- Ben Driebergen (Heroes v Healers v Hustlers)
Oh boy! Even though he was on a recent season, Ben is one of the more polarizing figures ever in Survivor.
When the season started, Ben was definitely one of the more unique characters on the show. He was a US veteran, that was still dealing with PTSD from his service. On top of that, Ben was a really likeable guy that got along with all of his tribe members. Still the edit wasn’t too afraid of showing his less flattering moments. Like when Chrissy told him he was steamrolling other people’s opinions, and he said “No I’m not!”
His story completely changes around the Final 7. Ben finds out he’s the target of the vote, and decides to go on a warpath against everyone left in the game by playing idols to save himself.
Where Ben’s story starts to fall apart is the finale. Where miraculously, Ben finds a third idol right before he gives a confessional. Which means he managed to make it to the Final 4 solely by playing Immunity Idols. Everyone knows that if Ben wins the Final Immunity, he wins the game. So when he loses, and can no longer use a Hidden Immunity Idol to save himself, it looks like he’s out of luck. That is until this season just happens to introduce a brand new twist, where there is no vote at the Final 4, but instead a fire making challenge to give people a chance to make the Final Tribal. Ben manages to win the challenge, and the game!
You can tell that they want to give him a Mike Holloway edit, of a guy overcoming the odds to win. But it doesn’t quite work because Mike was competing against a group of monsters, and Ben was going against a group of pretty relatable people that you didn’t want to see lose.
Look, I’m not upset that Ben won, he seems like a great guy and deserves it; I’m more upset with how he won. Unlike every other winner, it doesn’t feel earned because you know without this twist he would’ve been out. I think Ben’s story works better if he goes out as the “Robbed Goddess” player. The guy who tried to win the game on his own but then falls at the last second becoming a tragic figure. Instead, him getting a second chance just makes his victory seem cheap, like he caught a lucky break..
Still, that falls more under an issue with what production decided to do. Ben’s job was to go on TV and be entertaining, and on that front, he delivered. For that reason, he more than earns his higher placement on this list.
- Ken Hoang (Gabon)
Kenny starts off Gabon as the nerdy guy. But, he starts to break out of his shell. He flirts with Michelle before she gets voted off, and gains a lot confidence.
He’s on the Fang tribe for the beginning, and is seen as a liability for not being good at challenges. But, he manages to survive by forming tight alliances and manages to flip the numbers. Eventually he gets a little too full of himself and finds himself on the bottom again when Sugar gets sick of his control.
What’s great about Kenny is that he makes the obvious strategic decisions, but the edit goes out of its way to portray him as the villain. Not a bad character, and it would be cool if he ever came back.
- Katie Gallagher (Palau)
Katie is one of the all-time best snarky contestants in the series. She just can’t help but be brutally honest to people, especially Janu and Caryn who she feuds with. Katie also has a great friendship with Ian. Even though he strong arms her on how to vote, and lies about taking her on a reward, Katie is still willing to stand by him and let him make fire. Their relationship is arguably the strongest friendship on any season of Survivor.
But I will always remember Katie for her sense of humor. Her one liners are great. And let’s always remember, “Caryn sucks”
- Crystal Cox (Gabon)
I don’t know if there is any better way to sum up Gabon than Crystal; she’s an Olympic Gold Medalist that is terrible at physical challenges. How does that happen? To top it off, Crystal is convinced she is great at challenges, but is so inept it’s hilarious how bad she is at challenges.
Crystal has so many great lines from “Eat yo’ Rice” to “You can’t outwit Crystal Cox, baby.” It’s really funny how over-the-top she is.
Crystal is a great ‘over-the-top character that just makes an already funny season even funnier. Plus she has one of the greatest voting confessionals of all time
- Hayden Moss (Blood vs. Water)
At the start of Blood vs. Water Hayden is seen as a huge threat for being a winner on Big Brother.
Throughout the season, viewers got a look at just how good Hayden could be at playing a social game. On top of that, Hayden was a likeable presence on the season and gave good confessionals.
He convinces his girlfriend that it is actually smarter if she stays at Redemption Island than if he competed for her.
Plus, he pulls off one of the best moves by convincing Ciera to flip alliances and go to rocks in order to save him.
