Sole Survivor Biggest Obstacles


While certain winners have at times made the game of Survivor look easy, it's no secret that every single winner has had to overcome multiple obstacles along the way. In today’s feature article, Ozlet Ivan Ornelas looks at the Sole Survivors from the first ten seasons and pinpoints the biggest obstacle they had to overcome during their time on the show. Continue reading to find out just what exactly stood in their way of the title and million dollar prize.

Every Survivor fan probably can immediately point out most, if not all, winners of Survivor. But which contestant, contestants, or twist was the biggest obstacle for each winner in their path to victory? For this edition of Sole Survivor Biggest Obstacles, we will take a look at the first five winners of the series and see what was their biggest roadblock in their eventual paths to becoming Sole Survivor.

Richard Hatch – Borneo


It didn’t seem like Richard had many obstacles in the first ever season. Probably the stigma of alliances was his biggest obstacle because of the number of players who were seemingly against alliances and his attempt to create one could have backfired and gotten him voted out.

Tina Wesson – Australian Outback


Her biggest obstacle was probably figuring out how to solve the 5-5 situation Ogakor and Kucha found themselves in after the merge. By allowing Keith to have immunity and from knowing Jeff received a vote from Debb, Jeff was successfully voted out and from there, Tina was in power for the rest of the game.

Ethan Zohn – Africa


His involvement in the first tribe swap would be a test as to whether he would make it much further, and he handled it well. Lex van den Berghe would be his biggest obstacle not just because he was a strategic threat but because his paranoia caused Kelly to flip to the original Samburu and if it wasn’t for Brandon’s decision to vote out Kelly instead of voting with his original tribe, Ethan wouldn’t have won.

Vecepia Towery – Marquesas


First she had to survive being on a awful tribe. then she was seemingly at the mercy of John Carroll who appeared to be running the show but then “the outsiders alliance” overthrew the Rotu 4. However then she had to find a way past Kathy Vavrick O’Brien, and she did so with a risky move that got Vecepia to the end but only won her the game in a close 4-3 vote over Neleh Dennis.

Brian Heidik – Thailand

Survivor: Thailand Finale and Reunion Show

Brian played a very strong game and through his alliances with Clay Jordan, Helen Glover, and ted Rogers, and Jan Gentry not being an issue, he would work his way into the final 2. His biggest obstacle would have to be convincing Helen and ted, the two allies he betrayed, to vote for him. Also, Brian did not spend enough time getting to know jurors from the opposite tribe such as Penny. However, Clay was also fairly unlikeable himself which helped Brian get 4 votes to win his season and be a reason Ben wakes up in the morning.

 Jenna Morasca – Amazon


Looking back now at Amazon, someone like Jenna winning the first men vs women season isn’t quite a shock. The guys would either be attracted to or underestimate her and she would be one of the more physically able women as well as be able to gravitate enough women to her to give her some degree of control. The biggest obstacle for her would probably be dealing with the men post merge. Girls were in a numbers disadvantage but it was more so that they were all over the place. Dave and Rodger were one dimensional in their gameplay, Rob and Alex were smarter players, and Butch and Matthew were so far out there they were both nonthreatening but confusing at the same time. Jenna dodged a huge bullet the night Heidi was voted out and ultimately she did need a late immunity run to get to the end otherwise she was probably getting voted out both at final 4 and final 3, but props to Jenna for finding a way there and winning.

Sandra Diaz-Twine – Pearl Islands


Initially I was tempted to say Rupert was her biggest obstacle because if she rode that alliance she had with him for as long as she would’ve liked, her path to win the game would be a bit complicated. But it turned out to be complicated anyway based on how the game actually played out. That was in part due to the Outcasts twist which made Burton and Lillian key players late in the game but I’d say her biggest obstacle was Jonny Fairplay. Sandra and Fairplay were like Tom and Jerry where their rivalry was almost comical in a sense, but also they did help each other get very far in the game. Sandra could’ve easily been 6th place after Fairplay knocked out one of her main allies in Rupert but Sandra worked with the remaining players in a way to shift the target off of herself and instead pretty much everyone else’s name came up except her own in the last 12 days of the season. She may be weak physically but she was one jury vote short of accomplishing a perfect game.

