Asking a Survivor fan to pick favourite seasons is like asking them to choose a preferred child and, beyond the internal struggle to select from so many stellar seasons, the Internet will also go to war for their picks. Your “Survivor list” is sacrosanct and letting you into my choices is less a recommendation and more akin to you reading my (very on brand) diary – that is to say, welcome to the very depths of my soul.
I’ve taken on this challenging and controversial task of culling my kids to point you in the right direction for Survivor US seasons, as Australian Survivor takes over the nation (and more recently, the world) and fans wade into the often-daunting Survivor US sphere for more content. There are 41 seasons created in over two decades – almost all of them really good – and I’m here to guide you through the best of the best on your binge.
These selections are a mix of my personal favourites and consensus top-tier seasons, but if you have time there are so many more than ten that are worth falling down the rabbit hole for.
You can’t stay totally HD in a legitimate Survivor binge and, when going old school, Pearl Islands remains timeless and epic in its own right. The pirate theme is immersive, you’ll meet series-defining characters and you’ll definitely recognise one grandma-focused moment from the pop cultural zeitgeist, unless you were somewhere off world circa 2003.
China remains a favourite for super fans, and it’s the ideal middle school season to take you on the next step on your Survivor journey. Again, series-essential characters are introduced, the location and cultural touchstones are unique and really set the season apart, and there are a myriad of iconic moments. I won’t say too much due to spoilers – but check back in when that thing happens, you’ll know the one.
Micronesia is the first recommendation on this list with returnees – it’s a Fans Vs Favourites season, so half are familiar faces, at least some of which you should know from the seasons previously discussed (but if you’re absolutely loving the binge, you can always explore more early seasons before you get here). Micronesia holds up as one of the best seasons of all time, with a strategic pace that doesn’t let up and more famous moments than you can count on one hand. You’ll be side-eyeing sticks forevermore.
This full returnee season of some of the series’ most iconic characters is often referred to as “the Survivor movie” and “best season of all time”. It’s an epic, funny, gripping journey with reality TV royalty, which obviously spoils a lot of the seasons beforehand so, again, enter at your own peril. You should have met many of the characters by now (this season is something of a spiritual sequel to Micronesia), but even without the context these heavyweights deliver.
Ushering in a more modern era on your binge, Philippines takes three past contestants medically evacuated from the game and puts them back with all otherwise new players. The unique trials and tribulations of Matsing define the pre-merge, and the entertaining cast make it effortlessly watchable, beginning to end.
Regularly touted as the best newbie season ever, Cagayan is, simply put, a must-watch. The first Brains Vs Brawns Vs Beauty season that our own franchise took from (hold the Beauty), Cagayan is a wild ride from the very first episode, with quite possibly the best newbie cast ever assembled. You’ll be talking llama by the end of it, and you’ll also understand what that means.
Another full returnee season with the requisite spoiler warning, Cambodia was the Second Chances season, where fans voted for who they wanted to see on the cast. Not throwing away their second shot, this cast paid the fans back with one of the more strategic seasons we’ve ever seen, but it’s the characters we cared enough to vote back in that make it all worthwhile.
We’re well into the 30s and really modern now, with a season that explored the generational divide, sometimes even successfully. It’s a cast of super fans that drive this recent season, which gives it a reputation of being a little “gamebotty” but, as gamebot myself, I was all in. Beyond the big moves, the emotional, character-driven stories give this season its heart.
In a theme you may somewhat recognise from our own two Champions Vs Contenders season, Survivor somehow turned what at the time felt like a tenuous concept into the as-advertised biblical showdown of epic proportions, and it’s now the gold standard of modern Survivor seasons. Ladders, jackets and eggs, oh my! This season has it all.
As the finale to 20 years of Survivor before the official new era, Winners At War was the culmination of so many things. For many it couldn’t deliver on those lofty promises, for others (like me) it was three months of intricate fan service that still gives me chills to this day, and the debate on that will rage on Twitter, long, long after we’re all gone. As the title suggests, this season spoils just about everything before it, don’t skip to it before you’re ready for that.
Looking for more?
Capping a show I love so dearly at just ten seasons is truly an impossible task so while you’re here: Season 6 (Amazon) is the birthplace of so much Survivor strategy, and is very funny too; Season 18 (Tocantins) is uniquely set in the Brazilian Highlands with alpha-type characters that tick the big character box; Seasons 27 and 29 (both Blood Vs Water), are both great and especially pertinent right now. I could go on and on and on. I told you not to make me choose between my kids!