Survivor has easily become one of the most prolific and iconic reality game shows of all time, finding ways to constantly reinvent itself and evolve over the years to be a staple of the genre as a whole. The different approaches and strategies that contestants have taken while playing the game have greatly evolved over the years, with a wide variety of different archetypes that players have fallen under. However, one thing that has stayed consistent throughout the show’s entire history is just how entertaining and effective it can be to play the heel and be a villain.
Whether it comes through in their deceptive and powerful game-making strategies, or even in their day-to-day relationships with other contestants, nearly every season of the show has at least one stand-out villain. Thanks to their more cutthroat nature and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, on top of being some of the most enthralling contestants to watch on screen, Survivor‘s most memorable villains are also notoriously its most strategically powerful and sometimes most successful. Many of the most beloved and greatest contestants the show has ever seen achieved their legendary status thanks to their villainous nature and calculated execution on the show.
- Release Date
- May 31, 2000
- Jeff Probst
15 Abi-Maria Gomes
Survivor: Philippines, Cambodia
It certainly helps to leave an impression and impact while on Survivor, with no contestant understanding this philosophy more than Abi-Maria Gomes. Throughout her two times playing Survivor in Survivor: Philippines and Survivor: Cambodia, Abi-Maria played a vindictive and aggressive game defined by leaving a massive impact, as well as always finding a way to get revenge on those who betrayed her trust. Her style of play has been highly effective in allowing her to make deep runs well into the merge in both of her seasons.
Abi-Maria’s style of game makes for electrifying entertaining moments nearly every time that she appears on-screen, making her a key memorable character in every season and tribe she’s a part of. Especially when compared to other more chaotic and unpredictable villains, Abi-Maria navigates the game with enough knowledge and understanding to make effective deep runs that play off of her revenge-based game plan. There is rarely a dull moment with Abi-Maria, making her easily one of the most fun and entertaining villains the show has seen.
14 Jesse Lopez
One of the most impactful and exciting villains of the modern era of Survivor, Jesse Lopez was able to translate an effective and cutthroat gameplan to the modern tendencies of the game in Survivor 43. Combined with tactical social manipulation and a core partnership with Cody Assenmacher, Jesse was able to orchestrate multiple blindsides and control the flow of the game. However, as is the case with many powerful villains before him, the target on his back became too high, and he was eliminated at the final four, inches away from taking home the entire game.
On top of simply orchestrating blindsides, Jesse was able to effectively traverse and switch allegiances in order to best fit his own path to get to the end of the game. He quite often would blindside his own allies and former tribemates, including effective blindsides on Dwight Moore, Noelle Lambert, and eventually even his ride-or-die partner Cody, in order to further his own game. Jesse balanced this highly strategic and cutthroat game with enough compassion and heart required of a modern season of Survivor to make him thrive in a way few villains of the modern era have.
13 Shane Powers
While many villains throughout the show’s history have attained notable villainous status thanks to their conniving and cutthroat style of gameplay, few have achieved the villain title solely from their interactions and social game. This, however, happens to be the case for Shane Powers, who only competed a single time in Survivor‘s 12th season, Survivor: Panama, yet still holds a place as a fan favorite among fans. Shane’s manic and unpredictable social game and frequent outbursts made him a core villain of the season, yet simultaneously one of the seasons’ most entertaining characters.
Especially for one of the earlier seasons of Survivor, Shane was one of the first instances of a truly chaotic presence that elevated nearly every moment that he was on-screen. From constant infighting with his teammates to dark and confusing tendencies, it was quickly made aware that Shane may be the last person one would want to be on a desert island with. Yet, he still stayed in the game for so long thanks to his genuine game knowledge, forming a powerful alliance early on and allowing him to deliver iconic moment after iconic moment for the entire season.
12 Courtney Yates
Survivor: China, Heroes vs. Villains
Few Survivor players are able to light up the screens and provide an iconic moment nearly every time that they’re on screen, yet Courtney Yates finds this opportunity to shine and then some. In her two seasons, playing on Survivor: China and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Courtney plays an effective, alliance-based game where she effectively aligns herself with powerful partners to take control of the game. Where Courtney truly shines however are her interactions with the cast, from budding feuds with rivals to friendship with allies, Courtney is a joy to watch unfold.
Courtney’s sharp tongue and fiery attitude allowed her to have numerous iconic moments in both her seasons, amplified by having ample targets for her snarkiness in China’s Jean-Robert and Heroes vs. Villains’s Russell. Whether she’s playing from the top or from the bottom, Courtney is clearly having fun playing a delightfully mischievous villain the entire time. Even after she’s voted off early on in Heroes vs. Villains, she finds a way to be one of the most memorable members of the jury in the show’s history, having 10/10 reactions to everything that happens at tribal council.
