Survivor season rankings (with spoiler-free summaries)

Survivor fans often ask us for recommendations on the best Survivor seasons. It makes sense that they’d ask us this, because we are the authorities when it comes to Survivor season rankings. In fact, our season rankings are so well-known that they’re referenced in Wikipedia footnotes and complained about on the Survivor Reddit and various other social media. So whether you came here to find the best or the worst Survivor seasons, we can help you out. Most importantly, we summarize the seasons without any spoilers, so you can be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by each season.

The list below was created by taking an average ranking from the opinions of the entire Purple Rock staff. We’ve previously only done the rankings based on the opinions of Andy and John, but we’re trying out this democracy thing and seeing how it goes (update: it has failed).

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). 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). Also, the comments section may include spoilers, even though this list definitely does not.

44. Survivor: Nicaragua (season 21)
The season that will hopefully forever remain in last place continues to hold its position. Nicaragua is an absolute slog. It is no longer the unanimous choice of the entire Purple Rock staff for worst season ever, but it’s close. Terrible casting, a terrible gimmick, and a terrible winner combine to make this 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. But yes, we provided coverage for this one because it was so, so bad.)

43. Island of the Idols (season 39)
Two legends of the game- the titular “idols”- return to serve as trainers for the cast. The trainers gimmick is goofy fun, and the cast seems promising. The pre-merge portion of the game is enjoyable, and suggests that the season has potential. That potential is completely squandered by the actions (and inaction) of the show’s production team, which sucks the enthusiasm out of watching the post-merge.

All of our Survivor: Island of the Idols coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

42. Thailand (season 5)
A definite contender for least likable cast of all time, this season also includes an incident involving physical contact without consent. Thailand did have some memorable challenges- one of which is memorable because the cast is so deplorable- and one of the more interesting final immunity challenges the show has ever had. The winner played a strong game relative to the competition, but watching this season isn’t worth your time.

41. South Pacific (season 23)
There were a few 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 on 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 season.

The junior varsity team did a rewatch of South Pacific and were far too kind to the season. Their coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

40. Worlds Apart (season 30)
A cast that seemed pretty promising quickly disappoints, and the post-merge is a slog. 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.)

39. 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 gimmick for this season was fairly unpopular- even though it’s understandable why it was employed- and it weighs down the season substantially. The dominant performance by the winner is why this season stands out, although it makes for fairly boring and predictable television.

38. Gabon (season 17)
One of the most inept Survivor casts 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- it’s like watching people try to play a game without reading the instructions. Unlike Nicaragua, this season did have at least one enjoyable episode. And if you’re into schadenfreude, you’ll probably get some of that. If you’re going to watch this, just go in with very low expectations and you may get a few laughs out of it.

All of our Survivor: Gabon coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

37. One World (season 24)
Some might argue that this season is full of terrible players. 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- and also there were some truly terrible players. The cast is generally not very interesting and the gameplay is fairly lackluster. There have been a surprising number of returning players from this season, whether that honor was deserved or not. (It was not, with one exception.)

36. Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers (season 35)
Another season with a disappointing and remarkably inept cast. The season was so boring that they promoted one of the episodes by encouraging you to tune in and watch Jeff Probst reference the names of various Foo Fighters songs while narrating a challenge. The cast is at least pleasant, and at one point in the season there is actually a shockingly strong strategic play. However, in viewing the season as a whole, it’s pretty apparent that the big move was less about innovative gameplay and more likely about not understanding how the game works. This is a season you’ll likely forget completely very soon after you watch it.

All of our Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

35. Survivor 43 (season 43)
This is one of the more instantly forgettable seasons the show has had. The gameplay is conservative, the cast is unremarkable, and so little seems to happen on the island that the show spends a lot of time telling you about the lives of the players off the island. If you are into being inspired by the personal narratives of the players from their lives outside of the game, perhaps this season will resonate with you. It did not resonate with us.

All of our Survivor 43 coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

34. 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.

33. Ghost Island (season 36)
A pleasant cast participates in a season loaded with advantages. There is one fabulous casting find here, as well as some players who have a decent grasp of strategy. The season features extensive references to past Survivor seasons, so watching this one will definitely spoil you on some seasons- including some of the more memorable moments in the show’s history. There is a series first in this season, but while it is interesting to watch that event play out, it can’t lift this season out of the lower tiers.

All of our Survivor: Ghost Island coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

32. 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. There are some fairly memorable players on this season, but there is also an incident early on that is amplified by the bias of some players.

31. 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 and may be traumatic for some viewers. However, there are some excellent episodes along the way, and the winner plays a very strong game. As with nearly all seasons featuring returning players, there may be spoilers for previous seasons while watching this one.

All of our Survivor: Game Changers coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

30. 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 relatively early 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. Its contribution to the evolution of the game is appreciated, but if you’ve seen more modern seasons this one is unlikely to resonate with you.

29. Edge of Extinction (season 38)
This is another difficult season to describe without giving away important details. The gimmick employed here always seemed destined for failure, though the show did the best it could to make it work. The cast is fine, the returning players are fine, there are some entertaining moments, and the gameplay is ok. It’s just unlikely to be one of your favorite seasons, and since there are returning players you may get spoiled on how those players did in their previous seasons.

All of our Survivor: Edge of Extinction coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

28. 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 an incident of physical contact without consent, and it is not handled well. There is some decent gameplay here relative to early seasons- just be prepared for a very angry final tribal council.

You can hear Andy talk about it here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

27. San Juan del Sur: Blood vs. Water 2 (season 29)
This is the season that everyone loves to claim we undervalue, and maybe they are correct as it has slowly climbed up the rankings over the years (though honestly that’s more because other seasons have been sliding down the list). 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 show 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. Guatemala (season 11)
A decent cast with two returning players from the previous season. There are some notable players here, the show is set in an interesting location, and we see the first iteration of a game element that has since become standard. This season has largely been ignored by the show, with only one player from this season ever returning.

25. Caramoan (season 26)
This season didn’t even try to push the “fans vs. favorites” angle, 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. Two of the returning players are among our favorites, and the winner of this season plays an excellent game.

24. 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.

23. Fiji (season 14)
We could spend a lot of time talking about Fiji. Does that mean it’s a great season? Definitely not. 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 couple stellar exceptions- but it also seemingly throws every possible twist and gimmick against the wall in order to see what might stick (at least relative to how they’d handled twists and gimmicks in the first 13 seasons). 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.

22. 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.)

21. Panama (season 12)
We’ve always referred to this as the median season of Survivor, and that’s not meant as disrespect; if a season is better than Panama, it’s a good season. Year after year, Panama hovers around the midpoint of our rankings. 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 main gimmick here is one the show would deploy for several seasons until it ran out of steam in Gabon.

20. Survivor 41 (season 41)
The first Survivor season after a long pandemic-induced delay, this season features a few changes: there is no location name or gimmick in the show title, this is the first cast that meets the show’s new standards for racial and ethnic diversity (a point discussed by the cast during the season), and the season is shortened to 26 days to accommodate pandemic restrictions. This season makes a point of letting you know more about the backgrounds of the cast before coming to the show, so if you felt previous seasons lacked the reality show equivalent of character development you may be pleasantly surprised here. There are a few new twists in this season- some are interesting additions, but others fall pretty flat. The cast is good, with moments of both interesting and inept gameplay, but some of the narrative arcs do not feel fully fleshed out.

All of our Survivor 41 coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

19. 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. The cast is good; half of them have come back for future seasons, and many of them are still fondly remembered. If you watch it now, you’ll be amazed at what passed as villainy back then. It was a very different era.

All of our Survivor: The Australian Outback coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

18. Survivor 42 (season 42)
The second of the two seasons filmed back-to-back under pandemic restrictions, this season also runs just 26 days. The casting is strong, with several notable players providing either interesting gameplay or an entertaining presence. The twists this time are largely a repeat of the previous season, though they play out slightly differently. The pre-merge is fairly rote and uninspiring, but post-merge the season improves substantially. The final tribal council also features an impressive performance by the winner.

All of our Survivor 42 coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

17. 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 life. 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.)

