The Top 50 Survivor Contestants of All Time

survivor

I wasn’t one of the those people that grew up with Survivor from the beginning of its run of dominance on network television in 2000, but I made up for lost time when I was first exposed to the show. I still vividly remember the night I lost my Survivor virginity. My parents had stumbled onto it one Thursday evening out of boredom, and were watching it when I walked into the living room. It was either the second or third episode of Season 19: Samoa, and the infamous Russell Hantz was in the process of planting his “Russell Seeds” in the minds of his hapless Foa Foa tribe members, easily manipulating each and every one to do as he said while playing them off of one another. “He’s like a little Kingpin!” I exclaimed with joy as I watched him work his “Houdini Magic.” From that moment I was hooked. And I never looked back.

Since then, watching Survivor has been something of a bonding activity for my family. Many days after school, we would come home, whip up some dinner, and watch an episode or two before going on about the rest of our evenings. Even to this day, my brother and I watch old seasons, even as we continue to stay updated on the current, Millennials vs. Gen X (with which, I must say, I’m pretty disappointed so far). There are so many things to love about Survivor, but I think my favorite is the spirit of competition that the show provides in spades. And it’s my love for competition that begets my enthusiasm for lists. I love reading and making lists, and it was only a matter of time before I created my first one based around my favorite television show. It wasn’t easy, but after several attempts, I have narrowed down my picks for the 50 greatest survivors of all time up to the current season.

Before we get to the list, there’s one caveat: it’s hard to nail down a specific criteria with which to judge these individuals. So I put together this list taking into consideration winners, or individuals that I think should’ve won, the number of days an individual has played, the number of seasons upon which an individual has competed, and the overall effectiveness of the contestants’ strategies. With that, let’s get to it.

laura-morett

50. Laura Morett
*
Days Played: 63
*Season Appearances: Samoa, Blood vs. Water
Full disclosure: I have a soft spot for everyone that appeared on Samoa, as it was the first season I ever watched and still remains my sentimental favorite. However, Laura is on my list mostly due to her performance on her second season: Blood vs. Water. Yeah, she didn’t really have a chance of winning, but the drive that she exhibited to help her daughter, coupled with that incredible winning streak she had on Redemption Island (topped only by Matt Elrod in the initial Redemption Island season) and an impressive total of 63 days on a Survivor island make her worthy of cracking the Top 50.

natalie-white

49. Natalie White
*Winner: Samoa
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Samoa
Worry not, there won’t be any other Samoa contestants on this list (with one obvious exception). But though she’s far from the series’ best winner, the lovable Natalie White is deserving of being on this list for one simple reason: she devised a winning strategy from the start and saw it through to the end. She knowingly rode Russell’s coattails to the top and became the one fatal flaw in his nearly flawless first game. She was also behind the exit of Erik, which started Foa Foa’s epic takedown of Galu post-merge.

bob-crowley

48. Bob Crowley
*Winner: Gabon
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Gabon
Gabon is far from the most competitive season of Survivor, but it did allow for Mr. Crowley to emerge as a deserving winner. His only real competition was Ken Hoang, who was eliminated on Day 37. Once that took place, the oldest winner in Survivor history had an easy walk to the money. Bonus: he crafted what was easily the most convincing fake immunity idol in history. Sorry Yau-Man.

Erik Reichenbach, during  The Merge, during the ninth episode of "Survivor," which aired April 10.

47. Erik Reichenbach
*Days Played: 72
*Season Appearances: Fans vs. Favorites, Fans vs. Favorites 2
If I was making a list of my personal favorite Survivor contestants of all time, the “Ice Cream Scooper from Hell” (as Jeff Probst once called him) would be much higher than No. 47. But as a player, there’s no doubt Erik had a lot of wrinkles to iron out. He made what is to date the dumbest move in Survivor history when he gave up his immunity necklace to the all-devouring female alliance, earning him a seat on the jury and 1 million reasons for regret, but he was a legitimate threat to win both seasons on which he appeared. Hell, he may have pulled it off if not for his unfortunate medical evac from Fans vs. Favorites 2. Regardless, 72 days is a hell of an achievement any way you scoop it.

kathy-vavrick

46. Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien
*Days Played: 66
*Seasons Appearances: Marquesas, All-Stars
Kathy was far from the flashiest survivor, but her game had the backbone for longevity and the potential for a big payday twice over. She would’ve been a much stronger winner for Marquesas than Vecepia, and had she separated her heart from her head in All-Stars, she could’ve taken that one, too. Instead, history will look back on her as a great player rather than a successful one.