Hayden left the game proving that he is a master social/strategic player, and also gained quite a few new Survivor fans.
- Rupert Boneham (Pearl Islands, All Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Blood vs. Water)
Alright, we’re taking the character from all of their seasons, and there is no denying that Rupert is definitely one of the biggest characters that the show has ever had. However, you can sum up Rupert’s history on the show into two distinct phases.
It was impossible not to love Rupert in Pearl Islands. He’s this giant guy with a great big bushy beard, and a tie-dye tank top. The first thing he does is steal the opposing tribe’s shoes, because “They’re pirates now, and stealing is what pirates do.” From that point on, everything Rupert does is edited to make him look like the hero:
He’s the primary fisherman for his tribe, (Go Rupert!) He gets bullied by his tribemates for wearing a skirt, (Screw those guys. Rupert’s the best!) Rupert even has a pet snake that he names the tribe after. (Adorable!) This makes it all the sadder, once real life super-villain Jonny Fairplay blindsides Rupert
But Rupert’s peak probably comes on All Stars. Early on he builds the worst shelter in history, but once again, is edited like the hero. He is also the most likeable member of the Chapera tribe, by once again being the provider. Even though he loses, he ends up winning Survivor: America’s Tribal Council, and wins the $1 million prize that way.
After that, it’s downhill for Rupert. The second phase for Rupert starts on Heroes vs. Villains. He comes in as one of the most beloved castaways, but he doesn’t really live up to it. This time he takes on the mantle of being the heroic member of the tribe that wants to play with loyalty. But, here’s the thing about Rupert, the game has changed, but he didn’t. At the time of Heroes vs. Villains, a lot of fans are more interested in gameplay instead of being a big character. It also doesn’t help that Rupert is very full of himself. He has this whole thing about not wanting Villains to win, because ‘they’re villains’. Overall, he’s more annoying than entertaining.
His last appearance is in Blood vs. Water, where Rupert chooses to go to Redemption Island to save his wife. His time is mercifully short, but the sad thing is that he is one of the most recognizable players of all time, but no one really cares that he’s gone. In the end, one of the most famous contestants the series has produced goes out with a whimper.
Rupert highlights two different eras of Survivor. In the early days, Rupert thrived by being the ‘Good guy’ that preaches loyalty, and being a hero. However, as the series progressed, there was no longer any room for that kind of player in the new “Big Moves” era. Still, Rupert deserves to go down as one of the biggest personalities of the series, and definitely one of the most memorable.
- Ozzy Lusth (Cook Islands, Micronesia, South Pacific, Game Changers)
If there were ever a Survivor player that you would want to be trapped on a desert island with, it would be Ozzy. As far as actual survival skills, Ozzy is the best at catching fish and scavenging for food. To top it off, he is pretty much the best player at challenges ever. I seriously wished I liked him more.
The thing is, every season he’s been on, Ozzy has always done at least one thing that really annoyed me as a viewer. His jury speech in Micronesia where he berates Parvati because she did the worst thing ever to him by taking away two weeks he could’ve spent with Amanda. Give me a break. Or, there was the time he loses an ally in South Pacific, so he goes on a tirade claiming that he’s now a free agent. He just always manages to come off as self-entitled.
As much as I’ve bashed the guy, the truth is I actually do like some stuff with Ozzy. He’s a part of the Aitu 4 and is a major part of their comeback in Cook Islands. Also, him making the fake idol in Micronesia was pretty cool.
Ozzy works the best in South Pacific when he was on Redemption Island. All he does is compete in challenges and survive in the outdoors. Which quite frankly is the only thing he really wanted to do in the game.
His story is best captured in South Pacific. He is terrible at strategy/social game, but goes far because he is unbeatable in physical challenges. However, falls just short of winning the game.
- Mike Holloway (Worlds Apart)
At the start of the season, it seems that Mike is going to get voted out early. He works non-stop around camp and gets annoyed with his tribe, mostly Rodney, for being lazy. He also eats a scorpion, for no reason. This makes him an outcast amongst the blue collars, but also likeable to viewers because he’s not Dan or Rodney. Then once Will attacks Shirin, Mike is the only one willing to stand up for her. After this, Mike is forced to win every Immunity Challenge in order to get to the end, which he does, pretty easily.
