“I’m the Greatest of all Taaaaaaaaim.” – Survivor legend
In order to criticize the worst player(s) in Survivor history, we must understand what attributes qualify the best. What are the prevalent qualities discussed when evaluating how great a player is? Once we know that, we can work backward and prove that someone is truly the fucking worst.
The Greatest of All Time (GOATs)
These 10 players consistently come up when the topic of “best player” is discussed: Parvati, Boston Rob, Russell, 👑Sandra, Cirie, Amanda, Rob Cesternino, Kim Spradlin, Jonny Fairplay, and Tony. Certainly not everybody agrees on every one of these names, but that’s because everyone has their own criteria that they value. We looked at the recurring themes that arise in the Survivor Hall of Fame induction announcements, where Gordon Holmes compiled statements from show producers, other Survivor players, and fans about why each player is remarkable.
- The ability to find idols
- …and to have a good enough read on the game to play (or not play) them well
- Being aggressive and taking risks
- Having a great social game
- Coming very close to winning multiple times (or, y’know, actually doing it 👑)
- Challenge strength
- Shifting alliances, flipping on your closest allies, and being stone cold about it
- Entertainment value
Many legends and goats will be discussed in this article. We will distinguish GOATs from winners from challenge beasts using this color scheme.
Idols, Idols, Idols
Some of the most well-respected BigMovez™ in Survivor history surround idol plays.
All but two players in these charts have finished in the top 4 on Survivor, correlating finding many idols with high placement and good gameplay. Russell tops both charts, having found a combined five idols in two seasons and making it to Day 39 on both those seasons.
You can tell legends apart from schlubs by analyzing the caliber of player they took out with an idol.
Rearranged based on caliber of boot.
Note: Parvati, Malcolm, and Tai are the only three people in Survivor history to play two idols in the same tribal council.
To have (a) played an idol (b) successfully (c) to take out a legend is the stuff of winners and Hall of Famers. Naturally, Tom is both.
Playing an idol on someone else is the hallmark risky, aggressive Survivor move. Russell‘s and Parvati‘s GOAT status is upheld by this metric: they both took out a winner when playing an idol for someone else. Parvati played two idols for other people when she took out JT, swinging the numbers to her side for the rest of the game. It is often cited as one of the best moves in Survivor history.
You can find all the idols in the world, but unless you can read the game correctly and know when to play or NOT play them, idols are useless.
Note: You can start to see why Malcolm has his own rosy color in this post and in the eyes of fans. He is in every single chart so far but isn’t yet in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure that’ll soon change; his resume is solid.
A lot of people on the first “Longest Held Idol” chart got voted out with their idols unplayed, or they played the idol without negating any votes. Others survived through the idol’s expiration day seemingly without needing to play it, but went on to lose when they potentially could have used the idol to impress the jury or bring better people to the end with them. So the middle chart is a better measure of who reads their position in the game well.
Kim’s idol non-play is well-respected because she was aggressive enough to find an idol, and her biggest use for it was keeping it out of enemy hands for more than half the game. She never needed to play it and had a correct read on how the jury perceived her.
Longevity…win, lose, or draw.
This is a social game first and foremost. The best players are repeatedly able to overcome all odds to last a long time. These are the longest-lasting returning players averaged across all their seasons and, since legendary reputations can derail a returning player’s game, averaged across their two best seasons:
Parvati is far and away the most noteworthy aspect of the left chart, average days played across all of her seasons. She is the only three-time player to be in the top six, and she’s towards the top at #2. Not only that, but she got to Day 39 in both of her return appearances despite a huge target on her back from Day 1.
Ten out of the 16 players in the right chart are in the Hall of Fame. (Note: Colby is not one of them.) (Note #2: Coach is.). This speaks volumes about who’s considered legendary. Five players ever have made it to day 39 twice, and despite the fact that four of them have lost on Day 39, two of whom lost twice on Day 39, all are GOATs for having earned their way to the end multiple times and setting records.
Cirie has never even made it to Day 39, yet many consider her to be the best player ever. She overcame long odds to get far three out of four times playing, and out of all four appearances, she was never once voted out by a traditional majority. In her first season, she lost a tiebreaker fire challenge. Her second season had so many unplanned exits (one quit and two medical evacuations) that the final tribal council was adapted to only have a final two instead of the originally planned final three, resulting in a third place finish for Cirie, robbing her of a seat at final tribal. In her third season, she was idoled out early on, and in her fourth season, she was the only non-immune player at a tribal council. She’s made a few flashy moves, namely coaxing an immunity necklace away from someone to then promptly vote him out.
So being considered a GOAT is not always about winning OR about getting to Day 39. It’s about being consistently good at controlling your own fate…so good, in fact, that whenever you are eliminated, it’s because of something exceptional, seemingly outside your control.
Praise for a GOAT’s physicality comes hand-in-hand with the rest of their hype. As our very own @PurpleRockJohn once so eloquently wrote, “Challenge prowess is what helped Ozzy win three seasons. You don’t need to look any further than the first two seasons to realize how important challenge wins are: Kelly and Colby were dominant challenge beasts, and the juries rewarded them. If you can’t compete in challenges, why are you even here?” Seventeen years later, this thinking is alive and well, as Brad Culpepper‘s record-tying challenge domination in season 34 was similarly crowned.
To assess challenge dominance, we charted the percent of time players finished in the top 2 and in the bottom 25% of standings, as well as the average percentile of their standings per season. Included are the 10 GOATs, some winners, some chart-toppers from above, and the most dominant single-season challenge performers of all time.
