Twenty years ago, the first season of Survivor was in full swing. The show was an absolute cultural phenomenon. People were talking about the show at the water cooler. They were trying to find spoilers. And the cast became full-blown celebrities, complete with the movie deals, commercials, and brand endorsements. With an average of 28 million (!!!) viewers per episode, Survivor landed in the cultural consciousness, where it has stayed for 40 seasons. This past Spring, the biggest season of the entire series premiered. Winners at War consisted of twenty previous winners battling it out for $2,000,000. To honor the show’s twentieth anniversary, let’s celebrate the Top 10 Best Survivor Winners…
10. Richard Hatch
Being the very first winner of Survivor, Richard being on this list is a no-brainer. Survivor would not be Survivor without Richard Hatch. Back in 2000, many Americans believed the goal was to survive the elements. Even the people on the show saw it this way. When all his tribe mates were concerned about their living conditions, however, Richard understood that that wasn’t all they would have to survive. He had the foresight to recognize Survivor for what it is – a game. He created the first alliance in the show’s history and he played a game of odds up until the very end. Had just one more vote been cast for Kelly instead of Richard, I am not sure Survivor would have become the phenomenon that it did.
9. Earl Cole
I am in the very very small minority of the world that actually enjoys Survivor: Fiji. I am also from the same area that Earl is from. Call me biased all you want but because of these two facts, Earl had a spot on this list no matter what. Watching his season, it is interesting to see how Earl adapts to what’s going on. Especially when you consider the fact that he had never watched the show before landing in Fiji! Despite his lack of knowledge on the show’s history, Earl maneuvered his way through the season and was able to come up out of an underdog position in order to win the million dollars in the show’s first unanimous vote.
8. Boston Rob Mariano
People discredit Boston Rob’s win because it was his fourth time on the show and he was playing against a lot of new players. That may be true but there is still no denying the absolute stranglehold that he kept on the game at all times. By creating a large alliance, then getting the members to agree to rat on each other if they even spoke about turning on the group, he created an environment in which he was able to lead the pack out in the open without anyone ever questioning him.
7. Todd Herzog
Todd is an interesting case. He dominated strategically and socially without ever winning individual immunity. There were far more physically imposing threats but none of the cast of Survivor: China ever came close to being as scary as Todd was when it came to strategy. He was always thinking several steps ahead. He would make everyone feel comfortable then slit their throats. James, for example, felt so confident that Todd had his best interest in mind, he was blindsided with TWO hidden immunity idols in his pocket. Todd is incredibly underrated among Survivor players and winners. It is too bad he was unable to return for Winners at War.
6. Kim Spradlin
Similar to Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin dominated the season she was on. From the moment Survivor: One World began, Kim was in a position of power and was always considered in plans moving forward. She was the most dangerous player in the game but had a number of allies that couldn’t see it. When they began to, it was too late. Kim won 4 of the last 5 immunity challenges, in order to reach final tribal council, where she won in a 7-2-0 vote.
5. Parvati Shallow
Although interesting to watch, Parvati’s game in Survivor: Cook Islands was nothing special. When she returned for Survivor: Micronesia, she was a whole new person. She was cunning, ruthless, and willing to do anything she had to do to reach the end of the game. She was a part of the notorious Black Widow alliance – the group that convinced fellow player, Erik, to give up immunity on day 35 only to turn around and vote him out that very night. Parvati later returned for Survivor: Heroes vs Villains and Survivor: Winners at War. During HvV, she made it all the way to day 39 but lost against Queen Sandra. She was also a victim of the old school vs new school mentality that permeated much of Winners at War and was voted out before the merge.
4. Natalie Anderson
Natalie Anderson’s game can be described in one word: Vengeance. After her closest ally, Jeremy, was voted out of Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Natalie vowed to get her revenge. The phrase, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” should be etched on Natalie’s grave. She slowly but surely snuck her way into the majority alliance – the alliance that voted out her friend – then tore them apart from the inside. From lying about votes to playing an idol on someone else during the final five, Natalie knows what moves to make and, more importantly, exactly how to execute them. Jeremy may have been the second member of the jury but Natalie would go all the way to the million dollars and become one of the best Survivor winners of all time.
3. Jeremy Collins
Speaking of Jeremy, his chapter may have ended abruptly during San Juan Del Sur but his Survivor story was far from over. He returned less than two years later to appear on Survivor: Second Chance. The theme of the season was righting the wrongs of your past in order to change the outcome. Jeremy did this better than any other contestant. He held a tight alliance with several people, he took risks, and he knew what information to give and when. Jeremy dominated a season full of huge Survivor players and characters and ended up playing a perfect game, not having a single vote cast against him and winning in a unanimous vote. Something that had only been done a few times before.
2. Sandra Diaz-Twine
Any list of Survivor winners is incomplete without the Queen. Unless, of course, that list is Survivor winners to only win once. Sandra Diaz-Twine won Survivor: Pearl Islands in 2003, then returned in 2010 to win Survivor: Heroes vs Villains. Her go to strategy is simple: “Anybody but me.” Her nonthreatening appearance and no-nonsense style of moving forward in the game has helped her tremendously over the four seasons she has played. Even though she was finally voted out of the game during Survivor: Game Changers in 2017, Sandra survived an impressive 4 of the first 5 tribal councils, was the last winner standing, and left her mark on the season.
When she returned for Winners at War, she had an enormous target on her back. Especially after just having mentored a cast full of new players, alongside Boston Rob, on Survivor: Island of the Idols in the fall. Despite that, Sandra was in a good position in the game until getting a bit too cocky. While trying to protect another winner, Sandra gave up an idol that was later used against her at tribal council. It was an embarrassing way to go but does not take away from Sandra’s overall legacy. Queen stays queen.
1. Tony Vlachos
Tony is erratic, frenetic, and a big ball of energy. The game he played in Survivor: Cagayan was masterful. He thinks outside the box like no one we have ever seen before. Tony never allows a moment to pass without utilizing the time to consider his next move. What makes the way he plays the game so impressive is that it shouldn’t work. If someone wrote his moves down on a piece of paper, I would think they were the scribbles of a mad man. And maybe they are. But that’s why we love Tony.
When he returned for Winners at War, he also had a huge target on his back. One of the biggest. Most believed that there was no way that he could possibly win again. Heck, he would be lucky to make it to the merge. Yet again, Tony did what Tony does best. He proved everyone wrong. He dominated the second half of the game, became the second two-time winner, and the inarguable best to ever play Survivor.
What do you think of our list? Who would you add or take off completely? Until you leave a comment… The Tribe has Spoken.