Mike gets hurt in these rankings by a really obvious winner’s edit. But Mike winning is the only way there could be a satisfying ending to this season.
- Jud ‘Fabio’ Birza (Nicaragua)
No one will ever accuse Fabio of being a strategic mastermind. In fact, he got the nickname Fabio because his tribemates thought he was as dumb as a supermodel. Often times he was either falling for lies, like Marty saying he was a chess grandmaster. Or he didn’t know what was going on in the game, like when NaOnka had to explain to him they were voting for Brenda.
But that’s okay, because what Fabio lacked in strategy and ‘Big Movez’, he made up for with personality. While everyone else tried to hide their emotions for their games sake, Fabio was totally okay with being his goofy self. And everyone, (Except NaOnka, but she doesn’t count), enjoyed having him around. This allowed Fabio to have one of the more authentic personalities on the show. He had no problem standing up to NaOnka when she stole food, when no one else wanted to ruin their alliance. He also had no problem getting emotional at the loved ones visit because Chase didn’t pick him. In the end Fabio is the last one of his alliance standing, and he goes on a late game Immunity Run to put himself in the Final Three. At Final Tribal, he won because he played an authentic game, and didn’t upset any of the jurors. He even got mortal enemy NaOnka’s vote. Not bad for the dumb blonde.
- Matty Whitmore (Gabon)
Gabon is such a bizarre season. Every contestant that was supposed to go to the end is voted out early, and every early boot goes to the finals. Right in the middle of all of this craziness is Matty. He gets put on the clusterfuck Fang Tribe, and has to do everything for them in challenges.
But, Matty also has some fun moments. There’s the time where he and Ace (pre-merge) go to get a closer look at the elephants, and there’s a nice scene where he proposes to his girlfriend.
In theory, Matty should be the guy that wins the challenges. But instead, it’s the guy nearly twice his age. He should be the winner of the season, but at the last minute gets screwed by a betrayal. Matty is a nice guy, and produced one of the best GIFs ever.
- Colby Donaldson (Australian Outback, All Stars, Heroes vs. Villains)
One of the earliest breakout stars of the series; Colby is remembered for being the alpha male of the Australian Outback. He is the down to Earth guy, that loves Texas. He’s also the good guy of the season as he wins a bunch of challenges, and rejects villainess Jerri’s flirting. Unfortunately, Colby’s good guy honor comes back to haunt him in the end, as he brings the more deserving Tina to the end instead of the goat Keith.
He comes back for All Stars, where he once again has some great jokes like, “Not only does this raft have to carry Lex and Kathy and I and a normal human being, but it’s gotta carry 260 pounds of Hatch”. Fortunately, he gets booted early, so he doesn’t have to deal with the awfulness that is the post merge of All Stars.
Unfortunately, he comes back for Heroes vs. Villains. This time he doesn’t care about the game, and lacks any enthusiasm. As James says, he’s “Superman in a fat suit.” Colby kind of stops trying early on, and is frustrated throughout the rest of the season. Honestly, this season tarnishes Colby’s legacy a little bit.
Colby will be remembered as the original hero of the series. But as he kept returning, he wasn’t able to keep up the appearance.
- Trish Hegarty (Cagayan)
As time has gone on, I think there is a solid argument that Trish may have been the best player on Cagayan. While she was originally labeled as weak because of her age, Trish made up for it with her incredible social game. Seriously, Trish was such a badass she made her enemy quit with a sick burn. “Do you think I’m annoying?… Do you think I care?”
While Trish bonded with several players, her closest ally was Tony. As a result she had to spend most of the game cleaning up the messes he made by lying to people.
But, Trish’s most memorable moment comes at the FTC, where she asks Tony if it was worth lying on his father’s soul to get to the end. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking moment in that nearly breaks Tony. Trish is a fantastic character, and does not get nearly enough credit in creating the badass older woman archetype.
- Michael Skupin (Australian Outback, Philippines)
Skupin is an amazing larger than life character in his first appearance. He‘s this suburban guy that decides to become this survivalist. He builds his own spear so that he can hunt and kill a pig, which he succeeds in. Skupin is also a part of one of the most infamous moments of the series as the first medical evacuation, where he actually falls into a fire and gets third-degree burns.
His evacuation allows him to return for Philippines. Once again he’s this larger than life guy that lacks any self-awareness. He keeps hurting himself when he tries to do work, and wants to play the game with integrity. He’s a great character for audiences to laugh at because he is just so clueless.
I really loved Skupin on the show. And if you want to enjoy him as well, whatever you do, don’t Google him!
- Sierra Reed (Tocantins)
Sierra won me over in the first episode, where after being voted out as the weakest of her tribe, she manages to build an entire shelter by herself.
Unfortunately for Sierra, her tribe never really accepts her. Instead, she’s the victim of bullying by Tyson, and Coach. She works as a perfect foil for Tyson, because she can be very emotional and upset, but refuses to ever just be the victim, so she will always talk back.
Her arguments with Tyson, Debbie, and Coach are some of the funniest of the season. But at the same time, you feel bad for Sierra always being the outsider. The only ally she has is Brendan, and the Exile Alliance they form falls apart immediately. So Sierra spends a lot of time alone.
What I like the most about Sierra was that even though her tribe never accepted her, she never quit. She always tried to fit into the majority and play the game. Sierra is one of the best underdogs that the series has ever had.
- Shii Ann Huang (Thailand, All Stars)
Shii Ann’s story on Survivor is being an outsider. In Thailand, Shii Ann’s work ethic made her an outcast on the younger Sook Jai tribe. On top of that, her cultural upbringing also set her apart from her tribe. When they eat chickens, Shii Ann is willing to eat all of the parts of the chicken that no one else would eat. In the end, Shii Ann would have been willing to flip on her tribe at the merge, except there is a twist where there is no merge. Because of this, the she gets voted out for being a liability.
Shii Ann returns for All Stars, making her the only castaway from Thailand to ever return. She has a lot of good lines, especially making fun of Richard, (He’s impressive, not downstairs, but impressive). At the merge, Shii Ann is the last Mogo Mogo member left. In a do-or-die challenge, Shii Ann wins Immunity forcing the Chapera tribe to vote off one of their own. It’s one of the best Immunity wins of all time, and also one of the few highlights of All Stars. In the end, Shii Ann delivers one of the best Jury speeches of all time. After the ugliness of Final Tribal, Shii Ann, who was treated the worst by Amber & Boston Rob, comes in and explains that “People in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones.”
Shii Ann was always the underdog on both of her seasons. However, she was the castaway that you always hoped would pull off the win.
- Helen Glover (Thailand)
Thailand has the reputation of having one of the most unlikeable casts, especially the Chuay Ghan tribe. But, I actually like Helen. She’s underrated as one of the funniest castaways on the show. Helen’s isn’t trying to be funny, her frustration just comes out naturally. For example, her famous confessional of, “If I’d had a pistol, I’d have shot her first, shot me second. That’s why I don’t carry a gun”. Her delivery is just so effortless, as if she wasn’t even trying to make a joke, which makes it even funnier. Also her final words where she hopes her tribe members literally break a leg is amazing.
Helen also has a great Jury Speech, where she presses Brian on why he got rid of her. It’s one of the few moments Brian actually looks nervous throughout the season.
Thailand may not be a well-regarded season, but that doesn’t stop Helen from being one of the most entertaining castaways.
- Michaela Bradshaw (Millennials vs. Gen X, Game Changers)
Okay, Michaela is fantastic in her first season. Basically everything that comes out of her mouth is gold. From her confrontation with Figgy, telling Hannah to shut up in the middle of a challenge, and yelling at the Takali tribe, “There’s three of you! If you can’t figure out how to work together, then you deserve to go home!”
What makes things even better is that Michaela refuses to ever hide her emotions. In her own words, “My lips may close, but these eyebrows will talk.” This leads her to throw her buff on the ground when she gets placed on the tribe she doesn’t want to, and blow up at her own blindside.
But there’s more to Michaela than just being outspoken. When she’s on the Ikabula tribe, she’s the only one that keeps working to finally create fire. After this, she cries because of how she accomplished something she had never done before. What’s great about this scene is that it shows Michaela isn’t just a sarcastic person, but a young woman that wants to win in order to improve her family’s life.
