gave something to cheer about, and made for satisfying story arcs in their respective seasons. But which single storyline does she consider the best of all time? You'll have to read on to find out...
10. The Tagi Four (Borneo)
Fairly early in Survivor: Borneo, Richard Hatch decided that the best way to make it to the end of the game was to form an alliance and proceeded to recruit three trustworthy allies: Rudy Boesch, Sue Hawk, and Kelly Wiglesworth. Together, they formed the Tagi Four, the first alliance in Survivor history. At this time, alliances were considered unethical and unfair by many and created much controversy. Despite the controversy, forming an alliance proved to be a smart, strategic way to further players in the game. The Tagi Four made it to the merge intact, but down in numbers. However, this proved to be irrelevant considering the vote at the first post-merge tribal council was 4-1-1-1-1-1-1, with only the Tagi Four voting for the same person, Gretchen, a member of Pagong. The rest of Pagong was voted out one after the other, which coined the now frequently-used term, “Pagonging,” referring to when one tribe decimates the other after the merge. After the inception of the Tagi Four, Kelly was the only one to ever stray from the alliance’s chosen vote. She was viewed as untrustworthy by her allies but managed to remain in the game safely due to a late immunity run. The Tagi Four made it to the final four together, with Richard eventually beating Kelly 4-3 at the final tribal council. In 2014, this wouldn’t be the most interesting or exciting storyline, but in 2000, Richard Hatch was able to make history by forming the first alliance in Survivor and then still go on to win the game. This set a precedent for the rest of the series.
9. The Rise and fall of the Rotu 4 (Marquesas)
After the tribe swap in Survivor: Marquesas, John Carroll formed a tight alliance of four with Robert “The General” DeCanio, Tammy Leitner, and Zoe Zanidakis. They made it to the merge together after voting out fellow original Rotu member Gabriel, having decided that he was untrustworthy. They appeared to be the dominant alliance, also successfully voting Boston Rob out immediately after the merge. With nine members left in the merged tribe, the Rotu 4 still seemed confident that they could get to the end of the game together. Long before Brad Culpepper was able to explain that “four with nine equals out,” the Rotu 4 learned a tough lesson in simple math. The remaining five castaways, Vecepia, Sean, Neleh, Paschal, and Kathy had no alliance or close relationship. However, they recognised the arrogance of the Rotu 4, realised that they were an unbreakable alliance, and came together to take them out. Leader John was voted out, becoming the first person on the jury. Zoe, Tammy, and The General quickly followed, and the seemingly strongest alliance of the season became the first four members of the jury. This was an early season, the game much less strategic than it is now, but it was still such an awful lapse in judgment, leading to the quite embarrassing fall of what originally seemed to be a rather good alliance.
8. Timbira self-destructs (Tocantins)
In Survivor: Tocantins, after the merge and Joe Dowdle’s med-evac, Timbira had six players left against Jalapao’s three. This is easy: Timbira decimates Jalapao, fights it out, and two Timbira members sit in the final two, right? Not even close. Maybe it’s partially because Timbira only attended tribal council twice pre-merge, but they absolutely hated each other. They couldn’t work together—not even for a million dollars. Instantly, Timbira turned against Sierra and Brendan, working with Stephen, JT, and Taj, the remaining Jalapao members, to split their votes in case of an idol play, eventually blindsiding Brendan.
Next, Stephen, JT, and Taj were able to use the remaining Timbira members to vote out individual immunity threat, Tyson. Long story short, Sierra, Coach, and Debbie were eliminated next, leaving Timbira nearly demolished. Stephen and JT had officially taken absolute control of the game, despite only having each other to rely on. At final four, Taj was the biggest threat to win and was eliminated by her former allies. JT voted out Erinn at final three and Stephen and JT sat in front of the jury at final tribal council, JT winning unanimously. This couldn’t have played out better for JT, but was also likely the best that Stephen could’ve done. Had he taken out his sweet southern boy ally earlier, he would’ve probably been the next to go. Arguably, it was smart of them to stay together, Stephen playing the brainy, strategic game, while JT played a strong social game. It just worked in their favour that Timbira couldn’t work together if their lives had depended on it.