16. The Amazon (season 6)
Because of the theme of this season, there are repeated instances of sexism. If you can tolerate that, this season has a surprising degree of strategy for such an early season. 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.

15. 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 realizes that Survivor is nothing more than a game. That realization leads to what has become the one constant strategy in every season of Survivor. This season has a winner that charts the course for the rest of the show’s run, even if you didn’t necessarily feel that way at the time.

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, including two undeniable stars, and is filled with generally pleasant people that came to play the game. The season has several enjoyable narrative arcs, some nice interactions between the players, some aggressive and unapologetic gameplay, 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. Tocantins (season 18)
This season has one of the best casts among the first-timer seasons. 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.

12. 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.

All of our Survivor: Palau coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

11. Survivor 44 (season 44)
Survivor 44 quickly recovers from the conservative gameplay and fairly boring casting of Survivor 43. This season features two of the most entertaining casting finds the show has had in a very long time, and steers away from some of the narrative flaws that plagued the previous season. The cast this season came to play, and there’s a little something for many different types of Survivor fans: strategy, comedy, romance, and satisfying narrative arcs. Put simply, this is a fun season.

All of our Survivor 44 coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

10. David vs. Goliath (season 37)
In the midst of a very subpar stretch of seasons- the worst downturn the show has had since the absolute nadir of seasons 21-24- this gem stands out. There is some great casting here, including one of the most entertaining players in a long time, plus some enjoyable and skillful gameplay. Even the relatively minor characters have a role to play, and the season easily overcomes its very corny title.

All of our Survivor: David vs. Goliath coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

9. 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.

8. 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, an entertaining cast, 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.)

7. Cook Islands (season 13)
Have you ever wondered which racial or ethnic group is the best at Survivor? No? A terrible idea, you say? Well, somehow nobody involved in the creation of this show was able to be convinced that Survivor: Race Wars was a bad idea. There are four tribes divided by racial/ethnic identity in this season, which is a very dumb idea that is pretty quickly abandoned. But the greatest impact of this gimmick was that it forced Survivor to recruit a more diverse group of players, and the cast shines because of it. A quarter of the cast has returned to play at least one season (and several of them have come back multiple times). 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 winner shines.

All of our Survivor: Cook Islands coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

6. 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, both in terms of comedy and strategy. Even one of the worst twists in Survivor history can’t ruin what is a fantastic season from beginning to end.

All of our Survivor: Pearl Islands coverage can be found here. (Warning: there will be spoilers.)

5. 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- but he is very wrong and you should ignore his opinion.

4. Cambodia: Second Chance (season 31)
This season featured a cast voted in by the fans. And in this case, the fans generally did a great job with that task. The gameplay is great, 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.)

3. Winners at War (season 40)
The title gives away the central conceit of the season: this is an all-winners season. Your mileage will probably vary substantially on how much you like this season. For longtime fans, the nostalgia of seeing some players you haven’t seen in over a decade is strong. If you’ve recently gotten into the show and have merely been binging previous seasons, that nostalgia may not hit as hard. The cast is fantastic- it’s all people that have won the game, so it better be. The gameplay is generally pretty strong and the entertainment value is pretty high, though it can be a gut punch to watch some of your previous favorite winners get voted out. Perhaps most importantly to longtime viewers of the show, you get an update on the lives of some of your past favorites and what is likely the final appearance of many of Survivor‘s greatest players.

All of our Survivor: Winners at War 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 a handful of 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 adds up to a truly incredible season of Survivor.

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 each staff member’s individual rankings, they’re listed below.

Heroes vs. Villains1121111
Winners at War3218723
Pearl Islands7531296
Cook Islands495104107
Survivor 441010101213712
David vs. Goliath141384101310
Millennials vs Gen X
Blood vs. Water15121316182017
Survivor 4216192317161518
The Australian Outback
Survivor 4117212124251720
Kaoh Rong322019291922
San Juan del Sur31321525243127
Edge of Extinction
Game Changers26281635393031
Ghost Island34342031263533
Survivor 4333373132343235
One World35312838373436
Redemption Island
Worlds Apart39352641404140
South Pacific40422739383641
Island of the Idols44432944434243

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.