earl-cole

45. Earl Cole
*Winner: Fiji
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Fiji
I, like many Survivor fans, have never looked back on Fiji particularly fondly, but upon rewatching it a few months ago with my cousin Brett, I found that it has actually aged pretty well and supplies a number of memorable moments and characters. Earl was obviously no Yau-Man, but he recognized that and stood by idly as his only competition was screwed out of the game thanks to Dreamz’s controversial move, a move that resulted in the first clean sweep of the jury and a well-deserved million dollar check for Mr. Cole.

terry-deitz

44. Terry Deitz
*Days Played: 51
*Season Appearances: Panama, Second Chance
Terry Deitz was a bit of a polarizing figure in the world of Survivor, and even I never quite settled on how I felt about him. In the midst of his epic rivalry with Aras in Panama, I hated the guy, but looking back it was a kind of love-to-hate thing. No matter your opinion, though, there is no denying that Deitz was a challenge beast and a genuine threat to win the game. But his most impressive move: convincing his astronautical friend Dan Barry that it was for the good of the tribe that he go home, when it was really for the good of Terry.

tasha-fox

43. Tasha Fox
*Days Played: 72
*Season Appearances: Cagayan, Second Chance
I’m far from Tasha’s biggest fan, but I have to admit that the girl had some game. She survived one of the worst tribes in history in her first season making it deep in the game, and improved upon that her second time out, making it to the end before getting blown out by Jeremy Collins. She ended up being the instrument of her own demise, though, as she could’ve easily made it to the end with Abi-Maria Gomes and Kimmi Kappenberg, which would’ve assuredly earned her a million dollar check and a higher place on this list.

rob-cesternino

42. Rob Cesternino
*Days Played: 50
*Season Appearances: Amazon, All-Stars
On the one hand, time has been very kind to Rob Cesternino. He has become one of the most prolific Survivor contestants of all time due to his popular podcast and active social media presence, and in a way has almost transcended the game that made him. But on the other hand, time has been detrimental to the man once called the best survivor ever. Maybe he could keep up with today’s more competitive players, but judging from his performance in All-Stars, I’m betting it would be a long shot. But at least he made The Amazon watchable.

stephanie-lagrossa

41. Stephanie LaGrossa
*Runner-up: Guatemala
*Days Played: 77
*Season Appearances: Palau, Guatemala, Heroes vs. Villains
I’ll be honest, I’m quite confident that I would hate Stephanie LaGrossa in real life. She’s loud, boisterous and obnoxious, and her opinion of herself is far from reality. But there’s no doubt that the girl knows how to play some Survivor, or at the very least how to survive. Notable as the only contestant ever to lose her entire tribe before the merge, LaGrossa was even more impressive in Guatemala when she made it to the end of the game before ultimately losing to Danni Boatwright. She didn’t last long in Heroes vs. Villains, but with 77 days on a Survivor island, she’s played the game longer than most.

SURVIVOR: THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK contestant Amber Brkich. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©CBS Worldwide Inc. This image may not be sold, distributed, stored or archived by any organization, agency or person. This image is for editorial use only, in North America only (United States of America, Canada, Mexico and Caribbean Islands). Editorial publication is permitted only between January 4, 2001, and May 1, 2001. For usage of this image outside the above terms and conditions, please contact CBS via email at: cbsphotoarchive@cbs.com or via fax at 212/975-3338.

40. Amber Brkich
*Winner: All-Stars
*Days Played: 72
*Season Appearances: Australia, All-Stars
Bottom line: Amber Brkich did not deserve to win one of the most stacked Survivor seasons of all time. Reality: Amber Brkich won one of the most stacked Survivor seasons of all time. Even if Amber isn’t the most deserving winner, she pulled it off and remains one of the most memorable due to her lovable romance with Boston Rob, which played out like a variety bin clone of The Godfather. It’s better than it sounds. One thing that is undeniable, though, 72 days over the course of only two seasons is damn impressive.

phillip-sheppard

39. Phillip Sheppard
*Runner-up: Redemption Island
*Days Played: 67
*Season Appearances: Redemption Island, Fans vs. Favorites 2
Either you love The Specialist or you hate him. Personally, I think he is one of the most compelling, hilarious, and overall entertaining personalities the show has ever seen. But beyond that, his statistics show that he was more than a nutcase. He may not have had a chance to beat Rob, but he did garner a vote from the jury. And if it hadn’t been for Malcolm’s brilliant play in Fans vs. Favorites 2, he very well could’ve been a winner.

