The Ultimate Survivor Bracket: Age of the Returnee Division – Round One

Sure, it’s March, but who needs basketball? What we really need is a tournament to decide the Ultimate Survivor. From now through April, we’ll be pitting Survivors head-to-head in match-ups to determine the Ultimate Survivor. How will we decide the winner? The same way Survivor does it: with a vote. This is our Tribal Council, and you’ve all made the jury. It is… time to vote.

Polls close on Sunday, March 22.

Graphics by @sylvisual (click for full-size version)

Do you recognize a lot of the Survivors on this list immediately? Even fairly casual fans probably do, because this era of Survivor is marked by a perception that the easiest way to get cast on Survivor was to have played on a previous season of Survivor. There are also four Survivor Hall of Famers in this group: Amanda, Ozzy, Parvati, and Russell, and we’ll likely have several close rounds on our way to a winner from this bracket. But let’s get to the match-ups.

(Editor’s note: This post was originally going to be written by Emma, but due to scheduling conflicts we’re doing a post-by-committee on this one, with Emma, John, @XLPelican, and @gouis handling the duties here. The author’s name follows each player’s paragraph, so you can direct your anger or praise at the appropriate person.)

1. Parvati Shallow vs 16. Candice Cody (née Woodcock)

1. Parvati Shallow: Has anyone on the internet ever mentioned that Parvati is a sexy, flirty sexpot who won Survivor with sexy flirting? What’s that? Absolutely everyone has given that reductive take on her game? The real reason Parvati is a #1 seed is that, at least post-Cook Islands, Parvati is a force to be reckoned with. She’s strategically inclined (her double-idol play in Heroes vs Villains remains one of the boldest moves in Survivor history), she understands and exploits social dynamics, and she’s a strong challenge competitor. – John

16. Candice Cody (nee Woodcock): Candice is a “Hero”, and she has a blue buff to prove it. She’s played three times, because she’s so popular with the other castaways. Ok, perhaps not. Candice may be viewed as an untrustworthy shrew, but she has delivered consistently great television by backstabbing the Heroes and the Aitu 4, then verbally assaulting her oppressors in Blood vs Water after they promptly voted her and her husband out. Candice does what Candice wants, allies be damned, and doesn’t care if people hate her. Hell, she probably wants you to vote against her. –@XLPelican

8. Amanda Kimmel vs 9. Ozzy Lusth

8. Amanda Kimmel: Amanda is one of the more enigmatic Survivor players of all time. Is she a dominant social player who makes all the right alliances and moves, only to lose in the finals to master strategists? Or is she just one of the most successful Survivor bikini babes that just happens to be at the right place at the right time, eventually being unable to use her beauty pageant crocodile tears on the savvy Survivor juries? Regardless, even in her worst showing (on Heroes vs Villains) she made it to day 30 and had a chance to take control of the game for the Heroes. Longevity should matter for something, and while she’s often thought of a lesser version of Parvarti, Amanda is a legend in her own right.@gouis

9. Ozzy Lusth: Who needs a social game? Ozzy is the greatest challenge whiz Survivor has ever seen. He almost won a season of Survivor after being voted out twice. He came within a single vote of beating Yul in Cook Islands, and in Micronesia he drew a face on a stick and convinced Jason that it was an idol. As Ozzy has played the game more, he’s come to believe that his challenge prowess entitles him to win, which is why it’s been so fun to watch him lose. –@XLPelican

4. James “J.T.” Thomas vs 13. Stephen Fishbach

4. JT Thomas: Oh, JT. If he only played once he would be in consideration for best player of all time. He pulled off the first “perfect game” in Survivor history, and played so flawlessly that other players were actually trying to let JT win! But there is that unfortunate note he gave to Russell in his second season, and boy did that look bad. It’s easy enough to twist logic into making his boneheaded move in Heroes vs Villains seem like a good idea (Editor’s note: We’ve done it before!), but it’s a stretch however you look at it. So is he a dominant player that slipped while going for broke with nothing to lose in his victory lap, or is he only 2/3rds of a complete player, unable to do much without his right hand man Stephen? –@gouis

13. Stephen Fishbach: Stephen began his time on Survivor as the lone city boy on a tribe of country folk. Nevertheless, he managed to form an alliance that dominated every phase of Tocantins. While he may not have received credit for it at the end, Stephen was the driving force in keeping the Jalapao alliance together, which he did by duping Taj into “sharing” an idol and by making doe eyes at Erinn. Sure, you could vote for JT instead. But isn’t that what Sierra would want? Also, as a Survivor nerd, don’t you want to live vicariously through Stephen’s success? –@XLPelican

5. Todd Herzog vs 12. Courtney Yates

5. Todd Herzog: Todd is perhaps the only Survivor winner to win the game at the Final Tribal Council. He’s also a schemer beyond reproach, and a likable guy to boot. Todd knows how to keep an alliance together, but he also knows when it’s time to trim the fat–and he’s keenly aware of how to ensure the fat will vote for him at the end. – @XLPelican

