A Definitive Ranking of Every Season of 'Survivor'

Twenty-seven seasons of Survivor have passed. With the twenty-eighth premiering tonight, it's time we did something for history and ranked every season so far. Definitively. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Twenty-seven seasons of Survivor have passed. With the twenty-eighth premiering tonight (with tribes divided by brains, brawn, beauty, and affinity for Mitt Romney), it's time we did something for history and ranked every season so far. Definitively.

Don't worry, we have criteria. And numbers. Mathematics! Can't argue with that. (In the case of ties, though, we've ranked based on base personal opinion.)

27. Survivor: Redemption Island (2010)

Best Player: "Boston" Rob Mariano, Survivor institution and cottage industry unto himself, who took the occasion of his fourth time on the show to completely run his island full of lemmings and idiots. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Blond beach god in service of the Lord, Matt Elrod, whose sweetness and naivety got him voted out twice. +1

Insufferables (-1 each): Phillip Sheppard, perhaps the single most irritating, infuriating blowhard ever to compete on this show. Russell Hantz, who was mercifully euthanized early on in this, his third attempt on the show, when his tribe recognized what a fool decision it would be to keep a noted and celebrated cancer on their tribe for even a little bit. -2

Signature Moment: Um ... 0

Satisfying winner? Good gosh, no. The coronation of Boston Rob was a foregone conclusion from the earliest stages, with everybody on the island more than willing to defer to him in all decisions and utterly petrified of making a move against him. The whole season had an air of uselessness around it, and we'd have all been better off if CBS had just aired a 30-minute special where Les Moonves wrote Mariano a check. -4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Jeff has always been a Boston Rob cheerleader, so that was nothing new. But his constant berating of the (admittedly terrible) Zapatera tribe for voting out Russell smacked of the sour grapes of a TV producer, not someone paying attention to the game. -3

Total score: -5

26. Survivor: Gabon (2008)

Best Player: Probably Ken Hoang, who barnacled his way to 5th place and managed to mastermind quite a few of the eliminations, despite the fact that nobody remembers him. +1

Other memorable characters (+1 each): They're not exactly memorable for being all that good, but fine: pinup model Sugar who went on to Celebrity Rehab. Monstrous bitch Corrinne. Unassuming eventual winner Bob. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): Randy Bailey, who was inexplicably brought back to Heroes vs. Villains despite the fact that he wasn't so much a villain as he was a mean old crank who got way too much screen time. -1

Signature Moment: Corrinne telling Sugar at the final tribal council that her deceased father would be ashamed of the way she played the game. So, yeah. -4

Satisfying winner? Sure? Bob wasn't a very dynamic player, and he won the jury vote mostly because everybody was a jerk about Sugar and the other one (Susie?). +1

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Moderate. One of this season's twists was that the tribes would have to elect a "leader," a completely arbitrary and toothless designation which only functioned to put a target on one person's back. Not that it stopped Probst from harping on the leaders' "failures" at every juncture. -2

Total score: -2

25. Survivor: Samoa (2009)

Best Player: Weirdly, it was 12th-place Erik Cardona, who was the only player smart enough to try to make a move against season superstar Russell Hantz, and who, most importantly, swung the jury towards ultimate winner Natalie White. +1

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Melissa McCarthy character Shambo. Mild-mannered (probably a bit too much to put up with Russell) Jaison. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): There are people who are very big fans of the over-the-top, self-conscious villainy of Russell Hantz. I'm not among them. Not when said villainy is accomplished with all the subtlety of a water buffalo, thus making it utterly impossible for him to ever win a jury vote. -1

Signature Moment: Russell dumping his own tribe's water! Russell burning his tribe-mates socks! Russell finding immunity idols that were carefully hidden underneath his pillow at night! All Russell, all the time. -1

Satisfying winner? While watching Russell get beat was certainly satisfying, that's not the same as having a satisfying winner. Natalie, who played shrewdly, was ultimately not enough of a presence throughout the season to truly feel like a fitting winner. 0

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: The degree to which Jeff clamped onto Russell's behind and refused to disentangle himself for the whole season truly was a wonder to behold. -3

Total score: -2

24. Survivor: Nicaragua (2010)

Best Player: Either 10th place Brenda Lowe, whose strategizing made her too much of a target early on, or 4th place Holly Hoffman, who overcame what certainly looked like an early nervous breakdown to make some of the shrewdest maneuvers in the season's endgame. Either way, no great shakes. +2