tai-trang

38. Tai Trang
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Koah Rong
Koah Rong was far from my favorite season (in fact, it easily cracks my bottom five) and it boasts an individual who was, for me, the absolute worst winner in the history of Survivor, barely beating out Sophie from South Pacific. There were many arguments that Aubry should’ve come away the winner, but for me the whole season was always about Tai. He was the one busting his ass looking for immunity idols. He was the one making bold plays, juggling multiple alliances. He was the one who had people talking at the end of the season. And for my money, he was the one who got robbed of the million.

coach-wade

37. “Coach” Wade
*Runner-up: South Pacific
*Days Played: 96
*Season Appearances:
 Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, South Pacific
Love him or hate him, Coach is a showstealer every time he pops on the television, which is why he’s played three times for an incredible 96 days. His “strategy” in Tocantins left a lot to be desired, but he began to hit his stride on Heroes vs. Villains before running into the brick wall that was Russell Hantz. But he played an incredible game in South Pacific, forming an uncomfortable, cult-like alliance that made him easily deserving of the million. Like Tai after him, he was screwed by a clueless jury, but he’ll always be a winner to me and, no doubt, to himself.

j-t

36. J.T.
*Winner: Tocantins
*Days Played: 66
*Season Appearances: Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains
J.T. was far from the most strategic winner in Survivor history, but he was indeed one of the most dominant. He absolutely destroyed Stephen Fishbach in the final vote, sweeping the jury for a total victory and becoming one of the most lovable contestants in the show’s rich history. He was made out to be a fool by Parvati and Russell in Heroes vs. Villains, and frankly their both way out of his league. But compared to the average survivor, J.T. is a killer through-and-through.

jonny-fairplay

35. Jonny Fairplay
*Days Played: 41
*Season Appearances: Pearl Islands, Fans vs. Favorites
Is Fairplay overrated on this list? Maybe. But there’s no doubt in my mind that there was a method behind his hateable madness. The grandma incident was not only ingenious, it showed how seriously Fairplay took this game, and the lengths he would go to in order to win it. Could he have beaten the Girl Scout captain in the final vote? I’d like to hope so. Unfortunately his time in Fans vs. Favorites will always be a question mark that Jeff Probst wishes he could erase from history.

Colby Donaldson, during tribal council, during the thirteenth episode of SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS, Thursday, May 13 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: CBS ©2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Screen Grab: Best Quality

34. Colby Donaldson
*
Runner-up: Australia
*Days Played: 95
*Season Appearances:
Australia, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains
If Erik giving Natalie that immunity necklace was the biggest blunder in Survivor history then Colby’s final choice in taking Tina Wesson to the end rather than Keith the annoying chef is a close second (or maybe third if you consider Russell’s choice of Natalie White). Regardless, there’s no doubt that the Texas Cowboy absolutely deserved the win in his inaugural season. He was never quite able to reclaim his glory (to say the least) in his subsequent appearances on the show, but he was always a delight to watch. At the very least, 95 days is quite an achievement.

"It’s My Night" – Tina Wesson on a special two-hour season finale of SURVIVOR: BLOOD VS. WATER, Sunday, Dec. 15 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT), followed by a one-hour live reunion show hosted by Jeff Probst (10:00 –11:00PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

33. Tina Wesson
*Winner: Australia
*Days Played: 80
*Season Appearances: Australia, All-Stars, Blood vs. Water
Even if it was Colby who deserved the win on Survivor‘s most watched season, it was Tina Wesson who benefited from his $900,000 blunder. However, she isn’t on the list due to her performance in that season, but rather her ability to adapt and survive over a decade later, when the game had completely changed from when she first played. There was probably no way in Hell Tina Wesson was going to win Blood vs. Water, but the fact that she was able to stick it out as long as she did, and even win her way back into the game by crippling Laura Morett’s Redemption Island winning streak makes her a Survivor all-star. Except in the actual All-Star season…

james-clement

32. James Clement
*Days Played: 76
*Season Appearances: China, Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains
The sad truth: we’ll never truly know how great the most jacked man to ever play Survivor could’ve been. The man was just too freakin’ unlucky. Taken prematurely out of the game two out of three times out due to medical situations, James easily could’ve become one of Survivor‘s most prolific stars if he wasn’t so damn injury prone. He was a threat to win every time he played, and even if he wasn’t the most accomplished social player (far from it, actually), his physicality and likability made up for it. Had the stars aligned, James could’ve been a three-time winner. But they didn’t.

