Preface: While these general moments are listed, some standout entries will be found in each season.
The family visit, virtually every time (except for a certain incident involving a dead grandmother). It's always surprising to see how people will react, from all different backgrounds and dispositions, when their loved one offers a reprieve from four weeks of physical deprivation and mental insecurity.
Any time someone has a genuine friendship with someone else that extends outside of the game. Some notable examples are Rodger and Elisabeth, JT and Stephen, Malcolm and Denise, and Yau-Man and Earl.
Every time there's a culture-based reward.
This particular troper was fond of the very last scene from Borneo, the only occasion where the winner got a final confessional after the vote. Richard Hatch is shown sitting alone in Tribal Council, holding the vote that made him the winner, and then footage was put together of him, clean-shaven, leaving the airport back in America and getting into his new car, really selling the idea of only one Survivor that was lost in the normal format of announcing the votes months later at the reunion. All of it is set to a confessional of a clearly shocked Rich explaining that he was proud of his game, that he hadn't lost who he was as a person, and that a million dollars would really change his life.
Doubly heartwarming when you realize, for all of his rough edges and flaws, Richard Hatch was integral in changing the way America viewed gay people and how they were portrayed.
Sean reuniting with his dad aboard the cruise ship in Borneo, which came as a complete and pleasant surprise to Sean since it was the first season and the "Loved One's Visit" hadn't been set in stone as a tradition yet. Also, when Sean's dad came back to camp the next day, he was carrying care packages from everyone's families with him.
Also from Borneo is Jenna, desperately missing her two kids, is informed that while the others received video tapes from their loved ones as part of a reward challenge, her family never sent one out. Later in the episode, while Greg and the tribe were watching his home video, Jenna was out alone in the rain, drearily shooting arrows at the target used in the Reward Challenge. At one point, she makes the bullseye and sighs. A masterfully done scene.
Michael Skupin's evacuation in Australia. It is one of the few episodes of Survivor that actually makes you feel that the show is really dangerous and not for novices.
Also from Australia, the instant messaging scene where as Rodger points out all the men that are left are far more emotionally affected than than the women. Especially Colby completely collapsing into tears by his mother simply writing "Hi baby."
The sweet, platonical friendship between Rodger and Elisabeth reached its crescendo when he gave her a heart-shaped rock to give to her boyfriend back home. Notable for being one of the only heart-wrenching moments that wasn't needlessly overdramatised (not to say they're any less heartwrenching than the rest of the examples).
Ethan in the village in Africa, playing hackey-sack with the kids and then leaving it with them. If anyone doubted why Ethan was seen as the most heroic winner of his time, this scene shows a lot. It's especially amazing how Ethan said he wanted to do something for the people here in Africa and, after winning the money, did exactly that.
Ethan's relationship with "Mama" Kim Johnson was another one, with Ethan often defending and protecting her when her head was on the chopping block. This comes full circle when Mama Kim wins immunity and takes Ethan over Lex, figuring that she wasn't likely to win anyways and wanted Ethan to win.
Pappy and Neleh's powerful friendship which lasted to the point where Paschal knowingly took the risk, and eventually paid the price, of the Purple Rock because he wouldn't vote her out.
This friendship extended to Gabriel, who apparently had begun a showmance with Neleh for a brief time. Evident by their tearful reaction to seeing him brutally voted out by their own tribe.
Paschal and Sean get one, of all people, when they win reward to a Marquesan village. Despite the two not getting along beforehand, and not since, they were able to set aside their differences to enjoy the fantastic reward.
On the day Helen missed her twentieth wedding anniversary so she could compete on the show, her tribe secretly made her a tiara and threw a party for her to make up for it. Helen had thought the entire time that the run around she got all day meant her tribe was intending to vote her off.
Jake's clear compassion for his tribe of crazy, argumentative kids on Sook Jai definitely counts, and turns into a TearJerker when a challenge loss leaves him with some painful guilt because he knows now they will all be Pagonged.
In Episode 6, after a quarrel over a misunderstanding, Ken takes Robb under his wing and becomes a sort of Big Brother Mentor to him, teaching how to better relate to his tribe. This calmed down the normally very unpredictable Robb into having an epiphany about himself and suddenly becoming much nicer to his tribe mates.
