|To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.
Colleen Haskell is the 2nd entry in this series.
If we wanted to make this easy, we could simply cite Colleen’s influence as being an incredibly popular character in the first season of the show, thereby helping this weird little summer program to become a sensation that would continue for 39 more seasons. And that’s not nothing. There was no guarantee that this show would succeed. Hell, there was no guarantee that they’d even air all the episodes (and if they didn’t, the cast wouldn’t get any of their prize winnings). While Richard Hatch was the undeniable star of the season, becoming the villain everyone loved to hate, it’s hard to imagine the show being the success it was if they didn’t have someone to cheer for. It’s not like the Tagi four was a group people would enjoy inviting into their living room week after week (even with the way viewers took to Rudy).
Of the loveable, scrappy underdog Pagongs, none were more loveable or scrappier than Colleen Haskell. Sure, people were tuning in to see who would survive each week. They were tuning in to see there would be more rat eating. They were tuning in to see if that slimy Hatch guy would finally get his comeuppance. But a large portion of the audience was tuning in to spend time with Colleen. She was more often than not the audience surrogate for this weird experience, a person ready to have fun with it, but with her dry wit and bemused smile, quick to let us know that she knew it was all very weird. Oh, and we also tuned in to see if she and Greg would make out already.
But helping ensure the survival of the show before it started by making it popular isn’t enough to make the list, if for no other reason than it was a group effort (and, spoiler alert, you won’t see Gervase, Greg, Kelly, or even Rudy on this list. Leave your complaints below). Colleen was more than popular, she was an archetype – America’s Sweetheart. After seeing how audiences responded to Colleen (and how external sources sought to capitalize on that response with things like TV guest-starring roles and eventually feature film roles), Survivor decided that the cute, young, “girl next door” archetype that Colleen embodied was a necessary ingredient to its mix.
So in the hunt for the next Colleen, The Australian Outback would give us Elisabeth Hasselbeck (née Filarski), who dialed up the sweetness a few notches and even followed Colleen’s path in post-Survivor fame (easily surpassing it once Colleen opted out of that life). These are the two biggest examples of this archetype, but you’d see the trend continue with the likes of Kelly Goldsmith, Neleh Dennis, Shawna Mitchell, and Dolly Neely.
Over the years, the role of the viewers’ Survivor girlfriend would evolve from the cute, pixie-like girl next door to a more athletic, All-American girl next door with players like Stephenie LaGrossa, Danni Boatwright, and Amanda Kimmel. Still a nice, safe girl for audiences to fall in love with, but now someone you could imagine sharing a beer with after your intramural sports night. In modern Survivor, it’s possible the role of the safe crush for viewers has shifted once more to a nerd girl archetype, although it’s equally possible that I just spend too much time listening to y’all.
Regardless of how you track the current iteration of the Survivor girlfriend archetype (or if it still truly exists), it’s clear that all roads lead back to the OG America’s Sweetheart, Colleen Haskell. Even if she’d prefer we all forget it ever happened.
Co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast and the Canadian of the group, Andy has been watching Survivor continuously since the very beginning and likes to treat that as some kind of virtue to lord over others.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cagayan, Cook Islands, Palau, Winners at War
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino