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.
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!
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.
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 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.
7. Richard Hatch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or 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.
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