12. Courtney Yates: We might be strategy nerds at Purple Rock, but we love contestants who bring in the comedy too. Courtney provides that in spades, whether it’s rebuffing Jean-Robert’s nighttime advances, evaluating Denise’s abilities in life, or reminding everyone about Coach’s epic challenge collapse in Heroes vs Villains. Quite possibly the skinniest contestant ever, she used her “bonds” with Todd and Amanda- also known as “disliking everyone else more”- to make it to the final three. She secured second place with two votes, while also throwing her challenge win (obligatory mention that James has never won individual immunity) in Jean-Robert’s face. While her light edit in Heroes vs Villains is lamentable, her friendship with Sandra warms our hearts, and her impression of Russell cleanses our soul. Courtney might not be the strategic mastermind we usually root for, but she is the true queen when it comes to outsnark, outsass, and outquip. Bow down, bitches. –Emma (because I had to at least find time for Courtney)

2. Russell Hantz vs 15. Natalie White

2. Russell Hantz: Washington. Bolivar. Khomenei. Lenin. Hantz. Yes, that’s right–Russell is a revolutionary. And although he may not know how to win Day 39, he sure as hell changed what it means to play Days 1 through 38. Sniffing out idols like truffles, Russell brought his Samoa alliance to the end despite being woefully outnumbered. He went up against future winners Boston Rob and Tyson–and came out ahead. Russell’s personality may have been off-putting to his peers, but his great instincts and novel tactics were fully formed from the moment he set foot on Samoa. –@XLPelican

15. Natalie White: There is now a weird subset of Survivor fandom that has decided that Natalie White is one of the greatest Survivor players ever. She is not. This argument sprung up almost entirely because some people hate Russell very passionately. And that’s fine; I don’t like Russell either. But Natalie’s efforts on the path to victory included swaying one vote (admittedly, a crucial one) and being the least objectionable choice at final tribal. She’s a deserving winner- as all winners are- but let’s not be too quick to induct her into the Survivor Hall of Fame. –John

7. Earl Cole vs 10. James Clement

7. Earl Cole: Earl gets overlooked by a lot of Survivor fans. This is partly because Fiji was absolutely unwatchable for long stretches, so many people choose to forget it even exists (much as I do with Nicaragua). But Earl was cast alongside some loathsome people, ended up on the wrong side of Survivor‘s worst-ever twist, lost an ally to an insane post-merge group immunity challenge, and became the first person to ever win a unanimous vote at final tribal council. That’s a pretty solid resume for a guy who got cast a few days before the season began, never having seen the show. –John

10. James Clement: James is never going to win Survivor, but he’s always going to try valiantly. He’s built like a tank in a game where muscle mass is a liability on multiple fronts. He’s easy to influence but never bitter about his failures. These qualities mean he’s pretty much the ideal unskilled player from a television perspective. He gives other players opportunities, and they take them. Survivor needs more Jameses. –@XLPelican

3. Yul Kwon vs 14. Bob Crowley

3. Yul Kwon: There has been a bit of revisionist history when it comes to Yul on the internet. Basically, people just yell “GOD IDOL” and subsequently ignore everything else he was able to achieve in Cook Islands. (You would think it would swing the other way, with the collective realization that Ozzy is kind of an idiot douche). Yul might be the most intelligent person to ever play Survivor. He’s also an incredible physical specimen, and one of the most charismatic people to ever appear on reality TV. The way he was able to Jedi mind-trick Penner into flipping and pulling a proto-Cochran is a masterclass in how the idol is best used as a bargaining chip. He’s basically on everyone’s short list for “Survivors you want to see play again”, and I would bet that there is a really good chance he would completely dominate the competition yet again. –@gouis

14. Bob Crowley: Bob won Survivor by being the least-hated person to make it to a broadly loathed Final 3. While that may not seem like $1,000,000 worth of work, we should acknowledge that Bob had the self-restraint to tolerate and placate Sugar, who to this day remains shockingly unmurdered. –@XLPelican

6. Yau-Man Chan vs 11. Benjamin “Coach” Wade

6. Yau-Man Chan: Yau-Man is adorable, which is an odd thing to say about an MIT-educated physics professor. How did Yau-Man, as a relatively small older man on a tribe with no food or water, ever manage to last beyond the first few days? Because Yau-Man made himself valuable. He won challenges by outsmarting them and devised strategies to set himself up for a win. One of those strategies famously backfired, but it was worth the gamble. –John

11. Benjamin “Coach” Wade: Over the course of three seasons, we saw many different Coaches. Fabulist Coach, Pitiful Coach, Vengeful Coach, Pitiful Coach, Leader Coach, and Pitiful Coach. Watching a man whose love of the camera is only eclipsed by his esteem for himself can be trying, but ultimately entertaining. To his credit, Coach came within five words of winning the million in South Pacific, but ultimately he couldn’t separate his delusions from his strategy and fess up to his scheming. For a guy who basically stole Rupert’s shtick and ran with it, Coach over-performed. In every sense of that word. –@XLPelican

Don’t forget to vote in the other divisions:

Old School
Second Generation
New School