Amber Brkich (Mariano) – All-Stars


Rob gets most of the credit but they were definitely a power couple and made a lot of decisions together and certainly voted together every step of the way. Amber’s biggest obstacle was the 2nd swap. She was the only one from her previous tribe on the new Mogo Mogo tribe with Lex, Jerri, Shii Ann, and Kathy and it looked like she would be voted out if Mogo Mogo lost an immunity challenge. Then in came Boston Rob’s “you take care of her, I take care of you” message he sent to Lex and unfortunately for Lex and fortunately for Amber he bought it and Jerri was voted out.

Chris Daugherty – Vanuatu


Chris had a rough start to both the pre-merge and post merge, but I’d say his post merge game was more impressive. The woman alliance was tough to crack and arguably the biggest reason why is because of the amount of control Ami Cusack had, but she made one key mistake: letting down her guard at the final 7. She felt Chris deserved to stay in the game more than Eliza did at that point, which provided Chris the opening he needed to find himself in a better position after making a bold move in voting out LeAnn. From there through his immunity wins and bonds with the remaining women, Chris found his way into the final 2 and won the game despite seemingly being the last member to go down in a sinking ship.

Tom Westman – Palau


It’s not like Palau was devoid of any good players besides Tom. That’s definitely not true, but it’s hard to figure out Tom’s biggest obstacle in this game. He was only not immune for three Tribal Councils, and in those tribal councils Willard and Stephanie were much bigger targets than him. The exception was when Gregg was voted out, you’d think Gregg and Jenn would’ve tried to pull in Katie and Caryn to blindside Tom when they had the chance but Gregg and Jenn kept their word and targeted Caryn. I think Tom was his own biggest obstacle. He made himself a big threat and especially near the end if he didn’t have all those immunity victories he might not have made it. He still might’ve, it would just be a lot less likely. Also it was fortunate of him that Ian threw in the towel at the final immunity challenge.

So that is all for now! I’ll be analyzing obstacles for more winners soon. Did I leave anything out or do you have a favorite Survivor memory about one of these winners? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Do you agree with Ivan’s Assessment? What do you believe to be the greatest obstacle each winner faced? Let us know your thoughts below!



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10 Comments on Sole Survivor Biggest Obstacles

  1. 1. Richard only won because he was the only strategic player in the whole season.
    2. Tina won because her tribe gained the numbers post merge (witch if not for the evacuation would not have happened) And then got to the end due to the fact that in season 2 everyone was playing nice.
    3. Eithan was the 1st winner on a season with strategy even though he only won because lex lost the final immunity.
    4. Vespia played a good game by becoming the 1st player to get the f4 alliance overthrown but then floated the rest of the season.
    5. Brian was the 1st truly deserving winner of the series controlled the game from day 1.
    6. Jenna got carried by Rob c. He would have won if not for losing the final immunity challenge.
    7. Sandra did nothing was 1st dragged by Rupert then floated after john took over the game.
    8. Amber was dragged by rob.
    9. Criss won do to bitter jury played good but no the best.
    10. Tom only won because he was immunised for 13 out of 16 tcs

    • A lot of this is false. First of all Ogakor still could have won that immunity, and saying Kucha would definitely win if Skupin hadn’t been evacuated is a what if scenario. Also, Rob never in any way carried Jenna. Rob nearly completely screwed up her game. Part of the game is Outplay, so even if she was on the bottom, if she can win immunities to get to the end, and then win, she deserves to be the winner. Also, Sandra didn’t float, she had a great strategy. She was the first person to use the strategy of “As long as it’s not me” which was later copied by other great players such as Cirie and Kass. She was one of few players in the earlier seasons who played Survivor without a moral compass. Moves like blaming Christa for dumping the fish helped her get a few spots further, helping her win the game. And, I don’t care what anybody says AMBER IS A DESERVING WINNER!!!!!!!!! She was probably the most underestimated person in All-Stars, and she identified the strongest player in the game, and managed to earn his trust and ride his coat tails to the end. In my book, riding coat tails is a completely valid strategy which was used by Amber and later perfected by the most underrated winner ever, Natalie White. They are always apart of the moves but never get the blood on their hands, great strategy in my book. Also, Chris did not just win because of a bitter jury. He was the last man standing on a seemingly impenetrable female alliance. He got an alliance with Eliza, Scout and Twila, won a couple of immunities and made it to the end. And, his work on convincing Twila to be more hostile towards the jury was brilliant, it was not a bitter jury, his work on Twila helped to make the jury more bitter so they could vote for Chris. Finally, Tom did not just win because he won 13/16 immunities. He was the leader of one of the most dominant tribes in Survivor history. He created an alliance and an alliance within an alliance. He was never even targeted until the final 7. He played the role of the Godfather of the Koror tribe, but was still like able enough to convince everybody (except Coby) to vote for him in the end. I believe that Tom balanced his Social, Strategic and Physical game better then any other winner in the history of Survivor.