joe-anglim

31. Joe Anglim
*Days Played: 56
*Season Appearances: Worlds Apart, Second Chance
Does Jeff Probst have a man-crush on this dude or what? The show’s host has never made an effort to conceal his personal opinions about the castaways through is commentary, but he was perhaps no more transparent than when he was calling challenges that starred Mr. Anglim, who, admittedly, is no doubt one of the best challenge-beasts to ever play. I found him a bit one-dimensional, but he was certainly a threat to win both times, especially on Second Chance, when it looked like his allies might just be foolish enough to take him to the end.

mike-holloway

30. Mike Holloway
*Winner: Worlds Apart
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Worlds Apart
There were a lot of things to hate about Mike, from his blue-collar tribe affinities, to his horrendous accent, to his horrible merged tribe name, ‘Merica. Good God. But those things were the setup for what made Mike’s eventual win so epic; he was able to transcend his background and his tribemates to become the most dynamic winner in Survivor history. At first glance, Mike was a tunnel-visioned worker bee in the vein of Borneo‘s B.B. But by the time he reached the end, following several ballsy moves, he became one of the most deserving winners in the show’s history.

ethan-zohn

29. Ethan Zohn
*Winner: Africa
*Days Played: 60
*Season Appearances: Africa, All-Stars
In my view, Survivor’s second winner never really got the respect he deserved. Sure he was overshadowed by the much more strategic and deep Lex van den Berghe, but if you had to pick a second-most-deserving guy to win the money, it would have to be Ethan. Even more impressive, he came into All-Stars with a massive target on his back (just what they hell did this guy ever do to Boston Rob?) and a hell of an uphill climb ahead of him, but he still managed to make it 21 days, which is sure as hell more impressive than Tina’s three.

"Sitting in My Spy Shack" - Kassandra "Kass" McQuillen during the ninth episode of SURVIVOR: CAGAYAN, Wednesday, April 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

28. Kass McQuillen
*Days Played: 57
*Season Appearances: Cagayan, Second Chance
It’s true that Chaos Kass didn’t last quite as long as many of her inferiors on this list, and I’m admittedly possibly biased toward her as my friend Elizabeth Oglesby actually grew up in the same California town as her, but at her core, Kass had game and she knew it. Other than Tony, nobody had more influence on who was getting voted out throughout Cagayan than the chaotic one, and had she made it to the end, I have no doubt that she could’ve been the winner. She got screwed in Second Chance, barely making it to the jury, but her impressive analytical approach to her first season was an important piece of what made it one of the best.

todd-herzog

27. Todd Herzog
*Winner: China
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: China
Rounding out the bottom half of the list is the gay, Mormon flight attendant with a chip on his shoulder and a penchant for bitchiness. Time has not been particularly kind to China despite its star power, but it did provide many memorable characters like Courtney the skinny waitress, Jean-Robert the Poker player, Denise the lunch lady, and Amanda the sexiest (and best) second-stringer in Survivor history. The fact that Todd deservedly beat out all of them speaks to the strength of his game.

stephen-fishbach

26. Stephen Fishbach
*Runner-up: Tocantins
*Days Played: 68
*Season Appearances: Tocantins, Second Chance
Stephen Fishbach is more of a study on what could’ve been rather than what was. His first time out, he made it to the end of the game, but foolishly did so alongside the lovable J.T. which assured that he would be blown out in the final jury vote. He was, and it haunted him for years until he finally received his second chance. He came into Season 31 guns blazing with anybody who could be marketed as a “Golden Boy” in his wild-eyed sights, namely Joe Anglim. Fishbach was so obsessed with removing Joe from the game, that it resulted in his own demise, but as one of Survivor‘s most hardcore strategists, he was a big threat to win it all in a similar vein to what Cochran accomplished years prior.

aras-baskauskas

25. Aras Baskauskas
*Winner: Panama
*Days Played: 64
*Season Appearances: Panama, Blood vs. Water
Aras is one of the most likable winners in Survivor history, but if we’re being honest, his trip to the top in Panama wasn’t exactly the most difficult. Competing with some of the most hated survivors of all time (Courtney, Shane Powers, Danielle), his only real competition was Terry Deitz and the lovable, yet dangerous Cirie Fields. Once those two obstacles were removed, he had a clean shot to the million. He wasn’t as successful upon his return alongside his slimey brother Vytas in Blood vs. Water, but he still earned a seat on the jury which was arguably even more impressive than his previous win when considering his competition.

