Every season of Survivor has at least one player you look at late in the game and think Who?, How?, and Wait they’re still on the show? A recent conversation here sparked me to go back and ask who the most useless player in every season to go deep was, both in terms of the story and in terms of the game. So I developed a completely unscientific process to answer this question.
I took four factors into account in analyzing usefulness:
- Strategic significance: Players who run the strategy are obviously going to be useful, but Survivor is better when people take a run at the majority alliance, so I gave credit to people who made plans and failed.
- Challenge performance: I’m not a challenge guy, but I can acknowledge that sometimes challenge performance affects the game (see e.g.: Holloway, Mike). That said, not all challenge wins are created equal. Wins that end up having no effect on how the game plays out are treated less importantly than wins that do.
- Being a pocket vote: If someone is consistently being told how to vote by someone else, it’s a knock against them even if they’re on the right side of the numbers. Going with the flow because it’s the right time to do so is one thing, being a yes man is another.
- Entertainment value: Did you have no game or clue what you were doing, but at least made good TV? Congratulations, this is your saving category! This is, though, the least important category.
As for what “go deep” means, I settled on surviving at least two votes after the merge. So good job, Julie, you were not the most useless player in San Juan del Sur. If I have two solid contenders for most useless, I’m also generally going to favor the one who made it deeper into the game, just because it’s more baffling.
If you missed part one of the list, I covered the most useless Survivors from Borneo to Micronesia here. Now, without further ado, let’s get to part two.
Survivor: Gabon – Bob Crowley
“But Bob won!” you say. Sure. He did. Ask him how. See if he can explain it.
Bob won because the competition self-destructed around him, he scored some late immunities, and he had a chaotic influence on his side in Sugar.
Gabon is the Sugar story. She chose who was going from week to week, and Bob had no idea what was going on. The power of picking who went home, plus just being Sugar, made Sugar toxic to the jury. So Bob is the safe choice. He’s the inanimate carbon rod of Survivor winners, an analogy I wish I would have thought up when we were talking about Gabon because it would have gotten a ton of upvotes.
Survivor: Tocantins – Erinn Lobdell
What to do? What to do? This is a strong cast and I’m not sure exactly who in the post-merge I think shouldn’t be there.
The Jalapao 3 are obviously out of contention. So is Coach. I’m also taking Sierra out because she had a huge story arc and because she was memorably a useful pawn in the Tyson vote.
So that leaves Debbie and Erinn. Personality wise, Debbie mostly disappears into Coach’s shadow, but she seems to be a power player on Timbira and is on the right side of the vote most of the time. Erinn, by her own admission, was invisible for huge chunks of the game. She emerges late, but it almost feels like that’s because somebody, anybody at all, has to be shown as a force in the way of the Stephen/JT machine. So Erinn it is.
Survivor: Samoa – Mick Trimming
The story goes that, having determined Russell to be an unacceptable choice, the Samoa jury went in planning to vote for Mick, but then he was so underwhelming in Final Tribal that they voted for Natalie White instead. I can’t think of a more perfect metaphor for Mick’s game.
Mick gets elected leader on day 1. It’s a stupid gimmick, but whatever imaginary authority he might have had he almost immediately cedes to an abrasive bully who sets the game on fire and then rolls around in the ashes laughing. And Mick just stands there watching the whole time. Then he makes it to the end, and all he has to do to win is to be a less objectionable winner than Russell Hantz, and he couldn’t do it.
This wasn’t even a close one. Invisi-Brett at least has his challenge run, all Mick has is… losing.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – Colby Donaldson
Heroes vs. Villains was hard for me because I have two absurdly worthy candidates, so I’m going to have to hash out their value.
On the one hand you have Colby. He is out of the loop for basically the whole game, he’s the worst in challenges, and when he actually tries to play it’s like watching a dog try to walk on its hind legs. But, the thing is, watching a dog try to walk on its hind legs is really funny. There are so many great Colby moments in HvV, even if all of them involve him failing at things.
