Let’s wrap this countdown up in time for the season finale tonight.
24. Amber Brkich, All-Stars, season 7
23. Natalie While, Samoa, season 19
22. Jud “Fabio” Birza, Nicaragua, season 21
21. Ethan Zohn, Africa, season 3
20. Danni Boatwright, Guatemala, season 11
19. Boston Rob Mariano, Redemption Island, season 22
18. Parvati Shallow, Fans Vs. Favorites, season 16
17. Tom Westman, Palau, season 10
16. J.T. Thomas, Tocantins, season 18
15. Vecepia Towery, Marquesas, season 4
14. Aras Baskauskas, Exile Island, season 12
13. Sophie Clark, South Pacific, season 23
12. Earl Cole, Fiji, season 14
11. Tina Wesson, Australia, season 2
10. Yul Kwon, Cook Islands, season 13
9. Richard Hatch, Borneo, season 1
8. Kim Spradlin, One World, season 24
7. Chris Daughtery, Vanuatu, season 9
6. Bob Crowley, Gabon, season 17
5. Brian Heidik (Survivor: Thailand, season 5)
The Ice Man Brian is a bit like Nixon. Brilliant mind, horrible person. Sure Brian did some soft-core porn with his wife, and sure he shot a little dog with an arrow and was charged with domestic battery and cruelty to animals, but the man knew how to play Survivor.
From taking control of his tribe immediately, and forming final twos with everyone important, Brian dominated the game with his car salesmen skill.
4. Jenna Morasca (Survivor: The Amazon, season 6)
Maybe I’m just sentimental for the old days of Survivor, but you have to appreciate Jenna’s skill in the game. Probably one of the best social games. She won the vote of Christy, who swore to never vote for her “evil stepsister” in the jury.
Let’s also not forget her brilliant move of giving her immunity idol to Heidi, which virtually assured Jenna’s place in the final two. When a smart player makes such a high gamble and it pays off, then they make top of my chart.
3. Todd Herzog (Survivor: China, season 15)
I’m sort of surprised Todd made it this high on the list, but also not. He’s masterfully controlled ego-maniac Amanda and tough girl/“fired” lunch lady. And yes, Courtney is a part of his win. Who could have foreseen her presence in the game? If anyone ever likes these rankings, I may include her in my “top whatever Survivor players who didn’t win” list.
2. Denise Stapely (Survivor: Philippines, season 25)
This might just be because the season is so fresh, but Denise survived 15 tribal councils, of which she was immune only once. She only received a handful of votes and crushed Mike Skupin and Lisa Welchel in the final jury vote of 6-1-1. And as rarely happens during a reunion, Jeff Probst asked the jury if the fourth place player was in the finals, if he would win. (Often in the past the third or fourth place player would have won, that’s what arguably prompted them to go to the final two system). Denise was still an easy victor. Smart, athletic, able to read people, well-liked, flawless game with the odds extremely against her while playing against players such as the brilliant Jonathan Penner.
1. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Survivor: Pearl Islands – Panama, season 7 and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, season 20)
How can Sandra not reign supreme? She played twice and won twice. She was nearly put on All-Stars and Fans Vs. Favorites. Run the scenarios, she probably would have made it to the end on both series. Sandra nearly played a perfect game, came back and kicked ass again, against experienced players. She’s not athletic, she’s not super nice, and she tells you what she thinks of you, but her social and strategic mind is flawless. She’s able to read people expertly and give the rare ‘it benefits us both’ appeal. She’s also a game player, unafraid to vote off a friend.
There could be so much detail about each brilliant move Sandra made in both seasons. I would love to see her play again and prove that fantastic wins can come in three.
This is Elliot Arthur Cross wishing you happy finale night.