Tonight marks the two-hour premiere of Survivor‘s fortieth season, subtitled Winners at War. The highly anticipated season brings back twenty prior champions for the chance to compete for a second (or third, in one instance) crown. I’m incredibly excited for this season, despite both wishing there were some different winners in the cast and coming off two seasons – Edge of Extinction and Island of the Idols – that I didn’t necessarily care for.
But how do the twenty winners in the cast stack up for me?
20. Rob Mariano – To be completely honest, I’ve never been a fan of Rob in any of his seasons. In addition, the season he finally won – Redemption Island – has been one of my least-favourite seasons of the show since it first aired. It seemed obvious from the get-go that he was going to win, considering it was his fourth time and he was playing against a bunch of players who were playing their first go-around.
19. Tony Vlachos – Similar to Boston Rob, I was never a fan of Tony’s gameplay in Cagayan either. Then again, I wasn’t really a fan of that season to begin with, despite it being a fan favourite season.
18. Wendell Holland – This is kind of a default placement, as Wendell’s winning season was Ghost Island, which is one of the few seasons of Survivor that I stopped watching live midway through because I just can’t make myself care enough to watch live. (The other two seasons in that list were Redemption Island and Thailand.)
17. Amber Mariano – On one hand, part of me is excited to see the return of Amber thirty-two seasons after All Stars. On the other hand, part of me feels it’s entirely unnecessary to see her back out considering I don’t think she’ll contribute much to the game. In addition, her & Rob both being in the cast just makes me wary we could get a rehash of All Stars, minus the endgame result. But I’m hoping she’ll change my expectations of her around.
16. Sarah Lacina – Sarah Lacina played one of the most ruthless, dominating, villainous winning games in Game Changers. A winning game that I’d even rank among the best if I was strictly ranking the winning games. But that’s also ignoring the fact that she had a pretty easy start to her winning season considering she wasn’t one of the big names that were going to be targeted first. As the still-incumbent female winner, it seemed obvious that she’d be back, but I personally could do with some of the other female champions over her. Still, I’m curious to see how Sarah does her second go-around after we’ve seen her play as a cop and as a criminal.
15. Kim Spradlin-Wofle – Perhaps my most unpopular Survivor opinion is that I never got behind Kim’s run in One World. Not only was I rooting for a handful of others over her, but I just feel like her gameplay gets overrated by the masses considering the cast of that season was largely full of duds. If Kim manages to make a deep run this season given the cast, she’ll likely convert me, but as it is for now, this is where I rank her.
14. Tyson Apostol – Tyson’s a castaway that I find hilarious outside of the Survivor setting, but as soon as he’s on the show, I just kind of want to move on without him. He played a decent game in Blood vs. Water, but – similar to Kim – there were several others that season I found myself rooting for over him.
13. Danni Boatwright – Danni’s a hard one to rank for me, because she intentionally held back on a lot of her strategy during her winning season for fear of production interference, and I haven’t really kept up with her post-show like I have with several others. Her ability to win despite a significant numbers disadvantage at the merge is impressive, and I think she’ll be able to get herself to the merge again considering her skills at playing under the radar.
12. Jeremy Collins – Jeremy was one of my favourites in his first season, San Juan Del Sur, but I didn’t feel the same about him coming out of Cambodia. Perhaps that was due to the edit he received the second go-around, but I’m hoping we get to see more of Jeremy’s sassy side that we saw in his first second this go around.
11. Yul Kwon –
10. Ethan Zohn – Does a Survivor winner have a more inspirational story than Ethan? After two serious bouts with cancer, Ethan was one of the few contestants that I never expected to return again. Despite me still ranking him here, I’m super glad to see him back and hoping he can do well. Like Amber, I think Ethan might be at a disadvantage since he hasn’t played since All Stars (in fact, the two of them are the only winners in the cast to play without any sort of hidden immunity Idol), but I think his general likability will keep him around until he can get a grasp on modern Survivor.
09. Natalie Anderson – Though part of me is forever bitter that Natalie blindsided Jon, who was my favourite of San Juan del Sur, her strategy of laying low early on before making her big moves at the end is one that we’ve seen several attempt since. After a last minute injury caused her to pull out of Game Changers, this winds up being Natalie’s second time at the game, and I think that’ll come in handy for her. Her and Jeremy being on the same tribe could prove to be an asset or a detriment to them depending on how they play it, but I think both are savvy enough to navigate the early days until a swap occurs.
08. Ben Driebergen – Has a winner ever been as vilified by the super-fans as Ben was following his season? Maybe Natalie after Samoa, but as someone who was rooting for Ben for during his season after my other favourites were all eliminated, it was a bittersweet finale night. Unfortunately, Ben’s win will always be looked at under a microscope due to all the Idols that he played in the end-game and the infamous fire-making twist (one that, in all fairness, was decided on before the season began), but I think Ben could have a decent showing this time around if he aligns with the right people.
07. Adam Klein – It’s true that there are some glaring faults in Adam’s winning game, but I also think people forget about some of the more strategy-savvy ideas he had. He was able to pinpoint certain jury threats early on and plant the necessary seeds for them to be able to get taken out. His arc of being a Survivor superfan turned winner is also one that speaks to me as another Survivor superfan, and I look forward to seeing him do well this season.
06. Sandra Diaz-Twine – If you look it from a pure objective standpoint, Sandra easily takes the title as the Best Survivor Castaway; after all, she’s the only winner to win twice, and she showed some strong strategic prowess before being screwed due to a tribe swap in Game Changers. I also find Sandra hilarious whenever she’s on television and while I personally thought Parvati deserved the win over her in Heroes vs Villains, there’s no denying Sandra’s legacy as a Survivor player.
05. Sophie Clarke – South Pacific was a season that many hated, me among them, but at least the season ended on a positive note to me with Sophie’s victory over Coach and Ozzy. She was someone I’m shocked to see get invited back, since Jeff Probst seems to have a vendetta against the under-the-radar female champions. Sophie’s pre-season press has a lot of focus on how much growing she’s done from them to now, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the second iteration of Sophie play.
04. Michele Fitzgerald – Michele took the title of champion in Koah Rong, and her win ultimately proved to be controversial. Though it’s never been confirmed, there’s a popular belief that a lot of the current format switches in Survivor are the result of production not being thrilled about her win. All that said, Michele was one of my favourites in her season, and I was thrilled she won. I also thought the reaction was weird, considering it seemed rather obvious to me that she was going to win. (Case in point: her alliance with Anna and Julia that received so much focus early on in the season and ultimately amounted to nothing considering Anna left before the three ever went to tribal together; or the last few episodes of the season having the other alumni point out that Michele was a threat because she had no enemies on the jury – which ultimately proved prophetic). I’m curious to see how Michele will do these season.
03. Denise Stapley – The only castaway (and, ultimately, winner) to attend every single tribal council in a single season, Denise Stapely had the perfect underdog storyline for her season, Philippines. As a sex therapist, I think Denise has the right skill set to make another strong run this season, as she has a way of talking to everyone she plays with to make them feel comfortable.
02. Nick Wilson – Maybe my bias towards Nick is because he’s from a few hours south of my hometown Cincinnati, and he’s always posting photos in that city rooting for the Reds. But in David vs. Goliath, I think Nick played a pretty solid game. He made the necessary social bonds with the right players to advance his game, and managed to pull out some immunity wins the final few weeks to add to his, for lack of a better term, résume. He’s also my winner pick for this season.
01. Parvati Shallow – My all-time favourite Survivor player is Parvati Shallow, so to say I’ve been freaking out about her return is an understatement. Parvati’s charisma as a player is unmatched, and while I think she’s coming into the season as one of the biggest threats, I have no doubt in her ability to make yet another surprising, deep run.