Who is the greatest Survivor player of all time? It's a loaded question that frequently ends in a heated argument and it's unlikely that fans will reach a consensus any time soon. However, after her dominant game in One World, Kim Spradlin was frequently touted as the best of all time and she became a real front runner in the debate. Fastforward a couple of years, seasons and winners and the Spradlin critics have well and truly started to emerge from the woodwork but are they correct? Strap yourselves in as New Zeland Ozlet Nick Chester becomes a one man mythbuster and dismantles some of the common arguments made against Kim's winning game. Read on to find out how these myths are busted!
Survivor: One World is an odd season, and one that pretty much most people agree on a couple of points. Firstly, it was not a great season. And secondly, Kim Spradlin is one of the shows greatest winners ever. Although as we start to move away from One World, I see more and more critics of Kim’s games, which is somewhat baffling to me. I think people like to pick holes in her game just for the fun of it, but its hard to argue with the résumé. For my money, Kim is the best player the show has ever seen, for one simple reason. She is incredibly versatile. Can you imagine a season where Kim doesn’t make the merge? In almost any scenario, Kim goes far in the game. She has the physicality and intelligence to get into a good alliance but also the perfect social game where she befriends people so easily but isn’t seen for the threat she is. Yet the critics still want to find faults with Kim’s game. Her game wasn’t perfect, but it’s the closest we have ever seen to perfection in Survivor. So its time to myth buster these critics. Let’s put to rest any notion that Kim isn’t the greatest right here and now.
Myth #1 – Her Competition Sucked
This is the biggest criticism directed at Kim – that the cast of One World were a bunch of duds who didn’t know what they were doing, and that Kim was really the only competent player out there. Whilst this isn’t true, let’s consider if One World is an outlier or if there are other seasons that have similar issues, yet don’t receive the same level of criticism. Nicaragua certainly was a cast that had a lot of non-active players, and Redemption Island seemed almost hand picked to help Boston Rob win. San Juan del Sur is considered a cast full of people who had no idea what Survivor was about, yet most of us view Natalie as a great winner. So why is One World any different? Students of the game have failed in seasons full of “incompetent” players. So even if One World wasn’t the most strategic cast of all time, Kim still had to navigate this field with plenty of players who were not thinking logically or in a self interested manner, making them more unpredictable. This presents its own challenges. So simply being in a season full of active players doesn’t necessarily make it harder – its all about context and who these players are, and what motivates them.
But I think that isn’t giving some members of the One World cast their fair share of credit. I think both Sabrina and Chelsea were very competent players, and on a season without Kim, could have won themselves. It’s fair to say that they were just made to look a little ordinary next to Kim, who certainly cast a shadow over everyone else in the game. Both players had flaws in their social games which made it easier for jurors to give their votes to Kim in the end, but they were by no means bad players. The same can be said for Alicia, finishing in 5th place. Again, Alicia certainly had issues with her social game but was able to keep an alliance together and could have even taken the game over at the final 6 had Kim not come in and outplayed her. Alicia had flaws, but was focussed on winning so you have to give her some credit. She wasn’t just cannon fodder. It’s also easy to overlook someone like Troyzan, but I think if he had been up against an alliance lacking the kind of cohesion that Kim created, his particular brand of chaos may have worked and swung people onto his side. And whilst there were certainly pretty decent holes in their games, the likes of Jay, Michael and Jonas all brought something to the table that could have caused problems to a lesser player.
In the interest of fairness, I do have to note that Kim did have the luxury of playing with Tarzan (sole goal was to make the family visit), Kat (clueless of what was happening around her), Christina (no desire to try and win) and Leif (appeared to have never watched the show before). But the same can be said for most winners – we don’t mark Earl’s win down because he got to play with Dreamz and Boo, and even Sandra could be spoken in this same way, as neither Colby or Rupert were doing much at the end of Heroes vs. Villains. No winner plays against only top rate opposition who are playing hard to win all the time. Sometimes dealing with those whose motivations are not on winning carries a different level of difficulty and should be factored in as well.
Of course there is a strong argument to make that Kim was simply so good, she made medium to good players look average. This is certainly something I can agree with. As stated above, I don’t see any major issues with the games of Chelsea and Sabrina, and on another season they could be winners themselves. Next to Kim, they look pretty average and you have to give Kim a lot of credit for being able to pull this off. It may not have made for brilliant TV, but Kim’s ability to close down any dissent and control her alliance not through fear but through genuine affection for her is quite simply a remarkable achievement.