Later on in the season, Helen's husband was the lucky person who got to hang out with the tribe for twenty-four hours. He immediately sees Brian as the guy who is really running things, and tries to convince Helen to vote him out. She doesn't listen to him, but at least he tried.
Butch, a middle-school principal, gives Christy a beautiful pep talk after she does well in a reward challenge, saying that watching her do well was one of the most incredible moments of his life, and that Christy didn't have a disability.
Post Tribe Swap, the way Christy is welcomed by the guys is overall very sweet. Even Roger gets some kind moments with her.
YMMV, but the reason Osten "quit" was because he didn't want anyone else on his tribe to go home, since he was already physically ill to begin with. It's a shame Jeff dragged it out to the point where he made Osten humiliate himself instead of just being voted out like his tribe had planned to do.
The reason Lil picks Sandra to go to the end over JFP, if one believes it. Knowing she'd lose, she predicted that Jonny would use the million to go on a hedonistic, deadly rampage, and decided to give it to the fellow working-class mother instead.
A Meta Example, but Jonny Fairplay in the Dom and Colin podcast, despite having almost nothing good to say about anyone else, is very complimentary of his pre-merge partner, Trish Dunn.
The All-Stars addressing Jenna quitting for the sake of her dying mother. While some of them disagree with her decision, the conversation is cordial and understanding, with even people like Boston Rob in tears. Her leave itself is a TearJerker as her mother only passed away eight days later.
Rob's reaction to Amber being swapped over to the new Chapera tribe in All-Stars ("I don't care that they're in our camp...I don't even care that they have all our food...but they've got my girl."), and his joyous reaction when he sees that she wasn't voted out in the following episode. Even Jenna starts crying when she sees her.
Rupert's interview when he reads the personal letter from his wife and daughter (which itself is tie-dye, just like his shirt).
"They think I'm the meanest, toughest son of a bitch...even though I'm not. That gives me inner strength."
Although Chris uses it to propel himself further into the game and cut the throats of the people who did it for him, Le Ann and Ami give Chris, the last man standing, a reprieve, because the Immunity Challenge had their loved ones compete for them and despite Chris' most passionate efforts, himself and his fiance Lorie didn't win, and in their tearful goodbye he apologized because he was going home. Le Ann didn't want Lorie to feel the guilt of letting her fiance down so they planned to let Chris stay one more round.
The fact that Chad was completely chill about Chris accidentally making a "leg up" reference to him, laughing and pointing out all the possible jokes that could be made about it instead of embarrassing his friend further than he already was.
Chad in general is one of the nicest people in Survivor history. Of special highlight is him in the cultural reward, having the time of his life.
Despite not being picked to even be in the game by her fellow tribesmates, Wanda is a good sport despite being completely screwed by production, leaving them with another one of her songs and telling them to enjoy their adventure.
Although Koror is in general pretty nasty to Janu, Tom has a moment where he tries to give her a pep talk during the pre-merge, assuring her that she can do well in this game.
Margaret working tirelessly after the first challenge to keep the exhausted men in shape, putting her skills as a nurse to good work with little complaints.
Cindy raving about how much she enjoyed being out there in Guatemala with the animals and the nature. Keep in mind that it was probably the harshest season that had ever been filmed, and she rarely ever complained. Even on the Survivor Oz podcast she'd go on and on about how much she treasured the memories of being out there with the howler monkeys and the stars above her.
In addition, Cindy being so excited about winning the car, which, despite being a little awkward, is genuinely sweet considering she probably wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise.
According to Cindy, she still has the car to this day, and she taped her Survivor Oz interview inside of it.
Tina writing the name of her recently deceased son in the sand, trying to handle her grief.
Shane reuniting with his son Boston during the Panama season has the unique distinction of being genuinely heartwarming and sweet(Shane obviously loves his son very much) and laugh out loud funny(due to Shane's over the top bawling at just seeing him and the fact that, due to Shane being an Man Child, Boston coming off as more mature than his dad).
Jonathan Penner being stricken by guilt after accidentally knocking a baby bird out of its nest.
While some find them boring, the fact that the Aitu 4 were so strongly united post-merge is heartwarming in its own right. Even at the Final 4 with two of them immune, they choose to let the other two duke it out in a challenge rather than choosing one over the other.
Yau-Man of all people has plenty of them.
The scene where he proves the people on the New Ravu tribe wrong by demolishing a target after they mocked his size and strength, and then comes dancing back to his tribe after hitting it.
