The 8 Best Narrators in the History of Survivor (According to Emma)

As many of us are still mourning the loss of Jeff Varner, early narrator of Survivor: Cambodia I have decided to take a look back at my favorite narrators from Survivor. Please note that for clarity and ease, I will not be including anyone from the Cambodia cast.

Sorry, Varner.
Sorry, Varner.

Therefore I am going to give my top eight narrators of Survivor, because who says lists have to be multiples of five? If a top eight is good enough for Myspace, than it’s good enough for me!

I didn't even have Myspace, but now I want Tom to go on Survivor. Would anyone recognize him?
I didn’t even have Myspace, but now I want Tom to go on Survivor. Would anyone recognize him?

A good narrator can explain what’s going on in the game in a funny and charismatic way. It’s not the same as giving a good confessional. Plenty of castaways give hilarious or even moving confessionals without it narrating the season. Think James Clement.

Just laughing at Jaime's inevitable fall. Warming the hearts of America.
Just laughing at Jaime’s inevitable fall. Warming the hearts of America.

On the other side of the coin are the strategists who can know exactly what’s going on it the game, but aren’t so much with the funny anecdotes.

So smart, so pretty, so serious.
So smart, so pretty, so serious.

So without further ado, let’s start with number eight:

8. Boston Rob Mariano

So his bashing of the Rotus hasn’t aged particularly well… but 2002 was a dark time. While he may not be witty in the same way as most of my favorites, Boston Rob has the bad boy charisma that Jean-Robert thinks he possesses, and Rob is able to use that charm and edge to create confessional gold. The fact that he spends at least a portion of each of his four seasons in control means he’s also in a great position to let us in on the plot of each season.

Gold, I tell ya!
Gold, I tell ya!

7. Richard Hatch

What are you, Taylor Swift? You can't be that surprised to make the cut.
What are you, Taylor Swift? You can’t be that surprised to make the cut.

The Godfather of Survivor is also the Godfather of the narrator edit. Admittedly, it’s hard for anyone else to explain the game when you’re the one inventing it. Coupled with Richard being a larger than life character, and you’ve got the recipe for a great narrator and a season of entertaining confessionals.

6. Sandra Diaz-Twine

The original Queen of Survivor sass (and a Queen of Survivor in general), the mom with the sailor’s mouth, Sandra was right there at the beginning of Pearl Islands to tell us what was going on at the market, while getting a few words bleeped out in the process.

Sandra was in the unique position of being an underdog who was involved with most of the votes. This gave us great narration from the outsider perspective, making it all the more satisfying when things turned on Jonny Fairplay and Burton.

Look at her, letting us know what's happening while making us life. I like that.
Look at her, letting us know what’s happening while making us laugh. I like that.

In Heroes Vs. Villains Sandra provided exactly what we needed: a foil to Russell Hantz. Especially useful for illustrating her more subtle (particularly compared to Russell) game, Sandra’s confessionals provided some hope and even foreshadowing into the second “season of Russell” in a row.

“But I don’t know about thaaaaaat.”

5. Rob Cesternino

Arguably the first super fan to be cast, Rob Cesternino showed that fans can bring some fun to a narration, given that they generally understand the game better than the average recruit. In Amazon Rob C. confirmed our fears about Matthew…


…and drop some truth bombs on All-Stars.

I mean he's not wrong.
I mean he’s not wrong.
Confirmed: They've done it at least four times.
Confirmed: They’ve done it at least four times.

4. Cirie Fields

That giggle! That strategy! What is there not to like about Cirie? While snark is more my style, you have to love the joy that emanates from a good Cirie confessional. Although that doesn’t mean I don’t love Cirie explaining how many times she had to go across the ocean looking for the idol at Exile Island.

Even without words, you can almost hears the exasperation.
Even without words, you can hear the exasperation.

3. John Cochran

Like Rob Cesternino, Cochran was on the beach to represent the super fan, a demographic we here at the Purple Rock Podcast know nothing about. With more than healthy dose of self-deprecation and a deep knowledge of the game, Cochran articulately explained what was going on in Survivor South Pacific. Although to be fair, who else was going to narrate that tribe, Ozzy?

