Survivor fans old and new frequently ask us “What are the best Survivor seasons?” And they ask us because our opinions are unassailable. Our season rankings have become so well-known that they’re referenced in Wikipedia footnotes! So whether you came here to find the best or the worst Survivor seasons, we can steer you in the right direction.
The list below was created by taking an average ranking from the opinions of the only two people that matter around here: Andy and John.
Each season is both ranked and described (with no spoilers) below, so you can happily share the list with newbies to the show or remain unspoiled on the seasons you haven’t seen. And because people love arguing about rankings, I’m sure you’ll want to tell us how wrong we are. You can do that in the comments below or on Twitter (@PurpleRockPod, @purplerockandy, or @purplerockjohn). Please realize before you dispute our rankings that even though your opinion is totally valid, these are the definitive Survivor season rankings (because they were made by us).
34. Survivor: Nicaragua (season 21)
The season that will hopefully forever remain in last place, Nicaragua is the lowest of lows for Survivor. Terrible casting, a terrible gimmick, and a terrible winner combine to make a truly horrendous Survivor viewing experience. If this was the first season of Survivor you ever watched, I hope you enjoy whatever it is you do now on Wednesday nights instead of watching Survivor. Occasionally some Survivor fans will try to suggest that they like this season and pretend that proves they are a better class of fan than you are. Those people are the worst, much like this season.
All of our Survivor: Nicaragua coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
33. South Pacific (season 23)
There were a couple bright spots in the cast of this season, but there were so many unlikable people that you almost forget the enjoyable ones. The two returning players for this season were terrible choices, and the gimmick was every bit as much of a failure here as it was the first time it was used. The winner of this season did exactly what was needed to win, but it didn’t help the entertainment value of the show.
32. Gabon (season 17)
Possibly the most inept Survivor cast ever from a gameplay perspective. This is the season that almost convinced Jeff Probst to quit as host, and after watching it you’ll understand his reasoning. If you wish Survivor was some other game that wasn’t Survivor, you may enjoy this one. Unlike Nicaragua, this season did have at least one enjoyable episode.
All of our Survivor: Gabon coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
31. Thailand (season 5)
A definite contender for least likable cast of all time, this season also featured an incident that makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Thailand did have some memorable challenges- one of which is memorable because the cast is so deplorable- and one of the best final immunity challenges the show has ever had. The winner played a strong game, but the season is a slog.
30. Vanuatu (season 9)
This season is particularly hard to review without spoiling anything. The casting was below average on this season, although there are a few bright spots. The gimmick/twist for this season was one the show had used before, but it worked fairly well and sets up a narrative for the post-merge game. The issue here is whether you like that narrative and the winner. We don’t.
29. Redemption Island (season 22)
The cast here is below average, though it is supplemented by two returnees that are some of the most popular Survivor players ever (your opinions about them may vary). The dominant performance by the winner is why this season stands out, although it makes for fairly boring and predictable television.
28. Africa (season 3)
More than anything else, this season suffers because of its location. In the early days of the show, Survivor was much more interested in having its players live in tough environments to prove that they were real “survivors”. Eventually they came around to the idea that the most appealing part of the show isn’t watching lethargic people waste away. The cast on this season is generally pretty decent, and probably would have been much better if they weren’t constantly sapped of energy by lack of food and water.
27. San Juan del Sur: Blood vs. Water 2 (season 29)
In a typical Survivor season, there will be players that were essentially cast to be fodder. They are the pre-merge boots that were cast not because they’d be great players, but because they’d fill a certain role the show always casts. This season has a cast that is realistically about 75% fodder. The season gets more interesting after the merge and has an excellent winner, but it’s hard to get past how unappealing this cast is. The production staff fell too in love with the blood vs. water concept after using it to great effect the first time around, and it led to some poor choices here.
All of our Survivor: San Juan del Sur coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
26. Worlds Apart (season 30)
A cast that seemed pretty promising quickly disappoints, and the winner becomes obvious fairly early on. This season, like Thailand and All-Stars, also features an incident that is uncomfortable to watch. The reunion episode is awful, saved only by the inclusion of the announcement of the cast for the following season.
All of our Survivor: Worlds Apart coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
25. One World (season 24)
Some might argue that this season features just as much fodder as San Juan del Sur. But the reality is that the cast was made to look like fodder because of the work of one of the most dominant winners the game has ever had. There have also been a surprising number of returning players from this season, whether that honor was deserved or not.
24. Fiji (season 14)
When mentioning this season on the podcast, we speculated that we could talk for a solid hour about Fiji alone. Does that mean it’s a great season? Clearly not- look where it’s ranked. But it’s also not the worst season. So what would a middle-of-the-pack season do that inspires our fascination? In a word: everything. This season has a pretty terrible cast- with a few stellar exceptions- but it also seemingly throws every possible twist and gimmick against the wall in order to see what might stick. It fails, but it does so in spectacular and interesting ways. It even has one of the best episodes the show has ever had. It is Survivor: Magnificent Failure.
