We had ourselves a merge this week, and with it came one of Survivor’s enduring traditions: the naming of the collection of contestants who made the merge that the show insists on pretending are a “tribe”. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d rank that name among the 30 that have come before it.
Here’s a thing you should probably know about me: I think Merged Tribe Names are stupid. I don’t mean the names themselves, although most of them are. I mean the entire idea of naming a collection of players in the individual portion of the game as a “tribe”. THEY ARE NOT A TRIBE! They are not competing against another tribe. They do not act like a tribe. Nobody is cheering them on by their tribe name. Probst does not call them by their tribe name. We don’t look back and think “that Tikiano tribe sure was something, huh?”. In order for a team to have any meaning, they need to be competing against another team. But they are not. They are all competing against each other.
All tribe names are is something to put on a flag. They aren’t even a good representation of the end of the previous tribe phase, largely because those tribal connections ALMOST ALWAYS carry over. Nobody is team “Chaboga Mogo”, they are team Cha and team Boga and team Mogo.
But I know some of you are into this sort of thing. And far be it for me, a co-host of one of the top 15 Survivor Podcasts currently on the internet, to judge anyone for being into the minutia of Survivor. So I thought, why not make a list? Who can resist a list? But as you read my choices, remember: this is a list coming from a guy who thinks the entire concept is stupid. It may influence my thinking.
31. Nobag – Gabon
Fuck you Gabon and everything about you. Haphazard strategy, haphazardly chosen tribes, haphazard casting, haphazard naming. No.
30. #Huyopa – San Juan del Sur
You might think you’re being ironic when saying hashtag this, hashtag that. You know, like the kids do. But you’re not. You want that hashtag. We see through you.
29. Hae Da Fung – China
This is the Chinese character tattoo of tribe names. They say it means “black fighting wind”, which… what? I think this is one of those scenarios where Shawn Marion gets a Chinese character tattoo he thinks means “The Matrix” (his nickname), but really means “Demon Bird Mothballs”. This is the tribe name of that.
28. Chaboga Mogo – All-Stars
The true Merged Tribe Name heads HATE the combined tribe name thing, where they force an awkward portmanteau of the previous 2-3 tribes that make up the new non-tribe. Chaboga Mogo wasn’t the first one to do this, but as the first to squish together three tribes, it is the most awkward. It also sounds like something a racist would say if he was pretending to talk in a fake aboriginal language.
27. Yin Yang – Heroes vs Villains
At some point in my lifetime, the Yin and the Yang transformed from a piece of Chinese philosophy to douchebag signifier. And that was before this season aired. The Yin Yang symbol is something you’d find on the jacket of that white guy in your office who has a samurai sword in his living room and only dates Asians. How did this come AFTER Coach was voted out? Knowing about the Yin and the Yang doesn’t make you deep. It makes you basic. So very, very basic.
26. Libertad – Nicaragua
Sounds like something FOX News calls people who think health care shouldn’t bankrupt families (or maybe what CBS producers call people who think the show should do a better job highlighting women). It’s apparently Spanish for “Liberty”, which… why? What does liberty have to do with anything? Note: this is as high as anything Nicaragua related has ever, and probably will ever, rank on our site.
25. Enil Edam – Caramoan
There comes a time when a joke stops being cute.
24. Te Tuna – South Pacific
Apparently from a Samoan legend about the origins of the coconut tree? I’m not sure I believe any stories about legends in seasons with Coach.
23. Forza – Tocantins
When you’re doing the ol’ “using a word from the Native language that is symbolic of something deep” thing, maybe spell it right? They were going for “strength” in Portuguese, which is apparently spelled “força”. What’s Portuguese for typo?
22. Chuay Jai – Thailand
The first of the portmanteau tribe names. Obviously a bad precedent to those who care.
21. Aiga – Samoa
The Wiki says that Brett came up with this, meaning “extended family” in Samoan. But that can’t be right. I don’t remember a Brett in Samoa. Get your shit right, Wiki.
20. Aitutonga – Cook Islands
Some of you might think that I should have all the combo names near the bottom, but I don’t. Why? Because I respect the lack of effort. It gives the proceedings the respect it deserves.
19. Alinta – Vanuatu
They subtitled Vanuatu “Islands of Fire”. Alinta is an Aboriginal word for “people of the fire”. Appropriate, right? Sure. But it sounds so wimpy. Sounds like a cholesterol drug.