After he joins the New Moto tribe, finally enjoying the luxury tribe after several weeks of misery on the have-nots camp, he says "I finally have the strength to carry the flag" and does so on his way out of the challenge.
A minor one, but when Stacey asks Yau-Man in the Final 9 who to vote for, he says "vote who your heart tells you to, but please don't vote out Earl." Their genuine odd-couple friendship is often rather touching.
When Yau-Man is betrayed by Dreamz about the truck deal, Yau-Man is a good sport about it, but seems more hurt that Earl voted him out as well, despite that being the right move for Earl to make. Earl addresses it in the FTC, telling Yau-Man honestly that he would lose to him if he didn't make that move.
Another meta-example about the car deal is how Yau-Man consistently in interviews owns up to the deal going awry as being his fault, not a morally reprehensible move by Dreamz.
All of Jamie and Erik's interactions when you realize that they would get married after the show.
Peih-Gee taking Erik and Denise to the Shaolin Temple in one of Survivor's most epic rewards. It was clear that Denise was amazed by the experience, and the fact that barely anyone in the world was ever allowed into it but still let a camera crew record it for all of us viewers is powerful on its own.
When Frosti is voted out, everyone seems sad for having to do it, even super-strategist Todd and the perpetually snarky Courtney.
James' first scene, where he interacts with Leslie, who encourages him as he admits his awkwardness associating around other people. His first confessional definitely counts as well.
James: Yea Iím a gravedigger. I like that work cause yíknow Iím kinda by myself, but part of my problem over here now is that Iím just used to being by myself. The whole initiation of the social thing... talking, trying to strategize, well yea, thatís gonna kill me. Iím definitely worried about the social aspect. I need to pay more attention to that, so I need to do a little bit more hustling, hopefully pull out the challenges, and make Ďem love me.Ē
If you look closely, Leslie's visor has the names of her family members on it.
Chicken's surprisingly sweet final line in his final words.
Chicken: You'll never find someone who was so honored to be such a small part in such a big adventure.
According to Kathy, Penner was a source of comfort during her tumultuous stay on the island. He promised to keep her company in the shelter, and when Jason would tell him to "hang out with the cool kids" he replied "No, I made a promise and I'm going to stick to it." This explains why Kathy was so distraught when Penner was medevac'd.
Penner's medevac is simultaneously this and a massive tearjerker. He tries to hold it together but ends up breaking down on the boat. Him shaking hands with Jeff Probst is also one as well.
Although Fairplay's story about missing his pregnant girlfriend would be shown to be a cover for the fact that Danny Bonaduce punched him in the shoulder and he lacked pain meds, Yau-Man still offers him advice on how to be a good father in his voting confessional despite having fought with JFP over the idol in the beginning of the episode.
Despite having just been humiliated by the Black Widow Brigade harder than nearly anyone else in Survivor history, Erik Reichenbach takes it in stride and has been a good sport about it ever since.
Gillian trying so hard to keep spirits up in Fang and be perpetually optimistic. It doesn't work, but she tried valiantly.
Her also taking this experience and using it to create Reality Rally, a sprawling reality-TV based charity, is both this and a Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
Randy of all people gets one when he's dancing with the Gabonese villagers.
Randy: This one woman... I think she liked me. I haven't had a girl come on to me in about 20 years but... I think she liked me. I was full, I'd eaten too much, my arms hurt, my legs hurt, but... hell, I danced with her.
Matty tearfully proposing to his fiance in the family visit.
The fact that no one was sent to Exile Island, and everyone was allowed to see their family members instead of just Bob.
Although it'd backfire because she'd go home instead, Carolina apologizing to Sandy because she was going to vote her out and assuring her that she was a great woman was surprisingly touching.
The end of the auction in Tocantins definitely counts. Jeff introduces the last item available to bid on; the chance for one person to watch a video message from their loved ones. Being incredibly homesick, especially for the newborn baby she left at home, Taj starts to tear up. Jeff opens the bidding, and everyone hands their money to Taj so that she can see her family. Even Jeff comments on the tribe's generosity, especially in such a cutthroat game.
Even more heartwarming when you consider Debbie, one of the ones who gave her the money, had her own children back home who she was missing, and even she was more than willing to give Taj the money.
