Sure, it’s March, but who needs basketball? What we really need is a tournament to decide the Ultimate Survivor. From now through April, we’ll be pitting Survivors head-to-head in match-ups to determine the Ultimate Survivor. How will we decide the winner? The same way Survivor does it: with a vote. This is our Tribal Council, and you’ve all made the jury. It is… time to vote.
Polls close on Sunday, March 22.
This is the Second Generation of Survivor. From Pearl Islands to Panama, the game had fundamentally changed from what it was to what it would become. We saw the introduction of a number of things that now seem like Survivor constants (and no, I’m not just talking about Rupert). In Pearl Islands, we had a season that pitted a tribe of old-school Survivor players (Savage and his tribe) against a tribe of new school players (Sandra and company). We saw our first season of returning players, and Boston Rob and Amber changed the game forever with their alliance and take-no-prisoners gameplay. Palau was a season of such dominance that we will never see it’s like again. And in Guatemala and Panama we saw the introduction of the most lasting change: the hidden immunity idol. This was where the game changed forever… and for the better. Without further ado, here are the match-ups:
1. “Boston” Rob Mariano vs 16. Terry Dietz
1. Boston Rob Mariano: What needs to be said about Boston Rob? He might just be the best damn player the game has ever seen. But first, perhaps we should talk about why Rob is the only winner not in the period where he actually won the show. It is simple: Rob’s game in All-Stars is the most influential game he played. He set the template for how to play in a season full of returnees. His take-no-prisoners style and utter ruthlessness were in full glory here. And even if he didn’t win in All-Stars, he managed to win in another way: he married the winner. Beating the game even when not playing it- that is the Boston Rob way.
16. Terry Dietz: Terry might just be the greatest challenge performer the show has ever seen. Starting with the merge, Terry won 5 straight immunity challenges. When he finally lost, he had an immunity idol to protect him. With his idol gone, his luck finally ran out at final 3. Even before the merge he was the obvious leader of his tribe, with the rest of the tribe ready and willing to defer to him. His greatest fault was that he couldn’t break the Casasya alliance.
8. Amber Brkich vs 9. Stephenie LaGrossa
8. Amber Brkich: While Amber’s first appearance did not cover her in glory, her return appearance saw her form one half of one of the most powerful tandems in Survivor history. Rob and Amber (or, as Andy would say, ‘Romber’) are the reason that couples are always feared on Survivor, despite the fact that no other couple has been able to duplicate their success. She won the first all-star season on the back of this alliance, and she can always lord over her husband that what him four tries to win only took her two.
9. Stephenie LaGrossa: In her first appearance, Steph was America’s sweetheart- the best person on the worst tribe in Survivor history. Post-“merge”, Steph couldn’t break the strong Koror alliance for more than the few votes that Tom needed to eliminate Coby. When she tried to organize a woman’s alliance against Tom and the men, she didn’t have the social clout to unite them all. Steph’s return in Guatemala saw much savvier gameplay that fell afoul of the jury’s love of the underdog story. Steph played a great game in Guatemala, but it was a game that earned her no friends and demanded that she face a similarly disliked person in the final. Danni made that impossible.
4. Tom Westman vs 13. Ian Rosenberger
4. Tom Westman: Tom Westman is in the short conversation for greatest physical threat in Survivor history. Not only did his tribe never lose a challenge in Palau, Tom then dominated the individual challenges, only losing twice (to his counterpart here). Both times he lost, he narrowly came in second. But Tom was more than a physical player; he recognized the threats on his tribe and used a strong social game in order to keep his followers in line. Remember, Tom convinced Ian and Caryn to force a tie rather than have Greg vote him out. And that wasn’t the only time Tom’s sheer will broke one of his competitors. In the final challenge of Palau, he hung on a buoy for half a day before laying the granddaddy of all guilt trips on Ian. Tom’s win in Palau is one of the best wins ever.
13. Ian Rosenberger: Everyone’s favorite dolphin trainer, Ian was a fierce physical competitor and generally likable guy who just happened to play with an even stronger physical threat. Ian and Tom’s friendly rivalry was one of the best ever on the show, and their father-son dynamic made it all the better to watch. He hung on a buoy for half a day with Tom before stepping off. It was the greatest challenge duel in Survivor history, and it will never be topped. Maybe Ian can exorcise a few demons by beating his mentor in our ironclad poll.
5. Rupert Boneham vs 12. Johnny “Fairplay” Dalton
5. Rupert Boneham: Rupert is the only person to get a million dollars from Survivor without actually winning. He was so popular after his first two seasons that 85% of viewers voted him their favorite Survivor. Eighty-five percent! It is easy to see why he was so popular, too. He was the sensitive kid that was bullied for being different. We saw the “cool” kids in Pearl Islands make fun of him for his tie-dyed shirt and makeshift skirt and his vulnerability in the face of this. Of course, Rupert wasn’t perfect. Beyond the diminishing returns his appearances would bring, he also possessed a fierce temper and a thin skin. And no one raised his ire quite like…
12. Johnny “Fairplay” Dalton: One of the greatest villains and antagonists the game has ever seen, Johnny Fairplay used every dirty trick that he could come up with to get into the top 3 of Pearl Islands. Beyond the famous “Grandmother Lie”, Johnny Fairplay also tried to irritate Rupert so much that Rupert would take a swing at him and get kicked out of the game. And it almost worked! No one else has been as willing to bend the rules of the game to win. If he had been able to hold a yoga pose longer than Lil, he might have even been able to win.
