Greeting Sozers! TOP 10 time again, and this week Nick Chester looks back at the final episodes of each respective Survivor season to rank the best finales. With the finale of San Juan Del Sur set to air tomorrow, now is the perfect time to go back over the best final episodes we have ever seen! Will your favourite season make the cut or is there a season finale that should have made the list? Read on to find out which season conclusion ranked the best of all time!
Survivor Oz Top Tens are full of dissections of various aspects of finale episodes. Jury Speeches, final immunity challenges and final tribal council performances are all amongst them. However, analysing the episodes as a whole doesn’t happen too often. Frequently, finales are hard to assess. They need to provide a satisfying conclusion to a season-long story, and often don’t have the wow factor that earlier episodes do. Big moves and blindsides are rare, and finales can become too introspective and ultimately seem cheesy and boring. Good seasons rarely peak at the end, meaning the best finales sometimes belong to the worst seasons, where a pagonging finishes and long term allies have to turn on each other. But interesting challenges, great final tribal councils and close votes can all help to make a satisfying finale. Here are my ten favourites, which for various reasons are all really interesting.
No doubt a controversial pick at #10, All Stars has a great finale with one big flaw. That is of course that there is no doubt this will end up in a Rob vs. Amber final 2. However, the road to get there is interesting, starting with a great final 4 challenge (surprisingly not won by Rob), followed by Jenna’s decision to turn on Rupert. To me, this is still an interesting decision and one that is seldom debated. If Jenna takes the risk and gets through a tie breaker with Rupert in tow, all she has to do is make sure Rupert doesn’t win the final 3 challenge and she is in the final 2, and very likely to win. Instead she guarantees a spot in the final 3, but a much tougher assignment to win the game. Once the overly romantic day 39 is over, we have one of the best and most bitter final tribal councils of all time. In a season with such great divides, every viewer loved and hated someone, making this a great one to watch. And of course, with a close vote to finish it out, it may not have mattered which of the newly engaged couple won, but it was interesting to many viewers all the same.
An underrated season finished with a flourish, with some great challenges, controversial moments and good jury performances. The first challenge was an epic construction and a great visual piece. Rafe’s win left Danni in trouble, but her apparent sickness meant he and Steph targeted Lydia instead. Lydia was a great character and often forgotten (along with many others in Guatemala), so it’s great to see her still there for the finale, and genuinely disappointing to see her go. The final immunity challenge was weird and can’t have been how the producers expected this to play out, but Steph put everything into it. Rafe then controversially released Danni from her promise to stick with him till the end, and she promptly voted him out to take the easier to beat Steph to the end. Another great final tribal council awaited, with Judd in fine form as always. The vote wasn’t close, but still fun.
This finale is rightly remembered for the epic final immunity challenge, which seems to have killed the chances of a season ever ending in an endurance challenge ever again. Well, if this was the last one we see, it was a good one. Ian may be seen as “dumb” by some, but back when Survivor was depicted as more than just a cold game of strategy, such moves were seen for more than their ability to help you win. What is forgotten is the lead up to the challenge, with a lot of emotional scenes between Ian and Katie, not to mention a tied vote and fire challenge at the final 4 tribal council, an impromptu vote off at the challenge, and a brutal final tribal council. Katie may have had her faults, but how people could be quite so nasty was lost on me. All up this is a great finale about so much more than one (admittedly awesome) challenge.
Another underrated season, Gabon’s finale was fun and had a lot of elements that worked to make a great finish. And I don’t just mean Bob’s costume at the final 5 immunity challenge. Although I didn’t see it as a surprise, it seems Kenny was pretty blindsided by his elimination, which set up one of the most crazy days in Survivor. First, Bob’s winning streak was finally ended by…Susie? Really? Didn’t see that coming. Then Sugar decides to force a tie for seemingly no good reason, other than that she liked Bob. Really? OK. It doesn’t really matter because whether Matty or Bob won, it was probably going to determine who won the season anyway. So when you think of it that way, it was a fire challenge for a million dollars, one that Bob had an advantage in by knowing it was coming. A totally crazy day that leads into a great final tribal council. Corinne and Randy dish up the dirt whilst many of the others make the finalist squirm in their seats. Then the final vote and…again Susie? Really? The winner of the season? Nope, just kidding its Bob! A crazy end to a crazy season.