Unfortunately when Michaela returns, they forget to include this part of her. Instead, they just show Michaela’s outspoken side, and try to frame her as more of an entitled child. Still, Michaela manages to give us some gold. Eating in the middle of tribal council is quite possibly the greatest shade ever thrown in the series.
Michaela is one of the realest characters that the series has ever given, and I would love for her to return on any season. Also, after she puts JT in his place at Tribal Council, she gives us the greatest GIF known to mankind
- Ken McNickle (Millennials vs Gen X)
One of the themes of MvGX is the idea of ‘Cool Kids’ vs. ‘Outcasts’. No one better encapsulates this theme than Ken. On one hand, Ken is a handsome guy that is fantastic at the survival element of the game, which would normally make him the popular guy on a tribe. However, Ken opens up about being anxious when he was younger. Because of this, he ends up bonding more with the social outcasts of the season..
Ken feels like he would fit in better on the older seasons, than modern Survivor. Mostly because Ken is better at challenges and survival than he is at strategy. He preaches about how much he values loyalty, and how he only wants to work with people he can trust. After playing the entire game with honor, he makes the final decision to boot his best friend David in order to have a shot at winning the game. Ironically, he ends up being chastised by the jury for his disloyalty, and Adam gets all of the credit for his move. (Seriously, it’s kind of maddening to watch.)
Still, Ken is a solid character, and in my book, a good hero for the season.
- Kelly Goldsmith (Africa)
Long before there was the likes of Courtney Yates or Katie Gallagher, Kelly Goldsmith was the original snarker of the series. However, there are two big moments for Kelly in the post-merge that sum her up. The first one is about Frank, where she makes fun of him for being a loner and says, “I feel like there prescription drugs to counteract that, and he should maybe be on them.”
Her other big moment comes when Lex blames her for voting for him during his witch-hunt. She makes fun of him for acting like a dad. Her voting confessional for him is great. Sadly, she goes out early because Brandon is a wiener that flips on the Samburu tribe.
Even all of these seasons later, Kelly is still one of the funniest contestants that the series has ever had. She also gets extra points for starting the snarky young girl archetype.
- Jeremy Collins (San Juan Del Sur, Cambodia)
In San Juan Del Sur, Jeremy starts as this guy that is cocky and can’t wait to compete. But immediately gets upset once he has to go against his wife. He’s shown to love his wife, and is furious when John Rocker doesn’t protect her on the Coyopa tribe. From there, Jeremy plays hard and is shown to be a good strategist with his ally Natalie Anderson. This makes him a big target and gets blindsided by Missy/Baylor and Jon/Jaclyn.
He returns for Cambodia only this time he is more upset because he left his wife while she was pregnant and wants to be there for her, but also needs to win for his family. He uses his personality to form strong bonds with everyone in the game. This guarantees him to always have the numbers on his side, and also has plenty of bigger targets for people to go after than him. Jeremy is a great addition to both seasons, as he is not only a great strategic player, but also a pretty charismatic one.
- Taj Johnson-Georges (Tocantins)
Her first confessional is about joining the game wanting to lose her baby weight. Initially, she is put on Exile Island, but has the idea to try and team up with members of the Timbira tribe while on Exile. Taj is insanely lovable, throughout the season, as she turns into a badass player. She is also a part of a great moment where she sees her husband on the loved ones visit, but goes to Exile, so everyone else can see their loved ones. Still one of the most likeable players on a season with a great cast.
- Chris Noble (Ghost Island)
Chris Noble is a casting agent’s dream. This guy is practically made for reality TV
Seriously, Chris is probably one of the greatest ‘Over the Top’ characters the series has ever had. His feud with Domenick is one of the most intense on the series. Plus, Chris lacks self awareness, so he will over-share his struggle of being a male model, or drag the entire tribe to a secret meeting to discuss voting off Domenick. He will use words like ‘beneficirary’ and ‘swa-vay’ to describe himself. Chris somehow manages to get eliminated without ever casting a vote, and having an idol in his pocket. Also, did I mention that he raps during his confessionals!