Then on the other hand you have Danielle. Everything I remember about Danielle involves her being told what to do by Parvati. She is as pocket vote-y as it gets. Except she found that idol clue that one time, which Colby made Amanda give back to her because he would rather watch a movie than play Survivor and, oh man, HvV Colby is such a hilarious disaster.
In the end I went to the tiebreaker and asked who lasted longer, so it’s Colby, but I’ll try to justify it a little. Russell forces the Danielle vote because her allegiance to Parvati is a threat to him. She has power, if only by proxy. Colby is the last of the Heroes to get the ax because why would you bother voting out Colby. That’s about as useless as you can get.
Survivor: Nicaragua – Dan Lembo
My first issue here was to deal with the Purple Kelly paradox. By quitting Kelly had both a bigger impact and a bigger image than she ever would have had by staying in. If she hadn’t quit she probably would have gotten a more prominent edit, but all evidence points to her being strategically and socially inert. I mean, one of her few big scenes involves Chase pointing out that it’s weird how she never talks.
And then I remembered, “oh wait, it’s Nicaragua. I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to useless idiots who should have gone pre-merge. Let’s see which one lasted the longest.” It’s Dan Lembo.
Dan Lembo who wore $200 shoes on Survivor. Dan Lembo who asked if challenges were mandatory. Dan Lembo who tried to get himself nicknamed “Teflon Dan”, even though that didn’t make a lick of sense. Dan Lembo whose most iconic image is of him sitting in an oversized chair like a gross, creepy parody of a child’s portrait. Sure, I’ll go with that guy. That works.
It’s Dan. Why not? Picking the most useless person from Nicaragua is like picking the whitest person at a Chase Rice concert. You can try, but how do you even begin?
Survivor: Redemption Island – Natalie Tenerelli
Ugh, early 20s Survivor you are killing me. I really wanted to just call this one for ‘everyone who isn’t Rob or Phillip’ but my sense of honor forces me to take this project seriously, so I couldn’t do that.
It’s obviously not Rob, because he’s the only person who really matters in RI. I also ruled out Phillip because, as distasteful as he can be, he is a huge presence in the season, and that counts for something. Of the remaining eight names left in contention I ruled it down to three.
First is Steve Wright, because Steve just kind of gives up after the merge and lies in the Zapeteras comically sized shelter until they get around to voting him out. (Yes, “Rice Wars” is a thing. We’re not talking about it.) The other two were Grant and Natalie who, of all the Ometepes, seemed like the ones most duped by Rob.
I couldn’t pick among them, so I tiebroke it. And Natalie, by virtue of making it to Final Tribal, is the winner. But really, it could have been any of these dinguses.
Survivor: South Pacific – Rick Nelson
After multiple hard choices, finally a no-brainer. Probably the biggest no-brainer on this list, because who has ever been less relevant to their season than Rancher Rick?
I could stop here and everyone reading this would think “Well, duh, of course it’s Rick.” But, as with Redemption Island, I am being scrupulously professional in my decision to embark on this weird project, so let’s delve into the hows and the whys of Rick going deep while showing up like 3 times.
Rick is kind of like a throwback version of Survivor. South Pacific comes at the tail end of the show’s “no swaps” era. Not having swaps makes it easier to not feel like needing alternate plans, and Rick seems very much like a “trust these people to the end” kind of guy. He even comes out and says in his Final Tribal speech that he doesn’t like liars. Seeing Rick on Africa or Thailand would have made sense. Seeing him on South Pacific does not.
And then, and I will say that this last part is speculative, I think there’s a certain type of dude, an older dude usually, who does not like the probing questions production has to ask and responds poorly. That ends up meaning that production doesn’t bother and just makes him invisible. If that is a thing, and I very much believe it is, Rick feels like someone who would fall into that pattern.
So there you have it. I think I’ve now written more about Rancher Rick than anyone else on this list. And none of it was jokes because I ended up deeply curious how a fifth place finisher got completely erased from his season. Rick Nelson, this list may officially mark the most attention anyone has paid to your Survivor career, ever.
Survivor: One World – Christina Cha
One World is another case of it coming down to who I want it to be vs. who it should be, so let’s talk about that.
