6. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)
I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor's best ever. What’s interesting about Palau is that we basically all knew Tom would win from episode 1, but it was still gripping nonetheless.
7. Survivor: Blood s. Water (Winner: ???)
So here it is. And here’s why. The returning contestants playing with/against their loved ones twist added new dimensions and forced players — and us — to think about the strategic elements of the game in an entirely new way. And for strategy nerds like myself, it was like opening a brand new Christmas present each and every week as new layers were revealed. And although I am certainly no fan of the Redemption Island twist due to the fact that it neuters the show’s most dramatic moment (the vote-off), it is undeniable that the RI element is what led to many of the intriguing strategic decisions of whom to vote out and why. (However, I still can’t figure out why they went with three person duels — a.k.a. truels — and they definitely should have stopped RI at the merge.) Yes, the challenges were a letdown this season and there was a bit of a lull just after the merge, but all in all, this has been a super solid season from top to bottom and a nice change of pace. And it starts our trend of the past three seasons in three straight slots here. (Note: As always, this ranking could still move up or down a slot or two depending on what happens in the finale.)
8. Survivor: Philippines (Winner: Denise Stapley)
This season was all about one thing: casting, casting, casting. When you look back on what happened, while there were a lot of shake-ups with the voting, there weren’t a whole lot of jaw-on-the-floor shocking moments. So why is it so high? Because the casting and storylines that developed gave us people to root for and against — something every great Survivor season needs. And the fact that Philippines had such a strong final four — Denise, Malcolm, Lisa, Skupin — also doesn't hurt.
9. Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (Winner: John Cochran)
A tale of two seasons this was, and I can already hear people yelling that I am putting it too high. But hear me out first before you Russell any feathers. If I was grading this solely on pre-merge episodes, this would be waaaay down the list due to the emphasis on big personalities (Shamar, Brandon, Phillip) as opposed to big gameplay. But everything post-merge was spectacular. I can’t remember a time there were so many moves and countermoves so late in the season. The same way it is more important for a sports team to play well in the second half of a game as opposed to the first, a great season needs to build momentum, and Caramoan definitely did that with six fantastic episodes in a row. It’s much more important to finish strong than to start strong, so I definitely put more weight and emphasis on post-merge episodes when doing the rankings, and this season made a remarkable comeback and slipped into the top 10. Also, don’t overlook how great the bevy of water challenges was. Should I push it down in the rankings due to the lackluster Reunion show that followed? Perhaps. Kind of not sure how much I should take that live show into consideration when ranking what happened out on the island.
10. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)
I like this season a lot more than most people, but Russell's controlling of the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.
11. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)
An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy's hand. Plus: Purple rock!!!
NEXT: The rest of the top 20