7. The Black Widow Brigade (Micronesia)
Early on in Survivor: Micronesia, it was made clear that Cirie Fields, Amanda Kimmel, and Parvati Shallow had a close friendship and alliance. They worked with James and Ozzy pre-merge. While separated from most of her alliance after the tribe swap, Parvati recruited Natalie Bolton and Alexis Jones in the hopes of creating a female alliance after the merge. After the entire merged tribe came together to vote out Eliza, Cirie decided that it would be in her best interest to blindside Ozzy. Parvati eventually decided that she couldn’t beat Ozzy at the end of the game and voted with Cirie, Alexis, Natalie, and Jason to send Ozzy to the jury with an idol in his pocket. Amanda was devastated that her alliance had gone behind her back and voted out Ozzy but had no real choice but to stick with them. They blindsided Jason next, also with an idol in his pocket. The next day, James was medically evacuated from the game. The men were slowly dwindling. At final six, Erik, the last remaining male, won immunity and the women were forced to turn on each other. Amanda was almost sent home but saved herself with a hidden immunity idol that she found soon before tribal council.
Parvati and Amanda definitely deserve some kind of award for their acting job during tribal council, feigning despair about Amanda’s imminent departure. Alexis was the first Black Widow Brigade casualty. Erik won the next immunity challenge and the women were upset—but Cirie had a plan. She plotted with the women to get Natalie to convince Erik to hand over his immunity necklace at tribal council. After drilling into his mind that he would redeem himself by making that move, he actually did it. We got to see each of the Black Widow Brigade members give a sassy voting confessional and then watch Erik leave with the entire jury laughing at him. These women were able to not only blindside two men with idols in their pockets, but also convince another to give up the immunity necklace. They, without a doubt, ran this season and justly made it to the final four together.
6. Danni’s unlikely win (Guatemala)
From the very beginning of Survivor: Guatemala, Danni appeared to be an intelligent, athletic, beautiful but relatively quiet woman. Most of the players likely recognised those qualities, but didn’t really see her as a threat to win. It was smooth sailing for Danni pre-swap. Her tribe only lost once and one of the weaker, injured men was voted out unanimously. Post-swap, she got on with her tribe mates well, playing a subtle, smart, social game, voting in the majority every time she went to tribal council, safely sliding through the game. At the merge, there were five original Yaxhá members and five original Nakúm members. However, in Guatemala, original tribe designations didn’t matter. After the swap, Stephenie and Judd had formed an alliance with Jamie, eventually also pulling in Rafe, Cindy, and Lydia—giving them a majority at the merge. Danni, Gary, Bobby Jon, and Brandon were clearly on the outs. Quickly Brandon and Bobby Jon were voted out, showing the dominance of the majority alliance. However, cracks began to form in the majority of six. Jamie’s paranoia began to grate on his tribe mates and everyone but Judd voted him out. They came back together, voting Gary out next, but then Danni won the final six immunity challenge. It was really all downhill from there for the majority alliance. Judd was voted out for being untrustworthy, followed by Cindy and Lydia for various reasons. Danni’s name did come up as an option to be voted out but they never followed through, and she found herself sitting in the final three. Danni eventually won the final immunity challenge and took Stephenie to the final two, beating her 6-1.
Danni’s game is severely underrated by many; it was actually pretty flawless. She played an under-the-radar game early on, simply working hard at camp, competing hard in immunity challenges, and being friendly with her tribe mates. She was never a major target pre-merge. Despite going into the merge without a majority alliance, she befriended as many people as possible, always remained likable, and never panicked. She won individual immunity exactly when she needed to and played a brilliantly smart, social game, almost always knowing what was going on, but never quite letting on exactly how cerebral she was. Throughout the season, Danni never really appeared to be the biggest threat to win the game, and a win seemed impossible once she was down in numbers, but in retrospect, her game and road to the million dollars was exceptional.
