Survivor can often be a crazy unpredictable game with many twists and turns throughout the course of a season. Sometimes front runners charge to a predictable victory, sometimes they fall unexpectedly at the final hurdle. Sometimes underdogs rise to power, sometimes they're unceremoniously picked off. In today's top 10 Ozlet Patrick Gustavson takes a look at 10 of the most unpredictable seasons of Survivor that kept viewers guessing throughout their entirety. Read on to find out which seasons were the most erratic.
It is remarkable that a season that was dominated by one main character could be so unpredictable. The start of the season was quite predictable, watching Foa Foa lose challenge after challenge, with five of the first six eliminated players coming from the tribe. However, things began to turn when Galu leader and early favorite to win Russell Swan went down in one of the scariest moments in the history of the show. Following the merger, Foa was at an eight to four numbers disadvantage, and would seemingly be picked off one by one. However, Galu self destructed, first turning on one of their own, following Russell’s shocking idol play to out Kelly Sharbaugh. Even after this, Foa Foa was still at a disadvantage. They finally obtained the numbers following John and Shambo’s flip to vote out Laura Morett. It then seemed things would take a predictable turn, with Galu now being picked off one by one. But, just when you thought it was so obvious Russell, who had received so much airtime, would win easily, he lost, to Natalie White. Regardless of whether or not Russell deserved to win, based on the edit, he was the obvious winner, and it was shocking to see him not get the victory. Though there were some predictable parts to the season (which is why it holds a low spot on the list), Foa Foa’s turnaround was one of the biggest in Survivor history, and it was topped off by a surprise winner.
9. Kaoh Rong
The most recent season brought many surprises along the way. In terms of surprising eliminations, the pre merge was chalk full of them. With the exception of Alecia, every boot was a surprise, particularly Anna and Peter, two players who looked to have a massive impact on the game in the long run. Following the merge, it seemed alliance were constantly shifting. Though there were a few players who were clearly together, larger alliance never stayed concrete, these shifts were seen in the first three post merge boots of Nick, Debbie, and then Tai’s shocking betrayal of Scot. Things settled down a bit from that point, but not until the editors through a huge loop and gave us one of the most confusing winners edits in the history of the show. I’m not saying Michele was undeserving, but it was certainly one of the most unique and deceiving winner’s edits of all time. Overall, the season saw constant shifts among alliances as well as premature boots of huge characters.
The 21st season of Nicaragua is certainly one of the most interesting seasons. I am generally in favor of unpredictable seasons, but this one just left me wanting more. Following the merge, there were really no concrete alliances, seen in the first vote being 10-2. Alliances seemed to start forming following that point, with one led by Marty against Jane, and the other against Marty, with Sash and Brenda acting as middle men. After Marty was voted out, it appeared there would be a clear cut alliance of seven, but this all changed when everyone turned against Brenda. Things were only complicated more when two of Sash’s numbers, NaOnka and Purple Kelly, unceremoniously quit, leaving what appeared to be an alliance of four: sash, Chase, holly and Jane, against the three of Fabio, Dan and Benry. However, a Fabio immunity run thwarted their plans, leaving a final three of Fabio, Chase and Sash. Due to the wishy-washy play of both Chase and sash, it allowed Fabio, who was never in the majority, and was not a very good strategic player, to win. However, none of the final three would have been particularly satisfying winners. Nicaragua was certainly an unpredictable season, but it left a confusing final three and winner, and an overall underwhelming season.
Gabon is a season that, similar to other seasons on this list, had lots of big players and characters that were targeted early following the merge for being a strategic threat, leaving a completely random group of people towards the end. However, boots were not the only thing that made the season unpredictable, but the multiple tribe swaps prior to the merge also threw a huge loop into the game. For the most part, boots were predictable prior to the merge, up until five people remained on the Fang tribe. Ken used his ability to deceive to turn Sugar against Ace, stunning him in what was a brilliant blindside. Just when the players assumed they had merged and celebrated with a massive feast, a massive twist was instilled: there would be another tribe swap. Though many view this as an unnecessary twist, it made for one of the more shocking turnarounds in the game, when Marcus, the “Kota god,” was voted out. Not only was Marcus the leader of the Kota alliance, he was also one of the most likely to win the game at that point. This led to the Kota alliance slowly falling, including Charlie’s blindside, and the legendary moment of Randy playing Bob’s fake idol. It then appeared that Ken and Crystal, the most strategic players, would go to the end, but with a combination of Bob’s immunity run, and Sugar’s unstable strategic tendencies, they were the next two to go. When Bob did not win the immunity at the final four, it appeared he would be next to go, but Sugar once again relied on emotion and forced a fire building challenge between Bob and Matty, in which Bob was the victor. This left a final three of Sugar, a prominent, yet emotional player, Susie, who seemingly and admittedly floated to the end, and Bob, the likeable older guy with incredible challenge prowess, but lacked in the strategic game. Bob went on to win by barely beating out Susie. It was remarkable to see someone like Susie coming one vote from winning, and Bob himself was an unlikely winner. This season saw the big players go out early, leaving for an unlikely final three and an unlikely winner.
