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HUGGING IT OUT Brenda’s fatal flaw was winning the loved ones challenge in the first place
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: 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.
8. Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (Winner: ???)
And here we are. 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. 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 has been spectacular. I can’t remember the last time we had this 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 has definitely done that with six fantastic episodes in a row now. 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 have been as that was factored in as well. (Note: As always, this ranking could still move up or down a slot or two depending on what happens in the finale.)
9. 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.
10. 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!!!
11. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)
What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. Plus, just look at all the great first-time contestants (Parvati, Penner, Ozzy, Yul).
12. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)
Really good cast. Really bad location. Todd completely owned that final Tribal Council. That’s how you win a million dollars. I realize I have this a bit lower than most people and always consider moving it up a spot or two. But then I never do.
13. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)
An overrated season, and one that seems to keep moving down my list. Probst loves it. I didn't. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.
14. Survivor: South Pacific (Winner: Sophie Clarke)
Here's another one that I like more than most people, which is curious considering how much it has in common with the season that aired directly before it, which I didn’t like: the same twist of two returning players, Redemption Island, the predictable vote-offs, no real water challenges, etc…. But there is one thing I really did dig about this season, and that is the cast. I was invested in the players and their fates — the ones I wanted to do well, and not so well. Plus, this season gave us three signature moments: Ozzy volunteering to go to Redemption, Cochran flipping, and Brandon giving away his immunity.
15. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)
Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach 1.0. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifted this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn't involve the Steven Seagal wannabe?
16. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)
Overall, a bit of a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)
NEXT: The 10 worst Survivor seasons