Time to decide the Ultimate Winner of Survivor. For the next month or so, we’ll have weekly polls pitting former winners in head-to-head match-ups until we get from 32 down to 1. While we cannot tell you how to vote, the intention of this tournament is to judge winners by the season in which they won, not their collected body of work. You decide what that means to you and what the Ultimate Survivor Win looks like.
We continue with the 16 most recent winners in Survivor history. (Heroes vs Villains Sandra has eliminated Pearl Islands Sandra).
18. J.T. Thomas (Tocantins) vs 33. Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen X)
Imagine these two facing a jury together in a final two. JT is the easy-going, well-liked bundle of Southern Charm. Adam the earnest, brainy kid who can get a bit flustered when his motivations are questioned, but should still get credit for being the “strategist” type. Hmmmm…. pretty hard to guess how that would end up going. If only there was some sort of precedent….
- 18. J.T. Thomas (Tocantins) (82% Votes)
- 33. Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen X) (18% Votes)
Total Voters: 179
25. Denise Stapley (Philippines) vs 26. John Cochran (Caramoan)
One of the toughest match-ups of this round, both played quieter games predicated on letting bigger threats pop up in front of them while they worked social connections to overcome their vulnerabilities. Both overcame the bloated egos of dubious returnees. Both of them beat Malcolm! Cochran got to coast a bit while the rookies were taken out, but then had to survive the accelerated level of play among returnees (he also won 3 challenges to her 1, if that’s worth anything). Denise has the impressive feat of surviving every single tribal council.
About that though… it is really impressive. But… isn’t that also a sign of failure on some level (whether or not it was her failure or just a collective one). Like, isn’t it better to AVOID going to Tribal Council? I’m not saying it was her fault, necessarily, but to use it as a sign of her greatness over other winners feels a little specious to me. You know why no other winner has survived every tribal council? Because they didn’t lose as much as she did. It’s the same reason why I’m less impressed by QBs who rack up a lot of come from behind victories — gimme the guy whose team doesn’t fall behind so often.
Luckily, there’s plenty of other reasons to admire Denise’s win, and vote for her in this match-up. We don’t need the impressive-stat-that-might-not-be-so-impressive.
- 25. Denise Stapley (Philippines) (78% Votes)
- 26. John Cochran (Caramoan) (22% Votes)
Total Voters: 181
21. Fabio Birza (Nicaragua) vs 30. Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart)
One won a bunch of challenges to win a season with awful people; the other did it more.
-Emma and Andy (yep, took two people to write this one)
- 30. Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart) (73% Votes)
- 21. Fabio Birza (Nicaragua) (27% Votes)
Total Voters: 175
24. Kim Spradlin (One World) vs 27. Tyson Apostol (Blood vs Water)
Tough match-up. Two great winners, head-to-head, in the first round. Brutal.
But… is it really a tough match-up? Or is it more a tough draw. For Tyson, I mean. Because, sure, he feels like someone who should be making it out of the first round. But I also don’t need to hesitate for a second over who I’m voting for here. So it isn’t that tough after all.
- 24. Kim Spradlin (One World) (84% Votes)
- 27. Tyson Apostol (Blood vs Water) (16% Votes)
Total Voters: 178
19. Natalie White (Samoa) vs 32. Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng)
Let us compare: one of these winners was underestimated by a male ally, who promised to carry her to the end, voted correctly at every vote and won at the end through a strong social game where she formed bonds with nearly the entire jury. The other was Michele. Remember how Michele survived all those tribal councils? All six of them? Michele’s closest winner comp is Fabio, only Fabio was a target earlier in the game and had to win more immunities to get to the end. This is what Michele’s victory boiled down to: 1) she had to win one immunity (she did win another for good measure, but didn’t need to) and 2) she was nice to people. Run a game 32 times and unlikely events will happen and yield a complete nothing of a winner like Michele.
But Natalie White is not a nothing. Natalie played the same game a lot of winners have, only she did this by being on the right side of every single vote — something very few winners have done. She pacified a highly unpredictable ally and kept him from turning his sights on her. She was also responsible for the Erik Cardona merge vote due to her friendships with several members of the opposing tribe. That vote opened the door for her foursome to next idol out Kelly and then force a tie. You wonder how they overcame 8-4 odds at the merge? Natalie swayed the first vote, which opened the door. Michele didn’t engineer any votes (not even when she won immunity at final four).
