Who Is The Greatest Survivor?
With the conclusion of the 20th season of Survivor on Sunday night, we had our first two-time winner in Sandra Diaz-Twine. On the reunion show, uber-host Jeff Probst asked the question that many of us have been asking all season -- who is the best Survivor of all-time?
She's also never won a single immunity challenge, and in both seasons has sort of snuck into the winners circle. I wouldn't say she's a typical "Fly Under The Radar" player, but she certainly isn't a dominant player.
So, who IS the greatest Survivor of all-time? Click below to see my thoughts on this extremely important subject.
First, let's set some ground rules. Survivor is about a few things - you have to play a great strategic game (Outwit). You have to play a good athletic/mental game in the challenges. (Outplay). And, of course, you have to convince the people you kick off the game to vote for you at the end. (Outlast).
The inherent flaw (or genius) of the game is that the players who potentially can do all three of these things are, generally, identified early and voted out quickly by other contestants. There have been several players who have excelled at certain elements -- Ozzy stands out as perhaps the most natural challenge player in the history of the game, but couldn't maneuver his way enough to avoid having his torch snuffed out. Strategically, you have lots of standouts - from Richard Hatch to Russell Hantz and many in between.
An important wrinkle here is that the jury doesn't always weight each element equally. There have been juries that ignored some pretty heinous actions to award the title to the 'best player,' while of late many juries seem inclined to penalize players for acting in what they determine to be a sleazy fashion. Understanding the makeup of the players you are competing against is perhaps the most critical element, to know what you can and cannot get away with. (Memo to Russell Hantz: THIS IS WHY YOU NEVER CAN WIN THIS GAME.)
In my mind, there's been only one season where someone clearly dominated all three elements - and that's Yul Kwon, who won Survivor: Cook Islands. Yul managed to be strategic, physical and not offend anyone so much that he was a clear winner at the end of the game. But given how many players have played a second or third time, the question of the Greatest Survivor is clearly stacked against anyone who played just a single season.
Therefore, it comes down to a few names we should all be familiar with.
There's Boston Rob Mariano, one of the original villains. But, he's never won the game -- while winning isn't everything, I'd be hard pressed to name the Greatest Survivor someone who has never won.
That also clearly eliminates Russell Hantz -- who acknowledged on the reunion show that he he doesn't even think about how jury members might feel. As Probst stated:
There is no question that Russell is an excellent player of Survivor.Testify.
But my opinion of Russell changed when he admitted to Boston Rob that he did not play to win. You can’t be the best if you’re not playing to win. He can hoop and holler all he wants about “America choosing” but that’s not this game. This game is about convincing a jury of your peers that you are the most deserving person. He didn’t do that. But my problem is not that he didn’t accomplish that goal, it’s that it wasn’t his goal in the first place.
Boston Rob plays to win. The fact that he hasn’t won doesn’t change the fact that he plays to win. It’s a philosophical approach to the game and if Russell truly doesn’t play to win then he has no claim to greatest player.
I also can't give the nod to Sandra, because despite those two victories, the fact she hasn't won a single immunity challenge is impossible to ignore. Sure, she can say that this, in itself, is a strategy ... but it's one that relies solely on luck and stupidity by other players. A truly great player would be able to save him or herself at least once through winning a challenge. (I do think many don't give her credit for her game play - but anyone who has really watched sees her crawling through the jungle, snooping on others, planting seeds of doubt in other players through suggestions ... Sandra plays the game. She just isn't the best ever.)
You see where this is going, right? And it's an answer that I never would have thought of before this season. Yep, the best Survivor of all-time is Parvati Shallow.
She's won the game once, been to the final Tribal Council another time. She's clearly played very strategic games -- in her winning season, she executed an all-woman strategy that had been attempted numerous times but never worked. She's won the second most immunity challenges in the history of the game and did so many times down the stretch this season. Here's Probst again, on why if he had a vote this year, he would have given it to Parvati:
Had I been given a vote, I would have voted for Parvati because she played her ass off. She zigged and zagged her away through the Samoan jungle like nobody’s business. I was truly impressed. She handled Russell in a way nobody else could have. The double idol play was bold. The subtle social game she played was spot on. I think she played an overall better game than Sandra.
However, I do believe the jury lumped her in with Russell and if that’s the case, then Parvati misread the vibe of the group and it cost her the money.
This doesn't even talk about her immunity challenge play, either. Parvati drives me crazy, with her non-stop flirting, that giggle that seems to work on everyone (men and women both) and sometimes it does in fact seem like she's not doing anything. But that's pure hocum - she plays the game strong, and after twenty awesome seasons ... she's the best of all-time.