The unpredictable aspect of this season really began at the merge, following a pretty cut and dry pre merge that really played up the rivalry between the men and the women. However, this changed following the tribe swap, in which the two sexes had more interaction. This led to one of the most chaotic post merges in survivor history, mostly at the hands of the masterful Rob Cesternino, who used outsiders to his advantage, turning on his own alliance, that he knew he was on the bottom of. Following the shocking boot of Alex, rob went back to his former alliance of Jenna and Heidi to vote out Christy, who was being indecisive. It then appeared the final three would consist of Rob, Matthew and Butch, but this was thwarted by an unlikely immunity run by Jenna Morasca. This led to Rob, the best player of the season, being voted out in third. This left us with an incredibly unexpected final two of Jenna, the young model who had shown desire to quit the game at one point, and Matthew Von Ertfelda, who was once seen as crazy, but turned into a strong strategic player. Jenna would go on to win in the first blowout vote. There was constant alliance shifting this season, which saw strategic players being booted earlier than expected, which left for an unexpected group towards the end, which all made for an unpredictable season.
The earliest season on this list, Marquesas broke the Survivor norms that had been established in the first three seasons. This started in only the third episode. In the first three seasons, strength was the most valuable asset prior to the merge. This changed when one Rob Mariano led the charge against Hunter Ellis, the strongest member of the tribe. Also, following the merge, the Rotu 4 was the dominant alliance, and the final result was shaping up to be another predictable one. However, this changed, when the five of Vecepia, Neleh, Kathy, Paschal and Sean, who were destined to be picked off by the Rotu 4, joined together following the infamous coconut challenge, and turned the tables on them. That moment has forever paved the way for shifting alliances. The flip left us with what is today one of the most random final fives ever, with no direction on how the game would finish. Things were also complicated by the rock draw, which shockingly eliminated the likable Paschal, who had not received a vote the entire season. It seemed at this point that Kathy would be the winner, but was betrayed by Vecepia and voted out in third, which would also start a trend of the best player being voted out third. Vecepia was not the prototypical winner, not dominating the game strategically or physically, but used her social skills to advance herself. If it were not for the season, the show may have been stuck in a rut of sticking to the status quo. This opened the door for different styles of game play and potential winning strategies.
Cambodia was a season of Survivor like no other, with the fans being responsible for voting in the cast. Knowing this, the castaways that were voted back in played incredibly hard, and it led to some of the most wild and hardcore game play from start to finish. It seemed that even from the beginning, every boot was a stunning blindside such as Vytas, Peih Gee, Monica and even Woo, or an elimination of a great and legendary character, such as that of Jeff Varner and the removal of Terry Deitz, which on its own was something unprecedented after thirty seasons. Similar to Gabon, this season contained multiple tribe swaps prior to the merge, but they made it into something that had yet to happen, by eliminating two people in the two tribe format, then expanding to a three tribe format with only eighteen people remaining. Though I do believe the second tribe swap was not needed, it made for constantly changing dynamics to a point in which there was an “alliance” of nine at the merge. And that leads me into the main force behind this season’s unpredictability, and that is the supposed voting bloc strategy. Since these players felt little allegiance to groups to call them alliances, they bounced back and forth between groups and it was not often feelings were hurt. This really happened after one of the most shocking idol plays ever when Kelley Wentworth took out the all confident Savage. The constant shifts were then seen in the vote outs of Kelly Wiglesworth and the initial unsuccessful vote out of Stephen Fishbach, as well as the successful one. As the game wound down things became a bit more concrete, with tighter groups forming, but with six people left, another unprecedented moment occurred, when due to idols, there were no votes cast at tribal council. This led to another revote tie, which almost led to the automatic elimination of the innocent Keith. It was crazy that this had never happened before but when it did, it made for incredible viewing and a moment that will not be forgotten. Though Jeremy isn’t the most unlikely of winners, the constant shifting due to the voting bloc strategy made this one of the most unpredictable and exciting seasons of all time.