A great finish to a great season. There are so many fantastic moments in this finale. First off, it starts with Vee on the outside, and using her journal to give her an advantage on the “fallen comrades” challenge. This sets up the purple rock vote, which of course works so well because Paschal is the one to draw the rock and go home despite never getting a vote. The final immunity challenge is again epic, only to be preceded by Vee and Kathy openly celebrating making the final 2 on the back of the deal they made the night before. This of course sets up beautifully for Vee to stab Kathy in the back and make a new deal as soon as she drops out of the final challenge, giving Neleh the win and sending Kathy home. Of course Paschal didn’t see this from the jury section as he collapsed just before tribal council. Yes this did all happen in one episode. The final tribal council was really tense, which may be because everyone did such a terrible job the first time round that they were forced to film it all over again a second time! A really tight vote ended the season and gave the win to Vee – something that surprised and upset many. But the editors had subtly pointed to this the whole time, so it was in fact a pretty satisfying end to a great old school season.
This is a finale that has so many great elements and completes the Chris comeback story so well. Both challenges are epic – the vertical maze and arrow – “warrior pose” final challenge (why didn’t we see this come back in a Coach season?) were great to watch and allowed Chris to win his way to the end. Along the way, he blatantly lies to Eliza before backstabbing her, and playing Twila to ensure she antagonised the jury as much as possible. The final tribal council is always a hard watch for me. I really am amazed at watching Chris in what is a flawless performance, but I feel bad for Twila who finds it tough going being told what a horrible mother she is. The season ends the way it should, but concludes a really great comeback story for Chris, at the expense of hot headed Twila. This is great Survivor storytelling at its best.
Although the famous final vote is anything but close, basically everything else about this episode is great. Two phenomenal challenges (the first recalls Amazon and Guatemala) – the second being something completely different and genuinely intriguing to watch, The blindside of Taj is a great piece of TV, if not showing Stephens desperation to stay in control. The pleading of Stephen at the final 3 to be kept instead of Erinn is hard watching for a Fishbach fan like me, but fits with the theme of the season of not taking the easy option. And then there is the final tribal council. There has never been one like this before or since – where two very close allies turn on each other in such a public fashion. There are also nods to the comedy show that was Coach as well as Sierra of all people calling Stephen pathetic. This may have been a slightly uncomfortable finish, but it was one hell of a train wreck, and great to watch.
The final vote was a foregone conclusion, there is no denying that. But the path to get there was fascinating, and made all the more interesting by Kim’s surprising immunity run. Lex proved to have an incredible run of bad luck – losing the first challenge when perhaps he shouldn’t have, then getting the shits right before the last challenge. The finale is one of the best uses of location and culture, with local tribes incorporated into the final rites of passage. And Lex’s fall off the stump in the final challenge is made even more intense through the use of great music. Both vote offs are tense and uncertain, which is good going when often early vote sin finale episodes are formulaic and serve a purpose of getting rid of a non-contender. The jury even does the best job they can putting both players through the wringer, but the result is never in doubt, even with Ethan slamming Brandon on his own question. The finale hits all the right marks in terms of being epic without getting overly emotional or mushy. A really solid finish to an underrated season.
The finale of the original season still hits some great notes, and its easily forgotten that back when this aired, there was real questions about who would win. The “winner edit” was not even really a thing then, so it was anybody’s game. And the way the votes were shown, on location, made this an incredibly tense finish to the season. No season will ever capture that feeling again, and this keeps the Borneo finale as one of the best. There are of course some great moments along the way however, making this finale even more interesting. The tied vote at final 4 (after a really fun “fallen comrades” challenge), and Richard throwing the final challenge add to the drama and then of course there is Sue’s iconic jury speech, which will remain probably the most memorable moment in Survivor history. Add to that some other great features of the finale which are no longer seen (having each of the jurors sum up their thoughts as the final 2 head to tribal council is really good and should be done more often, it sets a tone for the end of the game that is missed now). So the original is still one of the very best in this aspect, and sure to remain this way.
Often derided as a terrible season, Thailand has the best finale of all time. Just about every aspect of it is great, and it is engaging viewing on every occasion. It’s actually hard to believe this all happened in one episode, but…Brian nonchalantly strolls his way to an immunity win, convinces Jan to somehow do something not in her own best interest and blindside Helen, one of the most elaborate yet somehow still simple final immunity challenges where Brian shuts Jeff down when he starts asking him dumb questions, then wins. Jan is voted out and then we have one of the most personal and nasty final tribal councils that ends in a 4-3 vote which Brian somehow wins. Everything about this is just so intense and crazy, and it just doesn’t give up. It is to watch Brian at his very best, which is watching one of the best Survivor players of all time, casually swatting aside challenges as he wins a game he had never really seen before. Like they Africa finale, Thailand uses the location and culture to enhance the finale and make it more than just an average show. Perhaps what makes this an even better show is that it rises above the rest of the season, which, while not as bad as it has been made out to be over the years, is still not great compared to others. Thailand truly saves the best for last, and makes what seems a foregone conclusion tense and interesting. If you haven’t watched this one in a while, go and have another watch. You will not be disappointed.
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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