Since 2000, Jeff Probst and Company have been providing castaways fire in the form of flint and us entertainment in the form of Survivor. Believe it or not, when you produce forty seasons of a show, not all of them will set the world on fire. That being said, every edition of Survivor has something to offer, including these ten underrated seasons.
What Makes a Season Underrated?
To be included in the “underrated Survivor season” category, you have to lack certain elements. These seasons don’t feature a plethora of beloved twists or moments. They are scattered here and there but they aren’t in the forefront of anyone’s mind. We need to change that.
On Their Terms
To love the unloved, you must change your point of view. Stop looking for stuff that isn’t there. You won’t find brilliant gameplay in a season that features none. You won’t find yourself heartbroken with every vote out when you’re actively rooting against most of the cast.
Sometimes, you have got to meet the season on its terms. These seasons aren’t amazing, however, they aren’t terrible either. They are generally disliked or, at the least, not spoken about often. Consider this article Redemption Island. These seasons aren’t the best. They aren’t ranked that way either. They are ranked in an unscientific way based on their perceived reputation and how unfair that reputation is. Hopefully, by the end, you will be willing to open your heart to one or more of these underrated Survivor seasons.
***WARNING: Because of the nature of this post, there will be SPOILERS AHEAD!!***
10. Survivor: Worlds Apart
Reputation: Survivor: Worlds Apart is generally remembered for its unlikable cast. And to be very clear, they are. Despite a few bright spots, a lot of the castaways on Survivor’s thirtieth season are annoying at best and bullies at worst. A “shining” example of this is when one of the castaways compares his being adopted to another’s childhood abuse. It is an utterly disgusting moment.
Redemption: The endgame. One of the few likable castaways, Mike, has to fight and claw his way to the end after putting himself in a bad position. Fight and claw, he does! Watching the last few episodes, feeling mortified at the possibility of a Dan win or a Will win, and finally being treated to the generally good guy Mike pulling it off is genuinely satisfying in a way that few Survivor finales are.
9. Survivor: Samoa
Reputation: This season could have been renamed Survivor: Russell Hantz. It is so completely and totally focused on one single castaway that it completely takes away from the others. Most of them are background characters and the few that do come through are only significant in how they factor into Russell’s experience on the island.
Redemption: It’s difficult to pretend the criticism of this season is wrong. It is one of the worst edited seasons of the show. That being said, if you can stomach Russell and his antics, it is fun to see how he and the rest of his Foa Foa alliance completely dismantle their opponents.
From immunity idols to clutch immunity wins, one by one, Galu fell, leaving three members of Foa Foa in the final three. And if you still can’t get past the Russell of it all, just remember that he loses in the end.
8. Survivor: Nicaragua
Reputation: The 21st season of Survivor had a lot to live up to. Coming off of the biggest and most loved season yet, Heroes vs Villains, it would be difficult to best it. And best it, Nicaragua did not. This season is thought of as generally lacking in strategy. The twist did not help. The Medallion of Power is one of the least thought out twists of all time. As for the cast, most of them are dull, while others are completely invisible to the point of turning purple.
Redemption: Some seasons just have to be taken for what they are. After the ultra strategic, high level gameplay of Heroes vs Villains, Nicaragua represents the antithesis. Sure, you have Marty and Brenda, who are trying to make the game interesting. But then you have others who are so deeply lacking in common sense that they cannot even be used as chess pieces.
That being said, Nicaragua has a lot of fun moments if you’re looking for them. Fabio peeing in the pool, Dan looking like a kid, while swinging his legs in an oversized chair, Jane having a meltdown when she learns she is being voted off are all great moments. They aren’t going to go down in Survivor history, though. But they are fun enough to make this underrated Survivor season light and easy to watch.
7. Survivor: Guatemala
Reputation: This is the forgotten season. More than any other, this is the season that has been lost to time. Up until Danni Boatwright appeared on Survivor 40, fifteen years later, this was one of very few seasons not to have one of its original castmates return in a future season. It seems that both fans and producers like to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Redemption: Admittedly, it is not the most exciting season of the show. It does, however, feature one of the coolest locations. The season starts in a brutal way – with an overnight, eleven mile trek to camp. Camps are located near Mayan ruins, which gives the season a much different feel than most.
Even though the season has only had one cast member return, there are plenty who could have. Judd, Jamie, Rafe, and Lydia are all memorable for one reason or another. The season is also notable for being the very first to include a hidden immunity idol.
6. Survivor: Ghost Island
Reputation: This season ended just as it began. Two contestants, Domenick and Wendell, were so clearly ahead of everyone else in their gameplay that it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would be at the end very early on. Without any real roadblocks, the gameplay was very stagnant. It seemed that everyone, including the cast, knew where it was headed.