denise-stapley

24. Denise Stapley
*Winner: Philippines
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Philippines
It’s a simple statistic: every single tribal council. With a perfect balance of bad luck and social skill, Denise Stapley is the only Survivor contestant in history to survive every single tribal council in a single season. She was able to use that fact to convince the jury to write her a million-dollar check, one that was certainly well-deserved.

yau-man

23. Yau-Man Chan
*Days Played: 46
*Season Appearances: Fiji, Fans vs. Favorites
Yau-Man’s statistics are far from the impressive numbers boasted by many of his peers at the point in the list, but there’s no denying that he turned in one of the greatest performances in Survivor history in Fiji, single-handedly making the season worth watching (with the possible early exception of Rocky, depending on your affinity for Sylvester Stallone clones). He ended up getting screwed by Dreamz, but there’s no denying that he won America’s heart and is the star of his original season.

"Down and Dirty" - Malcolm Freberg of the Tandang Tribe during the sixth episode of Survivor: Philippines, Wednesday, October 24 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. #Survivor. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS© 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

22. Malcolm Freberg
*Days Played: 68
*Season Appearances: Philippines, Fans vs. Favorites 2
One of the few Survivor contestants in history to compete on back-to-back seasons, Malcolm had it all; a winning personality, a strong social game, and a penchant for learning information and using it to his advantage. He was easily the biggest star of his first season, and would’ve been the winner had he not blown that final immunity challenge. He then went on to create an alliance that was prepared to dominate Fans vs. Favorites 2 until they foolishly let their plans slip to Dawn Meehan. Despite his shortcomings, though, Malcolm was a great player and had the stars aligned, could’ve become one of the series’ great winners.

lex-van-den-berghe

21. Lex van den Berghe
*Days Played: 65
*Season Appearances: Africa, All-Stars
In a list dominated by new-school players, Lex was an old-school strategist that could’ve won twice over if not for, like Malcolm, a blown final immunity challenge in his first season and a fatal mistake in his second. Lex was cool, calculated and deliberate, willing to not only vote out his friends like Ethan in All-Stars, but tell them to their face before the vote and explain his rationale. Unfortunately, he let his heart get in the way of his game when he saved Boston Rob’s girlfriend Amber Brkich and was promptly betrayed by his former friend. From all accounts, he’s never been the same since.

jonathan-penner

20. Jonathan Penner
*Days Played: 81
*Season Appearances: Cook Islands, Fans vs. Favorites, Philippines
Jonathan was never the most charismatic player, he never had a flawless game plan, and he lacked the killer instinct that many on this list carried, but he did know how to compensate for his mistakes. In every one of his seasons, he made blunders that seemed as though they would sink him, but each time he rebounded and survived another week or two before finally going down kicking and screaming. My favorite thing about Penner, though: his composure. Regardless of how much his tribemates hated him and no matter how many times he messed up, he never lost his cool and continued to play rationally, even if he never earned the million.

ciera-eastin

19. Ciera Eastin
*Days Played: 63
*Season Appearances: Blood vs. Water, Second Chance
In every season, there are contestants who make alliances on which they’re the bottom who get eliminated before the end because they didn’t think ahead. As Blood vs. Water reached its climax, it seemed as though Ciera was destined to be one of those players. But rather than accept her fate, she took the game into her own hands, creating the biggest obstacle that Tyson Apostal had to overcome: drawing rocks. It didn’t work out for her and she didn’t last quite as long when she got her second chance, but nobody can deny Ciera’s determination to be a great player and to make it as far as possible. The girl voted out her own mom to further herself. That’s how you play the game to win.

rupert-boneham

18. Rupert Boneham
*Days Played: 100
*Season Appearances: Pearl Islands, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Blood vs. Water
Take a look at The Pirate’s stats for a minute. He’s one of only two individuals to ever play four times. He’s one of only five to play for 100 days, and one of only eight to play in back-to-back seasons. He made it to the jury three of the four times he played, and could’ve been a major player in Blood vs. Water if only his wife hadn’t been voted out immediately. There’s no denying it; he’s a one-of-a-kind Survivor legend. Rupert was never destined to win the game; he isn’t cold enough to pull it out in the end. But his statistics, and his status as an icon, ensure him a prominent place on this list.