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Cranky old broad Jane, who was both hilarious and possibly unstable. +1

Insufferables (-1 each): NaOnka wanted to be on another show entirely. (That show was Queen of Jordan.) Also Benry, who was so infuriatingly hot that he could afford to call himself "Benry." -2

Signature Moment: NaOnka and "Purple" Kelly, a player so anonymous they had to describe her by her favorite color, quit the game simultaneously, despite having already put in 28 days and being in position for top 8. Not great, Bob. -4

Satisfying winner? Jud "Fabio" Birza was an affable himbo who bumbled and stumbled his way to victory. +1

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Jeff, as is his custom, reacted overly to NaOnka and Purple Kelly's resignations, but that was pretty egregious, so we'll give him a pass. 0

Total score: -2

23. Survivor: South Pacific (2011)

Best Player: Ultimate winner Sophie, whose caustic attitude masked one of the more cerebral players to ever play the game. That the jury couldn't hold her less than sunny persona against her in the end was a testament to her game. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): I had a soft spot for early casualty Mikayla, whose athleticism was felled by Brandon Hantz's pathological fear of women. +1

Insufferables (-1 each): The aforementioned Brandon, nephew of Russell who I continue to believe never passed a psych evaluation. Returning players Ozzy and Coach, both of whom continued their already tedious tendencies towards self-aggrandizement and shoddy strategy. Curdled nerd John Cochran, whose initial run on the show dipped too far into obnoxiousness, no matter how unfairly his tribemates treated him at times. -4

Signature Moment: Cochran's blindside of his tribemates, who learned a lesson about how to make people feel valued and treat them well when you need their help to survive. (JK, nobody learned anything, and in fact they treated Cochran even worse afterwards.) +2

Satisfying winner? Always a good thing when the smartest person in the game prevails. +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Jeff's stroking of Coach is only matched by his stroking of Ozzy, not to mention that his incredulousness that nerdy Cochran could pick up a seashell without falling down was more insulting to geeks than anything on The Big Bang Theory. -4

Total score: 1

22. Survivor: Thailand (2002)

Best Player: Brian Heidik, who ran the table, was generally never in danger of being eliminated, and was not so much a human being but an oil slick incarnate. +2

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Helen Glover, who was a cranky old broad and whose relationship with the audience was a Seymour Skinner/Patty Bouvier-style "isn't it nice we hate the same things?" kinship. Shii Ann Huang, who was the only player on her tribe who felt like playing with any degree of strategy, and who then got kind of hosed by a merge-that's-not-a-merge twist. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): Oh my God was loony old bat Jan annoying. By the time she lost her marbles and buried a dead bird on the beach, there was still a good half the game to go. And she made it to the end! -1

Signature Moment: Ghandia accused Ted of "grinding" up on her when they slept together. He denied it. People called her a drama queen. Nobody ended up looking (or feeling) all that great about it. -3

Satisfying winner? Eh. Brian was undoubtedly worthy, but his competition was beyond negligible, including a final 3 of racist Clay and the aforementioned Jan that you could have defeated. And you're terrible at Survivor. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Negligible. 0

Total score: 2

21. Survivor: One World (2012)

Best Player: Kim Spradlin, a smart, athletic, likeable player who ran roughshod over the entire competition, turning the season into a kind of documentary on all the ways in which one can dominate Survivor. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Kim's alliance-mates Chelsea and Sabrina were great sidekicks, and probably would have been able to dominate in their own right in a Kim-less season. Jay was a model, not overly bright, and very attractive. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): Colton, whose petulance, racism, snobbery, whining, and cruelty makes him very possibly the worst person to ever be on the show. Also Alicia, who would have been the most gratuitously shitty person on any other season not including Colton; Tarzan, who washed his underwear in the cooking pot; and a grown man who named himself "Troyzan." -4

Signature Moment: The male tribe won immunity and then decided to give it up so they could march off to tribal council and vote off Bill for some cockamamie reason. -3

Satisfying winner? Kim! So yes. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: He was appropriately incredulous about Colton, but by this point in Jeff's run as host, his annoyance level never dropped below a baseline of -2.

Total score: 3

20. Survivor: Caramoan (Fans vs. Favorites II) (2013)

Best Player: Big winner Cochran took advantage of some lucky breaks (like the fact that Dawn made everybody hate her), but was generally a much better, smarter, calmer player than he was in his first go-round. +2

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Poor Dawn got a bad rap for simply making the moves she had to make, albeit playing the social end of those moves pretty poorly. Brenda's mid-season string of immunity wins was unexpected and fun. Corrinne and Malcolm's brief alliance was fun, until it wasn't. Split the difference between them. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): Another season of Phillip Sheppard. Another meltdown from Brandon Hantz. Reynold was an insincere grin with a body attached to it. -3

Signature Moment: Brenda requesting that Dawn remove her partial dentures at the final tribal council to prove ... something (mostly to punish Dawn for voting her out). Macabre. +2

Satisfying winner? Given all the other possibilities, yes, Cochran was satisfying enough. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Given that every challenge win from Cochran was treated like a gold medal at the Special Olympics, yeah. -2

Total score: 4

19. Survivor: Marquesas (2002)

Best Player: Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien, who overcame the fact that nobody on her tribe could stand her early on to a series of smart blindsides in the after-merge game that took her all the way to third place. +2

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Boston Rob made a comparatively ignominious debut, which included aligning himself with the lazy wing of his original tribe, attempting to bully the one gay contestant, and getting eliminated in 10th place. +1

Insufferables (-1 each): Said gay cast member, John, was a preening dyngus. -1

Signature Moment: The infamous "purple rock of doom" was this season, where an unbreakable tie was broken by the final four drawing rocks and poor old Paschal getting nipped. But the better moment was actually the first wholesale mutiny of the series, when a reward challenge made it clear that Kathy, Paschal, and Neleh were on the short end of their alliance, so they partnered up with Sean and Vecepia to turn the tables on the dominant alliance. For a show still very young, it was rather thrilling. +4

Satisfying winner? Nah. After all the maneuvering of Kathy and Neleh, Vecepia backing into a victory because she didn't piss anyone off was anti-climactic. -1

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Early Jeff Probst. Comparatively Silent Jeff Probst. Better Jeff Probst. 0

Total score: 5

18. Survivor: Blood vs. Water (2013)

Best Player: Wire-to-wire, the best player was Tyson, which didn't make his ultimate win all that exciting, but he made every correct move in the game, so there's that. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): The bloom fell off the rose a bit towards the end of his run, but Aras's brother Vytas was a compellingly knotty character. Season two winner Tina is an always fave. And single-mom Ciera made some big moves and managed to advance pretty far for being potential early-episode cannon fodder. Also, I will forever hold a special place in my heart for Monica, whose final tribal council plea of "Have you never met a neat lady?" might be the best single line uttered on this show that didn't have anything to do with snakes or rats. +4

Insufferables (-1 each): Well, another season of Colton was no picnic, even if he did exempt himself fairly early on. Similarly, Brad Culpepper's early exit didn't keep him from being a blight on the season. And what was up with Kat's whole "If I get voted out, Hayden won't love me" business?  -3

Signature Moment: The second-ever instance of the "drawing rocks" tiebreaker, smartly engineered by Hayden (I know, right?) and spelling doom for nice, inconsequential Katie. +2

Satisfying winner? Yeah, more or less. The anticlimax took away from it some, but it was easily Tyson's most likeable of his three appearances on the show. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: As this was the most recent season, Jeff's annoyance levels have progressed too far to redeem him. -3

Total score: 5

17. Survivor: Vanuatu (2004)

Best Player: Tough to say, which means default to the winner, Chris Daugherty, who managed to parlay a 6-1 numbers disadvantage into victory by playing the women against each other. +1

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Ami was a satisfying villain, showing physical dominance early and a svengali-like hold over her minions during the middle part of the game. Eliza managed to overcome the early disadvantage that her tribe-mates found her annoying to make a few crucial maneuvers (including ousting Ami). Twila was something of a backwoods stereotype, but she made for good TV and stood up for herself in front of a jury that basically requested that she set herself on fire in order to atone for beating them. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): Scout, who managed to combine the qualities of an old hippie and a mean girl, a maneuver heretofore unseen in international competition. "Sarge," who berated Twila and accused her of "casting her son straight to hell" because she swore on his life and broke that oath. So he's one of those guys. -2

Signature Moment: LeAnn's ouster, which flipped the game to Chris's advantage and started his run to victory. Mostly a strategic moment, but I like those fine. +2