I want it to be Tarzan. He’s a pretentious dimwit who uses words and concepts he doesn’t understand to make himself sound smart. He’s the last man standing for a reason: it was obvious that he had no idea what was going on, and nobody could possibly see him as a threat. And after he voted out Kat (which he only did because the alternative was getting voted off himself) he, a 64-year-old man, decided it would be a funny prank to wear a 22-year-old woman’s dirty underwear as a hat. He is garbage. I do not like him.
(Fun fact: when you do a Google image search for “Tarzan Smith,” one of the results you get is Photoshops from Disney’s Tarzan where it looks like he and John Smith from Pocahontas are about to kiss. I guess that’s a thing people ship. I told you that story so I don’t have to talk about this picture.)
But then there’s Cha-Cha, and it has to be her. She plays the game super aggressively for the first couple of days and, when that doesn’t go her way, the lesson she learns is “don’t play the game at all”.
Tarzan is a disgusting human being and a terrible player, but the one time it mattered, he did what he had to. I can’t say the same for Christina.
Survivor: Philippines – Carter Williams
I’m at a loss as to what to say about Carter. Supposedly he’s one of those casting misfires who are really exciting during the process but fizzle out once they’re on the island. Maybe Carter was even fun for the first two weeks of the game and they didn’t have time to show it because Tandang and Matsing were busy being dumpster fires in opposite directions. Whatever it was though, Penner’s decision to trade away all of Kalabaw’s food (which is peak Penner) clearly breaks him, and afterward he’s like a ghost shuffling through the season.
I think he’s kind of a number for Jeff Kent for a minute, until Penner gets Kent voted out (man, Penner just completely wrecked Carter’s game). Then he’s, I guess, a number for Skupin, which is the most humiliating circumstance I can imagine. Then they run out of other people to vote out and he’s gone.
Survivor: Caramoan – Erik Reichenbach (again)
Is there a sadder returnee story than Erik’s? (Yes, and it is Francesca. But Erik is second.)
Erik came into Survivor a huge fan of the show. That was the era before “superfan” was a thing you could say on camera, but it’s obvious how much of a joy and an honor it is for him to be playing. He’s like a kid in a candy store.
Then he ends up boxed in by an alliance he’s not part of but manages to go on a big immunity run. Only, just when it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, he gets conned into letting himself be voted out and looking like the biggest doofus in Survivor history.
But he’s back. Five years older, five years wiser. He’s a favorite, not a fan, now. Surely things are gonna go better, right? Nope. Serious leg infection that takes him out with days left in the game. And, even before that, there’s all the stuff with him asking to have people point to the merge flag and tell him who to vote for. Very rarely do we get such concrete evidence of someone being a total pawn, but we get it here. Maybe he was delusional long before the point where they have to evacuate him. It still isn’t a good look.
I love that Erik appears to still be a huge fan of the show; I think it’s a testament to his character that he can let what’s happened to him slide and still enjoy Survivor. But man, going over that record has to suck.
Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Katie Collins
Sometimes you go on Survivor with your mom, and you let her run your entire game for you. And then your mom’s alliance gets yanked out from under her, she gets voted out, and you’re like, “Welp, don’t know what to do now.” And then the guy who voted your mom out mocks you on the way out the door, but he apologizes at Final Tribal, so you still vote for him.
Okay, that only happened the one time, but it’s the Katie Collins story.
Katie came in at a disadvantage. She started on a tribe that was heavily tilted towards favoring bros who could bro down, and, even after that, she was under the wing of Tina, who is both her mom and someone who’s won the game before. She had to start really playing later than any of the other loved ones, and that’s a handicap.
On the other hand, she never really seemed like she knew what was going on. She was a number for Hayden and Caleb. She let herself get tricked into admitting she didn’t have an idol by Ciera, whose main strategy is yelling at people. You can argue that agreeing to a rock draw was a strong move, but it’s not like she had another choice.
Maybe Katie would have been a stronger player had Tina not been there. I suspect we’re never going to find out.
