Survivor‘s 44th season premiered on March 1, 2023, and fans of the long-running show are already captivated. Survivor is an American CBS reality competition that’s been running since 2000. It is hosted by Jeff Probst and involves a group of contestants stranded on a remote island who must complete physical and mental challenges for rewards and immunity from elimination. Contestants are voted out each episode until one is ultimately given the title of “Sole Survivor” and wins the grand prize money.
Survivor has continued to be a massively successful show since its debut. Fans are drawn in by each season’s unique theme, the compelling character storylines and the thrilling challenges. Though the show has had 44 seasons thus far, there are a few which many fans agree to be the best of the anthology series. These ten seasons keep viewers on the edge of their seats, from start to finish.
Updated on October 13, 2023 by Robert Lee:
Survivor has continued to prove itself to be one of the most iconic and well-regarded reality TV shows of all time, especially with the release of its currently ongoing season, Survivor 45. As the series continues to evolve and maintain itself as a premiere reality TV show, it becomes even easier for fans to look back on the show’s past and see all the amazing seasons throughout its history.
15 Survivor: Borneo (Season 1)
Survivor: Borneo was Survivor‘s first season and premiered in May of 2000. Contestants in this season had no clue what they were walking into and likely didn’t expect for some of them to end up eating rats. Survivor legends like Richard Hatch, Kelly Wiglesworth, Rudy Boesch and Susan Hawk were introduced in this season and ended up becoming recurring contestants on the show.
While the game play in Borneo‘s season may be considered slow-moving in comparison to today’s standards, the show’s concept was incredibly innovative for its time and inspired dozens of other reality TV competition series. Borneo ended up having over 51 million viewers tune in for its finale and thus launched the long-running and widely beloved show.
14 Survivor: Millennials Vs. Gen-X (Season 33)
The title of this season makes its concept clear. Tribes were originally divided based on age. Those in the millennial generation were placed on one team and those part of Generation X were placed on the other. In this battle based on age, cast members formed rivalries and friendships alike and weren’t afraid to work alongside those much older or younger than them in their pursuit of victory.
Besides the heartwarming camaraderie that was built between cast members in this season, the journey of contestant David Wright is an especially intriguing watch. He evolves from being more subdued to being a very dominant player in the game.
13 Survivor: The Australian Outback (Season 2)
Survivor: The Australian Outback was the much-anticipated follow-up to the massive hit first season of the now long-running TV series, and was tasked with upping the ante in just about every conceivable way. As opposed to having its contestants compete in the usual jungle island setting the series is known for, they are dropped into the harsh and hot deserts of Australia.
While the first season is iconic in its own right, the direct follow-up was able to build on everything that made the original season work so well, as well as make adjustments that better reflect the future of the show. The second season arguably had just as much, if not a bigger impact on the show as a whole as the first season, as it also featured a number of iconic cast members and storylines, and achieved some of the highest viewership of the entire show.
12 Survivor: Philippines (Season 25)
This season initially divided castaways into three tribes instead of two, making competitions and alliance building even more high-stakes. Survivor: Philippines features some of the most infamous contestants in Survivor history, including Jonathan Penner, Lisa Welcher and Abi-Marie Gomes.
Alongside the many intriguing storylines the season showcases, the alliance between Denise Stapley and Malcolm Freberg had viewers on the edge of their seats. The duo narrowly managed to fight through until the end, always at risk. Stapley was the first player in Survivor history to attend every single Tribal Council and be at threat during every elimination. This makes her win at the end even more commendable.
11 Survivor: David vs. Goliath (Season 37)
Survivor: David vs. Goliath follows a theme in which its two drives are divided by degrees of success in life, with the David tribe consisting of underdogs while the Goliath tribe consists of overachievers. While many of the show’s themes over the years only really apply during the early game and fizzle out post-merge, this season’s theme stays consistent and relevant throughout the entire season.
David vs. Goliath is filled with memorable and iconic moments throughout the entire season, thanks its part to its amazing cast who brings excitement and flair to every aspect of the game. This season features a number of modern-day fan-favorite castaways, including Christian Hubicki, Mike White, Angelina Keeley, and Nick Wilson, on top of many more who make this one of the most entertaining seasons of the show.
10 Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18)
While Survivor had made the jump to HD in the previous season, Gabon, Survivor: Tocantins was the first season to fully take advantage of the jump in visual quality. The season sees the contestants competing in the Brazilian Highlands and features numerous beautiful set pieces and backdrops that are arguably the most beautiful the show has ever been.
On top of its highly original and engaging location, Tocantins has one of the most lovable and fun-to-watch casts in the entire show’s history, with iconic Survivor players such as J.T. Thomas, Coach Wade, and Tyson Apostol making their debut this season. It’s easily one of the most satisfying and engaging storylines to watch unfold and makes for a perfect entry-level season for those looking to get into Survivor.
9 Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34)
The 34th season of Survivor brought back the show’s most revolutionary players from previous seasons. By creating a cast full of people who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, take risks and even turn on their alliances, Survivor: Game Changers is a revolutionary season in Survivor history.