In his own Coach-level bizarre way, the fact that Coach told the infamous Amazon Pygmies story because he wanted to cheer up his tribe after Joe's medevac is strangely heartwarming.
The extent of Stephen and JT's odd-couple friendship and how it brought them both to the end.
Russell Swan protesting being evacuated from Samoa despite that even Jeff was fearing for Russell's life. (His heart rate dropped to 42 beats per minute... within a few minutes.)
Jaison defending Natalie at the reunion when even Jeff was trying to push the "Russell-was-robbed" campaign, decrying the people who were rooting for the awful behavior Russell had shown instead of Natalie, who had been very kind and upstanding.
Off-camera, when Brett lost the FIC, he helped to give Natalie pointers for the Final Tribal Council.
Heroes vs Villains
No fan expected that the most sympathetic and heartwarming contestant of the entire season of Heroes vs. Villain would have been Jerri, the Trope Codifier of the female villain. Let's recap:
Played a much nicer, less malicious and angry game than her first two seasons
Respected the Heroes after the merge, in contrast to Russel and Parvati, who both made fun of them constantly. In fact, supposedly, Jerri and Colby's reconciliation after ten years was going on, and was left on the cutting room floor.
She was much stronger in challenges, even winning an Individual Immunity
The best, though, was in the reunion. As oppose to her first two where she was heavily booed (to the point of leaving early in the one for All-Stars), as soon as Jeff brings her up and asks her a question, the entire audience cheered and applauded her for her season.
Rupert thanking Sandra for trying to save the Heroes in Heroes Vs. Villains during his jury speech and apologizing for not believing her about Russell. He then goes on to tell Parvati, who is clearly emotional and has been getting put down for her alliance with Russell throughout the final Tribal Council, that even though she did not align with the right person, she worked for and deserved her spot in the Final Three.
Sandra explaining why her uncle was her family visitor: he was, as well as being close to her, very close to Sandra's mother, and was there as she was dying.
Sandra explaining how her husband was in Afghanistan, and this was her way of providing for the family. It's simultaneously badass and sweet.
The ultimate conclusion to the Jerri/Colby rivalry - when he's voted out, Jerri hugs him and cries. Supposedly, there may have been a story in that season about Jerri and Colby reconciling after all this time, but since it didn't fit into the whole "Russell needs to be taken down" theme of the season, we'll never know...
We do get this little gem from an online video showing all of the voting confessionals in the Colby vote.
Jerri: I look forward to cultivating out friendship.
When Na Onka first wants to quit in the first few days, Chase comforts her, and the conversation turns into one about his father who passed away before the show... and he immediately breaks down into tears.
This comes full circle when Na Onka gives Chase her immunity idol as a thank-you before she leaves the game. Who would have thought Na Onka would get a heartwarming moment?
Dan's son in Nicaragua, repeatedly kissing his father's head and acting completely confused at Jeff's surprise at it. "He's my dad!"
Also from Nicaragua, Holly stepping out of a reward challenge (The only one she won!) so that the rest of the camp could have enough rice to last for the end of the game and a new tarp. This is especially powerful because Na Onka, who planned to quit, refused to step out for Holly's sake. Benry, noting Holly's sacrifice, repeatedly needles Na Onka to take Holly's place, and seems genuinely hurt that Na Onka wouldn't do that for her.
This comes full circle, as does Holly's whole story arc, when Holly tries to convince Purple Kelly not to quit. Five days into the game after an emotional breakdown, Jimmy Johnson, an early Espada member and NFL Coach, gave her a personal pep talk to keep her from quitting. When Purple Kelly quits, Holly tries to do the same for her. It doesn't work, but she tried.
Holly: Why do you want to quit?
Kelly: I can't take the cold anymore. I'm literally freezing.
Holly: I got you a tarp.
Kelly: I know... but there's also the food issue. I can't keep going off of two spoons of rice a day.
Holly: I got you more rice.
A meta example: When Holly writes an inspirational book about her journey, guess who does the foreward for her? Coach Jimmy Johnson.
A more subtle heartwarming part of Nicaragua's pre-merge is the friendship between Marty and Jill. They start off as a power duo that work hard to establish dominance over Espada. Even when Marty's plans would get out of control and Jill would snark about them in confessionals, they stuck together. After the tribal swap left them as two against six and Jane would flip on and berate them constantly, they stuck together until the very last tribal vote, where, having no other option, Marty let her get voted out to stay in the game (but still refused to vote for her out of respect). Even then, their goodbye is sweet as are Jill's final words, and the fact that someone as cutthroat as Marty wouldn't cast a vote for Jill out of respect (which almost sent him home instead.)