18. Dabu – Micronesia – Fans vs Favorites
Oh Erik, you scamp. Telling everyone it’s a Micronesian word for “good”. You sure pulled one over on them! I don’t mind the trolling; I respect it even. But in true Erik fashion, it’s a pretty limp troll. At least make your trickery mean something. Or sound cool. The flaw with the whole “I tricked everyone into this fake tribe name” bit is that I’m hoping most people are like me and DGAF. Thus, they’re like “sure, sounds great. Paint it up, ice cream scooper dude”. Note: this was the high point of Erik’s Survivor career.
17. Kasama – Blood vs Water
I’m torn. Apparently, Aras and Tyson and them wanted to name it Tightay Whitays as a shout out to RHAP. Which, cool, shout out! But… a little too cute by half, right? We may be better off with what they chose.
16. Xhakúm – Guatemala
Another combo name, this one is just fun to say. Bonus points for starting it with the Xh. That’s some creative thinking.
15. Soliantu – Marquesas
Rob and Kathy apparently came up with this one for “sacred allegiance to the sun”. It’s fine. Seems like a little much, but it’s fine.
14. Moto Maji – Africa
Swahili for fire and water. Which, as you may have heard, represents life on Survivor.
13. Orkun – Cambodia – Second Chance
— Andy Dehnart (@realityblurred) November 5, 2015
The thought behind it is nice. Kimmi says its Khmer for “thank you”, a nice way to recognize us, the fans, who put them on the season. But then there’s that whole spelling thing again, where it seems like thank you is actually “saum arkoun anak”. So I’m not sure what to believe. Plus, there’s the He-Man/exterminator thing that most of us thought of when the episode didn’t show the explanation.
12. Tikiano – One World
Samoan for “Year of the God”. So it was nice of them to name the tribe after Kim.
11. Gitanos – Panama
10. Jacaré – The Amazon
I just think they’re fun to say.
9. Solarrion – Cagayan
I think this was one of the dozens of Wu-Tang Clan offshoot groups.
8. Rattana – Borneo
Mark tells me this is practically a Pokemon. Couldn’t decide if that moves this up or down.
7. Murlonio – Redemption Island
So why is it when Boston Rob tricks people I rank it highly and when Erik does it I’m ambivalent. The answer is
bias style. Erik was being all impish with his move, but it didn’t mean anything. Rob was trolling his fellow castaways for his own (and our) amusement. And picked something with an alternate meaning. It has the added benefit of being symbolic of the season, as it’s another example of him completely owning everyone and the whole affair turning into his own personal inside joke. (By the time Malcolm did it again, the joke was stale).
6. Bula Bula – Fiji
At first glance, this is a really stupid name. But say it out loud. Say it again. Tell me that didn’t feel good. If this were my tribe-that’s-not-a-tribe’s name, I’d be saying it so often, usually in the cadence of the above song that I’ve now stuck in your head, that they’d have to just vote my ass out.
5. Barramundi – The Australian Outback
Gotta respect the classics.
4. Balboa – Pearl Islands
It’s a little lame that they named it after Rupert’s pet snake, but if we’re keeping it 100 emoji, Rupert did a pretty good job naming his snake on theme. Rupert’s greatest skill as a Survivor contestant is staying on theme.
3. Merica – Worlds Apart
Look, no one’s saying that it wasn’t stupid when they took what is usually an ironic look at the idiocy of America and earnestly made it a tribe name. It’s BECAUSE it was stupid that Merica is one of the best merged tribe names of all-time. Because, again, the entire concept of naming the group of people competing in the individual portion of the game is stupid. So go ALL THE WAY stupid. Survivor could go 60 cycles and we’ll still remember Merica. Merica is life.
2. Dangrayne – Philippines
Using the tribe naming process to bitch? That I can get behind. Originally, they wanted to name it Fuckingrayne, but production put a stop to that. I think it’s actually more clever this way.
1. Koror – Palau
Here it is: the one and only time it made sense for there to be a tribe name in the post-merge tribe phase. Koror was a tribe before the merge, and stayed one after the merge. 30 other times, it was a bullshit exercise in kitsch. This time, it was a statement of complete dominance.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino