Gone are the days of waiting a week between episodes and sitting through repetitive 90-second commercials. Whether you’re a reality television connoisseur or have simply exhausted your Netflix queue, treat yourself to a binge of “Survivor” this holiday season. Twenty years of juicy social politics in the jungle await.
The basic challenge of the show is for castaways to “outwit, outlast, and outplay” other competitors on a remote island, fighting to become the sole survivor. They participate in physically demanding challenges to win rewards and immunity, and eventually vote off other members at a daily tribal council.
The twist? Eliminated contestants comprise the jury that decides who wins the $1 million prize. The paranoia is palpable.
“Worth playing for?” host Jeff Probst asks contestants every episode. To any sane person, the answer is a resounding “No, thanks.” This is the first (and maybe only) reason you should watch “Survivor.” The castaways are neurotic, highly competitive, attention-driven characters. Here are my favorites.
‘Boston’ Rob and Amber Mariano
For everyone lacking a fully developed palate for quality television—I’m looking at you, “Bachelor Nation”—most “Survivor” seasons feature some kind of romance. Yes, even without showers and toothbrushes, there is intimacy at the communal camp.
Certainly the most memorable of these romances is the relationship between Boston Rob and Amber, who meet as all-stars, making them the only couple to have claimed victory on their respective seasons. Rob proposes to Amber during a final tribal council in which she wears a perfectly 2000s homemade “I love Rob” shirt.
You can stream the CBS two-hour special of their wedding here. Planned by Colin Cowie, a sought-after event planner who has worked with celebrities from Oprah to the Kardashians, it is no wonder the two are still happily married with four children.
David Wright started Season 33, “Millennials vs. Gen X,” as an X’er who was terrified of bugs and the sound of bamboo being chopped, but evolved into a highly competitive player who was accepted and encouraged by each teammate. Wright opened up about his mental health issues to his tribemates, revealing how his crippling fear of dying manifested in a fear of living. David credits “Survivor” with changing his life for the better, giving him the confidence to live fearlessly.
Tai Trang (and Mark)
Season 32 featured the success story of a competitor who escaped communism with his parents and 11 siblings. Tai Trang is one of the most fascinating characters to have ever joined the cast.
In a battle for literal survival, he befriends (and names) a chicken that was originally intended for protein. His relationship with nature and animals helps him in the game, but his human interactions led to some chuckles. Tai tries to kiss pretty much everyone on his season, and his tiny stature makes it adorable.
Each minute at camp is an opportunity to strategize with others or be strategized against. In Season 28, J’Tia, a self-proclaimed banshee, overhears she might be voted out that evening. To get back at her tribemates, she throws the only remaining source of sustenance—one bag of white rice—into the fire.
After admitting “you can’t leave crazy people alone,” J’Tia stays in the game longer than expected. She was probably one of the worst people to ever play the game—at least the challenges—but she gained what reality stars really want: instant fame and a few Instagram Flat Tummy Tea partnerships. Did I mention she is a nuclear engineer?
Debbie is just intense. She’s like the high school teacher who thinks she’s popular with students but actually gets made fun of straight to her face.
Wanner constantly touted her accomplishments and qualifications, so much so that “Survivor” producers change her profession during confessionals. Debbie is the ultimate try-hard but she, like so many others, makes for *chef’s kiss* television.
Jonny ‘Fairplay’ Dalton
In Season 7, one of the most iconic players of “Survivor,” Jonny “Fairplay” Dalton flawlessly executed a lie to his teammates. Dalton claimed his grandmother recently died so he could catch up with friends while others miss out on quality time with their loved ones.
In his confessional, Dalton nonchalantly admits, “My grandmother is sitting home watching Jerry Springer right now.” Jonny is like the Howard Stern of his season—he’s kind of gross, but you still enjoy listening to him.
“Survivor” does not, unfortunately, award $1 million to the person who outwatches everyone else. Thanks to the ongoing lockdowns, I would have easily taken the crown by now. But as the pandemic rages on, you too can enjoy the delicious drama these characters create on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.