As Cochran gained more confidence and control in Caramoan his confessionals improved. Whether it’s comparing tribe mates to sub par ice cream flavors or explaining the growth of his allies, Cochran kept us laughing and kept us in the know.

This is for you and your stupid puns, Mark.
This is for you and your stupid puns, Mark.

2. Courtney Yates

For those who have followed along with the Purple Rock crew for a while now, the only shock with Courtney being on my list is that she’s not number one. Because I love Courtney, I really do. To the point that it might be weird. She’s my all-time favorite Survivor character, but to be the top narrator requires a little more game knowledge for my personal rankings. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy her letting us know how creepy Jean-Robert is.
  tumblr_n1f1e24hro1sqbiv1o1_250tumblr_n1f1e24hro1sqbiv1o2_250Or taking a moment for some self-awareness and reflection.

Or even explaining why Russell is so attached to Parvati.


Maybe she’s not explaining how the game is being played all the time, but knowing how characters feel about each other is in fact a vital part of Survivor, since as we know, the social game is key.

1. Jonathan Penner

This is probably not much of a surprise, once we get past Courtney. Penner’s claim to fame in the Survivor lore is his Alan Alda voice and ability to narrate a season. Given his work as an actor and a screenwriter, it only makes sense that Penner is able to craft a narrative for the cameras. In fact, he’s so good at narrating that in Survivor Philippines  he even wound up playing the meta game with Lisa Whelchel.

By fulling grasping the fact that Survivor is both a game and a television show, Jonathan Penner is able to articulate what is happening in the game in a satisfying way to the audience.

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Emma is the token chick of the Purple Rock Podcast. She has watched the show continuously since the second episode and is pretty sure she's never seen the pilot.

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines

Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin
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  • andythesaint

    Rounding out the top 10 (for now): Malcolm and Todd Herzog.

    This, of course, makes the list very dude-heavy, which is a problem. But it’s more Survivor’s problem than it is ours. We can’t make a show that’s been edited very heavily in the favour of one gender more gender-neutral by wishing it to be so. They need to get there first.

    How about Parvati? How does she rate?

    • Purple Rock Emma

      During the peak Black Widow era, Parvati and Natalie Bolton both gave excellent confessionals explaining their alliance. Parvati is certainly top 15, just not quite top 10.

      • Purplerockmatt

        And Cirie was definitely the one in that alliance explaining what was happening

  • Other Scott

    Rob C was robbed!

    But yes, I don’t know why women aren’t allowed to narrate the season more. Though Kelley’s doing a pretty good job with what she’s been given so far.

    • Kemper Boyd

      Jenn Brown got a good run at World’s Apart and had a good amount of humour but we could definitely do with more women, Kass is great too.

  • Barbara Anderson

    If this list was expanded to include Cambodia, who (besides Varner) would make the list?

    • andythesaint

      Too early to tell, since Varner’s been the primary narrator so far, but there’s a lot of potential left: Kass, Fishbach, Kelley, and Spencer’s been improved (if repetitive so far, although that may be more editing trying to push a narrative than his fault).

      • Purple Rock Emma

        Co-signed on all counts.

      • Kemper Boyd

        I am not a fan of Spencer as narrator as he’s robotic and awkward. But the other 3 are all entertaining.

        • andythesaint

          I don’t disagree. I think he’s been improving though.

          To his credit, he’s able to talk a good enough game that the majority of Survivor fans thought he was playing a good game, all evidence to the contrary.

          • Kemper Boyd

            That doesn’t make him any where near a good narrator. Just someone with base level verbal skills.

  • Kemper Boyd

    I love Penner’s conversation with Lisa because he’s trying to get Lisa on his side (which he does for this bit of the game) but he also lays out the Denise winners narrative.

  • Sylvisual

    Appreciate the shout out. Will consider it a late birthday GIF.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      I don’t think I noticed this pun until now. I am upset with you.