Natalie White is sometimes considered a joke winner, but her game was light years ahead of Michele’s.
- 19. Natalie White (Samoa) (66% Votes)
- 32. Michele Fitzgerald (Kaoh Rong) (34% Votes)
Total Voters: 183
23. Sophie Clark (South Pacific) vs 28. Tony Vlachos (Cagayan)
Sophie did everything she needed to do. It wasn’t flashy (frankly, it was the exact opposite of it) because it didn’t have to be. She set herself up in a winning position on day one, and simply had to play prevent defense for the final 38. Which she actively did. No, Cochran doesn’t get to join our inner circle. No, we’re not keeping Edna as a goat. No, Albert, we’re not gonna flip to the other side because you’re bored. GRAB MY FUCKING STACK TO GET RID OF OZZY. She even showed her human side at just the right time in front of the jury. Solid, solid winner.
But let’s not pretend that this is a choice. Frankly, I’m not sure that Sophie would even vote for herself here (given that she was a HUGE Tony fan during Cagayan). An actual Game Changer, Tony Vlachos made winning Survivor as thrilling as watching a man dance on a high wire, with no harness, blindfolded. Each of these winners played the hands best suited to their games and their seasons. But Survivor is also a television show. That we watch for entertainment. If you can honestly say you prefer to watch Sophie’s bloodless managing of an alliance to Tony’s manic full court press, I gotta ask: why do you hate fun?
- 28. Tony Vlachos (Cagayan) (81% Votes)
- 23. Sophie Clark (South Pacific) (19% Votes)
Total Voters: 180
20. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Heroes vs Villains) vs 31. Jeremy Collins (Cambodia – Second Chance)
Note: We ask you to judge Sandra based on her Heroes vs Villains win, not both her wins.
Maaaaan, I don’t know how you decide here. Both are the winners of the two most recent all returnee seasons, but played two fairly different games. Also, of late, I’ve grown tired of discussing Sandra’s wins in mixed company. It’s almost like bringing up politics: it’s not that I’m afraid to say my piece. It’s that I don’t really value the opinion of the other side. Luckily, PRP isn’t really mixed company on this issue, so we can safely say that she is the Queen and her wins are both amazing.
But just one win? Stacked up against another All-Star winner who had to shield himself from the obvious target he carried coming in, and did so in a way that no one really came after him even though they kind’ve realized they should’ve been coming after him? Tough, tough call. They both really balled out.
- 31. Jeremy Collins (Cambodia - Second Chance) (51% Votes)
- 20. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Heroes vs Villains) (49% Votes)
Total Voters: 181
22. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island) vs 29. Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur)
One of these winners was reality show vet who dominated a bunch of idiots after the best competition was eliminated early. The other… wait… yep, I just described both of them. I’m sure there are reasons to vote for Natalie over Rob, but you’re fucking kidding yourself if “strength of competition” is one of them. Now, I guess you could say that Rob had the good fortune to not be put on the tribe with a higher concentration of people who were looking to target the threat they previously saw on TV… except that so did Natalie (sup Nadiya!)
Rob, on the other hand, had to first navigate people on his tribe immediately calling out his threat level, one of whom had an idol. He had to blindside the same threat twice. He created a new social engineering trick to protect himself against people moving against him in the post-merge (the buddy system). He managed one of the most erratic goats in the history of the game (and if you think that’s easy, tell me how that went for the folks on Caramoan. Especially Francesca).
Meanwhile, Natalie got to coast through half the game until being forced to play when she and her ally were completely blindsided by a collection of the dumbest players to ever play. Then she could’ve coasted some more based on a completely-unique-to-her-season final three deal predicated on sending family members to the jury. But Natalie did have that idol blindside at the final five. I mean, sure, it basically wound up eliminating a disliked teenager in favour of the person who wound up beating her for the final immunity, but it was still pretty awesome.
And so is Natalie Anderson. I think she’s great. But I do like showing how specious arguments can sound when they’re applied to people you like rather than people you hate. Because winning Survivor is HARD. No matter who you’re playing against.
- 22. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island) (50% Votes)
- 29. Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur) (50% Votes)
Total Voters: 179
Don’t forget to vote in the other division:
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