Myth #2 – She Got Lucky
Luck plays an enormous role in Survivor – no player can succeed without it. Consequently I try to be really careful when factoring in how “lucky” a player is and how it contributes to their win, because its true of everyone. The key is maximising good luck and downplaying bad luck. Anyone who says Kim simply got lucky is absolutely kidding themselves. To me, Kim made her own luck, letting others make mistakes and then capitalising on them. Her first bit of good fortune was right at the start of the game during the truck raid. When Michael stole the women’s supplies, he immediately set up a very strong gender war, and consequently ruined the whole concept of One World. Suddenly the idea that the tribes might build one big shelter and mingle openly with each other was (to use Bill’s words) out the window. Lines were drawn early and Kim would later reap the rewards of this, pitting the women against the men and take a group to the final 5 – the first and to this point only time that has happened. Keeping a group of women focussed and not being swayed by the men is always incredibly challenging (and vice versa) so the fact that Kim pulled it off is a massive credit to her. You could also point to the men’s decision to give up immunity and go to tribal council was a lucky move for her, meaning she would have to eliminate one of her own tribe mates, but given how dysfunctional the men were, it seems pretty unlikely this was ever going to be a problem if the men went up in the numbers before the swap. In fact, having Colton and Bill still both in the game would only have escalated things faster.
And then of course there was Colton. Many people have talked about how lucky Kim was that Colton went out when he did, before he could cause chaos at the merge, and he took his immunity idol with him. There’s no questioning that this probably made Kim’s life much easier going forward. However, having Colton at the merge would probably not have hurt her – she could have continued to run the game behind the cover of his own antics, making her even less of a target than she was anyway. It is interesting to note that Colton talked in post-game interviews about wanting to have a final 3 with Kim and Jay. So Kim already had Colton under her spell anyway.
The tribe swap certainly worked in her favour, allowing her to bond with the strong males and put them in a position where they never really questioned her after the merge – but I simply don’t see a scenario where the tribe swap goes badly for Kim. Even if she ended up on Manono, no one was going to target her and it may have at worst meant she lost a couple of valuable pawns earlier than she would have liked to.
Arguing that Kim was lucky is such a fruitless exercise because you can make the same case for any winner and in fact any player. It’s both fair and unfair, and there is really nothing you can do. All I can say is that I think Kim was one of the best at making luck work for her, either good or bad. And that is a huge credit to her as a player.
Myth #3 – Boston Rob is Better
You know you’re good when a main argument about you put forward by many is that Boston Rob is a better player. People saying this are generally referring to the respective players winning games – Rob in Redemption Island and Kim in One World. It’s accepted by many as these being the two most dominant games of Survivor ever played, and who you think is better is really all down to what you value in a player. Given I’m defending Kim here, there’s no surprise that I think she played the better game. For a start, she didn’t have 75 days of experience like Rob did before winning. She also didn’t have a cast who all knew and loved her prior to starting. Don’t believe me? Go and read the pre-season bios of the Redemption Island players – so many of them talk about how great Rob was, and in the context of that season being shot just after Rob’s exit on Heroes vs. Villains as a tragic hero, you can see why. Kim had no such advantage. You can argue that Rob’s disadvantage was that people knew him and how he played, which is fine except that everyone in that cast was a fan, so it hardly counts.
The similarities between the two are quite astounding – they control large alliances, find an idol pre-merge that they never really need, and despite repeated attempts by the opposing alliance, their supporters stand steady and eventually allow them to win. There really is not a lot between them. Rob’s supporters will point to issues like the “buddy system” as signs of how in control Rob was, and how issues like Kat’s repeated breakdowns for not being chosen to go on reward as signs that Kim wasn’t in complete control. I think these are nothing more than smoke screens to try and distract viewers from the horrible truth that Kim had essentially won the game by about day 15.
For me, a huge mark in Kim’s favour is just how effortless she made it look. Rob was clearly exhausted by the end, and having to work so hard to control everyone probably speaks to the difficulties of running the game through fear rather than affection. Kim seemed to be so much more relaxed in the game, having the luxury of taking “harder” to beat opponents to the end, knowing she would win regardless. It all seemed so easy to her, and by being so well loved, she was able to control the game with no one really minding. To me this is the main reason I think Kim played a better game than Rob – all the other stuff is largely irrelevant. Rob’s game was breath-taking in how it was the end product of ten years of work to get to that point – you could feel the emotion in him that this was the culmination of so much effort. Kim looked like she could do it in her sleep and could probably do it again just as easily.