Satisfying winner? Chris defied the odds and played well, but it still feels weird that a man won this season when the women were by far the more dynamic characters, top to bottom. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Nothing too egregious, unless you count the fact that he started dating Julie soon after this season, which I won't. 0

Total score: 6

16. Survivor: Fiji (2007)

Best Player: Yau-Man Chan, who took advantage of other players underestimating his tiny-old-man-ness to run a pretty pristine strategic game for himself an ally Earl. +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each): The aforementioned Earl, one of the great "good guys" on the show. +1

Insufferables (-1 each): Mean Lisi, who fell down that one time. Preening attorney Alex, who berated poor Cassandra for no reason at jury. -2

Signature Moment: Yau-Man promised to give Dreamz the truck he'd just won at a challenge in exchange for Dreamz's immunity necklace. Dreamz reneged, Yau-Man was eventually voted off, and that betrayal of the season's most likeable character contributed to Dreamz getting no votes to win from the jury. +2

*[Also, shout out to the tribal council when Edgardo was eliminated, wherein an intricate plan of misdirection and split voting led Alex's once-dominant bro alliance to ruin.]

Satisfying winner? Most definitely, as Earl was both likeable and a smart player. +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Nothing major sticks out, but just to be safe: -1

Total score: 7

15. Survivor: Guatemala (2005)

Best Player: Third-place Rafe, whose unfortunate tendency towards over-moralizing gameplay was a bit annoying, but who made the big moves against allies when he needed to (Jamie; Judd) and came within an immunity win of the million-dollar prize. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Winner Danni Boatwright was athletic, likeable, and managed to smartly offer her vote around as the dominant alliance around her crumbled. Amy was a Boston cop and a delight, until she was hobbled by a knee injury. Brian the smarty Ivy League-r pulled off one of the season's better strategic coups in ousting preening Golden Boy Blake. Lydia sure could make a pancake. +4 

Insufferables (-1 each): Judd was the kind of  blowhard bully who would turn around and say you were being mean to him by saying he acted like he had ADD (he didn't know what ADD was). But none fared worse than Stephanie, darling of the previous season who returned and came across like a sour-faced brat when given even a little bit of power. -2

Signature Moment: No, it wasn't the shocking reveal that Gary was indeed a former NFL quarterback. It was Judd and Margaret's tribal council blowup, one of the more intense tribal council moments ever, though it was a huge bummer to see Judd's bullying rewarded by Marget getting voted out immediately after. +1

Satisfying winner? Kind of a triumph of lying low for a while, but Danni made every right move to win. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Depends on how much we blame Probst for the unfair tribe swap that ended up dooming poor Gary, Amy, and Brian. -1

Total score: 7

14. Survivor: Tocantins (2009)

Best Player: Smarty-smart Stephen, who did a great job building an alliance for JT to go to the end of the game and win with. No, but really, Stephen played a stealthy game that allowed him and his alliance partners to snake their way through a game when they rarely had a numbers advantage. +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each): JT won on a combination of athleticism and a kind of glad-handing Southern charm that made sure everybody on the jury essentially liked him. Taj was funny and quotable in the interviews and loyal to Stephen and JT, and she's also one-third of SWV, so there's that. Erinn and Sierra got under the skin of the blowhards on the Timbira tribe, which only endeared them to me more. +4

Insufferables (-1 each): This was the debut of Coach, whose unbearable philosophies about life and manliness or some such hogwash were prime FF material. Tyson's debut also saw him squander a sense of humor in favor of obnoxiousness. -2

Signature Moment: There was no one big MOMENT, but JT securing the allegiance of Coach and Tyson only to turn on them and vote them out was pretty good. +2

Satisfying winner? JT's win was more satisfying before he came back on Heroes vs Villains and showed himself to be a complete idiot. +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: The puddle of drool from Jeff over Coach ultimately drowned the Tocantins region. -3

Total score: 8

13. Survivor: China (2007)

Best Player: It's weird to think of since her subsequent appearances on the show produced vastly diminishing returns, but Amanda Kimmel played a super smart game and engineered the season's biggest blindside, of James and his two immunity idols. +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each):  Winner Todd Herzog basically narrated the whole season, like a yappy but ultimately likeable little spaniel. Courtney's New Yorky superiority started off as a pose, but she became a valuable source of snarky commentary. Despite the show's fawning over him and his poor gameplay, James was very likeable. Frosti was a tiny, cute parkour boy. Peigh-Gee transcended her sour-mugged beginnings to break off a surprising string of challenge wins. +5