andrea-boehlke

17. Andrea Boehlke
*Days Played: 73
*Season Appearances: Redemption Island, Fans vs. Favorites 2
I’ll be honest, Andrea Boehlke is far and away my biggest Survivor crush. What can I say? I have a thing for blonde hair, round faces, and doe eyes. But outside of her out-of-this-world physical appearance, Andrea morphed from a hard-working farm girl into an excellent player. Had it not been for Boston Rob, I’m confident Andrea would’ve emerged as the winner of Redemption Island, and she was the biggest threat to Cochran’s game in Fans vs. Favorites 2 which lead to her epic blindeside and elimination. Andrea combines attributes from both Parvati Shallow and Amanda Kimmel; she just hasn’t gotten the right opportunity to emerge as a winner. If she ever plays again, I would be far-from-surprised to see her with a million-dollar check.

jeremy-collins

16. Jeremy Collins
*Winner: Second Chance
*Days Played: 63
*Season Appearances: San Juan del Sur, Second Chance
Whether you think he deserved it or not, the fact remains that Jeremy Collins emerged as the winner of what I consider to be the most competitive season of Survivor ever. And he did it with a clean sweep of the supersized jury, winning the million by an astonishing 10-0-0 vote over two other individuals that appear on this list, Tasha Fox and Spencer Bledsoe. He may not have played the game that Kelley Wentworth and Spencer did, but that’s because he didn’t need to; he was always on top in his “voting bloc,” always had a spare idol handy, and delivered one of the greatest speeches in Tribal Council history when he needed it most.

kelley-wentworth

15. Kelley Wentworth
*Days Played: 51
*Season Appearances: San Juan del Sur, Second Chance
Real talk: Wentworth wasn’t that great in her first season. But a year later when she earned the chance to come back to the island for her second chance, the girl came into her own. Finding and utilizing immunity idols and surviving multiple tribe swaps that put her at a disadvantage, Wentworth became a serious threat to win the game before finally failing in the greatest destroyer of dreams: the final immunity challenge. One more challenge win and she would’ve been a millionaire.

spencer-bledsoe

14. Spencer Bledsoe
*Runner-up: Second Chance
*Days Played: 73
*Season Appearances: Cagayan, Second Chance
Rounding out the Second Chance trio is a man that won me over the second he first spoke in Cagayan, the always-on-the-bottom-but-not-dead-yet Spencer Bledsoe. I couldn’t count the number of close calls Spencer has barely squeaked through over the course of his two Survivor seasons, but it would have to approach 15. Things just never seem to be going Spencer’s way, but through willpower, a penchant for last-ditch speeches, and deft positioning, he manages to hang in there until the end. I have always maintained that he played the best game in Second Chance with the possible exception of Kelley Wentworth, but he made the foolish error of taking Jeremy to the end which ultimately cost him the million. Even so, he remains one of the most brilliant players in the show’s history, as well as one of the most fascinating.

amanda-kimmel

13. Amanda Kimmel
*Runner-up: China
*Runner-up: Fans vs. Favorites
*Days Played: 108
*Season Appearances: China, Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains
Unlike Russell Hantz, the only other Survivor contestant to make it to the end of the game twice without garnering the title once, it’s hard to argue that Amanda deserved to be the named the Sole Survivor either time she sat in front of the jury. But that doesn’t make her a weak player, it makes her a bad jury manager. She doesn’t give the best end-game speeches and her choice of friends are a bit too powerful, but the stats don’t lie: Amanda Kimmel is the most successful Survivor contestant to never win the big one.

ozzy-lusth

12. Ozzy Lusth
*Runner-up: Cook Islands
*Days Played: 104
*Season Appearances: Cook Islands, Fans vs. Favorites, South Pacific
No matter how much Jeff Probst may wish it to be true, there has never been anyone in Survivor history like Ozzy Lusth. The man can just about do it all. He’s an absolute God in the water, a beast in challenges, likable as hell, and always a threat to win the big one. But for one reason or another, he just hasn’t been able to get it done. The closest he came was in his first season when he won his way to the end against Yul Kwon, but his best performance was easily in South Pacific, where he utilized Redemption Island to fight his way to the final tribal council. It’s a real shame he couldn’t pull it out; it would’ve given the season one of the series’ best winners rather than one of its worst.

john-cochran

11. John Cochran
*Winner: Fans vs. Favorites 2
*Days Played: 70
*Season Appearances: South Pacific, Fans vs. Favorites 2
Nobody has undergone a more dramatic transformation in the history of Survivor than the Harvard-grad turned challenge stud. An awkward loser in the first game who could barely stand up for himself, Cochran became one of the series’ best winners by the end of Fans vs. Favorites 2 where he dominated Dawn Meehan and Sherri the unimportant in the final vote. It provided one of the most feel-good moments in all of Survivor‘s 33 seasons, proof that with a bit of confidence and backbone it’s possible to go from mediocre to great.