11 Jerri Manthey
Survivor: The Australian Outback, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains
One of the show’s first massive villain icons, Jerri Manthey was one of the primary antagonists for Survivor’s biggest and most successful season, Survivor: The Australian Outback. As well as being the first notable female villain in the show’s history, Jerri became an iconic part of The Australian Outback, most commonly recognized for her love-hate relationship with Survivor hero Colby Donaldson. While her connection with Colby would result in her being blindsided at the final 8, she would make continuous appearances in Survivor: All-Stars and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, continuing to cement her status as a villainess icon.
While not as recognizable for her strategic wit and gameplay, her powerful social game has resulted in numerous deep runs throughout her time on Survivor, as well as made a massive impact on audiences at home. As well as her status as being the starting point for iconic female villains in Survivor, she paved the way for an effective and powerful style of gameplay that would prove itself to be implemented greatly throughout the show’s entire history.
10 Brian Heidik
The winner of the fifth season of the show, Survivor: Thailand, Brian Heidik is one of the show’s most infamous and notorious villains in its early seasons, fully adopting the mindset of treating Survivor like a game to win. Especially for the early eras of the show, which were more greatly centered around social bonds and a loose approach to strategy, Heidik’s cutthroat and meticulous approach to the game allowed him to gain control of the entire season.
Heidik’s revolutionary villainous strategies were effective enough to be adopted by players in later seasons, especially his strategy of bringing an unlikable or undesirable player to the finals to have easier competition. While his strategies certainly were effective in the season, giving him the title of Sole Survivor, he was despised by the other players and even by producers for his cold and villainous path to victory. His villainous ways have made him one of the few strategic masterminds of the early seasons to have never returned to play again in the 20 years since Survivor: Thailand.
9 Tyson Apostol
Survivor: Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, Blood vs. Water, Winner at War
One of the most dominant physical threats seen in the show’s history, Tyson Apostol has been a key contestant in nearly every season that he’s a part of. However, his most notable appearances are in his first outing in Survivor: Tocantins, and his third outing in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, a season that he ended up winning thanks to his ruthless and villainous playstyle. He finds himself playing a more aggressive and cutthroat social game, with the ability to keep targets off of his back thanks to his massive prowess at challenges and winning individual immunities.
While he certainly has his villainous moments in every season he’s a part of, Blood vs. Water is the true highlight of his time on Survivor, as he mostly takes control of the entire game after taking a sizable lead. Especially in a season that’s themed around the inclusion of loved ones, with players having powerful bonds with one another, Tyson’s cutthroat playstyle becomes much more villainous when he’s voting out other contestants’ close family. However, it’s a style of villainy on-screen that makes for electric and enthralling reality television, as its impossible for the audience to not have as much fun as Tyson is clearly having while dominating the game.
8 Sandra Diaz-Twine
Survivor: Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains, Game Changers, Winners at War
One of the biggest social threats and greatest players in Survivor‘s history, Sandra Diaz-Twine is one of few players to have won multiple seasons of Survivor, thanks to her cunning strategy and brilliant social awareness. Her gameplay has been greatly defined by her notions of self-preserving gameplay, willing to burn any and all bridges and align with anyone in order to further her own spot in the game. Her more low profile, villainous threat from the shadows, approach worked masterfully in her first two outings, and only began to flounder when her reputation made her too big of a threat.
It’s an understatement as to just how well Sandra traversed and played around other contestants in both Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Both seasons were filled with both physical and strategic threats, yet Sandra’s cold and calculated approach allowed her to sneak her way to the end and secure victory status without her competitors realizing their mistakes. It takes a masterful type of villainous player to not only be assigned to a tribe full of famous Survivor villains but to win the entire season above all the other heroes and villains that got in her way.
7 Coach Wade
Survivor: Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, South Pacific
Easily one of the most entertaining villains that the series has seen, Coach Wade, also known as “the Dragon Slayer” became an instant Survivor icon from the second he was onscreen in Survivor: Tocantins. He has risen and performed greatly in numerous seasons over the years thanks to his unorthodox style, a style that managed to annoy tribemates as much as it enthralled audiences. While he came back on the villain tribe in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, the height of his game strength and display of villainy is easily his time in Survivor: South Pacific.
Coach’s game in South Pacific is the clear turning point in which he takes his wild meditation and honor-bound methodology and transforms it into a method of taking control of the entire game. Using his status as a returning player among new players, as well as playing into his own preconceived notions, he creates a manipulative bond among his allies and is easily able to convince others to join his side. He easily plays his best game yet thanks to his shifty turn and evolving into a true villain, but despite making it to the final three, failed to convince the jury when he didn’t admit to the villainy of his playstyle.
6 Jonny Fairplay
Survivor: Pearl Islands, Micronesia
Jonny Fairplay redefined exactly what it meant to be a villain in the realm of Survivor, going beyond playing a cutthroat and chaotic game and creating strategies of villainy that went beyond the confines of the game. While his time returning in Survivor: Micronesia was short-lived, his infamous game in Pearl Islands has cemented him a spot in Survivor history as one of its greatest and most chaotic villains.
