Survivor: who is the greatest player of all time?

Part two in a series.

Yesterday I explained why I think Survivor is the ultimate game. Today I want to talk about the players – and to solicit your opinion on the subject.

On the reunion show the other night the question was quickly raised: does this victory make Sandra Diaz-Twine the greatest player ever? Sandra says yes. Russell Hantz says that if Sandra can win the game twice then the game itself is flawed.

Maybe he’s right, or maybe she is, or maybe they’re both wrong. It’s certainly a good topic for sparking arguments. As I noted yesterday, the game beats anything we’ve ever seen for complexity. It’s part physical challenge, part endurance/attrition marathon, part strategic duel and part cocktail party. And being the best player in the game at all these dimensions doesn’t even assure victory.

With this in mind, who’s the greatest ever? Here are your candidates (and we’ll begin with the assumption that you can’t be the greatest ever if you didn’t win).

Richard Hatch

  • Pros: Not only won the first season, but more than any player since he defined the game. Every winner since has worked, to some degree, from the playbook that Hatch wrote.
  • Cons: Went out early in Survivor All-Stars, although it has to be said that he entered the game with a huge bullseye on his back as a result of being the legend of the game.

Tina Wesson

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Outback.
  • Cons: Weak player in every respect. Rode Colby’s coattails the entire way. Didn’t so much win as she had Colby hand her the victory (in a move that was selected as one of the dumbest in Survivor history). First player voted out in All Stars.

Ethan Zohn

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Africa, which remains perhaps the most grueling physical test in the history of the game. Played the ultimate white knight game, proved that you could win without slitting throats along the way.
  • Cons: Ummm, can’t think of any.

Vecepia Towery

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Marquesas
  • Cons: It’s hard to say exactly how she won it. No observable talents. Her victory remains one of the two or three most disappointing moments in the history of the game.

Brian Heidik

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Thailand.
  • Cons: Having a hard time remembering who he is.

Jenna Morasca

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Amazon. Withdrew from All Stars to be with her mother, who was dying of cancer. Was the first player to succeed with a “pretty girl” game, although her social skills transcended her looks.
  • Cons: Well, we were sitting around after she won going “wait – what just happened?” But that may be a pro instead of a con.

Sandra Diaz-Twine

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Undefeated – played twice and won twice. Only two-time winner.
  • Cons: Personifies what some feel is wrong with the game: in two games she never won a challenge, physical, mental, endurance or otherwise. Lack of charisma makes it impossible to argue that she’s a great social player. Hyena-like strategy mainly involves staying out of reach until the enemy is distracted and hoping that she’s in the finals before a jury that hates the other finalists more than they hate her. Really, she’s been the ultimate sneaky, under-the-radar player. Supporters will contend that this reveals the genius of the game. Others will look at the results and change the channel.

Amber Brkich

  • Pros: Won Survivor: All-Stars
  • Cons: For the most part, rode Boston Rob’s coattails. His strategy at the end was a queenmaker play – he seemed to know that he couldn’t win, but he was in love, planned to ask her to marry him, and saw her win as his own victory.

Chris Daugherty

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Vanuatu. Executed the single most amazing come-from-behind run in Survivor history – at one point he was the only man left, surrounded by what looked like an airtight six-woman alliance.
  • Cons: Often seemed less like a man in control of his destiny and more like the lucky beneficiary of a battle royale where the rest of the contestants were worried about everyone except him. Can be argued that he won by default.

Tom Westman

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Palau. The second great white knight champion – a monster in challenges who pulled all but one of the jury votes. One of the most popular champions ever.
  • Cons: Found himself struggling from the outset in Heroes vs. Villains. Wasn’t good enough either socially, strategically or physically to save himself.

Danni Boatwright

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Guatemala. Credited with one of the game’s best strategic moves ever.
  • Cons: Not a terribly distinguished season.

Aras Baskauskas

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Exile Island.
  • Cons: Forgettable game, forgettable champ.

Yul Kwon

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Cook Islands. Very smart player. Apparently regarded as “one of the top 10 Heroes of Survivor” by Jeff Probst.
  • Cons: None, really. Would have been good to see him in Heroes vs. Villains.

Earl Cole

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Fiji. Jury vote was unanimous.
  • Cons: None.

Todd Herzog

  • Won: Survivor: China
  • Cons: None to speak of. Not the most memorable of games, though.

Parvati Shallow

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Micronesia (Fans vs. Favorites). Finalist in Heroes vs. Villains, top five in Cook Islands. Holds distinction of playing the game for the longest amount of time. Regarded as a supreme social and strategic player.
  • Cons: Refusal or inability to derail Russell in Heroes vs. Villains probably cost her the game.

Bob Crowley

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Gabon. SurvivorWiki calls him “clever and likeable,” which is two understatements for the price of one. Won the fan-voted “Player of the Season” award.
  • Cons: None.

J.T. Thomas

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Tocantins. Never had a vote cast against him, won unanimous jury vote. Strong three-tool player (physical, social, strategic). Won the fan-voted “Player of the Season” award.
  • Cons: Massive screw-ups in Heroes vs. Villains tarnish the legacy?

Natalie White

  • Pros: Won Survivor: Samoa.
  • Cons: It’s hard to figure out how she won – along with Vecepia, the weakest and most disappointing winners in Survivor history. We’d almost have preferred to see Russell win.

My vote? This is tough. I mean, don’t hate the player, hate the game and all, but Sandra’s two wins have me saying “how?” instead of “undefeated makes you the best.” Parvati’s win and her extremely strong showing in two losses mark her as one of the very strongest players ever – and it wasn’t all social, either. The only player to win more Survivor challenges than her is Colby.

Hatch defined the game, and if every single one of his opponents on All Stars hadn’t shown up with “get rid of Hatch” at the top of their to-do lists, you wonder how much damage he could have done there.

In the end, Sandra strikes me as the Survivor equivalent to Robert Horry, who won six NBA titles. But he was never the guy – he was deadly in the clutch, but he was always coming off the bench. You can’t take the rings away, but he wasn’t Michael Jordan, either.

Which leaves us with the icon, Richard Hatch, who was sort of like James Naismith and Michael Jordan all rolled into one. If Babe ruth had invented baseball and then been its iconic player, Hatch would be the Babe Ruth of Survivor.

But that’s just what I think. Your turn.

Who is the greatest Survivor player of all time?survey software

Thanks to SurvivorWiki, which was the source of my chronology here.

15 replies »

  1. The problem with trying to pin down the best player of Survivor is that it is not necessarily the same as the player that goes furthest in the game or wins, IMHO. If you wished to custom make a player who has the best chance of winning the game then Sandra would fit the bill. She has the uncanny ability to be the nonthreatening swing voter who isn’t too likable or unlikeable but has a strong enough personality to hold her own.

    But that doesn’t mean she is the hardest working, smartest or best political strategist. For that I’d probably go with Boston Rob who won by association. I admit it was fun watching him and Russell lock horns and I think he would have gone far this season if he wasn’t a threat to Russell. Since he’s not up there I would go with Parvati since she is the most balanced of the strongest players.

  2. I’m going to have to agree that Boston Rob is the best player of all time, despite the fact I can’t stand the man.

    If the definition of a winner is the one that walks away with the million dollars than he wins since he walked away with the money AND the girl.
    Add to that the fact he had two shows spring up after the end of Survivor, despite having no real talent (though I recognize both shows were flops at best) and I have to say the man epitomizes the ability to outlast, outwit and outplay, far beyond the boundaries of the game.

    • We may need a poll on best player who didn’t win. And Rob would probably get my vote there. But, rationalization aside, Rob is 0-for-3.

      I can’t help wondering how this season would have turned out if Tyson hadn’t been a moron, though. His dumbassery is the only thing that kept Rob from taking over the game.

  3. My vote went to Earl Cole. He wasn’t a fan of the show when he was selected so he didn’t have the Richard Hatch influence. His win was a combination of physical strength and social integrity. The fact that he came into the show without prior knowledge of the game’s history and get all the votes from the jury makes him a strong choice greatest player of all time.

    The only drawback I can see is that he hasn’t returned to defend his title. As of today, it’s still undecided whether it was beginner’s luck or if he really is the best competitor in the show’s history.

  4. Sandra’s 2-for-2, undefeated, and won the king-hell Heroes/Villains game. And right now is tied with Todd and Bob. Winning doesn’t get you any love with this crowd, does it?

    Jopez makes a point, though. I’d love to see some of these people in an all star match. Ethan may well have been the greatest ever, but right now he’s fighting cancer and there’s no reason to expect an encore from him anytime soon, if ever. Jenna bowed out of All Stars because her mom was dying. Jopez is right about Earl, and you also have players like Bob and Todd and Danni and especially Yul out there.

    This is more fun than the BCS.

  5. Parvati is the best overall Survivor player. The chick is amazing to watch she masters the social, and physical game like no other. I really felt no one even came close in Heros vs. Villians. She did an amazing job in Mirconesia and even better in H V Villians. As much as I like Sandra it was so sad to see that the jury denied Parv the win!

  6. FIrst off I would like to say i believe Sandra deserved the win BOTH times. She plays an amazing under the radar strategy with her famous “As long as it ain’t me.” line. She outlasts in every aspect. Her weaknesses become her strengths because no one takes a second glance (or even a first) at her for being a threat. HOWEVER, Overall Parvati is an example of a player who combines all three aspects of Survivor. She outwits, outplays, and outlasts. Her Social game is phenomenal, Her strategic game unstoppable, and she has proven that she has a physical game and is a huge competitor. She got my vote. There is something to say about players who have not won being the best or amongst them. People like Boston Rob, Cirie Fields, and Russel Hantz are examples of fanastic players who never won, but very well could have or deserved to.

  7. I have to say that Russell Hanz is the best survivor ever! He made it to the final 2 times, even with his nasty attitude and unfortunately on the third time, his tribe lost on purpose to get him out, but then started to lose and that tells me that they needed Russell. That was a stupid decision, i think, because 1. it was to early to make moves like that ( you need to think numbers to get to the merge) and 2. Russell was a strong player.

  8. Based on what? In order to be the best, don’t you have to win something? All he did was play a game that was guaranteed not to win. Twice. He made for interesting television, but if he’s the greatest Survivor player ever then the Clippers are the best NBA franchise of the past generation.

    • The one thing that Russell Hantz never gets credit for is that in his first season he single handedly came back from being down 8-4 at the merge. He manipulated so much that he had 3 of his 4 original tribe mates at the end which is nearly impossible. If he hadn’t phoned in the game before the final tribal the he most certainly could have one using the loyalty to my original tribe as an argument.

  9. The thing about Sandra is that even though she’s won both of her games people still don’t think she’s the best. And this is the exact mindset people she goes up against have about her, and is the reason why she’s the best ‘under-the-radar’ player. People will always have a target on the ‘mastermind’ players, meanwhile Sandra can skate by playing her own game winning games and still somehow be able to not be considered ‘the best’.