Methods of Ranking Survivor Players


Throughout 30 different seasons we've seen 460 contestants vie for the title of sole survivor bringing unique personalities, strategies and gameplay to the table. While it can be easy to objectively rank a season's players purely based on their finishing position, is that truly the best way to determine each castaway's skill? What about 'medevacs' and quitters? What happens when comparing players from different seasons? Today Ozlet Ivan Ornelas looks at just some of the factors that are commonly used to rank Survivor players and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each of these methods. Is there a definitive way of ranking Survivor contestants? Read on to find out!


It’s a popular topic debating about who is the best Survivor player. In comparison to other sports or competition where the means of winning don’t alter much from year to year, in Survivor the circumstances are almost always different. The gameplay styles, the twists, the conditions, and other factors vary from season to season, and quite often there are surprises with players who seemed strong going home early and some unlikely players finding themselves in the latter stages of the game. But regardless of how they succeed or fail, you have to give credit to those players who stick it out, especially those who get to the end and of course the players who earned the title of Sole Survivor. But perhaps a few players who got far were fortuitous and a few earlier boots had some bad luck. When Survivor Oz did a  comprehensive player ranking earlier this year, the Oz writers involved each had their philosophies and methods in determining who the better players were. Which method is the most effective? I’ll examine those I think are reasonable ways to measure a Survivor player’s skill and then determine which one, if there is one, is the best.

Correct Votes


Voting is obviously a huge part of the game but votes tend to mean more when they successfully send competition out of the game. The more consistently a player can vote for the player who is voted out, the more likely that player remains in a good position and wields power. You may think of Russell Hantz, who only didn’t vote for the person who was voted out that tribal council twice in his 3 season 86 day Survivor career (not including his brief visit to Redemption Island) or Boston Rob in All Stars: Rob, Lex, Kathy, Alicia, Shii Ann, Tom, Rupert, and Jenna all leaving the game when he wanted them to. But neither of them won the seasons I referenced? Kim Spradlin won her season and voted the right person all but one Tribal Council, and that one instance was due to a vote split. Which is why this method of measuring a player’s skill in Survivor is not necessarily black and white.


The split vote and the hidden immunity idol redefines the significance of a vote. When splitting the vote, you may vote for someone not going home (like Rodney Lavoie Jr did a few times in Worlds Apart) but your vote is still important for ensuring the intended target or the next best choice goes home. Should a vote be praised if it only sent a player home because of an idol play (Villains against JT or Carolyn/Mike/Sierra against Tyler) because if the idol is not used, the vote would or possibly would not have done the job. You also have to consider correct votes that would not have affected the result (such as Ciera debating whether or not to vote Laura, though her vote was not the decisive one) or votes intentionally meant to not be in the majority for strategic purposes (Like Shane’s vote for Aras when Bobby was voted out or Teresa’s vote for Lex when Clarence was voted out). A lot of different variables and factors involved.

Immunities Won


Some Survivor fans consider winning immunity or wielding immunity in some way (usually a hidden immunity idol) a significant part of whether or not a player is good. Others think that it is more notable when players go far in the game without having immunity often or at all. These differing philosophies can raise or lower the standings of players such as Yul Kwon, Tony Vlachos, Russell Hantz, Kelly Wiglesworth, Ozzy Lusth, and Mike Holloway. Some key counter examples for immunity wins meaning better player would be Sandra Diaz-Twine, the only two time winner and someone who has never won an individual immunity challenge, and Tina Wesson, who managed to beat resident challenge beast Colby Donaldson in the jury vote. On one hand, ask most players and they would certainly prefer to have immunity than to be vulnerable. On the other hand, if you have to rely on individual immunity, either you were unfortunately put in a bad situation or your social game is not that strong. Either of those claims can be marks against players.

Tribal Councils Survived


The name of the game being Survivor, whether your tribe is Koror or Moto and you manage to dodge most tribal councils, or your tribe is Ulong or Ravu and you have to endure tribal visit after tribal visit. Most tribes end up somewhere in between. On one hand having immunity so many times likely helped Tom Westman eventually win Palau while you also have Denise Stapley who attended every tribal council in the Philippines, only once having immunity, and also won. Perhaps in a less successful tribe Willard Smith and Janu Tornell would be potential first boots while in even a moderately successful tribe players like James Miller, Angie Layton, Angie Jakusz, and Anthony Robinson, who did what they could given their options, would have more of a shot. So there is room for different schools of thought to emerge.



The art of rating players is inconclusive mainly because no matter how you look at it we all have our own ideas of what makes a good Survivor player. And no matter how hard you try to do so objectively, bias will play a part in our judgements. If you are not a fan of Russell Hantz, you probably will not consider making it to the end twice despite not winning as big of an accomplishment as someone who made it to the end once and won, then was voted out early in another season (which happened to Richard Hatch). I guarantee you almost any Survivor fan who would rank players are going to be lenient to players they liked and less so than players they didn’t. For example, I may have Fabio Birza a little more higher than Chase Rice than someone else in some part because I like Fabio more than Chase (“I just don’t like you”-Tammy Leitner). Aside from bias, like I mentioned throughout this article every measurement of a Survivor player’s gameplay can be viewed in different ways which further complicates this. Despite there being no solution to an exact formula of who is the best Survivor player, I know for sure it will remain to be a fun topic of discussion.