Survivor: Cagayan – Jefra Bland
Cagayan is a perfect storm of elements that make it hard to talk about. First, Cagayan has a stellar final six in Tasha, Trish, Spencer, Kass, Woo, and Tony. It might be the best final six of all time. There is not a dud in that group. Second, like Gabon and Samoa before it, it’s largely centered around the antics of one chaotic player (the difference is, this time that player won, and it was awesome), so nonentities are marginalized more than usual.
I have three names to work with here, all Beauties – LJ, Jeremiah, and Jefra. It’s not Obvious Winner LJ, who at least made his mark on the season. So it’s Jeremiah or Jefra. Both are boring. Jeremiah has that one weird discussion with Tasha and Spencer where he tells them to Google him; Jefra has “Are ya’ll peein’?” I think that’s it.
This is one that seems like it should come down to tiebreak but it doesn’t. Jeremiah, simply by being on post-swap Aparri, ended up having to do things to stay in the game. He was bad at doing those things, but he tried. Jefra got to be complacent because the swap kept her on Solana, and she only went home because of Tony’s insane “how many of my allies can I put on the jury” strategy. That’s more useless, so Jefra gets the pick.
Survivor: San Juan del Sur – Blood vs Water II – Alec Christy
Survivor: Worlds Apart – Sierra Dawn Thomas
And now we come to the player who inspired this list.
On paper, Sierra’s strategy makes a ton of sense. She looked around and realized she was in an alliance with a bullying misogynist, another bullying misogynist, and a third bullying misogynist. And all of them sucked at challenges. Given those circumstances, it’s not at all unreasonable to consider going to the end with two of these assholes and saying that you were inoffensive by comparison.
The problem is that being bland and inoffensive is a death trap for young women on Survivor, and Sierra dove heartily into it. I don’t fault her for not predicting Mike’s improbable run to the end, but she did suffer from it.
This isn’t a total condemnation. In a season dominated by sexism, bullying, and sexist bullying, being the person who kind of just doesn’t do anything isn’t the worst mark. It does make her the most useless, though.
Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance – Keith Nale
I get it. San Juan del Sur was a desert of bad strategy, no strategy, and the most ludicrous final 3 plan ever designed. Why not feature the antics of a curmudgeonly firefighter from Louisiana who is weirdly good at balancing balls on paddles?
Fortunately, Cambodia is not San Jan del Sur. It turns out that when you have a season of good players doing interesting things, including Keith Nale as a sideshow becomes much less of a priority.
There’s three memorable Keith Nale moments for me in all of Cambodia. The first is the whole “volunteer taxi” thing, which, I will concede, is charming. The second is a random shot where people are having a strategy discussion, and you can see him in the background struggling to get into a hammock.
But the big one is that third thing, the time he volunteered to be voted out, not because he wanted to leave but because he thought that was it was the right thing to do. In one of the biggest moments in Survivor history, Keith threw up his hands and said “screw it.”
Keith agreed to be in the running for Cambodia because retirement was boring, and we got precisely what we deserved – a bored retiree taking an expensive vacation.
Survivor: Kaôh Rōng – Joe Del Campo
We close this list with a man who manages to nail every single one of my factors. The rare quadruple non-threat.
He showed no interest in strategizing. He tried his best in challenges, but aside from the Reynold Topher Memorial Throwing Things at Other Things challenge, it never seemed to amount to anything. He did what Aubry told him to, except for that one time she changed her mind at the last minute. And he was absolutely invisible in confessionals.
This is the second dude on the list I’ve had to consider who got pulled because he couldn’t go to the bathroom. The difference is that Bruce was a Casaya; Bruce was fun. Joe was there.
So there you have it, the most useless players in 32 seasons of Survivor. They didn’t make waves, but their names take up more space in my brain than I’m really comfortable with.
In case you missed it: Part one- Most useless Survivor players: Borneo through Micronesia.
Sharculese (definitely his real name) spent way too much time writing this thing about Survivor. Don’t try to find him on Twitter. If you must interact with him, he can often be found in the comments section here.