Survivor: Who is the Greatest?
Last night was the season finale of the 20th season of Survivor. As can be expected at any Survivor finale which includes Russel Hantz, there was a fair amount of discussion about who is the Greatest Survivor Ever.
This got me to thinking, “What makes for a great Survivor?”
Is it necessary to be a winner? Certainly Russell Hantz doesn’t think so. I won’t say that it is absolutely necessary to have won Survivor to be considered one of the greatest. That would rule out Russel, Boston Rob, Rupert and several other memorable contestants. Also, there have been several winners on the last 10 years whose names I can’t even remember today.
I think memorablity is a key criteria. Over the years, contestants have come and go. Only a few dozen stick out in the blur. However, a lot of these “characters” are more memorable for being big personalities more so than great players. For example, Johnny Fairplay became notorious for the “dead grandma” lie. But if there was any doubt about whether or not he was a great player, he removed that doubt by quitting during Survivor Fans Vs. Favorites.
In fact, I’m going to say that any one who’s ever quit the game is automatically disqualified from being considered the greatest. (Sorry, Jenna Morasca.)
I think you have to take into consideration performance. But there are several kinds of performance in the game of Survivor. The most obvious is dominance in the challenges. Ozzy Lusth has displayed super human skills in the various challenges. In his first season, Colby Donaldson went on an impressive winning streak even if he has crapped out on his two follow-up seasons. And let’s not forget that Tom Westman actually won his season based on dominating challenges.
But winning challenges doesn’t always result in winning Survivor. In fact, it frequently works against a contestant as they paint a big, fat bullseye on themselves. What’s more important is the strategic element of the game. This is where Russell has had the most success. Other strategy stand-outs include Cirie Fields, Yau-Man Chan, Rob Cesternino, Yul Kwon, Boston Rob and of course Survivor’s first winner, Richard Hatch.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the game is the social aspect. Often times, a player can ride coat tails to the finale and win based on being well-liked. See Tina Wesson, Amber Mariano and Natalie White.
I think any candidate for Greatest Survivor needs to have some combination of all of these qualities. So, here is my short list of candidates I would consider for the title of Greatest Survivor of All Times:
Richard Hatch – The original Survivor set the rules for all those who would follow. These days, you wouldn’t dream of playing Survivor without forming an alliance. But in season one, it was unheard of. Many players denied the existence of an alliance until it was too late. But Hatch is a one-trick pony. And everyone’s on to him. He was great in his day. But he’s not the greatest of all times.
“Boston” Rob Mariano” – It’s true “Boston” Rob never won. But he did propel his future wife, Amber, to victory on Survivor All Stars. He’s certainly memorable having competed on Survivor 3 times and Amazing Race twice. And he has a solid track record on challenges, is a known strategist and has played a solid social game. Still, the lack of wins keeps Boston Rob from being the greatest.
Russell Hantz – “Boston” Rob’s nemesis has also never won the game. But much like Boston Rob, Russell was arguably robbed of a victory by a bitter jury in Samoa. Russell is one of the most memorable Survivors of all times. He’s the king of hidden immunity idols. His strategy is usually sound and he’s got a real keen read on people. But Russell fails miserably at the social aspect of the game. This is a fundamental flaw that Russell does not seem to understand even after back-to-back losses.
Sandra Diaz-Twine – As the only two-time winner in Survivor history, you have to seriously consider Sandra. She’s not especially memorable, she certainly never dominated in challenges, but you can’t argue with results. In fact, I’d give her the title of “greatest ever” except I think that title truly belongs to…
Parvati Shallow – Parvati currently holds the record for most days of Survivor ever played. And that record (114 days) seems unlikely to ever be broken. Parvati excels at the social aspect of the game. But she is one of the rare players that also performs well in challenges and has a keen strategic mind as well. She’s a Survivor winner and arguably should have beaten Sandra in Heroes vs. Villains. I suspect that if she hadn’t had the stink of Russell on her, Parvati would have been crowned as the game’s only double winner instead of Sandra.
When you get down to it, I think Parvati and Sandra are really the only two viable candidates for greatest Survivor ever. And while I would ordinarily say you can’t argue with results, I think Parvati better embodies the total package of what a Survivor should be. I won’t take anything away from Sandra’s impressive double victory. But I think it is overshadowed by Parvati’s mastery of every aspect of the game.