His legacy has been tainted numerous times over, but let's give it up for Richard Hatch, who sussed out, almost immediately, the one path of secret alliances, game theory, random challenge competence and just plain luck that would convert a tubby, often-naked Smug Snake into a Magnificent Bastard and first Sole Survivor. His crowning moment was probably intentionally throwing the final immunity challenge, even explaining his reasoning right there and then: that if either Kelly or Rudy won the challenge, both had an incentive to take him, an admitted slimeball, to the finals over their relatively likable other competitor. From that point forth, it was clear that if this guy could win, anyone had a shot at a million dollars.
Kelly, from the same season, won four consecutive immunity challenges (as well as a reward challenge) when the target was on her back after she betrayed Rich's alliance.
Hell let's give it up to Rudy Boesch. 72 years old, anti social by nature and made it to the final 3 anyway based on his going outside his comfort zone
Not only did Rudy make it to the final three, the only reason he didn't make it to the final two is because of a very simple and dumb move at the Immunity Challenge. His body didn't give out, he didn't succumb to the weakness of his age, he made a plain old mistake that anybody could have made.
Colby's streak of 7 individual Challenge victories right up to the end, interrupted only by a reward challenge in which family members played instead of the castaways. It's pretty much taken for granted that he would have won the season if he had taken the very-beatable Keith to the finals, instead of staying loyal to Tina.
The reward challenge from episode 3. Both Colby and Mike are holding more than 400lbs of water on their backs for several minutes before the pole Mike is carrying snaps in half from all the weight.
Although she didn't win the actual game, it was quite impressive to watch fifty-seven year old Kim Johnson from Africa beat out two guys who were respectively twenty and thirty years younger than her in the last endurance contest that featured scorching heat and after going through a previous 38 days of physical hell.
Ethan utterly subverting the idea of Nice Guys Finish Last, especially in a game where they often do, and winning Survivor after Lex and Big Tom implode by fighting with each other. In fact, the very reason Kim took him to the end over Lex was because she thought Ethan was a more deserving, less entitled player.
The Individual Reward challenges all being downright amazing. You have epic ones like Lex and Big Tom on an African Safari by way of Hot Air Balloon, heartwarming ones like Ethan and Lex visiting the African village to barter goats and other items or Lex delivering health supplies to a local clinic, and ones that are downright funny like Frank and Brandon going on a movie date or the amazingly hilarious food auction.
Maraamu's surprise challenge victories in Episode 5 and 6 - after Gabriel fumbles at the Reward Challenge for Rotu, Maraamu go on a short but meaningful challenge streak that involved not one but two come-from-behind victories at Reward Challenges, and although all original Maraamu members are gone by the end of Episode 6, it was still worth watching one of the biggest train wrecks of a tribe actually win something.
Neleh and Paschal finally listening to Kathy and Sean telling them that they were on the bottom of the Rotu alliance, and with their effort perform the biggest power shift in the show's history at that point.
Once it was down to five, The Rotu-4 show up all dressed in black, as a warning sign to the rebels. Vecepia got the hint; Neleh, on the other hand...
Vecepia Towery may have been Out of Focus for the good half of the season, but for a good part of the show's history she was the only person before Chris in Vanuatu to seamlessly backstab and worm her way in and out of alliances and into the Final 2 and ''still' get the jury to vote for her at the end.
He may be a borderline sociopath and a convicted animal-abuser, but Brian Heidik's run during Thailand took Richard Hatch's template for strategy and did it even better than him. In fact, he so thoroughly dominated everyone in his season that Thailand is often considered one of the worst seasons due to his win being practically written in the stars (although many do like the season on its own terms and/or actually enjoy watching Brian run rings around everyone). Bonus points by being able to do so after his wife CC showed off his huge house, grand piano, Cadillac and Mercedes in the video from home, despite him putting up an image of a humble, down-on-his-luck used car salesman.
Just from how the first episode was set up, one could probably tell immediately that it was going to happen, but the all-female Jaburu tribe absolutely pulverising the all-male Tambaquis in the first immunity challenge in not one but two parts, the balance beam and the puzzle (where a rocket scientist and a computer guy were beaten in the puzzle by none other than a school counselor and a mother of three) was one of the most satisfying (if you were a female) and humbling (if you were a male) premiere moments of the entire show.
The men roared to life in the fourth round. At the reward challenge, the men were down two points. They literally banded together, putting their bare hairy legs in harm's way to protect their fire, and rapidly scored their four points while the women remained stuck at two and went into a tailspin. Spear Counterpart to the aforementioned incident: satisfying if you were a male, humbling if you were a female.
Rob Cesternino managing to orchestrate two (three if you count Heidi) consecutive blindsides of former allies, one right after the other, and still being able to make it almost to the end (he ends up getting booted just a day before the finals, and according to most, would have won had he been in the final two). Rob is also arguably the first person to introduce modern style game play to Survivor, influencing players for years (including fellow Chessmaster Jonny Fairplay one season later).
Matt takes notes from alliance partner Rob, and blindsides him in the final three by throwing the immunity challenge. The student doesn't win the million, but hey... he beat his sensei.
Jenna gives up her immunity necklace to Heidi at the Final 6 and managed to survive, in the season with no HIDDEN IMMUNITY IDOL, can you replicate that?
Jenna becoming the first winner to win in a "blowout" (she beat Matt 6-1). In previous seasons, the runners-up at least got a few votes from the jury.
Guess where his hand was at the reunion?
Though he ended up having quite the Broken Base, Rupert swiping the other team's stuff to sell in the marketplace during Pearl Islands. One would like to think that he knew that since he was in a season with a Pirate theme, the Manipulative Editing would be on his side all the way to the end.
Sandra's entire performance while in the town counts as well. While the people from the Morgan tribe were running around confused, disorganized and having problems with the language barrier, Sandra already spoke Spanish, so she had no problem communicating, but then she also shows herself to be very skilled at dealing with the merchants to get the best prices on what they needed, including things like a living chicken, kerosene, lamps and toothbrushes, amongst other things. And then she stumbles upon a barbeque party, where she exchanges a gold chain she had for aluminum foil, ketchup, condiments, BBQ sauce, cutting board, knife, and all their grilled chicken.
Johnny Fairplay getting nearly everyone to throw a reward challenge because he's convinced them his grandmother died, while Arch Rival Sandra, the only one not convinced, has to sit there and watch him breeze to an easy win. Moral Event Horizon? Possibly. But man was it hilarious.
Let's not forget his very impressive game, being able to manipulate almost everyone post merge into voting out who he wanted. And when he was in danger, in every instance but one, he was able to talk his way out and throw the dirt onto someone else.
"I'm gonna screw you aaaaannnnnnnd Burton!" While Jon was on a reward feast with Burton, Sandra rallied Darrah and Lill to get rid of his right-hand man. The jury loved it.
Jeff Probst bringing Johnny Fairplay's alive grandmother to the reunion show. Take that, Fairplay!
Lill had been overall very emotional and would cry at the drop of a hat, and she became Jonny Fairplay's personal Butt Monkey. And then the final Immunity Challenge comes up, an endurance challenge, where Lill changes from meek and mopey to absolute Badass. Throughout the challenge, a desperate Fairplay tries several times to cut a deal with her to let him win Immunity, only for her to constantly shoot him down and taunt him as he struggled, and ultimately failing as Lill wins the final immunity with astonishing ease.
Lill: Do you know what? I do aerobics. My knees are great.
Jon: Uh, okay.
Lill: My ankles are great.
Lill: These are called squats in aerobics.
Jon: (weakly): Okay.
Jeff: I think Lill just said "Game on."
Jon (defeated): I think Lill just said "Game over."
Boston Rob shows he's the one whose learned the most from previous seasons and spins a web of manipulation that takes him and girlfriend (later his wife) Amber to the final two.
Amber participating All-Stars was easily her best option in her life. Not only she won, she won the most out of anybody, money, prestige and most of all, true love.
A shark bites Richard Hatch. Richard bites back.
At the reunion, Richard utterly demolishing Lex and Kathy's argument that Boston Rob had somehow personally betrayed them by making a move in the game, even pointing out that Kathy made part of his argument for him by saying they had other reasons besides personal friendship to keep Amber in the game as Rob had requested.
And this came right after the audience's Crowning Moment, where they boo Lex while he's in the middle of claiming that it was okay for him to do to Ethan what Rob did to him because Ethan "didn't fit into his gameplan".
Shii-Ann winning her immunity challenge in at the final 7. After the former Chaperas had completely isolated her, making it very obious that she was the next to go, she wins immunity, forcing the Chaperas to start targeting each other.
Chris during the entire second half of Vanuatu. Stuck in an outnumbered alliance, being left high and dry when his allies are swept out, seemingly without a prayer... and then taking advantage of the growing dissent among the dominant alliance (the "bowheads") and letting all the other remaining contestants crash to pieces around him, even noting at one point: "I don't trust any of them, none of them trust each other, but the weird thing is I think they all trust me." He ultimately rode the momentum all the way to the big bucks. Bonus points because the Manipulative Editing seemed to have presumed a female victor from that season's Battle of the Sexes.
It might have been a crushing experience for Ulong, but there was something awesome about seeing the tribe full of older people demolish the young and physically buff tribe by virtue of brains and teamwork.
Angie basically single-handedly winning a reward challenge for Ulong after just having been deemed weak at the previous Tribal Council.
The Koror get to determine individual immunity for the Ulong. It takes only three votes to decide on Ibrehem... and some of the Ulong are visibly crushed.
The final Immunity challenge where Tom and Ian competed in an endurance test for 12 hours.
Rafe Judkins, a longtime fan of Survivor since his youth (sort of like a successor to Rob Cesternino and a proto-Todd Herzog), very nearly won this season by controlling the majority alliance during the merge via a figurehead (Stephanie) who he planned to take all the blame for the various betrayals that he actually cast. His only flaw was perhaps being a little tooGenre Savvy (bordering on Wrong Genre Savvy) and assuming that Lydia would somehow squeak by like many other "weak" female players who won the final Immunity Challenge in seasons past (such as Kim Johnson, Neleh, and Jenna Morasca). So he voted Lydia out, sparing the much more athletic Danni (who, by all accounts, was almost dead on her feet), who would go win the final challenge, vote out Rafe, beat Stephanie at the Final Tribal Council, and win the game.
Just Danni Boatwright. She was at the top of a majority alliance on her original tribe and had working relationships with everybody besides two people. When the tribal shuffle happened and it hurt her numbers by losing her two allies who changed tribes, she just axed one old ally (Blake) in exchange for two new ones (Gary/Amy) to maintain her numbers. Her tribe ended up losing the final challenge, and she got Amy voted out so that she would be in an alliance of all athletic males (Gary/Brandon/BJ), who she knew would get voted out before her, and they did. At the final six, she was all alone up against the Nakum alliance of five, but won a crucial challenge. That split the majority by getting the hot-headed Judd voted off, and Danni's sway over Rafe allowed her to outlast other Nakums Lydia and Cindy at the next two Tribal Councils, putting her in a final three with season-long friends and allies Rafe and Stephenie.. where she managed to take them both down in the final Endurance challenge, take America's hero Stephenie to the end, and completely demolish her in a 6-1 jury vote, having only had one vote against her the entire game. Danni's entire legacy was a Moment of Awesome, because she seemed to do no wrong and always won crucial challenges and was always in the best possible position, and nobody out there knew she was doing any of it... unfortunately, because she wasn't a big character, the viewers never caught on either, and she went down as the forgotten winner of Survivor.
Panama - Exile Island
Cirie's Triple Play. To put it simply, she manipulates everybody else left in the game to vote exactly how she wanted.
One tiny hiccup, though: this play throws the door wide open for the only event that could threaten her game: Aras winning immunity at the Final Four. Guess what happened?
He might be the more pretentious, less charming version of Tom Westman from Palau, but Terry's immunity run during this season (while his entire tribe was being Pagonged, no less) was definitely a sight to behold. And the other players grew to respect him as a result.
Aras' masterful game. He managed to keep his tribe of crazies, many of whom had ties to their original four-member tribe, and keep them on track to vote together and Pagong the La Minas, against many of their own self-interests, mainly by combining his aura of youthful-yoga-master-of-peace-and-unity with a strong anti-La-Mina propaganda campaign entirely behind the other former La Mina's backs. When Terry goes on an immunity run, you would think that Aras would be the first to go of the Casayas, as both a social and physical threat. Yet, using his campaign against Terry and La Mina, he convinces his tribe to keep him around over other members specifically so that he can beat Terry in an immunity challenge and force him to flush his idol. Simply put, Aras turned two huge post-merge liabilities (challenge strength and social strength) into advantages; he was tight enough with his former tribesmates that they let him live so he could use his physical strength to take down Terry.
Yul, Ozzy, Becky and Sundra completely owning an opposing tribe twice as large as them after Candice and Jonathan's mutinies by winning challenge after challenge for the next two episodes and managing to become the majority alliance in spite of a 4-5 deficit at the merge with Yul cleverly using his Immunity Idol to get Jonathan to flip back over to their side.
Voting off Edgardo in Fiji, catching the arrogant "Four Horsemen" alliance completely off-guard.
Extra points go to Stacy. Earlier in that episode, a Q&A challenge centered around the contestants showed her that pretty much everybody in there hated her guts. This makes her realize she has to get in good with these people, and she's the one who comes up with the idea of blindsiding Edgardo and not telling blabbermouth Dreamz about it.
Earl becoming the show's first unanimously chosen winner.
Michelle made fire by using Sylvia's bifocals and water. (a la Lord of the Flies) Not everyone thought it was going to work, but it worked!
Yau-Man's very first scene. All of the buff guys like Rocky, Alex, and Dreamz couldn't open a crate that was dropped at the beach, no matter how hard they kicked it or smashed it. So up waddles this 54-year-old, scrawny Asian man who looks like he's going to starve to death by the end of the first day, and he says he can open the crate. People laugh but decide to humor him, and give him the crate... and he immediately hits its corner against a rock, causing the whole crate to crack open. That Master's degree he has in physics is good for something!
Todd shutting up Jean-Robert in the final tribal council. The jury members are, well... astounded. Watch from 7:03-8:28.
Micronesia - Fans Vs. Favorites
Cirie successfully blindsiding Ozzy, in spite of him having an Immunity Idol in his possession.
Amanda's Oscar-winning performance with her putting on a extremely convincing "I know I'm going home and it sucks" act and then shocking everyone by playing the Immunity Idol at Tribal Council. The best part of this is that she actually dumped out her bag in front of her tribal mates beforehand to show them that she didn't have the Idol, and that she wasn't even lying because she knew the Idol was buried at camp and only had to dig it out before Tribal Council.
The Black Widow Brigade is in trouble. It's the Final Five, and Erik has won immunity. If he keeps it, they're going to have to sacrifice one of their own. Their solution? Trick him into giving immunity away.
Bob winning a string of Immunity Challenges and surviving a Final Four showdown to win Gabon. Creating his own fake Immunity Idol might have been the highlight.
In episode 11, Bob and Corinne decided that she should sucker Kenny into helping to evict Matty. This sets up an absolutely glorious saga of trust and betrayal which ends with Kenny getting crushed and humiliated by his own lies and trickery.note Bob's second fake Immunity Idol would help with the illusion. All went according to their clever plan... until Kenny and Crystal agreed that Crystal would vote against Corinne instead of Matty. (Kenny assumed that his switch wouldn't matter because Corinne's Idol would shield her.) As she couldn't save herself with a fake, she was voted out that night. Episode 12 begins with Kenny realizing why she left, calling Bob out on the ruse. The elder tries to make amends by offering to give up the next Immunity Necklace he wins. Sugar warns Bob that he'll seal his own fate by doing so, and thus he "clarifies" to Kenny that the necklace will be given if Kenny appears to be vulnerable. During that night's Tribal Council, no such switch is made, because Sugar surprises everyone else by finally using her hidden Immunity Idol... to protect Matty. This leads to Crystal (Kenny's closest ally) being voted out! Episode 13 sees Bob necklaced yet again, and then he shuts Kenny down:
Bob: Well, what I didn't realize was, he went back to the tribe and discussed with people that when I gave him the necklace that they would then blindside me. I was trying to take care of him, and he was gonna take advantage of me! That changed things quite dramatically. (to Kenny) That was the small print at the bottom of the contract that you forgot to read: "if I help you, you help me", not "if I help you, you stab me In the Back".
Sugar putting Randy through a Humiliation Conga by convincing Bob to give his fake Immunity Idol to him. It might not have had any strategic purpose, but damn it was hilarious to watch, especially since it relied on Randy and Corinne believing that Sugar was too stupid to have found the Idol on Exile Island before Bob was sent there. (Which she had. On her very first trip to Exile Island. Who's the stupid one now?)
Randy delivers an Ironic Echo (based on Crystal) when casting his jury vote:
"All three of you. Kiss. My. Ass!!!"
J.T., from Tocantins, is the first player to have a "perfect game" to his credit; he managed to reach the final tribal council with no votes cast against him and won the final vote unanimously.
Why is it no one talks about Jaison putting the insanely ignorant Ben Browning in his place the Tribal Council after he called black castmember Yasmin ghetto trash and Ashley a bitch? Jaison made it his mission in life to have the bully sent out of the game, and succeeded. After watching the way Colton treated Bill in One World and seeing no one step up to the plate in Manono to stop him, it's refreshing to look back on this awesome takedown.
Jaison: I just have to draw a line in the sand. And I have to say that there is no one million dollars that is worth me sitting up here with him anymore. I mean, I sat here and watched him scream at Yasmin at our camp and over here, saying... incredible things. So is there a way to patch this rift? I don't think so. But I'm not gonna sit in camp and just listen to this guy anymore. I'm just not.
Though, in retrospect, his strategy was deeply flawed, at the time, Russell Hantz's first game of Survivor was a sight to behold. The top moment was how he managed to survive a very unfavorable merge by playing his immunity idol at just the right time. Finding immunity idols without hints is a bit more commonplace now, but it single-handedly turned the game upside down... Though, of course...
Natalie staying quietly in the background and letting Russell destroy himself with his unethical game and arrogance in the final tribal council of Samoa, then hilariously smirking at him when he loses to her, 7-2.
Heroes vs. Villains
Rob being the first player in the series to make fire without the use of flint or matches - he creates it entirely from scratch, after everyone gave up and Randy finished telling them they're never going to have fire by nightfall. Following this, Rob becomes the de facto leader of the group for over half the season.
Russell may have a Broken Base, but he made some very clever moves in his second go round:
He capitalizes on the Hero tribe's belief that he's the odd man out in an all-women's alliance, and winds up with a Hidden Immunity Idol for his deception (to the point of tricking them into giving it to him for essentially nothing in return).
He completely throws off Rob's alliance's plan to split the vote and take out either himself or Parvati. He flips Tyson, gives his Hidden Immunity Idol to Parvati (after emphatically denying it when previously questioned by Rob) and breaks Rob's alliance by getting Tyson voted off. Rob's perplexed facial expression when the votes are being read cinches the whole thing.
Seeing Russell lose again. It was still awesome to see him by bragging "who's the man?" at Tribal Council and acting like his arrogance and utterly sociopathic gameplay should be rewarded... and getting ripped apart by Hero and Villain, foe and ally alike. And then, at the live reunion, he ends up without any votes.
After losing several Reward and Immunity Challenges, the Heroes tribe stages a complete domination over the Villains during a combo Reward/Immunity Challenge, which involves fighting with bags on a platform over a mudpit. Again and again, the Villains get unceremoniously thrown into the mud - Amanda gets mud stuck in her teeth, Randy gets bowled over by James after being told to fight dirty, Coach gets pushed out by Rupert after trying to cheat and Cirie practically chases Jerri off the platform. The Heroes end up achieving a flawless victory.
Related to that, by far a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming was the look on Jerri's face during when, in sharp contrast to when she got booed off of the stage in All-Stars Reunion for little discernible reason, the crowd cheered emphatically for her before she spoke.
Jeff Probst telling Russell off at the Heroes vs. Villains reunion, after spending two seasons more or less favoring him over everyone (though thanks to the Manipulative Editing; we can be for certain whether or not he actually was favoring Russell or the parts where he mentioned Russell in anything but a positive light were merely cut out) even being nice to Russell when he was almost in tears at the Samoa reunion, he quickly tells Russell off when he begins to say that America should have control of the votes because he lost, Sandra won, and therefore the rules were flawed. He literally says, "That's not Survivor, that's a different game".
Parvati's clever distribution of her Immunity Idols at Tribal which gives the Villians the majority for the remaining seasons, too bad the execution triggers Russell's ego.
Sandra had several incredible moments that validated how well she played the game, and led her to become the first (and, so far, only) two time Sole Survivor):
Burning Russell's hat (partly to unsettle him, and partly because she just plain hated him), and then helping him look for it to diffuse suspicion, and then proceeding to become the first (and so far only) two time Sole Survivor, by knowing how to play the social aspect of the game. Russell never knew (and still doesn't know) what hit him.
Sandra uses Russell's inferiority complex to protect herself and Courtney - by convincing Russell that Coach is gunning for him. Russell immediately rallies his alliance and uses them to take out Coach, while Sandra laughs the whole time.
Realizing (at about the time that the Heroes were outnumbered) that it was to her advantage to keep Russell around as a goat...BUT to make sure the Heroes know how much she hated the man who voted them all out. The rest of the series is spent with Sandra calmly sassing and insulting Russell at every opportunity whilst he fumes and snarls over the one person on the island who refuses to be manipulated and/or bullied by him. Come the final tribal council, all Sandra has to do is point out that she was trying to help the Heroes get rid of him. She must have known she had it in the bag.
Rupert tricking Russell with a fake immunity idol bluff, scaring Russell into voting off an alliance member instead. The big dummy outfoxes the puppetmaster without breaking a sweat! Didn't work out in the end for Rupe, but hey, it bought him another few rounds.
At the reunion, Russell says, "Let me tell you how good I am!" Parvati's body language (remember, she's sandwiched between him and Sandra) pretty much sums it up. Jason, Alexis, and especially Erik must have fallen off their seats from laughing so hard.
The beautiful part? The three who were inches away from winning the challenge would all go on to lose the game, and the woman all but cursing out Baby Jesus in the maze, who had not won a single individual challenge in the history of the game, would go on to win Heroes vs Villains and be the only two-time winner.
One immunity challenge gives wins to the last man and woman able to hold up an iron bar purely through keeping tension on it. Jane becomes the female winner...and keeps going until the challenge is completely over just to prove a point.
Kristina hits the beach and immediately begins to hunt for idols. And she pulls one out before the first tribal council.
Episode 1. Philip is caught in a bad alliance with two other women, one of which is planning on using a hidden immunity idol to take out Boston Rob, team leader with the rest of the tribe behind him. Even when Philip calmly asks how they plan on doing that without votes, he receives dismissal and is treated like an idiot by his own alliance. To top it all off, Boston Rob has expected the possibility of an idol, and split the votes to win regardless. Just like Philip expected stepping into the alliance, this would typically put him on a sinking ship of distrust outside the rest of the tribe, doomed. Without even batting an eye, Philip breaks 21 seasons of tradition and loudly pronounces in Tribal Council everything. His alliance, the idol, their target of Rob, all the while his alliance members denying and trying to act like he's crazy. Instead of selling them out, he merely tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In the end, Philip changed the game by being the one thing nobody has been yet; 100% truthful. And yes, he walked away from that episode still in the game, his old alliance mates giving him votes anyway for spite. This act has since broken the Metagame to the point he went from next on the chopping block to the Final 3. No one on the show or at home can determine to what degree Philip's Cloud Cuckoo Lander personality was genuine and hilarious, genuine and annoying, a masterful play of the metagame, a terrible play of the metagame, or any combination thereof.
Episode 3, when Russell Hantz was finally, finally, voted off of his tribe for the first time in two years. Russell haters across the country relished at seeing his torch getting snuffed. And then he was voted off for real in the next episode when Matt beat him in a duel. Yes! YES. Finally his reign of terror is over! And There Was Much Rejoicing. Bonus points for the fact that he whimpered on the way out.
Matt's undefeated duel rush in Redemption Island. Boy, that dude really can play the physical game. Even after being voted out a second time, he's still on a roll.
Boston Rob finding an idol clue in a cookie, successfully hiding it from everyone, then tossing it in a friggin' volcano.
Towards the end of the season, Rob tells us how determined he is to finally win Survivor and proves it right in the next immunity challenge by pushing himself so hard that he collapses after his victory.
After four attempts and a record 117 total days played, Rob Mariano won a season of Survivor, with an 8-1 jury vote in Redemption Island (Philip was the only other player to get a vote). He did so by playing what Probst called "the closest thing to a perfect game ever played". He earned trust in his tribe early on by helping out to build the camp. He found the hidden immunity idol with only one very esoteric clue, and kept all the other clues out of anyone else's hands. He used a blindside of Matt in the second tribal council to make an example of what would happen to any player who showed any signs of fraternizing with the other tribe. He kept every other member of his tribe thinking that he was bringing them to the finals. He successfully Pagonged the Zapatera tribe after the merge, even blindsiding Matt a second time before he could get in with the minority tribe. He was lucky enough to never have to face a food challenge and only have to face a couple endurance challenges and obviously had the producers on his side with puzzle after puzzle thrown at him for challenges. He won four individual immunity challenges, including the last one. Finally, he picked the two best people to serve as his rivals in the final tribal council: the girl who had ridden Rob's coattails the whole way and made no plays of her own the entire game, and the obnoxious Jerk Ass who everyone on the jury despised. Even Russell Hantz ended up giving props to Rob during the reunion for dominating the season from start to finish. Even if you think Rob is a Creator's Pet, you have to be at least happy that he'll be taking some time off.
Jim and Brandon setting a Survivor record in the weight holding challenge, 240 pounds. It doesn't last long, but damn.
Coach convincing Cochran to switch sides after the merge by A. Laying out an entirely correct explanation of all the secret plans of Cochran's tribe B. Simultaneously playing on Cochran's ego and resentment at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. Pagong'd!
Sophie overcoming Ozzy's commanding lead in the final immunity challenge and beating the seeming unstoppable challenge machine. She gets dubbed the New Dragonslayer by Coach, eliminates Ozzy, and goes on to become the Darkhorse victor of the season.
Alicia had perhaps one of the best Karmic evictions in the series, She pretty much spends almost the entire game thinking she's got it. Cue an elimination in 5th place.
Especially since she was Kim's preferred final opponent to face the jury - showing just how much control Kim had at the game.
Say what you will about Christina, her performance in the final immunity challenge was nothing short of Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. Christina doesn't perform well in challenges in the game, yet is the only person who gives Kim a run for her money in the final immunity challenge. The immunity challenge itself might count as a Crowning Moment Of Awesome too, it's one of the most creative challenges they did in the series.
Penner finding the hidden immunity idol (arguably the most difficult and cleverly hidden since Nicaragua), on just the second episode.
Episode nine, "Dead Man Walking", after Penner's attempts to form a majority alliance collapse thanks to Jeff Kent, he's the agreed upon target for the entire merged tribe. Penner would go on to win immunity against NINE people specifically targeting him. This would lead to one of the wildest tribal councils in the show's history and the eventual eviction of Jeff Kent.
Malcolm in episode twelve. During an immunity challenge, he made a mistake and had to restart. Despite this drawback, he was able to catch up and win.
Denise winning in part due to the fact that she came from one of the worst tribes in Survivor history and survived every single tribal council up to this point.
Caramoan - Fans Vs. Favorites
Shamar's eviction, full stop. After four straight episodes of having to deal with his Jerkass behavior, he finally gets pulled out of the game by some sand in his eye.
Brandon Hantz's elimination was not exactly his most...noble moment, but he still managed to be one of the only contestants to ever leave, as he put it, on his own terms. On top of the fact, the fact that he finally feels like he did exactly as a Hantz should in the game shows that, regardless how you feel about him (or the Hantzes in general), he knew how to go out in style. Top that with his absolutely scathing speech towards Philip, and you have one of the most memorable exits in Survivor history.
That said, Phillip also deserves kudos for not giving in and trying to attack Brandon after all his threats and the rice incident. It definitely takes strength to stay calm and walk away from a fight.
Malcolm, knowing he's in danger, doesn't play his idol and instead convinces Reynold to play his own idol FOR him right as the votes are read. One of the better strategic moves in recent memory.
Granted he didn't need to as there were no votes cast for him so It could be a dumb move since it deprives his alliance of one of the immunity idols
Had Eddie not told Andrea that his alliance was gunning for her, she wouldn't have changed the vote to Michael and Stealth R Us 2.0 would have continued to vote for Malcolm. As Rob Cesternino and Stephen Fishbach said, it would have easily been one of the all-time great moves had it worked, and Malcolm deserves credit for that.
Let's also keep in mind that Malcolm asked for Reynold's idol afterhe voted for him.
A better example would be the next episode, where Malcolm, on the chopping block along with Eddie, finds the hidden immunity idol. Malcolm plays the idol he just found and gives his other hidden immunity idol (which he found earlier in the game and which nobody knew about) to Eddie, screwing over "Stealh R Us" and sending Phillip home.
Brenda delivering an epic calling out to Dawn about her hysterics and betrayal.
In retrospect, Dawn pulled off her false teeth and showing her toothless face for the jury.......and the public. Everyone, this is called guts. Also the fact that whether or not Dawn took her teeth out would've made her look bad. If Dawn took out her teeth (which she did) it would've shown how dramatic she was and prove she lied to Brenda about quitting. If she didn't take them out it would've shown it was Brenda who saved her from quitting thus making her look like an ungrateful backstabber.
Blood vs. Water
Galang's (Returning Players) coming-from-behind victory at the first immunity challenge, just when it seemed like Tadhana (Loved Ones) had the entire challenge wrapped up.
How about Tyson participating in a challenge after he had dislocated his shoulder, an injury he was told would take most of the game to heal, and then Galang still winning with him right in it?
This season has a lot of great, unlikely challenge beasts. Laura Boneham's performance in episode 4 involved her repeatedly diving underwater to free giant wooden blocks. Laura Morett has beaten her daughter at two puzzle challenges thus far. Of course, the real physical star of the season has been Candice on Redemption Island, and her current three-challenge streak, two of which she came in first.
This extends to the post-merge, where Laura Morett once again dominates Redemption Island and Monica Culpepper reels off a streak of three immunity wins.
After John wins a duel on Redemption Island, he and Candice conspire to give Monica the clue to the HII as revenge to Brad Culpepper, believing that it will make her a target. In response, Brad and Monica decide to burn the clue in the fire pit.
This becomes a recurring theme of Bv W: the RI winner tries to give the clue to someone they want out of the game, and the recipient immediately throws the clue into the fire pit. Turns into a Headscratcher when John tries to give the clue to Monica again, and she immediately burns it again. (Or perhaps John knew what was going to happen.)
Tyson turning the vote on Aras after the merge with an alliance he made at Tadhana right under his nose.
Laura Morett consistently outdoing the others in Redemption Island, winning 5 out of the 6 challenges she participated in. She also became the first person to survive a vote after returning from Redemption Island, surviving three before being eliminated. Deliberately protecting Tina because she doesn't pose as stiff a competition as Vytas and Caleb is also a great example of the metagame.
Only guess who ends up stomping both Laura and Hayden in the final RI duel and enters the game?
Hayden's Purple/White Rock Maneuver at the Katie Tribal Council. He not only convinces three people to let it go to rocks but to vote how he wanted them to and do things that contestants rarely had any business doing, all after arguing for Ciera's vote at Tribal Council. It didn't work because ally Katie got the rock but it was refreshing to see someone truly fight for his spot.
Tyson's dominant game this season deserves mention. After a quiet pre-merge where he planted anti-Aras seeds, he forms a new alliance of seven to take him out, Pagonging his former alliance with two unstable people as allies, and then stopping every uprising attempted against him before cruising the finals to win 7-1-0.
The Beauties tribe, which most people assumed would be full of ditzy eye candies managed to make fire before everyone else.
While it wasn't enough to keep them from going to Tribal, Spencer single-handedly keeping the Brains tribe in contention during the fourth elimination challenge was quite impressive to see, and likely played a huge role in saving him from being eliminated by the rest of his tribe, which was in an alliance.
Trish convincing Kass to flip, essentially changing the entire course of the game and sending Sarah home.
Woo engaging in Ninja Stealth Mode to swipe a clue from under Spencer's nose.
Spencer not only finding an immunity idol, but doing so while standing feet away from Kass...without her noticing, despite her being there in part to keep an eye on him. How? He spots it, but rather than immediately grabbing it, plays it cool, talking to Kass and apologizing for his rant the night before. He then waits for her to look away and takes it.
Trish continuing her team mom streak after her close ally LJ is blindsided. Rather than get mad and start a fight like Jefra was, she admits in a confessional that she understands Tony's reasoning, continues to play well with others, convinces Jefra out of flipping on them with the Brains/Jeremiah, and drags Tony over to Kass and Jefra to make him apologize and promise to stick with them. The fact that they all were able to stay together and not implode lies largely in the results of her calm, subtle actions.
Tasha's immunity steak after the merge. Keep in mind that she is the first African-American female to possess individual immunity since Jolanda from Survivor: Palau, and she is also the first African-American female to possess individual immunity post-merge since Vecepia of Survivor: Marquesas.
Spencer and Tasha tag-teaming themselves out of a 5-2 scenario by taking advantage of Tony's paranoia to get him to target Jefra, someone in his own alliance, over the two of them who are much bigger threats. Tasha does it by simulating a fake women's alliance by accompanying Trish, Kass, and Jefra in the water where she knows Tony will see her, and Spencer seals the deal by revealing Jefra's attempted betrayal the round prior.
Spencer's entire run so far has actually been somewhat amazing.He's been on the bottom since the Garret boot, betrayed by Kass three times, and has had some crap luck but he's very determined. So far he's surprisingly made it to the Final 5 and doesn't seem to be slowing down.
In the Final 5, with his neck once again on the line, Spencer comes from behind to steal immunity from Tony via a slide puzzle, which he solves in under a minute whereas Tony had been working on it for ages. Even Probst is clearly stunned.
On a Meta note, the producers listening to the fans and, at least for this season, giving us a Final 2.
In perhaps the single biggest challenge comeback in history, Kass goes from being minutes behind the others in a challenge while the other three in the F4 are working on the puzzle, before she swims up and slaughters the puzzle in no time. Whether you're a fan of Kass or not, you have to admit that was the most unprecedented win ever.
Tony in the finale to name a few
He was able to use his idol (which was useless at that point) to save himself by making it seem like it still worked
Managed to get Woo to turn on Kass and break his promise (which he said he would keep earlier)
Convincing nearly everyone, even Trish into voting him.