International Survivor season rankings (with spoiler-free summaries)

Note: This post has been updated to include the 2022 seasons Australian Survivor: Blood vs. Water and Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts.

Try as the official PRP staff might, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Survivor fans to ignore the versions of the show airing in other parts of the world, at least the English-speaking world (and lest we forget, US Survivor itself was largely cribbed from the Swedish show Expedition Robinson). For one thing, far from being just funny-accented knock-offs, the Australian and South Africa versions of the show, rebooted in 2016 and 2018 respectively, produced some absolutely dynamite seasons at the exact same time the US franchise was going through, shall we say, an uneven patch (the New Zealanders also gave it the ol’ Kiwi try for a bit). For another, many Survivor pundits and podcasters, and more than a few former US Survivor players, are big fans of the international game and vocal about it on social media. This heightened presence of international Survivor in the SCU spilled over into US Survivor during Winners at War, when Adam Klein attempted to play a decoration on the tribal council podium as a hidden immunity idol because he saw it done (successfully) on Survivor South Africa.

The biggest barrier to entry has always been how to watch international Survivor from abroad. For a brief, shining moment in January 2022, every season of the rebooted Australian Survivor and Survivor South Africa was available on Paramount Plus, along with every season of original-recipe Survivor. But someone somewhere dropped the ball while checking contracts and copyrights, because the international Survivor seasons were quietly taken down mere weeks later. Hopefully this gets resolved soon.

If you live in Australia or have an Australian IP address (wink emoji), all of these seasons (except Survivor South Africa: Champions) are available on demand on 10play. Otherwise, you’ll need to venture into the Australian Survivor and Survivor South Africa subreddits for links. Or DM any of the increasingly mis-named Au Team (me, Kemper Boyd, Barbara Anderson, and Something Quirky), we’re all easy to find on Twitter.

A note/warning about Australian Survivor: Because of Australian broadcast regulations aimed at increasing the amount of locally-produced content, Australian reality TV seasons (including Australian Survivor) are super-long. The game starts with 24 castaways and lasts for anywhere from 47-55 days, and episodes are both more numerous (24) and longer (60-75 minutes without commercials) than the US version. It’s all quite a lot (particularly if you watch the show as it airs, since there are three episodes a week) and can turn a bad season into a joyless slog. If that sounds like too much of a commitment, start with Survivor South Africa.

I’ve chosen to use Paramount Plus’s numbering system, which memory-holes the first two long-ago Australian Survivor seasons and counts the first season of the 2016 reboot as Season 1 (elsewhere, including on Wikipedia, this season is called Season 3, Season 2 is Season 4, etc.).

Methodology: Kemper Boyd and I ranked the 12 seasons we’ve both seen, then I did a simple average of our rankings, breaking any ties in accordance with my ranking (sorry KB). I then ranked the two seasons Kemper Boyd hasn’t seen as I saw fit. The write-ups and opinions are mine unless otherwise noted.

Tiers: In my opinion, there’s a very clear top tier (AU 2, SA 6, AU 4, and SA 9) and a very clear bottom tier (NZ 1, AU 7, and AU 5; the ranking system includes NZ 2 in the bottom tier, but I don’t agree). I would put the Panama line for international Survivor at SA 5, which ranks ninth out of 14 seasons total. In other words, most international Survivor seasons are really good, but the bottom tier is quite dreadful.

All of our Australian Survivor coverage can be found here. All of our Survivor South Africa coverage can be found here. All of our Survivor NZ coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers).

14. Survivor NZ: Nicaragua (Season 1, 2017)

Well, they tried. The lesson: never try. Everything about this season is sub-par, from the cast to the challenge design to the strategy. It’s Survivor done on the cheap. Weirdly, this season has a Redemption Island but no hidden immunity idols. To be honest, one of the very few things that I specifically remember about this season is an unbelievably chintzy reward the castaways got one time (clear plastic bags of melting chocolates). Maybe setting your first season in Nicaragua is asking for trouble?

13. Australian Survivor: Blood vs. Water (2022)

KB: This season started well and ended very badly. Honestly I hated the whole second half. Despite Sandra and Nina there were few redeeming features, with few exciting moves. It has the worst elements of past returnee seasons with the added joy of sexism and a deeply boring winner. This season actually killed my joy for international Survivor.

ADS: The Blood vs. Water twist did its job in the pre-merge, with relationships across tribes creating sticky situations within tribes. But it also sunk the post-merge, with unbreakable pairs of like-minded players instantly joining forces to plow through the opposition in incredibly tedious fashion. Making things worse, an unfavorable pre-merge boot order meant that the post-merge was littered with sexist bros and eliminated superfans’ tag-alongs (who had little to no idea how to play Survivor). The presence of Sandra Diaz-Twine (who unwittingly imparts her wisdom to precisely the wrong people) and her daughter Nina (an absolute natural at Survivor) in the cast raised expectations, but this only made the disappointment that much worse.

12. Survivor NZ: Thailand (Season 2, 2018)

KB: I got a genuinely good friend from this season, in my coverage I was a little mean about one player and we developed a joyous jokey twitter beef which has transitioned into him being someone I chat to semi-regularly and care for a lot. Dylan, I may have called you a snake but you are my snake.

ADS: The season is a notable improvement over the Kiwis’ first attempt, but it still didn’t prevent the show from getting canceled. The cast is much better and the budget is obviously bigger, but the gameplay remains a bit rote in the early going before really picking up steam in the post-merge. Multiple intriguing storylines (including an unprecedented situation requiring in-episode coverage of events at Ponderosa to tell the story properly) culminate in a satisfying way, crowning a very like-able winner*.

*This originally read “a very root-able winner”, but I’ve come to learn that in Kiwi/Aussie English, this means something, uh, very different than what I meant.

11. Australian Survivor: All Stars (Season 5, 2020)

While it was really nice to see a bunch of fan favorites play the game again (and Zach was there too), this season was utterly dominated by one player, who, in addition to playing a masterful game, was a shameless camera hog in confessionals. As a result, even as you marvel at their skill you’ll be thoroughly sick of them long before the season limps to the end. Given the sheer length of the Australian Survivor season, giving any one player the lion’s share of airtime is just a mystifying storytelling choice, particularly for an all-returnees season, which by definition should have no duds in the cast who need burying. It’s worth noting that this was the first time Australian Survivor did seasons back-to-back, and given how damn long the seasons are, maybe the editors got burnt out. This season also has the typical all-stars season faults of too much ego and (with a couple of notable exceptions) too many players who can’t make the magic happen twice.

10. Survivor South Africa: Island of Secrets (Season 7, 2019)

This season features an improved version of the Ghost Island game mechanic and has a couple of great casting finds. However, like the preceding entry, one player basically dominates from wire to wire, choking the life out of the game. While the winner clearly earned their million rand, this person lucked out by having alliance partners who seemed entirely uninterested in actually winning the game themselves. Making matters worse, they were obnoxiously self-righteous about it, resulting in some genuinely unpleasant behavior toward other cast members.

9. Survivor South Africa: Champions (Season 5, 2014)

This season gets off to a very slow start, but quickly gets good after the swap, which is conducted in an extremely interesting way. The boot order is favorable, with the more memorable cast members (including a ticking time bomb and a scheming pair of air-quotes “villains”) making it to at least the merge. The season’s twist is almost a complete bust, but has virtually no effect on the game. This 20-player season was played in just 27 days, and like Survivor 41, the accelerated schedule results in some frenetic, ragged gameplay.

8. Australian Survivor: Champions vs. Contenders (Season 3, 2018)

Filmed before Survivor: David vs. Goliath aired, this season had the same basic premise, pitting a tribe of high achievers against a tribe of normies. This season is quite good in its own right, but possibly suffers in comparison to the monumental seasons that immediately precede and follow it. The season’s highs are just not as high as those of the other seasons, but it’s all quite enjoyable. The cast includes probably the most formidable female challenge beast in any iteration of Survivor. The stunt-casting of a certain bandy-legged troll does the season no harm. A couple of very entertaining narrators enliven the proceedings. Multiple players from a demographic that is hardly ever cast on US Survivor anymore do very well this season.

7. Australian Survivor: Brains vs. Brawn (Season 6, 2021)

Like the US and South African 2021 seasons (see next entry), this season has a huge number of twists, and the Aussies’ twists are likely to be the most offensive to Survivor purists.  Since Australian Survivor seasons are both long and exceptionally draining (because of the epic, highly physical nature of the pre-merge challenges), when the season format was announced, many fans expected the Brawn tribe to decimate the Brains in the pre-merge and ride a numbers advantage to the end. These fears were unwarranted. Moreover, some of the Brawns proved to be surprisingly brainy. A number of players saw their fortunes rise and in most cases quickly fall, but miraculously for Survivor, the obviously best players of the season got to the end despite basically doing nothing to lower their threat level. The end-game is extraordinary, bringing the season to a very satisfying conclusion.

6. Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island (Season 8, 2021)

Each of the 2021 seasons of US, Australian, and South African Survivor had a highly appealing cast that played aggressively but almost always good-naturedly, and all three seasons erred on the side of having too many twists. This is likely because cast and production alike had to wait an unprecedentedly long time to get started and came out of the gate hot.

This cast in particular has some of the entire Survivor franchise’s greatest examples of the strategist, the charisma machine, the wrecking ball, the challenge beast, and the underestimated beauty, among other character archetypes. However, one post-merge immunity/reward challenge derails multiple players who had strong winner equity, (no) thanks to a combination of an ill-conceived twist, an unfortunate random draw, and an indefensible decision about who to take on reward and who to leave behind. This knocks a season that seemed like a lock for the top tier down a couple of pegs, as you can see. Nevertheless, like Australian Survivor: Brains vs. Brawn, the end-game of this season is mind-blowing, and it’s our good fortune that the Final 6, 5, and 4 rounds are each standalone episodes. These votes are so eventful that cramming it all into the finale would have made for an incoherent mess (looking at you, US Survivor).