Jonny’s Pearl Islands game is one defined by his usage of backstabbing, betrayal, and nearly every aggressive tactic available to further himself in the game. Of all of his schemes and dastardly moments, his most infamous moment, as well as one of the most infamous blindside moments in Survivor, happens during the season’s loved ones’ visit. In the challenge played by the contestant and their loved ones, Jonny and his friend, Dan, created a false narrative that his grandmother had died while he was on the show. They created this ploy in order to gain sympathy and easily win the reward challenge, with everyone none the wiser that they have been lied to.
5 Parvati Shallow
Survivor: Cook Islands, Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Winners at War
One of the consistently strongest contestants in nearly every season that she’s a part of, Parvati Shallow has become a legendary villain in the annuls of Survivor history, thanks to multiple end-game performances with her deceptive playstyle. Especially in her early seasons, Survivor: Cook Islands and Micronesia, she would use her charms and astounding manipulative abilities in order to gain numbers, control the flow of the game, and take down anyone who stood in her way.
She made it to the final six during her first outing in Cook Islands before winning Micronesia as one of the heads of the Black Widow Brigade alliance, one of the deadliest alliances in Survivor history. However, she proved that her game sense and skill and controlling the flow of the game were unmatched when she returned once again to Heroes vs. Villains as one of the premiere members of the villain tribe. Her alliance with other villains allowed her to take control of the game once again, and she made it into the final three before losing the final 6-3-0 vote to Sandra.
4 Russell Hantz
Survivor: Samoa, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island
The defining villain of Survivor during its late 2000s and early 2010s seasons, Russell Hantz‘s chaotic and destructive style of gameplay revolutionized and changed the way Survivor would be played going forward. His gameplay style is very fast-paced and aggressive in style, focusing on deliberately creating as much mischief and nightmare conditions at camp, in order to control and manipulate those around him. At the same time, he would constantly search for idols without any clues, using them to continue his life in the game while seemingly at the bottom.
It’s hard to deny just how impactful Russell’s game plan was in his early seasons, as his style of complete villainy had never been seen on Survivor before, and it completely took control of his first season, Survivor: Samoa. Through brute force and complete chaos, he was able to flip around an 8-4 disadvantage at the merge, leaving his enemies destroyed for even thinking they could stand up to his strategic wit. He had a similar reign in his second time around in Heroes vs Villains, once again taking control and using his chaotic prowess to make it to the final three. However, while Russell can find ways to make it to the final three back-to-back, his failed social game has made him one of the strongest Survivor players to never win the game.
3 ‘Boston’ Rob Mariano
Survivor: Marquesas, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island, Winners at War
Rob Mariano, also known as Boston Rob, is considered one of the bonafide legends of the game, with a massive legacy for his ability to control the flow of the game and manipulate all around him. Most notable are his outings in Survivor: All-Stars and Survivor: Redemption Island, where in both cases, he used his aggressive godfather-like style of control to run through all opposition and secure spots in the finals.
Rob had a villainous approach to the show in his first outing in Survivor: Marquesas, but it wasn’t until All-Stars, and his methodology of taking down enemies and stabbing his friends in the back, that he earned his cutthroat mafioso legacy. His most impressive game, however, was Redemption Island, where he was able to make use of playing with an all-new inexperienced cast and retained an unquestioned command over his entire tribe, easily eliminating any that he deemed a possible threat.
2 Tony Vlachos
Survivor: Cagayan, Game Changers, Winners at War
One of the most ferocious yet entertaining players to grace the screens of Survivor, Tony Vlachos has used his powerful and high-octane style of villainous gameplay to become the second player to win two seasons. Tony would have the uncanny ability to use high pressure and deception to strike fear into his enemies, making it seem that things would go wrong if they were to target him. He was also notable for his use of secret “spy shacks” that he would construct in camp in order to stay hidden and spy on his allies and enemies to gain valuable information.
Tony would constantly and consistently turn on his own alliance to further his own game state and chances of winning, tremendous tactics he used in his standout seasons, Survivor: Cagayan and Survivor: Winners at War. While his notorious and electric winning game made him a target in Winners at War, he was able to lie low and save his electric playmaking for the second half of the game, when he had the ability to use larger targets as bodyguards while he stayed safe.
1 Richard Hatch
Survivor: Borneo, All-Stars
The original winner of the first ever season of Survivor, Richard Hatch is the original big villain of the show’s history and cemented the show from the very beginning one defined by deception and strategic gameplay. As the winner and premiere villain of the first season of the show, massive aspects of the show’s very existence, from alliances and backstabbing to even having a strategy at all, can be traced back to Richard’s villainous prowess.
While many other villains have come in the decades since the very first season, Richard has easily been the blueprint and iconic inspiration for nearly every villain that followed him, showing that villainy was the way to win the game of Survivor. More than simply the most iconic and legendary villain of Survivor, Richard has cemented a powerful status as one of the most recognizable villains in reality TV history, as he is the go-to person that people think of when they think of villainy in Survivor.