The season features fan-favorites like Sandra Diaz-Twine, Sarah Lacina, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Malcolm Freberg, Troyzan Robertson and more. Crazy moments like an unexpected blindside against Malcolm, Cirie’s default elimination and the return of Exile Island cemented the season in the Survivor hall of fame.
8 Survivor: Winners at War (Season 40)
Survivor: Winners at War featured the long-awaited concept which fans had been dreaming of. 20 previous winners of Survivor returned to compete to win the “Sole Survivor” title for a second time (or in Queen Sandra’s case, a third time). This season presents the best of the best in Survivor history, and the contestants know that they must play even smarter, stronger and ruthlessly than ever before to outplay everyone else.
In Winners at War, many of the contestants have a pre-existing relationship with one another. Regardless, the heightened cash prize (here $2 million instead of $1 million) is enough to convince players to turn against their own friends. The season is a thrilling watch as it combines old-school and new-school strategies and other unique rules are brought to the game.
7 Survivor: China (Season 15)
Survivor: China sees the contestants traveling and viewing a number of Chinese monuments and landmarks as the entire season incorporates aspects of China’s vast culture into its design and philosophy. These philosophies would not only reflect themselves upon the challenges, campsites, and set design, but would go on to symbolize the top-notch gameplay on display during the season.
Survivor: China features some of the most engaging and fun-to-watch contestants in the show’s history, with cast members like Courtney Yates, James Clement, and Amanda Kimmel stealing the show. The show also arguably features some of the most high-level and effective gameplay in the show’s history, especially for a relatively early season, making for one of the best seasons of Survivor.
6 Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance (Season 31)
For the first time in the history of Survivor, fans were given the ability to vote at home for who they wanted to see compete in the season. Evident by its self-explanatory name, Survivor: Second Chance allowed previous contestants to return to the show and better prove themselves. What resulted: 20 players willing to put it all on the line for redemption.
Alliances were made and then broken, idols were found at moments of high exposure and tears were shed during emotional reveals in the competitive reality show. Notable story arcs included Kelley Wentworth‘s jaw-dropping strategic gameplay, Spencer Bledsoe and Tasha Fox‘s difficult climb to the end and Jeremy Collins‘ social gameplay leading him to his unanimously decided win at the end.
5 Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)
Survivor: Blood Vs. Water was based off of an innovative concept, placing returning Survivor fan-favorites on one tribe and their loved ones on the other. This creative setup placed the contestants under constant worry for the survival of their family members, as no castaway thoroughly enjoyed winning at the stake of putting their loved ones at risk of elimination.
As the season progresses, the stakes rise. Family pairs who reached the merge together were under immediate threat. But the season does not fail to shock viewers when certain contestants decide that blood isn’t always thicker than water, and that they’d rather vote out their loved one than jeopardize their own game.
4 Survivor 41 (Season 41)
Survivor 41 had much more pressure on itself compared to other seasons, as it wasn’t only following up the amazing culmination season of Winners at War, but it had also spent a year and a half on hiatus because of COVID-19. When the show finally returned, it proved that it was able to evolve and change with modern times, completely reinventing itself while still staying true to what makes Survivor so great.
What makes Survivor 41 so engaging to watch for longtime fans is just how much the show understands and respects its audience, going out of its way to be transparent about the show in unprecedented ways. The season’s adjusted 26-day game also makes the proceedings much more fast-paced and engaging, as the cast is constantly on high alert in a very heightened version of the show.
3 Survivor: Cagayan – Brawns vs. Brains Vs. Beauty (Season 28)
Survivor fans have historically loved seasons featuring returning players, but Survivor: Cagayan – Brawns Vs. Brains Vs. Beauty managed to captivate viewers with a cast full of newcomers. The gimmick of the season is incredibly intriguing. The three tribes were divided by intellect, strength and beauty.
Castaways managed to defy expectations placed upon them based off of what tribe they were initially placed into. Morale quickly crumbled in tribes that unexpectedly found little success and the merge shook up everyone’s preexisting strategies. The season is recognized for its incredible casting, which brought viewers through a journey of emotions from the first to last episode.
2 Survivor: Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16)
Survivor: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites is widely considered one of the best seasons of Survivor history. Initially, one tribe was made up of beloved Survivor returnees and the other tribe was made up of long-time Survivor watchers. This created an interesting dynamic between seasoned veterans of the game and those who confidently believed they could outwit them.
The season is full of wild gameplay. There are masterful moves as well as decisions that have gone down in history as being completely dumbfounding. No viewer would regret watching this season of the show, especially due to the witty all-female alliance led by Survivor legend Parvati Shallow.
1 Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)
Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains has gone down in Survivor history as having one of the best casts of all time. The gimmick of the show revolves around separating competitors based on their past style of playing in Survivor. Heroes Vs. Villains brought back polarizing castaways like Parvati Shallow, Boston Rob and Russel Hantz who capitalized off of their ruthlessly fierce playing, as well as easily lovable returnees like Tom Westman, Rupert Boneham and Candice Woodcock.
It’s difficult to win Survivor while keeping your morals aligned at all times, and that’s highlighted throughout this season. The villains embrace their nefariousness while the heroes fight to survive. But can good triumph over evil? Survivor‘s 20th season is an absolute must-watch.