Insufferables (-1 each): Self-regarding poker professional Jean-Robert was unendurable, so it's a good thing he was sent home early. Sad-sack lunchlady Denise was the most maddening kind of Survivor player, who refuses to make any moves until it's too late to save herself and then pouts about it. -2

Signature Moment: James getting sent home with two idols in his pocket was pretty unbelievable. +3

Satisfying winner? Todd was okay. Amanda was clearly the superior choice, and Courtney my sentimental fave, but Courtney never really did anything, and Amanda choked when it came to her jury speech, so Todd it was. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: YES. He was such an unnecessary dick to Jaime when she tried to play what was ultimately not a hidden immunity idol. The girl knew it was a long shot, Probst, you didn't have to snicker about it. -4

Total score: 8

12. Survivor: Amazon (2003)

Best Player: Rob Cesternino, one of those "best player to never win the game" performances (never mind his subsequent All-Stars stint), using cunning and bald-faced lies in order to hopscotch alliances all the way to final three, where it became clear that his superior gameplay would make him a lock to win, and he was voted out. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Winner Jenna Morasca was the most prominent of the mean-girl alliance on Jaburu (this was the first season that tried the all-female and all-male tribes gambit), but she was good TV and ultimately made a series of smart moves at the end to secure the win. Christy was the first deaf person ever to compete, and she made it to sixth. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): Nobody too terrible, as I recall. Heidi was kind of the lesser version of Jenna, not smart enough to make the moves to save herself at the end (though smart enough to marry major league baseball pitcher Cole Hamels). -1

Signature Moment: For better or worse, it was Jenna and Heidi going topless during an endurance challenge in exchange for peanut butter and cookies. Nothing to do with strategy. Ultimately a shallow and prurient moment. Meh. 0

Satisfying winner? Rob had just been eliminated, so the satisfaction was muted, but better Jenna than crazy-eyed Matthew. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Annoying Jeff was at a minimal this season. 0

Total score: 8

11. Survivor: Philippines (2012)

Best Player: Malcolm Freberg and his luxurious hair rode a bad situation with a loser tribe all the way to fourth place, and if he'd have made it in front of a jury, he'd have won it all. One of the more likeable characters (at least during this season) in the later years. +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Denise played a very strong game and hung on by her fingertips—surviving every single tribal council—for the win. Facts of Life alum Lisa Welchel became improbably good TV, despite bouts of dithering over issues of right vs. wrong. Jonathan Penner's third time on the show wasn't much more successful than his previous two, but he's great fun to watch. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): As was somewhat suspected before his evacuation from Australia, Michael Skupin is kind of annoying and not a great player. Abi-Maria should have 100% been on another reality show. Perhaps working at one of Lisa Vanderpump's restaurants. -2

Signature Moment: The twists and turns that led to the voting out of former major league baseball player Jeff Kent was dizzying, full of bluffs and re-strategizing; a good scramble for votes can be pretty exhilarating. +3

Satisfying winner? Denise survived every single tribal council! +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Pretty high. Fawning over the boys, condescending to the girls. It's maddening. -3

Total score: 8

10. Survivor: Palau (2005)

Best Player: Tom Westman went pretty much wire-to-wire in barnstorming this season, staying in control of his tribe at all times and never being truly threatened, all while remaining largely likeable to all jury voters. Perhaps a perfect game. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Tom's right-hand man Ian was a perfect gangly sidekick, and his willingness to dip into a bit of scheming made him the more likeable of the two, to me if not to his fellow competitors. Also, this was the season that Stephanie and Bobby Jon won our hearts by surviving the longest on the decimated Ulong tribe, the losingest tribe of all time. Stephanie ultimately hobbled on over to the merge and hung on for a couple weeks before succumbing to fate. +3

Insufferables (-1 each): Finalist Katie was both bitchy and weak, making her a prime candidate for jury eviscaration (which actually made me like her a bit more). -1

Signature Moment: Probably the part where the two-man tribe of Bobby Jon and Stephanie had to compete in a fire-building challenge against each other in lieu of a proper vote. +3

