The latest season of Survivor just wrapped up. In honor of that, I wanted to include this season to my rankings. And honestly, I think this will be my last one. While I love doing these write-ups, I think this season marks a really good ending point for my ranking, as well as the series. For those of you who don’t know, Lynne Spillman will no longer serve as the Casting Director for Survivor. Spillman served as the series Casting Director for the past 19 years. If you really want a full understanding of Spillman’s work ethic and influence on the series, this article does a great job of it. So I feel like by only doing these seasons, the list really captures an era of one woman’s influence and vision for one of the most groundbreaking shows of all time.
Unfortunately, Edge of Extinction isn’t exactly the swan song I’d like to end this on. This is probably one of my least favorite seasons. I’ve often recommended Survivor to people that want to understand storytelling. Because when the show is good, there is a really satisfying payoff. However, when it’s bad, you know how not to tell a story. Unfortunately, Edge of Extinction falls into the second category. Also, I’ve added updated responses to the returning players, so please go back and check those if you’re interested.
So spoilers ahead. But if you ask me, you’re better off saving your time and reading this list.
- Chris Underwood (Edge of Extinction)
Yeah, just by looking at a picture of Chris, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what season he was on. Chris was a nice, athletic guy on the Manu tribe. Unfortunately, he strategizes a little too hard, and becomes an early target. Even though he is the best physical player on one of the worst tribes in history, his tribe still votes him out in the 3rd episode.
In every other season, Chris wouldn’t make my rankings. But because of the Edge of Extinction twist, Chris isn’t technically out of the game and makes it to the merge, so he qualifies. Hell, he actually wins the season!
If you can’t tell from that last paragraph, this is one of the biggest problems with the season; a guy voted out in the third episode is our winner. How the hell are you supposed to make a story out of a guy that’s away from the action for 80% of the episodes.
To be fair, the editors try. On the Edge of Extinction, Chris gets some inspiring confessionals about how he wanted to play a perfect game, and is heartbroken because he couldn’t be perfect. He catches food for his fellow tribe members, and shoves Keith out of the way to get an advantage (which I enjoyed). And, when Chris does get back in the game in the final episode, he is at least likeable. He also gets one (admittedly) badass move where he gives up his Final Immunity and challenges frontrunner Rick Devens to a firemaking challenge, which he wins.
But, I’ve got to be honest, was Chris’ story satisfying to anyone? Honestly? He’s literally out of the game for 30 Days, then strolls in on Day 35 with an Idol. Also, after a certain point the editors stop showing the Edge of Extinction, so we don’t even get to see his journey in every episode. When he returns for the finale, he always has some advantage to survive. His victory doesn’t feel earned, especially when I compare it to the journeys of every other winner.
Look, I don’t want to pile on Chris, enough people have/will do that. He seems like a nice enough guy, so I’m glad he earned the money. But I’m not doing these rankings on how nice of a person everyone is in real life, I’m doing it based on how they were as a character on a TV show. And that’s the thing, Chris wasn’t a character; he was a game design. I guess it’s like Wardog said at Final Tribal Council, “You had to play with the hand you were dealt this season”. In that sense, the editors did the best they could with the winner they were dealt. Unfortunately, there was no way you could tell a satisfying story with the end result.
- Ron Clark (Edge of Extinction)
I don’t think Ron is a bad character, but definitely a mixed one. Ron has some fun moments, like dancing at the beach, or looking through Joe’s bag.
But then he also has some less fun content. He acts like he’s controlling everyone in the tribe, even when he’s on the outside of key votes. And his decision to use the loved ones visit as a threat was borderline gross.
I get the feeling Ron was supposed to be the villain of the season, but the editors didn’t want to go after a famous person. Especially someone famous for their charity work. So Ron just comes off as this guy that I can’t tell if I’m supposed to root for or against. Like I said, not terrible, but not good either.
- Julia Carter (Edge of Extinction)
Look, Julia had an uphill battle for content. For starters, this season had 4 returnees who were guaranteed to get more screen time from the start, the Edge of Extinction twist meant that there would be less screen time for all contestants, and she was on the dominant Kama tribe that didn’t have to go to Tribal at all in the pre-merge.
Julia doesn’t get any content until she orchestrates the blindside on Erik. Which is great because it shakes up the game. After that, Julia finds herself in a power position where she sits comfortably in a majority alliance. However in the next episode, Julia manages to blow up her entire game in one tribal council, it’s sort of incredible. She fails to make anyone feel like they can trust her, and is really snarky. (You’re such a passenger Devens!”, and “Shut up, Wardog”) It’s actually a masterclass on what not to do on Survivor.
Is Julia a good player? Probably not, because she manages to tank her entire game in one episode. But, I was at least entertained by her for 2 episodes. And those were the 2 best episodes of the season, and in my book, that counts for something.