However what makes Chris work is that the edit takes enough time to humanize him. The audience is able to understand that Chris is arrogant, by the way he jumps to be leader at the first challenge, or his rapping during confessionals. But at the same time they understand the way he tries to make genuine bonds with people. When he returns from Ghost Island he tries to ally with the Malolos. When he proposes an alliance he points to each of them and says, “I like you, and I like you, and I like myself” The tone of his voice shows a guy that isn’t all swagger, but someone that really wants to make friends. Or there’s a scene where Donathon is homesick for leaving his sick grandmother; so Chris takes him aside to try and make him feel better.
Chris is a great example of what Survivor can do when the editors are firing on all cylinders. They can somehow manage to make one person the biggest cartoon and most human at the same time.
Also, greatest Ponderosa of all time? GREATEST PONDEROSA OF ALL TIME!
- Terry Deitz (Panama, Cambodia)
Years before Mike Holloway had to win every Immunity Challenge, there was Terry Deitz.
Terry was the badass athletic guy on the Older Man tribe. Going into the merge, Terry has to rely on his Hidden Immunity Idol, and his physical strength to survive, making him a perfect underdog.
Terry works as a character because he’s a perfect foil for the Casaya tribe. While Terry was the straight-laced man that wanted to play a moral game, and was for lack of a better word, ‘normal’. The Casaya tribe was insane, and had a lot of infighting. At times Terry was condescending to his competitors because of how frustrated he was being on the bottom.
His run as one of the biggest challenge beasts in history gets him onto Cambodia. He starts off as the ‘Old School’ player that doesn’t really know how to fit in to the game. Eventually, Terry finds his footing, but he has to leave when his son has a medical scare.
I like Terry, and enjoyed rooting for him in Panama. I know that a lot of people find him to have a huge ego and be entitled, but I really didn’t get that feel from him. So, I’ll put Terry here. Hope he gets another chance since his last one was cut short.
- Yung ‘Woo’ Hwang (Cagayan, Cambodia)
Okay, I love Woo. He makes his first appearance in Cagayan, a season that has serious gamers like Spencer, Tony, and Kass that are analyzing every move possible. Then, along comes Woo who always seems to be two steps behind everyone else. Some of the funniest moments from the season come from Woo being clueless about things, like Cliff’s blindside, or that the season will be a Final 2. He also has a great moment where he steals the idol clue from Spencer.
But I like Woo for reasons other than being clueless. Woo is a genuinely nice guy that is able to bond with the rest of the brawn tribe and work his way back into the majority after they blindside his closest ally. Most of Woo’s game revolves around flipping back and forth between alliances for no reason.
Woo manages to make it to the Final 3, and wins the FIC. In a shocking move, he takes Tony to the end in order to show his integrity…only to get crushed by the jury. At the reunion, Jeff reveals that Woo made a million dollar mistake by not taking Kass.
Woo’s sincerity and cluelessness made him a great choice to return for Second Chance. He starts off playing a decent game and gets a lot of coverage pre-merge. However, he gets booted after the second tribe swap because he makes the biggest mistake of all: He voted for Abi, twice.
Overall, Woo is a memorable character by being both the clueless surfer dude, but a nice and sincere guy in an era of gamebots.
- John Carroll (Marquesas)
One of the great villains of the early seasons. John starts off trying to lead the Rotu tribe. Mostly this entails having to deal with Kathy and her wanting to find food and make fire. His big moment happens when he gets stung by an urchin and needs Kathy to pee on his hand. (Iconic!)
Then the tribe swap happens and John makes the transition from background character, to full-fledged villain. He forms the Rotu 4, in order to have the majority on Rotu 2.0. He has full control of the tribe, and manages to try and control the Marammu tribe as well. Once the merge happens, he gets very cocky, especially after getting rid of rival Boston Rob. John is so confident that he is going to win, and even claims that the other castaways are rooting for his success. Since this is an early season, it would seem that John has the game locked up. That is until after the Coconut Chop challenge, where John becomes the victim of the first ever power shift in Survivor. After he gets voted out John, the guy that was so confident and cocky in his winning cries.
John is a great villain on the series. He has the numbers, and is so confident that he is going to win. This makes his blindside all the more enjoyable to watch. Being a great villain, and having a huge downfall make John one of the best characters on the show. Also, it’s not too late to have him come back… just saying!