Satisfying winner? Here's where things get thorny. Tom 100% deserved to win, but it didn't feel great at all, given that, during the final-three immunity challenged, he badgered and berated and belittled poor Ian—his season-long ally!—into quitting because Ian had entertained the idea of voting Tom out. It was ugly and mean and took a good bit of shine off of Tom's win. +2

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Kind of a mixed bag. This was the season that Jeff the Impartial Question-Asker gave way to Jeff the Tribal Council Influencer, when he basically engineered Janu quitting the game. It was a major overstepping of bounds and ushered in a frustrating new era of meddling. But it got rid of the annoying Janu and kept the sympathetic Stephanie around another week, so: split the difference. -3

Total score: 9

9. Survivor: Pearl Islands (2003)

Best Player: Rupert. HA HA just kidding! Rupert has never played a good game of Survivor. The best player was winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, whose willingness to go with the flow and vote out "anyone but me" allowed her to navigate a season full of bigger personalities (and bigger jerks). +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each): It's tough to figure out how to characterize people like Rupert and Jonny Fairplay, both fairly unbearable by the time the season was over. And yet, they pretty much made the season, whether you were rooting for them or (ahem) against them. Give the season the benefit of the doubt for casting two of the series' signature players. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): No need to do the same for Scout-leader Lil, whose inability to stand behind any of her strategic decisions made her a supremely frustrating character. Alpha jag Andrew Savage tried to adopt a he-man tribe-savior persona, but he got bounced mid-game thank goodness. -2

Signature Moment: This season is probably most known for the "outcast" twist in which eliminated players competed to get back into the game (it was Burton and Lil), but subsequent seasons of Redemption Island have robbed that twist of its novelty. So I'll go with Sandra, Lil, and Darrah teaming up to oust Burton despite them being just three weak little girls. +2

Satisfying winner? Oh very much so. By the time we reached the Pearl Islands endgame, Sandra was by far the most likeable player, and watching her beat Fairplay and Lil in succession was the best way to end the season. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: This was the first year anyone quit, so Jeff got up on his high-horse about Osten, but otherwise he was okay. -1

Total score: 9

8. Survivor: Exile Island (2006)

Best Player: Cirie, one of the show's all time success stories. She started off in episode one being afraid of leaves (LEAVES!), only to end up finding her strength, becoming more or less self-sufficient (that episode where she caught a fish!), and most importantly, a strategic mastermind whose unsentimental approach to the game put her at the center of a series of smart decisions and blindsides. There but for her inability to make a tie-breaking fire and she'd have won. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Yoga dude Aras and annoyingly perfect daddy Terry made for an entertaining clash as the season wore on. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): Unstable Shane was less entertaining than he was unpleasant to be around. Same went for hippie weirdo Courtney. -2

Signature Moment: Courtney's ouster, a split vote masterminded by Cirie so expertly, you wanted to hand her the million dollars right there. +4

Satisfying winner? Aras was no Cirie, but he was her closest ally and preferable to Terry. +1

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Nothing springs to mind. 0

Total score: 10

7. Survivor: All-Stars (2004)

Best Player: Survivor fans could bat this around forever, whether Boston Rob or Amber deserved to win that jury vote. They got hitched and split it anyway, so maybe there's no point in getting too wonky about it. But Amber was the one who managed to snake her way to the end without incurring the wrath of her tribe-mates the way Rob did. And her alliance-making with Jenna and Rupert was the unsung key to victory anyway, and that was her move. +4

Other memorable characters (+1 each): This was Boston Rob's coming out party as the signature player of Survivor's middle years. Jenna Lewis returned from season one and actually got to play the game, which was fun to see. +2

Insufferables (-1 each): Just an unprecedented run of unpleasantness, chiefly from sour-grapesy Lex and formerly likeable Kathy. Other objectionable jerk-faces: Tom and Alicia (snaked by Rob); sexual-harrassy Richard Hatch. -5

Signature Moment: Rob convincing Lex to save Amber from elimination—at the expense of Lex's ally Jerri—and then turning right back around and voting Lex out the next week. The move was devious, shocking, wholly supportable from a gameplay perspective, and led to a season-changing series of meltdowns that cemented this season as Boston Rob's in perpetuity. +5

Satisfying winner? Depends on who you ask. This Amber fan says yes. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: He actually handled the exits of Jenna Morasca (whose mother was dying) and Sue Hawk (who flipped out after Hatch harrassed her) with as much grace as he could muster. 0