- Julie Rosenberg (Edge of Extinction)
Julie was your standard older woman. She has difficulty adjusting to the game, and gets upset when people act too mean, like wanting to vote out Rick, or Aurora negotiating a deal while a player is passed out.
At times, this was a little annoying, but it could also be entertaining. Like when Julie got so emotional at tribal and shouted “I’M JUMPING SHIP!” Before literally running to a new alliance and making plans. Not exactly the most groundbreaking character, but decent enough.
- Erik Hafemann (Edge of Extinction)
Charismatic guy. Gave good confessionals, and stayed loyal to his tribe. Erik was an early shock boot, and it was pretty satisfying to see him go.
On the Edge of Extinction, he got really emotional and almost quit. But then Chris caught a stingray, and it gave Erik the lesson of ‘Never quit’ to his kids. Look, he’s a lot more charming than I am, I’m sure it will make sense if Erik explained it.
- Reem Daly (Edge of Extinction)
Started out as the motherly figure of Manu, where she kept trying to clean her tribe’s clothes and taught Keith to swim. When she’s at risk of being voted out, she does a full 180, and starts intimidating her tribe with a machete not to vote for her. Reem would normally go down as an entertaining first boot…
…But the Edge of Extinction twist makes Reem one of the most entertaining players of the season. Reem is just so bitter, and is there to make everyone’s experience so much worse that it’s actually hilarious. From phrases like “Lame” to “Don’t get too excited dude.” Reem is just fun to watch. As a fan it’s hilarious to bust out a Reem impression; “Dude, I’ve been on the Edge of Extinction for 30 days, man!”
Reem is less of a character, and more of a collection of moments. But, those moments are pretty great.
- Rick Devens (Edge of Extinction)
Hoo Boy, get ready for a ramble.
I don’t think Rick is terrible. His news reports are fun, and he gives some terrific lines like, “I might be the poop in this analogy, Jeff”. He’s a charismatic guy, and gives great performances at Tribal Council, like how he led the Julia vote off. Also, while some fans may have been annoyed by his blowup at Wardog, I actually enjoyed seeing someone get emotional after being betrayed twice.
Rick didn’t do anything wrong, the issue comes with how he’s edited. For starters, Rick is given twice as many confessionals as everyone else this season. Here’s the thing about Survivor, a little content goes a long way. People don’t like having a character forced on them, they prefer to become a fan of them naturally.
Unfortunately, too much exposure to Rick kind of turned me off. His constant idol searches gave me flashbacks to HHH. If anyone from production somehow stumbles on this blog post, here’s a brief piece of advice from a viewer; I absolutely believe that watching someone walk around the jungle for 4 hours and finding a small envelope is incredibly satisfying in real time. However, when you edit EVERY idol search the exact same way, where there’s a confessional of a contestant saying they need the idol, the music cuts out, then triumphant music swells as they pull out an idol, and this happens every other episode, it’s not just boring, it’s a cliche. This is exactly what happened with Rick, as he kept finding Idol/Advantage every other episode. Constant advantage explanations also messed with the flow of the show, because rather than focusing on the relationships between players, the focus was on the Idols/advantages of the season.
This made it frustrating to watch the jury give Rick constant credit for moves he didn’t make. The audience saw a series of events with different characters take place, then watched Rick take all the credit for something he didn’t even do. Because Rick had no allies for the post-merge, the edit hardly focused on the relationships between players.
Plus, not all content from Rick was good. Rick comes from a TV background as a newscaster. That’s not meant to be a knock against him. While Rick could be entertaining and natural, some of his confessionals feel like a 2nd or 3rd take of a producer asking him to deliver his lines bigger. It just makes him come off as inauthentic, and that’s the worst thing you can do on a reality show. Also, he was really condescending to Lauren and Julie several times, and his blowup to Ron and Julie about a fake idol was pretty obnoxious (especially when he does the same thing 3 episodes later.)
With hindsight, I understand why editors would do this. Their goal was to highlight that Rick was an unstoppable force that would win the game if he got to the end. That way, viewers would feel satisfied with the winner because he “Beat the best”. I get that line of thinking. However, this ended up polarizing the viewers. Rick fans were upset that their favorite player lost, and Rick haters were left scratching their heads why they gave such a massive edit to a guy that doesn’t win.
Rick’s edit was so overbearing it made the season difficult to watch. I wanted to know more about the other castaways, but was forced to watch ‘The Rick Show’. Giving a character this much of an edit can make or break a season, and in this case, Rick broke it for me.