5. The Galu meltdown (Samoa)
In Survivor: Samoa, Foa Foa lost six members pre-merge, and Galu lost two. This meant that Galu went into the merge up in numbers; 8-4 to be exact. After the merge, Russell Hantz began to scramble, showing his hidden immunity idol around and lying to multiple Galu members. It appeared that Foa Foa had no chance of remaining intact until Erik’s arrogance began irritating his own tribemates. Natalie White worked some magic with Kelly and Laura and all hell broke loose. That night, Erik was voted out 10-2 with an idol in his pocket. That was just the start of the Galu meltdown. Three days later, Kelly was voted out 4-0 because Russell played another hidden immunity idol. Three days after that, Shambo joined the Foa Foa four in an attempt to vote out Laura. After a tie between Laura and Natalie, John Fincher jumped ship and Laura became the next Galu casualty. Right after flipping, John was the next to go, followed by Dave Ball, Monica, and Shambo, making Brett the only remaining Galu member. He won the final five immunity challenge and the Foa Foa four were forced to vote out one of their own; Jaison became the eighth jury member. Finally, Brett’s luck ran out and Russell Hantz, Natalie White, and Mick Trimming became the three players to plead their case to the jury at the final tribal council. Whether the implosion of Galu was due to their own stupidity, the strategic and social skills of the remaining Foa Foa members, or a combination of the two is up for debate, but it surely made for a great, entertaining string of episodes for viewers.
4. Denise’s many losses and one important win (Philippines)
Being on a three tribe season of Survivor is tough; with fewer people on each tribe, each tribe member has a very good chance of being voted out each time they attend tribal council. It’s even tougher when your tribe of six loses four immunity challenges in a row. In Survivor: Philippines, Denise Stapley and Malcolm Freberg were the only remaining Matsing members after the first four tribal councils. At that point, Denise and Malcolm were dissolved into the two remaining six-person tribes: Kalabaw and Tandang respectively. Before their first immunity challenge as new tribes, Dana quit and Kalabaw was already down a member. They proceeded to lose two more immunity challenges, but Denise worked well with the men and Dawson and Katie were sent packing pre-merge. At this point, Denise seemed to be the most unlucky, lucky player on the island; her tribes had lost every single immunity challenge and she attended every tribal council, but she was still in the game.
Once Kalabaw and Tandang merged, they began to self-destruct. Everyone seemed mad at everyone, especially the members of Tandang, likely because they still had yet to see tribal council. One after the other, original Tandang and Kalabaw members began joining the jury and only four members remained: Denise and Malcolm, along with Mike Skupin and Lisa Whelchel. Mike won the final four immunity challenge, and Malcolm was voted out for being the biggest threat to win the game. Now heading into the final tribal council, Denise could officially say that she attended and survived every single tribal council possible—a Survivor first. As we all know, Denise was eventually voted the winner by a 6-1-1 vote. Denise is an absolute triple threat. For her small stature, she did very well in physical challenges. She also had a brilliant social and strategic game, both of which were key reasons why she was able to win the game after the worst losing streak in Survivor history.
3. Romber’s domination of All-Stars (All-Stars)
On Survivor: All-Stars, Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich started to form a romantic relationship and obvious alliance rather quickly. They really had no trouble forming other alliances and making it through the first few weeks together on the same tribe. However, during a tribe swap at the final ten, everyone except for Amber ended up on the opposite tribe that they had been on. Amber was clearly on the outs with her new tribe. Thankfully, Rob’s good friend Lex was on Amber’s new tribe. After Amber’s new tribe lost immunity, Rob told Lex, “you take care of her, I’ll take care of you.” Lex convinced the tribe to vote out Jerri instead of Amber, allowing Rob and Amber to reunite at the merge the following day. Unfortunately for Lex, Rob felt that the game was more important than friendship and proceeded to vote him out—making him the first member of the jury.
Long story short, Rob and Amber (but mainly Rob) made alliances, broke alliances, broke old friendships, caused a lot of tears and heartbreak, and managed to bulldoze their way to the final two. As everyone knows, Amber beat Rob 4-3 in the end, but it didn’t really matter because they ended up getting engaged on the live reunion show, eventually got married, and now have four beautiful daughters. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a fan of Rob, Amber, or All-Stars. However, there’s no denying that this was an incredible storyline, especially for its time. Survivor: All-Stars was the first season where there were pre-existing relationships. This made things very complicated and players often had to choose between the game and friendship, causing more controversy than was expected out of Survivor in 2004. Additionally, it’s not often that a simple pair is able to make it to the end of the game together. One or the other often becomes a massive target before that’s possible, but Rob and Amber were able to use their social games and pre-existing relationships to propel themselves through the game, earning a combined $1,100,000 and a handful of broken friendships.