"Havoc to Wreak"  - Tony Vlachos during the eleventh episode of SURVIVOR, Wednesday, May 7 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

10. Tony Vlachos
*Winner: Cagayan
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Cagayan
Tony is one of the best winners of all time not because he didn’t make mistakes, but because he did. His gameplay was so chaotic and haphazard, it made for some unforgettable television. He played similarly to Russell Hantz, but unlike Russell was able to retain a sense of likability among his fellow contestants that he ran over night after night. I’m not sure if he would’ve pulled out the win if not for Spencer’s speech at the end of the final tribal council, but looking back on a fantastic season of Survivor, it’s clear that Tony is the ballsiest winner of all time.

tom-westman

9. Tom Westman
*Winner: Palau
*Days Played: 53
*Season Appearances: Palau, Heroes vs. Villains
Tom has a reputation of being the Survivor winner with the cleanest style of play, but I’ve never seen things that way. The first time I watched his first season many years ago, I was furious that he manipulated Ian, my favorite, into throwing away his game by jumping off that pier in the longest immunity challenge of all time. But looking back now with all of my Survivor-watching experience, I can see that this ability to manipulate the weaker people around him was Tom’s greatest strength. He didn’t need to turn to the dirty tricks utilized by players like Boston Rob, Tony Vlachos and Russell Hantz because he already had things well in hand without them. Now that’s impressive.

tyson-apostol

8. Tyson Apostal
*Winner: Blood vs. Water
*Days Played: 81
*Season Appearances: Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, Blood vs. Water
It took Tyson a couple of seasons to hit his stride, but once he got focused in Blood vs. Water thanks to the premature elimination of his then-girlfriend (and now wife) Rachel, he became one of the greatest to ever win the game. Tyson’s gameplay was more subtle than more famous survivors like Boston Rob and Russell, but these subtleties were his greatest strength. He always pretended to give those around him a chance to decide who was voted off, but in the end, he was the one who made the final decision every time. His great sense of humor and lovable personality made him an easy vote for the million, even after he had led the entire jury to the slaughter with a smile on his face and a tongue in his cheek.

yul-kwon

7. Yul Kwon
*Winner: Cook Islands
*Days Played: 39
*Season Appearances: Cook Islands
Due to his extremely high intelligence, an overpowered hidden immunity idol that he never even had to play, and the power of persuasion, Yul Kwon played one of the most dominant games in Survivor history. The first survivor to effectively utilize the immunity idol as a bargaining chip, Yul was able to sway Jonathan Penner to aid his underdog tribe of four to defeat his opposing tribe of eight. And then once Penner had served his purposes, Yul eliminated him. This guy’s game was so good, he beat Ozzy Lusth, one of the most beloved to ever play, in the final immunity vote. He may have been the only survivor in history that could’ve done it.

cirie-fields

6. Cirie Fields
*Days Played: 85
*Season Appearances: Panama, Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains
Just about everybody loves Cirie just because she “got off the couch” to play Survivor, a game that was way outside her comfort zone. But I love her because she’s the greatest strategist in the history of the game. She was supposed to be the first to go in Panama, but she somehow managed to make it nearly all the way to the end. She proved this wasn’t beginner’s luck in Fans vs. Favorites, one of the greatest seasons ever, when she became the decider of just about every single vote that went down before ultimately blowing it in the final immunity challenge (which she didn’t even think would occur due to the Final Three being shaved down to a Final Two). I’ll always maintain that she deserved the million in that season over Parvati and Amanda, and maybe she would’ve gotten it had she made it to the end, but her peers took note of her ability to persuade; she was voted out early in Heroes vs. Villains not because she was weak, but because she was the biggest threat in the game.

richard-hatch

5. Richard Hatch
*Winner: Borneo
*Days Played: 54
*Season Appearances: Borneo, All-Stars
It would be impossible to have a list of the greatest survivors of all time without including the winner of the show’s inaugural season, Richard Hatch. Possibly the most interesting man to ever play the game, Richard was really the only one of the original 16 contestants that actually knew HOW to play. He’s the man that coined the phrase alliance, because he’s the man who invented them. He worked his group of four just as easily as he voted out everybody else on the island, and by the time he made it to the end of the game, there was no doubt that he was the one that deserved the title and the money. Even today it’s one of the greatest games ever played, but even if it wasn’t it would remain the most important. If Richard Hatch hadn’t won that season, Survivor wouldn’t have become the phenomenon that it became, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be undergoing its 33rd season.