Total score: 10

6. Survivor: Micronesia (Fans vs. Favorites) (2008)

Best Player: Parvati Shallow, who emerged as a somewhat unexpected strategic mastermind, given that her original run on Cook Islands was not very impressive. Pulling off multiple blindsides, stringing players along until she had to cut them loose, and taking advantage of poor Amanda's poor performance in front of the jury. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): This season was gangbusters after the merge, but it was a loser for its first half, thanks to the dead weight of 90% of the "fans." Still, no season with Cirie or Jonathan Penner can be all bad (Cirie coming once again within a hair's-breadth of the final tribal council, where she'd have undoubtedly won). And Eliza's frustrated snapping at Jason for believing a "fucking stick" was an immunity idol lives on and on. +3 

Insufferables (-1 each): After such a charming run on Cook Islands, Ozzy returned and showed himself to be kind of unbearable, no less than when he and Amanda decided they'd found island love. Natalie may have been an actual psychopath. -2

Signature Moment: The final four women (Parvati, Amanda, Cirie, and Natalie) convincing Erik to give up the immunity he'd just won, and then subsequently voting him out with a series of "Seriously, I can't believe that worked" expressions. +4

Satisfying winner? She was no Cirie, but Parvati earned it. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Any season with James meant a season in which Jeff would fawn all over James. -2

Total score: 10

5. Survivor: Cook Islands (2006)

Best Player: Yul Kwon disarmed a lot of people on his way to the victory. It says a lot about how smarts vs. athleticism is valued in this game, not to mention aggression vs. calm, that Yul—who does not look like a slouch, physically—was so underestimated for so long. Moreover, he doesn't have that hungry-to-make-TV feel that so many reality TV competitors do. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Ozzy latched onto the right tribe at the right time and became incredibly likeable for the second half of this season. That whole final four alliance, actually, was pretty great, with Sundra and Becky. And Jonathan Penner, in his first outing, was a lightning rod for controversy, but was usually right. +4

Insufferables (-1 each): Twentysomething jerks also held sway for a while, but the damage done by the likes of Candice and Adam and Nate was muted by the fact that they got so soundly beat in the end. -3

Signature Moment: This was the dreaded "race wars" concept that sounded so horrid on paper. In practice, it meant a wider net was sent out in casting the show, and the greater diversity really paid off, particularly once the tribes were jumbled up and the show willfully forgot all notions of making ethnic groups battle for dominance. But the true signature moment of the season was when Candace and Jonathan ditched their tribe of Yul, Ozzy, Becky, and Sundra, and the latter four underdogs galvanized into a challenge-dominating force that ran the table. +4

Satisfying winner? Incredibly so. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: He was clearly in the Ozzy camp more than the Yul camp, but he's been worse. -2

Total score: 12

4. Survivor: Africa (2001)

Best Player: Ethan Zohn won the season with a perfect middle-of-the-road plan. He was athletic enough, nice enough, and cutthroat enough to make the right moves when he needed to. Nothing flashy, but he got the job done. +3

Other memorable characters (+1 each): This was a remarkably well-cast season, with likeable heroes like the Kims (Johnson and Powers), magnetic goofs like Tom, and enjoyable schemers like Brandon, Lindsay, and Kelly. +6

Insufferables (-1 each): Frank was a pill and unfriendly as a way of life. Lex's paranoia made him impossible to enjoy. -2

Signature Moment: This season boasted the series' first tribe swap, which was a game-changer (and ultimately spelled the doom of my beloved Lindsay), plus genuine curiosities like the contestants coming across a water buffalo in the wild and hearing a lion prowling just outside their camp. But game-wise, the turn of events that led to Kelly's ouster was something else. Lex luring a dissatisfied Brandon to his side, despite his tribe-mates' objections. Brandon willfully betraying his own best interests just so he wouldn't have to be aligned with Frank. Poor Kelly taking the bullet for Teresa's rogue vote for Lex a week earlier. Wild stuff. +3

Satisfying winner? Satisfying enough. At least it wasn't Lex. +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Oh, to remember how annoying Jeff wasn't. 0