Redemption: While it’s true that the gameplay is not very dynamic, it is a masterclass in how to play. Some people think of Boston Rob and Kim as the most dominating players ever. As individuals, sure. As a duo, I would argue that Domenick and Wendell are up there with the best of them.
It might not be the most fun to watch, but it’s hard not to appreciate. They both pulled their weight and both were worthy winners. With that in mind, the season ends exactly as it should have. With its first ever tie at Final Tribal Council and it’s between the best, most equal duo the show has ever seen. It’s an underrated Survivor moment and can’t get much better than that!
5. Survivor: Gabon
Reputation: Survivor: Gabon is, quite possibly, the most anti-Survivor Survivor season of all time. No one thinks logically, no one makes sound decisions, and everyone says exactly how they are feeling at any given time, regardless of how it may hurt their game.
Redemption: No one thinks logically, no one makes sound decisions, and everyone says exactly how they are feeling at any given time, regardless of how it may hurt their game. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. The ways in which it doesn’t make sense are the ways in which it entertains.
It is bizarro Survivor filled with some very memorable characters. To really punctuate how backwards it is, the cast features an Olympic athlete and that Olympic athlete is by far the worst physical player on the season. It has to be seen to be believed. However, don’t try to make sense of it. Just let it wash over you.
4. Survivor: South Pacific
Reputation: Seasons 21-24 are generally regarded as the “dark ages” of Survivor. Casting was having a hard time finding people that popped, looking instead at aspiring models and actors. Many of whom, had never even watched the show.
Survivor: South Pacific is right in the middle of this period but it’s better than the others, to the point of being underrated. This season has mostly been criticized for bringing back two former players for their third time each, along with a much maligned twist, and stunt casting, in the form of Russell Hantz’s nephew, for instance.
Redemption: The season is fun. Plain and simple. You have Coach becoming a strategic force, Ozzy taking risks, the rise of Cochran, the facial reactions of Sophie, as she remains permanently incredulous at being the only sane person on the island. It also features one of the most hilariously awful rewards in the show’s history, which makes for an infamous segment. It’s not one of the best seasons, but it’s definitely not as bad as you might remember.
3. Survivor: Marquesas
Reputation: Similar to Survivor: Guatemala, Marquesas is not well remembered among fans. Being the show’s fourth season, the novelty began to wear off, but it also had not yet found its footing as the strategic show it would evolve into, just a few seasons later. Because of this, it remains in a purgatory-like era.
Redemption: The most notable thing about the season is that it is the first of a Survivor legend. Love him or hate him, Boston Rob is one of the faces of the show and it’s hard to believe this is where it all began. Beyond that single person, though, this cast came to play.
Survivor becomes much more cutthroat in seasons 6 and 7, but the bricks for that were being laid in Survivor: Marquesas, which makes it not only underrated as a season but as a piece of Survivor history. It features the first big power flip in the show’s history, shocking blindsides, and dynamic characters in Boston Rob, Sean Rector, John Carroll, Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, and Vecepia Towery, just to name a few.
2. Survivor: Panama
Reputation: Similar to Survivor: Gabon, this season is a mess. The cast is a lot more out there than others and strategy is not always at the forefront.
Redemption: As per the trend, it is that cast that makes the season worth watching. They range from out of place to out of their minds. You have one person afraid of leaves, another threatening to find a tribemate after the show to kill them, another getting medically evacuated for being constipated, and two more forming a season long rivalry despite a twenty year age difference between them.
There is strategy to be found, however, most notably in the form of our Lord and Savior, Cirie Fields, but this season is not about strategy. It is about the people and the moments and the friends we make along the way.
1. Survivor: Fiji
Reputation: First, it’s “the cast is unmemorable.” Then, it’s “the twist is bad.” And who could forget, “the gameplay is boring.”
Redemption: For starters, this season is hilarious. Call it lowest common denominator entertainment, but the sheer number of people falling, getting hit, and generally hurting themselves make the season worth it alone. (Make sure to watch the gif above!)
In addition to that, you have one of the most lovable contestants of all time in Yau-Man Chan. Along with one of the most unlikable alliances of all time to root against in the Four Horsemen. It is because of the shocking blindsides, the clever strategic maneuvers, and one of the most infamous betrayals in the show’s history that Survivor: Fiji is the most underrated Survivor season of all time.
Give Them a Second Chance
Not every Survivor season is gold but there is gold in every Survivor season. First, you have to give these seasons another chance to be the seasons they are and not the seasons you want them to be and then maybe you’ll find that they are a diamond in the rough.
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