russell-hantz

4. Russell Hantz
*Runner-up: Samoa
*Days Played: 88
*Season Appearances: Samoa, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island
Russell said it best; he was born to play this game. Love him or hate him (and there are millions on either side), there is no denying that Russell Hantz is one of the most influential to ever play the game of Survivor. Every person that looks for hidden immunity idols without clues today do so because of King Russell. Simply put: the game was never the same after his back-to-back run in Samoa and Heroes vs. Villains. Other than Amanda Kimmel, Russell is the only Survivor contestant to make it to the end in back-to-back seasons, and he dominated the game in both, dictating not only his own path to the end, but also that of the other two that joined him. But there is a fatal flaw to Russell’s game: he doesn’t know who to take to the end. He could’ve easily beaten Jaison, Mick or Shambo had he taken them to the final tribal council, but he took the lovable Natalie White instead and it cost him $900,000. He made the same mistake in Heroes vs. Villains, sitting alongside two of the greatest of all time when he could’ve been sitting next to Jerri Manthey, Danielle or Courtney Woodcock. He can never play again now that everybody knows what a threat he is, but that only proves that he’s one of the best, and undisputedly the best to never win.

parvati-shallow

3. Parvati Shallow
*Winner: Fans vs. Favorites
*Runner-up: Heroes vs. Villains
*Days Played: 114
*Season Appearances: Cook Islands, Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains
We’ve all met somebody who reminds us of Parvati, but we may never meet anybody as successful. The leader of the infamous Black Widow Alliance from Fans vs. Favorites, Parvati is one of the most dangerous to ever play the game because she’s the most infectious. Her sultry good looks are one thing (look up any list of the sexiest survivors ever and she’ll be at the top of all of them), but what really makes her a great player is her ability to charm all of her opponents into a stupor, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman. She is the greatest social player of all time, and once she was able to learn how to use her temptress personality to her advantage, she made it to the end twice (one of only five to do so), and came extremely close to becoming the series’ first two-time winner.

DAY 7 from SURVIVOR: HEROES V VILLIANS Photo: Robert Voets(c)2009 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

2. Boston Rob Mariano
*Runner-up: All-Stars
*Winner: Redemption Island
*Days Played: 117
*Season Appearances: Marquesas, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island
Not only is Boston Rob the coolest man to ever play Survivor, he’s also the most dominant. The man is a total package: he’s a challenge beast (especially when they involved puzzles), he’s a hard worker (he’s consistently crafted some of the best shelters of all time), and he’s the most manipulative talker and greatest double-dealer to ever play the game. Even Jeff Probst has gone on record to say that Boston Rob is his favorite survivor of all time. And who can blame him? Rob has played the game longer than anybody else at 117 days, has made it to the end twice, and played the most dominant game in history when he easily twisted his Ometepe tribe in Redemption Island around his Godfather-like fingers before picking them off one by one, securing all of their votes for the million along the way. He was basically unopposed, which has turned many off of the season as a whole. But it’s one of my favorites not because it was competitive, but because it wasn’t. Rob is that damn charismatic, intelligent, hilarious, and fun to watch. And if he’d won All-Stars as he should’ve, he’d top the list. But there’s one individual who has accomplished what even Rob has not: becoming a two-timer winner.

sandra-diaz-twine

1. Sandra Diaz-Twine
*Winner: Pearl Islands
*Winner: Heroes vs. Villains
*Days Played: 78
*Season Appearances: Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains
Sandra may just be the least flashy player on this list. She almost never does well in immunity challenges (Russell Hantz has called her the worst ever). She’s never in a dominant position in her tribe. She’s not the best social player. She uses almost no strategy other than her calling card “as long as it’s not me.” But there’s one simple reason why Sandra is the greatest survivor of all time: she’s undefeated. The stealthiest player ever, regularly sneaking through the bush in order to listen to secret conversations, Sandra knows how to listen without speaking, but she also knows how to manipulate those around her when she opens her mouth. Despite her brash attitude, she becomes almost a whisper on the island. Nobody considers her a threat until they take her to the end. But by then it’s too late. Not only has Sandra never been voted out of Survivor, she’s never even RECEIVED a vote against her at a tribal council other. And odds are, if she ever played a third time (which she almost certainly won’t) she’d win again. She’s that good.

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