Note: challenges that are “winner take all” are only scored for the winner since all other players are simply last place. An example of such a challenge is house of cards where the first person to stack to a certain height wins. There’s no linear progress pointing to a second place, third place, etc. since everyone’s stacks are precarious and constantly collapsing.
It turns out, it’s exceptionally rare to consistently do well at challenges while also being good at the game in other, measurable ways, e.g., winning, playing idols effectively, or lasting long in more than one season. In the top 11, there are only two winners and one GOAT.
The GOATs who are showered with compliments about challenge prowess often aren’t even exemplary at challenges. Jeff Probst referenced what a strong physical competitor Amanda is when inducting her into the Hall of Fame. However, her standings have always been middle-of-the-pack to poor throughout most of the merge, and she picked up her wins only in the end-game after numbers dwindled. Parvati‘s challenge performance in her winning season puts her at the bottom of this chart, sandwiched between “Superman in a fat suit” and Sandra.
But people love the idea of the best players being physical, being “triple threats.” So people latch on to anecdotal data, those few challenge wins that were impressive. For example, the totem pole challenge is practically a rite of passage for the fiercest competitors — Ozzy has won it a gazillion times. Tyson and Malcolm have both won it. And everyone remembers Parvati‘s dominance in it.
It was stunning to see Parvati casually and comfortably hanging on as her competitors suffered and fell. And so it goes that great players pick up somewhat inaccurate reputations as challenge rock stars as if it’s an important contribution to their status as legends.
Flipping back and forth between alliances is a beloved strategy for which GOATs are praised. Tony, Jonny Fairplay, and Rob Cesternino are all commended for fluidly moving between alliances throughout the game.
Boston Rob’s reputation for flipping is colored as, “stabbing people in the back.” Tai Trang isn’t even called a flipper, but rather, “flip-floppy” and unstrategically so.
Note: this was actually Aubry’s move since Tai needed Aubry to step in and say ‘No’ to Scot, as shown here. Oh and also because she would have gone home if Tai didn’t flip.
JT is a “good old boy”, Cirie “stone cold,” Aubry a gamer — yet all fall in the upper echelons of flipping records:
**JT voted for Erinn in the tribal council that Coach was voted out. However, he was a part of the decision to send Coach home, and also flipped on his alliance by voting for Erinn, which he did so that he could save face with Coach.
It’s the epitome of competitiveness to flip and take out your own ally, and it makes for damn good tv.
Are you not entertained?
Entertainment value is a common theme throughout our GOATs’ Hall of Fame induction pages. Being a good story-teller or delightful to watch on TV in many cases probably translates to charisma or gangster status when playing the game.
Some of our GOATs are possibly more memorable for their larger than life personalities than for some of their more direct gameplay.
This is “social game” seeping out of the television into our living rooms. We especially take pleasure in our GOATs dragging villains, and often enough, so does the jury.
The Worst Player in Survivor History
In Survivor, bad players who are dragged to the end are called “goats.” So the worst goat (or is it best goat?) is someone who exhibits the opposite of everything that GOATs (the other kind) excel at. One person clearly stands out as the GOAT goat.
Tai Trang does not know how to play this game.
Remember when he was all, “Let’s vote out Michele!” “Let’s vote out Sarah!”
His read on the game is so bad that Aubry had to save him from himself, as usual. Such a drag as an ally.
In a word: untrustworthy. Why work with this guy? Who would choose such a fate?
He couldn’t strategize to save his life. He just does whatever the last person tells him to do.
Cirie manipulated those immunities off him like he’s the new Erik Reichenbach.
He’s one of the oldest people out there, so naturally, he sucks at challenges.
My god, he is so boring. Like a water hyacinth plant, I float away whenever he’s on screen.
And on top of it all, he’s just a shit human who walks all over people.
GOAT v. goat…
Know the difference.
0. Summary about each GOAT (Greatest of All Time) taken from the Survivor Hall of Fame:
- Parvati Shallow – crafty, charming, dominates endurance challenges, arguably the best runner-up ever, made it to the end with a huge target on her back from Day 1, great intuition, played two idols for other people which changed the direction of the game and gave her side numbers.
- Boston Rob – fell victim to a bitter jury, great at challenges, entertaining, strategist, charmer.
- Russell Hantz – smartest idol-finder, used idols to give himself power, got robbed by a bitter jury, outplayed legends like Boston Rob, established chaos to take advantage of his disoriented tribe.
- 👑Sandra Diaz-Twine – only player to win twice, very subtle game, managed to divert attention away from herself when she was the target, will vote out anybody “as long as it ain’t me.”
- Cirie Fields – ability to make you forget she’s your opponent, great strategic and social game, stone cold killer.
- Amanda Kimmel – skilled in creating powerful alliances, great strategic, social, and physical player, one of the most consistently strong finishers in the show’s history, improved each time she played, not afraid to make big moves to keep herself in the game.
- Rob Cesternino – adaptive, effective at switching alliances to keep himself in the game, ability to tell a funny story at any time about any other player.
- Kim Spradlin – dominated the game physically, strategically, and socially; strong alliances; impeccable timing, eg, not playing her hidden immunity idol.
- Jonny Fairplay – worked back and forth between alliances, first villain to make a huge move, opened the door for future A-holes to get ahead.
- Tony Vlachos – aggressive, took risks, controlled others, repeatedly voted against his own alliance then got them to fall back in line, and from our very own Purple Rock Podcast ballot: he maintained idol and advantage supremacy with the nose of a Hantzian bloodhound.
Favorite seasons: Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan
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