23. Marquesas (season 4)
The season responsible for the name of our podcast gets a few bonus points for that, and for one of the best narrative arcs of the early years of the show. The cast is fairly good, and even some pre-merge boots in this season are memorable. But that narrative arc referenced earlier reaches its conclusion before the end of the season, and once that story has been told the show sort of limps to the finish line.
22. Game Changers (season 34)
A returning player season- featuring a few of the greatest and most beloved players ever- doesn’t live up to the hype. An abundance of twists and turns makes the season struggle narratively, and there is an incident that’s hard to watch. However, there are some excellent episodes along the way, and the winner plays a strong game.
All of our Survivor: Game Changers coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
21. Samoa (season 19)
This season is incredibly divisive, and understandably so. It is impossible to think of this season without thinking of one specific player, and your feelings about that player will likely determine how you rate this season. It’s hard to properly judge the cast, because the vast majority of the screen time this season goes to one person. From a gameplay perspective there are interesting things that happen here, with some tricks and strategies we hadn’t often seen before.
20. All-Stars (season 8)
Have you ever heard the phrase “bitter jury” when discussing Survivor? This is where it all started. For the first time, the show brought back returning players for what truly was an all-star season. The majority of the players this season were wildly popular, and had developed massive egos because of it. This season also features one of the most uncomfortable incidents in the show’s history, and it is not handled well. But despite that, there is some decent gameplay here- just be prepared for a very angry final tribal council.
19. Kaoh Rong (season 32)
This season brings back the format of one of Survivor‘s best seasons and introduces two new gameplay tweaks. The cast is fairly good, with several memorable players. Despite a few unfortunate setbacks that throw off the gameplay, it’s an enjoyable season.
All of our Survivor: Kaoh Rong coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
18. Guatemala (season 11)
An above-average cast with two returning players from the previous season, and yet nobody originally from this season has ever returned to the show again. That’s a shame, because there are some notable players here. The winner isn’t incredibly dynamic on the show, but does have an interesting path to victory.
17. Caramoan (season 26)
This season didn’t even try to push the “fans vs. favorites” thing, because it’s hard to define a lot of the returning players here as “favorites” and many of the “fans” wouldn’t qualify for that label either. The pre-merge portion of the game is mediocre to awful, but there are some very interesting and memorable episodes post-merge. Also, a few of the returning players are among our favorites, and the winner of this season plays an excellent game.
16. Panama (season 12)
This is roughly the median season of Survivor, and that’s not meant as disrespect; if a season is better than Panama, it’s a good season. The casting here is good, with one of Survivor‘s greatest finds and a few other interesting people that keep the season entertaining. The gameplay is almost more interesting for what doesn’t happen than what does, but the gimmick here is one the show would deploy for several seasons until it ran out of steam in Gabon.
15. The Australian Outback (season 2)
It happened so long ago that it’s hard to judge this season fairly. Strategically, there isn’t anything earth-shattering here; Survivor was still trying to figure out if it was a game or a show about people surviving together. But the cast is good; half of them have come back for future seasons. If you watch it now, you’ll be amazed at what passed as villainy back then. It was a very different era.
14. Millennials vs. Gen X (season 33)
Born of a thinkpiece about how millennials ruin everything, the gimmick here is basically just “old vs. young”. The cast is above average, and filled with generally pleasant people that came to play the game. The season has several enjoyable narrative arcs, some nice interactions between the players, and some of those delicious tears that Probst loves so much.
All of our Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
13. Blood vs. Water (season 27)
This season combines returning players and family members, leading to easy emotion-laden moments that Jeff Probst can use to extract those sweet, sweet tears he needs to sustain his ageless appearance. The cast here is great, despite three players pulled from a very lackluster season (in Survivor‘s defense, two of them were cast just to get their partners on the show). The blood vs. water gimmick does lead to some interesting strategy, including the exact situation Survivor producers hoped for when they planned this season. And yes, we realize that the title of this season doesn’t make a lot of sense when you see how the tribes are set up.
All of our Survivor: Blood vs Water coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
12. Borneo (season 1)
How do you rank the first ever season of this show? It’s hardly the same show at this point, with narration provided by Jeff Probst and a general disdain by most of the cast for the concept of voting someone out. But this is also the season that makes Survivor what it is, as someone quickly realizes that Survivor is nothing more than a game. And that realization leads to what has become the one constant strategy in every season of Survivor. This season has an excellent winner, even if you didn’t necessarily feel that way at the time.
