The game of Survivor naturally builds, and the post-merge hits you with strategic intricacies, layered relationships built through the many iterations of the game and characters you’ve invested in for weeks. Still, there are so many great pre-merges too and, as we say goodbye to the pre-merge of Australian Survivor: Blood V Water, we’re looking back at those that stick out as iconic in all of global Survivor history.
So, what makes for an amazing pre-merge? Before the strategy really ramps up, it’s all on story and character, with casts that just grab you from the first second, long-term plot points that play out before the players ever hit the same beach and some very memorable moments throughout the show’s run.
If you’re the self-admitted kind of person who wants a season to grab you from moment one, these are the seasons for you. They promise tears, fireworks and drama before you’ve even had a chance to memorise all the players’ names. Read on for your spoiler-free watch list.
US Survivor: The Australian Outback (Season 2)
We’re going old school for a season that was watched over 20 years ago by tens of millions of people every week. This season was such a staple piece of pop culture that some moments of its chaotic pre-merge are probably burned (sorry) into your memory without you even realising.
Fingers were wagged, beef jerky was consumed and there was a medevac so gruesome we’re sure you have it buried somewhere in the recesses of your nightmares.
US Survivor: Pearl Islands (Season 7)
It was on from the very second 16 strangers got dropped in Panama for what they thought was a pre-season photoshoot but was actually the start of the game. In their suits and fancy dresses, these contestants haggled at the markets and even stole from fellow contestants in the first task, cementing the pirate status of the season that defined it from beginning to end.
This theme, and the ransacking, kidnapping and epic battles it entailed, made for an amazing pre-merge for an all-round brilliant season.
US Survivor: Palau (Season 1O)
Some tribes are so memorable they become a verb, and you’ll soon find out why a tribe ‘Ulonging’ is not really a compliment. Ulong did something that’s never been managed before or after their run in this season and, while we won’t tell you what it was, we will offer the fun fact that it actually means the first half of this game isn’t technically considered a pre-merge at all.
US Survivor: Heroes Vs Villains (Season 20)
We’ve told you before that this is often considered the best season of all time, so its extraordinarily long pre-merge falls under that title too. When 20 legendary players returned for this landmark season, they had iconic lines, broken bones and true promised villainy before barely the first ad break.
What followed was two fascinating parallel games at the Heroes and Villains camps that spanned a rare nine episodes. Titans were taken out in epic moves and equally epic blunders and the Rob versus Russell battle was so momentous it spurred on its own full theme just two seasons later.
US Survivor: Philippines (Season 25)
We said that the key to a great pre-merge is story, and, if you’re like a storyteller and that’s what you do, this is the pre-merge for you. The elegy of Matsing was enough to, you guessed it, make the tribe name into a verb, and also a strategy – the Intentional Matsing has long been debated since. You’ll be adding to your Survivor strategy dictionary before the tribes ever see the same mat.
US Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28)
When seasons are considered all-time fantastic, they’re bound to start with a bang. This top-tier season never lets up from the get-go, when designated tribe members had to select the tribe’s weakest member, sparking one of the best Survivor premieres of all time. Luzon (or Brains) are not the first disaster tribe on this list and not even the last disaster tribe on this list to be named Luzon, but they’re always extremely fun, as backed up by the entirety of this incredible cast.
Survivor South Africa: Philippines (Season 6)
The rebooted franchise of Survivor SA quietly made its way onto the scene four years ago, but it wasn’t long before they had the whole Internet asking “they did what when?” in a truly shocking moment that put the franchise on the map.
We obviously won’t spoil what this jaw-dropping moment was but if you aren’t riveted just a couple of episodes in, your money back. The pre-merge followed with epic blindsides, true hilarity and one of the best casts in the global series, becoming a treasured favourite for international Survivor fans.
A season that can sustain so much entertainment for 26 episodes is no easy feat, but, if anything, I wish this epic season was longer. You know it’s good when five pre-mergers have since returned to the game, speaking to the elite level of a cast who had to navigate twists, turns and chaos from very early on.
Names were being yelled in the voting booth from episode one, and mad scrambles and chicken Idols set the pace from episode two, making this season instantly and continuously great.
The second battle between Champions and Contenders was infinitely watchable early, as the Champions’ athletes and (shudder) non-athletes went to war and a tricky post-swap maintained this pace on either side.
A cross-tribe Idol mechanism, one of the best twists introduced ever into the game, was a landmark storyline, and series-defining stars were introduced or returned to carry it all. Plus, it only took a vat of popcorn for what could possibly be the funniest Survivor moment of all-time.
Australian Survivor’s most recent season is a rollercoaster that never lets you off the ride, as delivered from the very first episode and through hierarchical tribe flips, huge blindsides and the various exploits granted by Macedonian Jesus before we even reach the (equally stellar) merge.
Highlights include the Sandra Bullock (because of The Blindside, you see?) and a moment so face-palm worthy it became a meme, a running joke and a go-to quote all instantaneously. “I’ve cooked this”, indeed.
If you’ve enjoyed the stories, swaps and shenanigans as the game gets on its feet in Blood V Water, here are 10 more seasons that will have you hooked the moment you sit down, no patience necessary. You’re welcome.
Australian Survivor: Blood V Water continues Sunday - Tuesday at 7.30 on Network 10 and 10 play on demand