5. Australian Survivor (Season 1, 2016)

This is the season that put international Survivor on the map for Survivor superfans worldwide. Note that it is this high in the ranking because Kemper Boyd rates it much more highly than I do, but as with Survivor: Borneo, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give this season extra credit because of its historical importance. The cast is generally good, but the strategically-savvy superfans are outnumbered by recruits and castaways who insist on playing the game like it’s the early 2000s. For one’s enjoyment of this season in particular, it’s important to avoid spoilers.

4. Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts (Season 9, 2022)

From beginning to end, the first returnees Survivor South Africa season was a love letter to the game. With the cast consisting of a tribe of pre-merge boots, a tribe of post-merge boots, and no previous winners, the season had more of a Second Chance vibe than an All Stars vibe, and perhaps for that reason it avoided the pitfalls of the US and Australian All Stars seasons. Miraculously, almost everyone in the cast played as well as or better than their first time (regardless of placement), and nobody revealed a new unfortunate side of themselves the second time around (2023 update: Sadly, there are very credible allegations of inexcusable behavior by one of the season’s key players). In fact, there was if anything a bit too much good sportsmanship and a slight lack of interpersonal fireworks, but that’s obviously a very high-class problem for a season of Survivor to have. There were twists and great strategic moves galore, but M-Net’s decision to air a 20-player game of Survivor over 24 episodes did the season no favors, as the momentum slowed notably toward the end. But that said, with little in the way of gameplay or strategy to focus on, the spotlight turned to the relationships between and emotions of the end-game players, which was very compelling television in its own way, and defied the (not completely unwarranted) criticism of the South African franchise as being excessively game-botty.

3. Australian Survivor: Champions vs. Contenders 2 (Season 4, 2019)

Champions vs. Contenders: The season format so nice Australian Survivor did it twice. The exact kind of alliance that many fans feared would form in this kind of season and just boringly plow through to the end did in fact form very quickly, but it fell apart just as quickly. This, combined with a swap that sent front-runners to the bottom and bottom-feeders to the top, freed the cast to mix things up in interesting ways, leading to an entertainingly fluid post-merge. The winner is both a surprise and, in retrospect, seems inevitable.

2. Survivor South Africa: Philippines (Season 6, 2018)

As with the other top-tier seasons, this cast is stacked from top to bottom with unforgettable characters. But what really sets this season apart is the combustable way these nutjobs interact. This is Survivor: Drama Island. And yet somehow, the bickering never descends into the unpleasantness of, say, One World or Worlds Apart. In fact, the season’s two most oil-and-water players end up showing a great deal of respect for each other, even as they continue having beef. All of this emotion results in some truly wild gameplay, out-of-nowhere backstabs, and swings of momentum. If your jaw doesn’t hit the floor at the end of episode 2, for example, then I dunno, have someone check your pulse. Throughout the season, up to and including the Final Tribal Council and winner reveal, I found myself shaking my head and muttering “what is happening?”. And all of the drama is generated organically by the cast: this season has very few twists.

1. Australian Survivor (Season 2, 2017)

Simply put, this is everything you could possibly want in a Survivor season: Epic challenges, strong strategic gameplay, huge swings in momentum, high drama, big laughs, and a cast that almost to a person makes their mark on the game, whether they finish first or 24th (OK, fine, maybe not all of the twists are great). One player in particular is an absolute Survivor unicorn: athletic, effortlessly charming, hilarious, brilliant strategically, and willing to take insane risks to win the game (and yes, also comes with a touching backstory). This castaway fully belongs on the Survivor Mt. Rushmore, and yet doesn’t overpower the season or overstay their welcome (in contrast to what happens in Australian Survivor: All-Stars). As proof of how great this cast is, a whopping 10 out of the season’s 24 castaways have made return appearances, and there are at least three more players who, at the time, seemed guaranteed to be brought back, but somehow haven’t been (yet).

SeasonAssistant Dragon SlayerKemper BoydRank
Australia 2 (2017)211
South Africa 6 (2018)142
Australia 4 (2019)333
South Africa 9 (2022)44
Australia 1 (2016)825
South Africa 8 (2021)576
Australia 6 (2021)667
Australia 3 (2018)758
South Africa 5 (2014)99
South Africa 7 (2019)10910
Australia 5 (2020)12811
New Zealand 2 (2018)111112
Australia 7 (2022)131013
New Zealand 1 (2017)141214

WARNING: People will discuss spoilers about these seasons in the comments below. If you do not want to see those spoilers, do not read the comments on this post.