Or we can go with Sandra since she has two Sole Survivor titles. “But Ivan, many winners like Todd Herzog, Chris Daugherty, and Kim Spradlin haven’t played two seasons yet, so we don’t know for sure!”. And so the debate rages on…

Is there a particular method you use to rank Survivor players? Do you think any one area of gameplay is more important than another? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!



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8 Comments on Methods of Ranking Survivor Players

  1. Thanks for the nice article Ivan. I loved the ranking episodes and in all they were pretty good. My biggest gripes were Scout’s ranking which was ridiculously low and Penner’s which was outrageously high. It’s tough when you try to break it down because of the anomalies. Most notably Lill. She was such a goat she was voted out of the game and then she was so disliked she was voted out of Ponderosa and put back in as an outcast. She was the biggest goat in the history of the game. How do you rank that? Other than her there are other examples that are similar but it does boil down to how far you make it. Ivan you hit on most of the criteria that should be considered. Good job.

  2. Giovanni Orellana // September 28, 2015 at 12:24 pm // Reply

    Sandra is not the best player, top 5 for sure, but not the best player. I don’t think there is such a thing as the best player because every game is different with different people, challenges, locations and situations so it’s hard for me to say who the best player is.

  3. I think what it comes down to is the best player of that season, which can also be up for debate, but is generally much closer to ranking the players overall. One could say that the winner is the best player, but then there are winners like Mike and Natalie (season 19) who definitely were NOT the best players of their seasons, but simply had a better underdog story, or was the best option for a bitter jury (I think it’s generally agreed that Russell was robbed in Samoa- not that I like/dislike him, but Mick was a potato and Natalie made one move versus Russell who made several). Analyzing how the game was laid out and what options each and every player had is the best thing to do. As a side note, I also would not say that the last place finisher is the worst player. David certainly wasn’t the worst player in Cagayan, and neither was- dare I say it?- Francesca in either of her seasons.

  4. The way I think players should be judged is based on how much they were able to control their season and how little their game relied on luck.

    level 1 Best from each season. The best must be in the top 3 of their season (even if it had a final 2) Top 90- top 30

    level 2 Were they able to come back and play the best game in another season. The best player had to play more then once but there is the best 1 time player. Top 30- top 5

    final level Who had the most control over there seasons.
    4. B-Rob
    5. Sandra

  5. The only thing that matters to me is the conclusion. Control of votes is useless if you can’t win at the end of the day like Russell. I mean their are times when it has been in player’s best interest not to vote “correctly”. Winning immunity is pointless if you can’t win the whole game. Finally, the number of tribal councils survived is meaningless. Phillip Shepherd could have survived every vote because he was the goat being taken to the end.

  6. Both Nate and Nitsua make some awesome points. I agree that each season should be looked at individually. There isn’t “One” Greatest player. It always is a popularity contest. Way to many elements come into a game. We all know, one slip up, one wrong sentence, one challenge you shone in, one stupid little move, can send anyone and everyone home. Good or bad. Brilliant or not so. Isn’t that why we love this game? because anybody can win? Anybody! Regardless of their game can make it to the end, win or loose?
    Everyone talks about how Natalie stole the title from Russell. But isn’t a very risky move also to stay aligned with the Biggest Threat in the Game whilst being down in numbers and having everyone gunning for you but not making the right moves to get you? I personally don’t see what is wrong with going into the finals with disliked people so you can get the win. Don’t we admit that that was Colby’s mistake in Outback? not taking Keith but taking Tina? Dont we admit that was Woo’s mistake? Taking Tony and not Kass? I dont see the difference.
    I agree Russell took the game to a whole new brilliant level. But his game had brilliance and major flaws. I mean shit, If I watched you play an arrogant game taking out my tribe one by one and thinking your shit dont stink the whole time, I would find it hard to give you the money also.
    I believe in this new age of Survivor, its all about Jury respect. You have to make a couple of good moves. Show a bit of your inner beast in challenges. Form some connection with everyone and most of all admit that you were there to play and understood what needed to be done.

    • RB Liljestrom // September 29, 2015 at 2:25 pm // Reply

      There is a best all-time player and that’s Sandra. She’s far from my favorite player and I don’t really care for the way she plays. However, I won’t let it stand in the way of the fact that she beat the very best competition ever assembled in HvV. She won against the best competition and she won one of the most popular seasons in Pearl Islands. You can’t put up another player with a better resume. I will win that debate everytime because the numbers and facts are on my side.

      • Pearl Islands is popular, but once Darrah went home, Sandra would’ve beaten everyone left by default, so she was just the best of the rest. Whether that’s through her skill or not, I don’t know

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