Why Survivor's all-time best season rankings are wrong
The results of a CBS.com poll of "Survivor" fans are now on newsstands, as part of a special commemorative issue of CBS Watch! magazine. The 100-page, full-color magazine is a pretty great overview of the series, except for the absolute wrongness of its polls. That's especially true for its "all time best seasons" poll.
Yes, ranking "Survivor" seasons is about as difficult as stacking cooked spaghetti noodles, and about as useful. It's mostly good for creating disagreement. What one viewer values, another dismisses--but that's one of the many reasons why the series has survived for 30 seasons. There's a lot to argue about. Even looking at objective data about Survivor winners and cast members can prompt discussion.
So, here are the results of CBS' poll, and one fan's thoughts and arguments about why the other fans' collective wisdom often seems screwed up.
#1: Survivor Heroes vs. Villains, season 20, 2010
Why this is wrong: The correct answer for the best season of "Survivor" is always "Survivor Borneo," the show's first season. See #7 below.
Why this season was good: Along with "Blood vs. Water," "Heroes vs. Villains" was the most successful at bringing back other players; they didn't just stomp all over everyone else, like Rob did during his fourth season. This season excelled because some characters became the opposite of what we expected of them, from James to Coach to original villain Jerri Manthey. Also, Sandra Diaz-Twine won for a second time, a remarkable achievement, especially considering she played largely the same game as she did during her first season. An excellent season, yes; the best, no.
#2: Survivor Pearl Islands, season 7, 2003.
Why this is wrong: One word: Rupert. He was a larger-than-life character here who wore out his welcome in subsequent seasons, if not in this one. Also, just looking at the rest of this list, it's ridiculous to rank "Pearl Islands" number two.
Why this season was good: Yes, Fairplay's lie about his not-actually-dead grandmother was incredible television and strategy (that worked!), and Sandra's smart "anyone-but-me" strategy was novel and paid off.
#3: Survivor Micronesia, season 16, 2008
Why this is wrong: It's too high up on the list. Remember all the cannon fodder "fans" who the favorites burned through during the early part of the season?
Why this season was good: The second half of the season had a lot of terrific moments, such as Erik giving up immunity (fantastic!). And Parvati was a deserving winner.
#4: Survivor The Australian Outback, season 2, 2001.
Why this is wrong: It should rank higher, though still behind "Borneo" and perhaps a few other seasons, because it wasn't the most mind-blowing strategic season ever.
Why this season was good: "Survivor" didn't stumble in its second season, and in Tina Wesson, notably gave us a completely different kind of winner than Richard Hatch. It had a strong ending, with Colby making a decision that cost him the game.
#5: Survivor Cagayan, season 28, 2014
Why this is wrong: There's definitely some recency bias at play here because, at the time of the poll, it was the most recent fully broadcast season, and was fresh in fans' minds.
Why this season was good: Yes, Tony's crazy game play was both entertaining and successful, and there were a lot of fun moments, such as exit of one of the best players ever. There's just no way it's better than several other seasons, but especially not season one.
#6: Survivor All-Stars, season 8, 2004.
Why this is wrong: While this season brought back memorable players from the first seven seasons, it also tainted our memory of many of them, starting with the ugliness between Sue Hawk and Richard Hatch. Also fans' votes gave Rupert $1 million, even though he came in fourth.
Why this season was good: Boston Rob versus Amber was a fascinating final two, especially considering the game each played to get to that point (like Rob's betrayal of Lex). Plus, Rob and Amber's alliance led to a life-long partnership and kids.
#7 Survivor Borneo, season 1, 2000.
Why this is wrong: Putting season one so low, even in the top 10, is a travesty. Sue Hawk's "snakes and rats" speech alone should have elevated this season to #1, never mind everything else. Yes, the show was still figuring itself out -- witness the pile of cash at Tribal Council, or the -- but this season established the show's DNA. It also established how to play the game, with Richard Hatch coming in and playing an exceptional strategic game despite having no advance knowledge. Just as Borneo set up every season that followed, Hatch created the template for every other player.
#8: Survivor: The Amazon, season 6, 2003.
#9: Survivor: China, season 15, 2007.
Why these are wrong: Okay, at this point, these don't seem wrong, necessarily. They should be in the top 10. I can see arguments for ranking each season a little higher or lower, depending upon what things are valued, but we're splitting hairs so I won't. China had a masterful winner in superfan Todd, while the men vs. women Amazon season had superfan Rob Cesternino almost winning, though Jenna's win was also satisfying.
#10: Survivor: Cook Islands, season 13, 2006.
Why this is wrong: With such great characters, and solid strategy, it should rank higher. The "race war" season got a lot of pre-season press for its tribe division, but recruiting a diverse cast brought diversity to a show that needed it. Better, once the tribe division ended, we just had a bunch of great players and characters. As a bonus, the presence of non-white people on the show inspired other great future players to apply to the series.
Why this season was good: Yul Kwon. An excellent winner all around, even with the shield of the immunity idol he had.