Myth #4 – She’s Only Played Once – How do we know she’s the real deal?
Although I have huge respect for my fellow Ozlets who completed the mammoth player rankings earlier this year, I listened in horror as Sandra was crowned the best player of all time and Kim below her. It seemed that one of the major reasons for this was that Kim has only played once and Sandra has won twice at 2 attempts. I don’t want to get back into my misgivings about Sandra, other than to say that she is a player who has done very well, but has only been tested in very limited conditions, and these repeated with quite stunning similarities in her second season. Unlike Sandra, Kim has faced two early tribal councils, a tribe swap and had to win the game for a position of control, which can be much harder than being a scrappy underdog. They are two completely different players but I think if you were drafting players you wanted on a dream Survivor tribe, most people would take Kim first. She is just a more complete player, able to succeed in a wider variety of circumstances.
Any claim of Kim being the best has to withstand the criticism levelled at all one time players. This is the same reason that the likes of Todd, Yul and Earl often get overlooked when thinking about top players. How can we really tell they are any good until they do it again? Except no return trip will ever be the same. Even Sandra’s win in Heroes vs. Villains is in some degree due to the fact that she wasn’t well remembered, to the point where she could highlight that Parvati was a former winner and no one really batted an eyelid that she was as well.
However, give me the scenario where Kim gets voted out early. It’s very hard to think of it. Kim is as close as you will ever get to the perfect combination of traits required to do well in Survivor – she is strong enough to help in challenges, and win individual challenges without seeming a big threat. She’s strategic but not to the point of being overtly dangerous. She can control the game whilst appearing to let others feel like they are in charge. And of course she is spot on in terms of her social game – friendly without seeming to be manipulative. When someone like Kim makes the merge, she has all the skills to go far in the game, without appearing to be a threat. She is the perfect combination of talents to be a great Survivor player and if she ever did play again (which seems unlikely, given she now has baby #3 on the way), she would be a front runner to win despite her history and reputation.
Myth #5 – She Didn’t Win Unanimously
This is a somewhat dumb argument but for the purposes of being thorough I will address it. Some will say that the very best winners don’t drop jury votes. Its worth remembering that there is no extra prize money for getting more jury votes, you simply need a majority. But it is a good look to win in a compelling fashion – and it is worth remembering that Kim did get 7 of the 9 jury votes up for grabs. Of those she lost, Troyzan’s was something of a necessary evil given that by ostracising him she drew her women’s alliance closer together, and ensured they didn’t crumble and allow him a passage back into the game. Leif’s is really anyone’s guess but if you were going to level a criticism at Kim, its that she didn’t make a connection with Leif, which seems like an outlier when everyone spoke so warmly of her. You could say that keeping Tarzan, Alicia, Christina and Kat in line was enough work. But quite frankly, if this is what you are picking at from Kim’s game, you are digging very, very deep. And when you have Cochran amongst the ranks of players who swept a jury vote, the point is pretty much invalid. Its a great thing to have on the résumé, but its not the goal.
Conclusion – Simply The Best
The hard thing about assessing players is that you never get an even playing field in which to do so. Each player only gets to play Survivor for the first time once – every time after that is essentially a corrupted version. But even assessing first time performances against each other is a fruitless exercise – weighing up Kim’s performance against Tyson, or Brian or Vecepia is so difficult. They come up against different casts, different locations and difficulty factors. Some have 20+ seasons of knowledge to work with, others didn’t. Really the only thing you can assess if each player’s adaptability and flexibility. How would they cope in any situation? Would they survive the devastation of the Ulong tribe, or the dysfunction of the Tandang tribe? Unfortunately we don’t have a Survivor simulator where we can run players through every scenario, but I think if we could, Kim would come out on top. I really struggle to see any major flaws in her game. Quite frankly, I struggle to see minor ones. Kim is a player built for Survivor in every which way. She can relate to men and women, she appeals to their logical and emotional sides and has instincts for the best move that are unparalleled in this game. Those who look to critique her game can only pick the most minor of holes in it, and even these are open to their own retorts.
Quite simply, if you were to ask me to name a player to throw into any random season of Survivor, with my life riding on them winning, I would answer Kim in a heartbeat. I can’t think of a player who has the skillset to prevail in the most variable of conditions. To me this makes her the best to have ever played, and any claims otherwise are nothing more than myths.
What are your thoughts on Kim as a player? Is she the greatest of all time? Are there any more myths about Kim’s game that need busting? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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