    • 1. Susan was very strategic- unfortunately her loyalty to Kelly burned her at Final 4. Rich may not have won if it hadn’t been for her, too.
      2. Not everyone was playing nice season 2- Jerri pissed everyone off and Colby decided to try to piss everyone off at the merge so he could force a tie, thus giving This alliance an advantage
      3. You have a point there. Ethan is the prototype for Fabio
      4. I wouldn’t say Vecepia floated- she had a very good social game, which is unfortunately not evidenced by her win by one vote, and she did have strategy and was a risky player
      5. Yeah, can’t really deny that.
      6. Again, you’re right.
      7. Sandra didn’t do “nothing”- the whole reason why Burton was voted out the second time was because she was spying on him and Jon- so Jon wasn’t in control. Also, despite making a bad mistake in throwing out the fish, it worked out well for her when she put the blame on Christa (no longer a power couple, and the target wasn’t on her).
      8. Again, that’s pretty accurate.
      9. Chris didn’t completely win because of a bitter jury- otherwise he would have won unanimously. Twila was hated by a few loudmouthed individuals (namely Sarge and Eliza), but Chris was still called out by a few members of the jury (the ones that were way more strategically and socially aware like Scout and Ami, both of whom voted for Twila).
      10. Tom was didn’t win because he was constantly safe- people didn’t just hand him Immunities. He was safe because he was strong in challenges, and his tribe wasn’t used to playing the game because he, Ian, and Gregg carried them throughout the season. It was like a farmer leading sheep. The opportunistic amount of time gave him a big chance to boost his social game, which, as you can see, only hurt Catie because she didn’t know how to handle that much amount of time.

      Finally, this was about the obstacles they face during their seasons that could have prevented their win. Didn’t matter if it was someone else’s doing or not that got them through it. All that matter is that they won and these are events that could have drastically changed the outcome if they went a different direction.

    • Could you translate your comment in english please? I don’t understand it the way it is written…

    • 1. Rich had strategic enemies but all were taken out early and he had so much control over his alliance no one wanted to take him out.
      2. Tina played a strategic game. True if Colby hadn’t been the ultimate good guy she wouldn’t have won, but she played the best strategic game her season.
      3. Ethan played just as well as Lex if not better. He was in the same alliance and threw a challenge to ensure they had numbers at the merge. Had Lex won the season people would have said he only won because Ethan lost the final immunity challenge.
      4. Vee played a very strategic game by no means floated, but kept under the radar.
      5. Brian good.
      6. Agreed.
      7. Sandra did a lot. She controlled the votes premerge. Post merge she was in control until Rupert went home and then she still hung on and managed to convince the women to turn on Jon and Burton.
      8. Amber was dragged strategically by Rob, but on a rewatch I can see why people voted for her. She was nice to everyone and played a great social game while Rob screwed everyone. (except rupert and Jenna) IDK it’s hard to be harsh on her when she and Rob ended up togeather so there was no reason for her to turn on him.
      9. Chris was the best on his season hands down. Sorry, but the Jury hated Chris and Twila equally. Chris simply managed the jury better and besides to come back and control the game like he did at final 6 was brilliant.
      10.Tom winning challenges does not mean he is a bad player. If you can win your way to the end it’s just as legit as strategically dominating the game.

  2. Amber’s post-switch tribe was Chapera, not Mogo Mogo.

  3. For Tina, I would add that had she not formed that tight bond she and Colby had, chances are she probably wouldn’t have been taken to the Final 2 over Keith. It just goes to show you that a good social game can go a long way in this game.

    For Tom, I would add that when there were 7 people left in the game, there was a strong possibility that Stephenie, Jenn, Katie & Caryn would form an all-girl alliance to take out Tom and the other two men. But Caryn declined the alliance because as Katie pointed out “Caryn sucks!” Had Caryn chosen to go with the women, Tom would’ve been gone because he didn’t win individual immunity at the Final 7.

  4. you forgot 19 winners

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