The thing that makes San Juan del Sur so unpredictable was the deceiving edit. Early on, we did see some surprising vote outs, such as Nadiya and John Rocker’s blindside, as well as the hilarious downfall of Drew Christy. However, most of the pre merge was devoted to building up a rivalry between an alliance led by Jeremy and another led by Josh, and it appeared things would finally come to blow following the merge. The tension was even further built as the climax was delayed by Julie’s quit. The next week, Jon and Jaclyn sided with Jeremy’s alliance, sending Josh, a leader of an alliance and massive character, home. From that point on it looked as if Jeremy was a sure thing to win the game based on his prominent edit. Well, the editors pulled one of their most devious tricks on the viewers ever, when Missy, Baylor, Jon and Jaclyn turned on him just one week later, sending him home in the biggest viewer blindside of all time, one that nearly no one saw coming. Just two boots after the merge, the two biggest characters and strategic threats were both out of the game. Who else could possibly win this? The eventual winner Natalie was not invisible for the first part of the season, but certainly was not a major player, but from that point on her game slowly began to pick up, making the brilliant move of flipping to boot Alec in order to solidify her options. However, the player with the biggest edit at that point was Jon, a strong alpha male with an idol, and his girlfriend by his side. It appeared he was the most likely winner. However, he was booted the very next week with the idol in his pocket. Natalie did play a fantastic game and her edit definitely justified it towards the end, but the editors deceived the viewers greatly by building up these characters such as Josh, Jeremy and Jon so much, only to see them eliminated shortly thereafter. And that is to me what gives SJDS its appeal: how often the game was turned upside down and how quickly it could happen.
Starting from the first double-length episode of the season, we saw two shocking boots with David and Garrett over J’Tia, who dumped rice in the fire. Following the tribe swap, we saw one of the most shocking blindsides of all time when Cliff was voted out. Heading into the merge, Tony’s alliance was at a numbers disadvantage, but were able to turn Kass against the power hungry Sarah, birthing the legend that is chaos Kass. Sarah’s boot alone was the single most chaotic tribal council, with idols being played, plans being changed, and an epic blindside. From that point on, Tony managed to flip flop back and forth between alliances, blindsiding both LJ and Jefra. At the final five, there was a majority alliance of Tony, Trish, Woo and Kass, as well as Spencer. Following the surprising Trish boot, it became apparent to Spencer that it would be a final two, and he believed Kass and Woo would not bring Tony to the final. Despite this, Spencer was still voted out at four. Woo won the final immunity challenge, and the obvious and smart decision was to vote out Tony. But Woo did the unthinkable, voting out Kass, even though he would have easily won over her. He was promptly stomped by Tony in the final tribal council. Though Tony could have been seen as an obvious winner, there were so many points where it looked like he couldn’t possibly pull it off, such as his “final five” comments, the moments prior to Kass’ flip, and at the final three. Despite that, he managed to pull it off. The way the season unfolded was one of the craziest that the show has ever seen and is certainly one of the most unpredictable of all time.
In my opinion, Pearl Islands is one of the top three seasons in the history of the show, and the unpredictability was one of the things that made it so great. From start to finish, it was impossible to predict what would happen. It seemed at the beginning things would be predictable, with the Drake tribe decimating the Morgan tribe. This all changed when Drake threw a challenge to vote out Burton. This led to Drake losing two more challenges, evening up the numbers. Then one of the most shocking moments in the history of survivor occurred: the outcast twist. In this twist, the six players that had been voted out competed against the two tribes in an effort to get back into the game. The Outcasts won the challenge, and Lill and Burton were voted back into the game. This season also brought us the first ever person to quit, when Osten laid down his torch. Heading into the merge, the numbers of original Drake and Morgan members were tied at five, with Burton staying loyal to those who voted him out, while Lill’s loyalty to the Morgan’s was wavering. Lill wound up flipping to the Drakes, voting out tribe leader Andrew Savage. Just when it seemed Drake would dominate the game, the devious Johnny Fairplay and Burton turned to the Morgan’s to blindside Rupert, the most beloved contestant to that point. After this, all bets were off. Fairplay managed to swing back to Sandra and Christa, in order to boot Tijuana, in one of the biggest viewer blindsides of all time, and then back to Darrah to aid them in voting out Christa. At the final five, it appeared Fairplay and Burton had Lill on their side and would walk to the final two, until Lill flopped to the women, voting out Burton. Fairplay Then somehow managed to escape elimination at the final four, which left him, the previously out casted Lill, and Sandra, who had been viewed for being poor in challenges. When Lill won the final challenge, she opted to keep Sandra, who went on to blow her out. From start to finish, the season was filled with constant twists and turns, which led to an unpredictable story arc, as well as an unlikely winner, and is one of the greatest seasons of all time, and the most unpredictable as well.
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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