Total score: 13

3. Survivor: Australia (2001)

Best Player: In the series' second season, Tina Wesson showed off another way to win the game. A year after Richard Hatch's overt villainy took the crown, Tina played a much more subtle game, not even emerging as much of a player until the fourth week or so. But she played everyone perfectly, up to and including getting Colby to keep her around at the end, knowing she could probably beat him. One of the best. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Colby was an incredibly likeable character once, despite his questionable decision at the end. People like Alicia (who will always wave her finger in your face) and Michael Skupin (evacuated after falling into a fire pit) made for fantastic TV. And then, of course, there was America's sweetheart, Elisabeth Filarski. Soon to be Hasselbeck. Do people remember just how beloved she was? +4

Insufferables (-1 each): It really looks rather quaint how much America hated Jerri back then. She really wasn't that objectionable. Kind of headstrong. Kind of enamored with herself. Fond of a vague come-on to Colby. Compared to the monsters who would come later? Please. Combative chef Keith, however? He can go. -1

Signature Moment: So many! Alicia versus Kimmi over the fate of the f*cking chickens. Skupin's aforementioned evacuation. The time the tribe ran out of food and had to barter with Jeff for more. The time their camp flooded. Still, from a strategic standpoint, no moment topped Jerri's elimination. Fair or not, we all hated her, and when Colby and Tina had finally tired of her, they made a quick calculation and sent her on her way. America, still watching the show in huge numbers, rejoiced. +4

Satisfying winner? Indubitably. +4

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Minimal! 0

Total score: 16

2. Survivor: Borneo (2000)

Best Player: Richard Hatch. The caveat is that he was playing against a cast full of people who didn't know how to play the game properly yet. But it's not like Hatch came in with a playbook to read either. Instead, he wrote the playbook, at least when it came to alliance building, winning challenges at the right time, and playing people off of each other. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): God, so many. It's amazing how well you remember relatively insignificant players like Greg (9th place) and Gretchen (10th). Colleen Haskell was so beloved as "America's sweetheart" (despite being merely a skinny, kind of spacey, nice girl) that she got a movie role out of it. Jenna Lewis was the excitable single mom, and Kelly the jock, and Gervase the charismatic goof-off. Even people like Rudy and Sue, who started off as grumpily offensive and unbearably obnoxious, became lovable. +8

Insufferables (-1 each): Oh my God, Sean. Dumb Dr. Sean, whose gutless "alphabet voting" strategy doomed the poor Pagong youngsters when they had a shot at besting Hatch. Also Joel. Shut up, Joel.  -2

Signature Moment: Sue Hawk's "snakes vs. rats" speech should be in the Smithsonian somewhere. Etched on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. Something. +5

Satisfying winner? Looking back, yes, obviously Hatch was the best. At the time, I was so in the bag for Kelly, you wouldn't believe it. Damn that Greg and his fickle "guess what number I'm thinking of" vote! +3

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: Nil. 0

Total score: 19

1. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (2010)

Best Player: Parvati Shallow, best player in two seasons. Should she have been the show's first (and only) two-time winner? We'll get to that in a second. But her play this season was masterful, particularly considering she was a very early target for elimination. She figured out the exact right way to play Russell Hantz, not merely using him as a shield, but playing on his control-freak tendencies and actually stringing him along. Brilliant. +5

Other memorable characters (+1 each): Despite the overuse of certain returnees, this ended up being a remarkably well-cast season. Boston Rob was suddenly thrust into the role of old-timer (and quasi-underdog), while Coach and Jerri operated almost like high-school outcasts. Sandra and Courtney formed a kind of axis of bitch, fist-pounding their way through tribal councils. This was a season that even made us like Danielle. The heroes tribe was less easy to root for, especially after dispatching Cirie early, but it was incredibly fun to watch JT walk willingly into the trap of giving up his immunity idol to poor Russell, stranded on a tribe of womenfolk. +7

Insufferables (-1 each): We're done with Colby, right? He barely looked like he wanted to be there in the first All-Stars. His unwillingness to mix things up to even a small degree in HvV was maddening. -1

Signature Moment: Parvati playing two immunity idols—neither on herself—to secure JT's ouster was an eye-popping moment. +5

Satisfying winner? So, okay, maybe Parvati deserved it more, but how much fun was it to see Sandra win again, in basically the same way she did before, being just as underestimated as she was the first time. It's like the 1980 U.S. hockey team winning the Miracle on Ice again. +5

Jeff Probst Annoyance Factor: So many man-crushes in one place, it's a wonder Jeff didn't pass out from the vapors on the weekly. -1

Total score: 20

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.