2. The Aitu 4 (Cook Islands)
Although some of the first eight boots in Survivor: Cook Islands could be considered interesting by some, one of the best storylines of all time started when there were twelve players remaining in the game. The tribes were evenly split—six players on each tribe—when Jeff offered everyone the chance to mutiny and switch tribes. Candice stepped off the Aitutaki mat, signaling that she wanted to switch to Rarotonga, and Jonathan Penner immediately followed. Apparently Candice thought she would be better off being back with her former allies from her original tribe and Penner believed that he had an alliance with Candice, thus following her off the mat. Moments after being evenly split, Aitu was now down to four members, Yul Kwon, Ozzy Lusth, Sundra Oakley, and Becky Lee, while Raro had eight. It didn’t look good for the Aitu 4.
Fast-forward just a few days and the Aitu 4 had won both pre-merge reward challenges and immunity challenges. Because of a twist at the final pre-merge tribal council, Raro managed to lose three members in only four days. Only down 5-4 at the merge, Yul was able to use his hidden immunity idol to pull Penner in to vote out Nate. At this point, it was essentially all over for Raro. They were decimated, making the Aitu 4 the final four players in the game. After a pathetically amusing fire-building tie-breaker at final four, Yul, Ozzy, and Becky headed to the final tribal council, and Yul eventually became the sole Survivor. Cook Islands sometimes gets a bad reputation because of Yul’s “super idol” and the bottle twist, but I love this season post-merge more and more every time I watch it. It couldn’t have played out more perfectly if it had been scripted. The mutiny made the Aitu 4 underdogs. Ozzy’s physical skills and Yul’s mental and physical strengths powered their alliance to the end. Yul used Penner perfectly, when in reality, Penner could have easily lied about how he was going to vote; Nate would have still been gone, but Yul’s idol would’ve been flushed. Who knows what would’ve happened at that point? Everything just went so perfectly for a tribe that seemed so down on their luck.
1. The journey of Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu)
During the first immunity challenge in Survivor: Vanuatu, it seemed certain that the men would win, but then it happened…the dreaded balance beam. The women slowly passed the men and ended up winning because one man couldn’t cross the balance beam—Chris Daugherty. He was about to be the first boot, right? Instead, the five “older” men, if you can even call them that, formed an alliance and saved Chris. The alliance stayed intact and they booted a total of three “younger” men pre-swap. Post-swap and pre-merge, two men more and one woman was voted out, leaving four men and six women when it was time to merge. The women, led by Ami, felt absolutely unbreakable. They proceeded to vote out the men one by one—Rory, followed by Sarge, followed by Chad. With seven players left, it was just Chris and the women.
Any fan of Chris or Vanuatu can probably remember the final seven immunity challenge perfectly; it was the family visit. Chris lost his voice while screaming directions desperately at his fiancée Lorie as she was trying to retrieve puzzle pieces blindfolded. Once she got the puzzle pieces, they frantically tried to put the puzzle together as he told her, “I’m going home if we lose…that’s a fact, babe.” Eventually, Ami and her girlfriend finished their puzzle first. Chris hugged Lorie, devastated, saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t win…I’m going home tonight, babe.” Call me crazy, but it breaks my heart every single time I watch it. Back at camp, the women actually decided that Chris deserved to stay in the game longer than Eliza and planned to vote her out that night. After finding out that Chris was safe that night, Twila told him that if he could get Eliza on their side, they could flip the game. “Just please, take this risk” were the last pleading words that we heard from Chris to Eliza before the scene cut to tribal council. In the end, Chris, Twila, Eliza, and Scout all voted for Leann and she joined the jury, leaving the rest of the women shocked. The scene still gives me chills every time I see it. Ami and Julie were sent packing next, and after two immunity wins from Chris, he found himself sitting next to Twila in the final two. He finished off a crazy season of personal ups and downs with a 5-2 win.
To top it all off, it was revealed at the reunion that he told Lorie that he actually was voted out in seventh place, and she had no idea she was about to witness her fiancé win a million bucks. Amazing. So anyway, how the hell did he pull that off? He certainly has a lot of people in his alliances to thank for helping him get to the end. He also had one of the best final tribal council performances in the history of Survivor. Those last two immunity wins definitely didn’t hurt either. Finally, he had a hell of a lot of luck on his side. No matter how much anyone likes or dislikes Chris, there’s no denying that his journey made for one of the, if not the best season-long storylines that has ever been witnessed on Survivor.
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!
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