11. Tocantins (season 18)
One of John’s personal favorite first-timer seasons, this cast is excellent. It features multiple players that have returned to play again (and this is the most tolerable version of one of those players), and an entertaining mix of personalities. The strategy is slightly lacking and there aren’t many gimmicks or twists, but the season makes up for it with comedy and a group of players so likable you probably won’t care much who wins the season.
10. China (season 15)
A truly fantastic cast, with several players that have returned for future seasons of the show. The winner is excellent, and redeems some mistakes made along the way with a stellar final tribal council. The landlocked location is interesting, but a ridiculously ill-advised twist gets exploited by the players. As much as you will probably hate many of Nicaragua or Thailand‘s players, you will probably adore China‘s players in equal measure.
9. Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites (season 16)
A season that definitely takes the “fans” and “favorites” label more seriously than Caramoan did, Micronesia brought back some enjoyable players from the seasons after All-Stars to play against a group of first-timers. This season is just plain entertaining, with some of the most memorably funny moments in the show’s history. There is also interesting strategy and gameplay. The only reason Micronesia is ranked this low is because Andy thinks the gameplay suffers based on the season’s gimmick.
8. The Amazon (season 6)
An early season of the show that actually emphasized strategy, Amazon also features a player who went on to produce his own Survivor podcast. (Some have even suggested that player’s podcast is nearly as good as The Purple Rock, which is quite a compliment.) The casting here is pretty average, and the winner’s narrative doesn’t quite work, but this season earns its rank based on several memorable moments of both gameplay and comedy.
7. Palau (season 10)
Palau has a lot of things going for it: great challenges, a good cast, an interesting way to start the game, and several great story arcs. All of those factors work into an interesting final episode that make the season memorable and result in an impressive winner.
6. Philippines (season 25)
Philippines rescued Survivor from a four-season slump by giving us a strong cast and a trio of returning players- one of which we were even happy to see again! There’s an excellent winner, some great storytelling (and narration) along the way, and just enough strategy and scheming to keep you invested in the gameplay.
All of our Survivor: Philippines coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
5. Pearl Islands (season 7)
Pearl Islands opens the season with a 15-minute stretch that’s so good you should be hooked immediately. Some of the show’s greatest casting finds came from this season, and the way they fit-or don’t fit- with each other leads to some great moments. Even one of the worst twists in Survivor history can’t ruin what is a fantastic season from beginning to end.
4. Cook Islands (season 13)
Most other rankings probably won’t give this season its due strictly because of the gimmick that gives this season its alternate name- Survivor: Race Wars. There are four tribes divided by race in this season, but the greatest impact it had was that it forced Survivor to recruit a more diverse cast. And this cast shines because of it; this season has four players that returned for future multiple future seasons. It also features one of the more compelling narratives the show has ever had, and gives you the rare opportunity to see in-depth strategy talk between players. The finale features a hilarious moment just before proceeding to final tribal council, where the right player is awarded the victory.
3. Cambodia: Second Chance (season 31)
Since this season featured a cast voted in by the fans, the cast is an obvious strength. The gameplay is great as well, with ever-shifting strategies as players jostle for position to make the most of their second shot at the game. There are funny moments, emotional moments, and a convincing and satisfying winner.
All of our Survivor: Cambodia coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
2. Cagayan (season 28)
If you’re a newbie (or relative newbie) to Survivor, you probably came to this list hoping for some opinions on which season you should watch. To help you out, I will give you this suggestion: do not watch Cagayan until you’ve watched at least five other seasons first. If this is the first season you watch, you won’t fully appreciate the wild shifts and twists. But once you do watch it, you’ll get to enjoy one of the best groups of new players Survivor has ever had. There is tragedy, comedy, and above all chaos, and it gives us one of the most interesting Survivor winners ever.
All of our Survivor: Cagayan coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
1. Heroes vs. Villains (season 20)
An all-star season without the ever-present bitterness of All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains brought back some of the most memorable players from the show’s past, plus two players from Gabon. This season is an all-you-can-eat buffet of amazing moments, including one of the best strategic moves the show has had and one that is often cited as the worst (but which we consistently defend as a reasonable gamble). It also features the sad deterioration and break-up of one of the greatest man-crush relationships mankind has ever known. As with Cagayan, you’ll want to see other seasons before you watch this one so you can appreciate what takes place here.
All of our Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)
If you’re new- or relatively new- to watching Survivor, we hope our Survivor season rankings were useful to you. Of course, these rankings are just determined by averaging our own rankings together. If you’d like to see Andy and John’s individual rankings, they’re listed below.
|Heroes vs. Villains
|Blood vs. Water
|Millennials vs. Gen X
|San Juan del Sur
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.
Seriously, if you keep scrolling down you’re going to see comments. This is your last chance to turn back.
John is the co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast. He can get loud too, what the fuck!
Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan, Pearl Islands, Tocantins, Cambodia