2. Sandra Diaz-Twine vs 15. Andrew Savage
2. Sandra Diaz-Twine: Count the rings! Sandra is the only two-time winner of Survivor, and she has done it in two of the greatest seasons that the show has ever aired. I have no idea how she still gets disrespected. It’s absurdly hard to win this game once, and Sandra won it twice. She can’t even get a #1 seed! What the hell, people?!? Sandra is awesome, let’s let her prove it.
15. Andrew Savage: Savage! Spoiler alert: this post will be absurdly one-sided because I have a gigantic man crush on one Andrew Savage. He was jobbed out of a return and a place on the jury because of the ridiculousness of the Outcast twist. Does Osten quit that week if he gets the merge feast? Maybe! But he probably waits another few days before becoming a gigantic baby and leaving due to a rogue pelican. Savage kept the obviously inferior tribe together through sheer stubbornness (remember him winning that weight challenge after Osten sucked?). Only when the most useless and annoying person on that tribe came back into the game (because even the Outcasts couldn’t stand to spend time around Lil) did anyone on his tribe break away from him. He was a charismatic leader, and it is amazing that he has never returned considering that he is actually close personal friends with Jeff Probst. I love you, Savage. I just had to let everyone know it.
7. Danni Boatwright vs 10. Chris Daugherty
7. Danni Boatwright: Danni was one of the classic underdog winners. She came into the merge down numbers, dodged the bullets aimed at her tribemates and managed to slip through the cracks until Steph’s alliance started to tear itself apart. At that point she stayed under the radar and used her friendship with Rafe to get to the final 3. With a few timely immunity wins, Danni made the final jury’s decision an easy one. She wasn’t Steph, and the jury was voting for anyone that wasn’t Steph. Also: Danni is the better version of Chris.
10. Chris Daugherty: Chris is the other classic underdog winner. He came into the merge down numbers, dodged the bullets aimed at his tribemates and managed to slip through the cracks until Ami’s alliance started to tear itself apart. At that point he stayed under the radar and used his friendship with Eliza to get to the final 3. With a few timely immunity wins, Chris made the final jury’s decision easy an easy one. He wasn’t Twila, and the jury was voting for anyone that wasn’t Twila. Also: Chris is the worse version of Danni.
3. Cirie Fields vs 14. Rafe Judkins
3. Cirie Fields: There aren’t many who have a legitimate claim to the “greatest Survivor to never win” label, but Cirie is one of those few. Part of the unbreakably insane Casaya alliance, Cirie is the one member of that alliance that wasn’t originally part of the core. But her social game is so damn good that Cirie can worm her way into anyone’s heart. Cirie was also responsible for the single greatest strategic moment on Panama, when she arranged a three-way vote split in order to oust Courtney; someone who was threatening to Cirie because she was a goat. When she came back for Micronesia, Cirie yet again played a stunningly good social and strategic game before being sunk by a surprise final two. Poor Cirie.
14. Rafe Judkins: Rafe was Steph’s partner in crime in Guatemala and played a fantastic game up to the final four. He helped control the votes and used Danni’s vote when he and Steph needed to turn on their own alliance. But he got too close to Danni and spared her at final four, when he would have been better served by taking her out at that spot. Rafe likely would have beaten Steph, but even without that his performance was impressive and he deserves to have returned. (Editor’s note: Reports suggest that Rafe was invited back for Micronesia, but turned it down due to his burgeoning screenwriting career).
6. Aras Baskauskas vs 11. Ami Cusack
6. Aras Baskauskas: Aras won Panama, but he is most defined that season by his rivalry with Terry Dietz. He didn’t play a bad game in Panama, but he survived to the end primarily because his alliance thought he was the best chance to beat Terry (they weren’t wrong either; the first time Terry lost was when Aras beat him). And if someone else beat Terry, his alliance was more than happy to hang him out to dry to get rid of Terry’s idol. Despite this, his strong bond with Cirie helped guide him to the top without even calling the WAAAAAAAAAAAA-mbulance. When he returned, he wasn’t nearly as young, and despite a stronger grasp of the game, his weak grasp on Tyson and Gervase saw him eliminated at the merge.
11. Ami Cusack: Ami was the leader of the woman’s alliance in Vanuatu, and the way she rode herd on that alliance was impressive. She kept her core alliance, a side alliance with Eliza, and a third alliance with Twila and Scout. She was the strong female leader, in the mold of a Kim Spradlin. However, her downfall came when she bent to the will of her group and agreed to vote out Eliza. This opened the door for Chris, Twila and Scout to form a bottom-of-the-pack alliance to break Ami’s power. It is a sign of the respect that everyone had for Ami that she wasn’t even the target here. Ami was such a strong leader that it still hurts to think about her begging to stay in Micronesia. Damn it, Ami, you were so good in Vanuatu, you didn’t deserve the ignominy of having to beg Ozzy for a spot in the game.
Don’t forget to vote in the other divisions:
Matt is the founder and president of the Andrew Savage fan club, and remains amazed that Savage was never invited back on the show. You can’t follow Matt on Twitter, because he doesn’t want you to.
Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan