8. Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Winner: Tyson Apostol)
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 was super solid season from top to bottom and a nice change of pace.
9. 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.
10. 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. It was flat-out grating. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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: Seasons 13 through 21