- Gavin Whitson (Edge of Extinction)
Reminded me a lot of Nick Wilson from the previous season, as this young Southern-Guy. Unfortunately, I think Gavin suffered too much from ‘Carter Williams Syndrome’; where Gavin was this low-key guy, but 30+ days without food just made it difficult for him to emote.
What was even more frustrating was the edit Gavin got. Victoria, Julia, and Lauren all say at different points that Gavin is their number one ally. Yet, we aren’t shown any scenes of Gavin interacting with them. That’s a seriously impressive social game. Also, given the Final 3 we got, Gavin absolutely deserved to win. Overall, I think Gavin was the victim of an unbalanced edit.
Side Note: Gavin deserves credit for one of the coolest shirts in the series.
- Aurora McCreary (Edge of Extinction)
Aurora was pretty underrated this season. She was the only newbie that wasn’t afraid to ally with the returning players. That meant I didn’t have to sit through 20 confessionals of her talking about how returning players were ‘huge threats’.
She has some funny moments, from “I’m gay, and even I’m on team Joe”, to“I can’t stand soccer moms”. I also loved when Aurora tried to negotiate an Immunity win while another contestant was passed out less than 5 feet away from her.
However, beneath the surface Aurora had a solid story. She never felt that she belonged to a group, until she joins an alliance with Victoria, Gavin and Lauren. But, once she feels like she’s a part of something, they turn on her because she was a safe vote. It’s actually pretty sad. I think this is what the most contestants this season were missing, an emotional core to their storylines.
- Daniel ‘Wardog’ DaSilva (Edge of Extinction)
With a name like ‘Wardog’ you would expect an off-the-wall character. However, Wardog was actually a calculated strategist. Often times Wardog would come up with brilliant moves to make that would make me think, ‘That’s brilliant’. Like how he has to keep big targets in the game so no one goes after him, or voting for the obvious target in the 2 tribe, tribal council.
Where it becomes interesting is how others react to him. On Lesu, his tribe members become annoyed with Wardog.. They explain that of course he’s good at strategy, all he does is think up plans, because he doesn’t help around camp. I also just find it funny that a guy who has tattoos of every New York sports team can’t throw a baseball. Definitely a bright spot on the season, and things really go downhill once he leaves.
- Lauren O’Connell (Edge of Extinction)
There was a lot that I liked about Lauren. She was on the weak Manu/Lesu tribe, but still had to be the strong one on her tribe. She couldn’t eat any food while on the island, but still never let it get in her way. I also love how she passes out in a challenge and just says “That’s embarrassing” or when she would yell at Wardog in the middle of challenges.
But, I think what makes Lauren work is how her story progresses. She starts off as a sidekick for Kelley Wentworth, but plays her own game by finding an idol on her own. Once Wentworth goes down, Lauren takes matters into her own hands and plays the best she can. You root for Lauren as an underdog… That is until the editors decide in the finale, “No, you’re actually supposed to dislike Lauren and cheer when she gets tricked, and leaves in tears. Because F l a s h y G a m e p l a y!” (Damn, this season was rough)
Having to navigate being on the bottom of the tribe, and being the underdog. Lauren really was one of the highlights of the season
- Victoria Baamonde (Edge of Extinction)
The nerve of it all, Victoria played the best game of this season bar none, and was royally screwed.
In terms of gameplay, she was incredible. Victoria managed to vote with the majority in every Tribal Council, and never had a single vote against her. She did this all without an Advantage, Idol or Immunity. Victoria was also the only player to successfully vote out every veteran player. If there was ever a testament to how great a character Victoria was, she got rid of some of the most beloved players of the series, and fans still enjoyed watching her.
Victoria was the ‘Ice Queen’ of the season. She’d often give confessionals about how no one should trust her, and would always jump into the majority of votes. This led to some great confessionals like, “My tribe is cool with going to rocks. I’M NOT!”, or “If we get rid of the queen bee, the hive will crumble.”
If there was anything that Victoria reminded me of, it’s the myth of Cassandra. Whenever Victoria warned her allies they were making a mistake trying to make a ‘Big Move’, she would often be ignored. But she kept being right, as Rick kept managing to survive, and the Kama majority crumbled.
It just makes her elimination all the more frustrating. After being in control of the entire post-merge, sitting in a majority alliance and having several paths to the end and win; Chris comes back from the Edge of Extinction and says “BTW guys, I was chilling with the jury for the past 30 days, and they all want Victoria to win, so we better get rid of her now!” After playing a perfect under-the-radar game, she had no way of defending herself.
I think the edit of Victoria sums up this season, and the future of Survivor. Victoria chose not to be theatrical or flashy, and was instead much more natural and subdued in front of the camera. As a result, she was ignored for the over-the-top characters and advantage based parts of the game. And honestly, I’m a little disappointed with the way that played out, because I find characters like Victoria far more entertaining.