Jill: I hope you go far, Marty. My kids are gonna need someone to root for.
Mike Chiesl giving up his family reward for the players left in the game, despite being on Redemption Island and voted out by the players he was giving it to, the Ometepe Six.
YMMV for sure, but Phillip talking about his past qualifies (if he's not full of shit.)
Phillip: Being one of 12, having my mother pass at a very early age, having to work my way through high school, deciding I was going to join the United States Army, and getting an honorable discharge, receiving the second highest medal that you can receive during peace time—-doing what? Field Sanitation. What a glorious job. But you know what? I did it to the best of my ability. And that's what these guys see out here every single day.
Dawn's amazing performance in Shoulder the Load. After such a rough start in Survivor she showed just how much she was capable of.
Meta example, but while most people on Savaii gave Cochran a lot of shit for flipping, Dawn and Cochran are apparently friends enough in real life for her to forgive him his past transgressions to align with him in Caramoan.
One World had quite a few towards the end:
Christina wanting to make her father proud because he only had a few years left to live, and making it all the way to the final 4.
Alicia and Colton apologizing for their behaviour on the show at the reunion.
Kat's jury speech, all about how short life was and seizing the day.
Tarzan and his wife, Terri's relationship - he was so desperate to see her that he ended up making deals that only brought him to the loved ones visit, just so he could see her.
In Denise's very first confessional, she uses her therapist skills to deduce why Zane shouldn't be disregarded just for his appearance in an awesome version of the Sherlock Scan.
Denise: Being a therapist, I'm really curious about Zane because at first you go, 'Gah, this guy's trouble', but then you look closer and then you go, 'Okay wait a minute; look closer at those tattoos.' He's lost somebody. There's a death date of somebody on his arm and he's got the serenity prayer on his hand, so part of me is kind of hoping, this guy's got some story, and if nothing else, I'm curious about his story.
In a Tribal Council between the last three Matsing members, Denise says in a confessional that even if they blindside her they won't shake her faith that Russell Swan and Malcolm are still good people.
Penner and Lisa have a deep conversation about Lisa's past on TV and how she's on TV right now and what she does will become part of the story.
Malcolm getting the merged tribe named after his mom in Caramoan. Apparently he went back home to watch that episode and his mom threw a big party, and when she found out he named the tribe after her, she went running out to fix her eye makeup.
Towards the end of his run on the show, Reynold has been screwed over and betrayed more than anyone else, but he still manages to keep a good spirit about everything. Even when his partner steals his idol from him, he is still a good sport.
Strangely, his jury speech towards Dawn could count seeing how much more constructive it is in its criticism than... certain other speeches. Instead of humiliating her, she encourages her to be honest by insulting him, cheering when she calls him vulgar and misogynistic.
Blood vs Water
In the first few minutes of Blood vs. Water, Rupert's wife Laura was voted out of her tribe. Then Jeff starts making a deal.
Jeff: Rupert, you're a chivalrous guy. You love your wife. What if I said you could swap places with her?
Rupert began moving to take her place at "if".
And in the second episode, after Rupert loses the Redemption Island duel, Jeff asked Rupert if he regretted taking Laura's place. His response?
Rupert: I love Survivor, but I love my wife more.
In the third episode, Tyson's interaction with his girlfriend Rachel after she lost the Redemption Island duel, asking if she had fun while she was in the game. Also, his confessional about it afterwards where he tears up.
'Tyson: I asked Rachel if she had fun in this game. Because it is a game, and people let it ruin their lives and make them angry.
In case you thought the few times that Tyson crying in the game was fake or overdramatic, he, of all people, is the first person to not only break down weeping profusely as he wins the season, but before all the votes are even read. That's a huge step up from "I Love Seeing People Cry When You Crush Their Dreams" from Tocantins.
Brad Culpepper, after going through the wringer with the players in the game, with a sweet goodbye to his wife.
Brad: Monica, I came into the game wanting to be your rock. Somewhere along the way I became your anchor. You're free now. The wind's blowing. Sail. Sail hard.
Jeff Probst, of all people, gets in some kind words to Laura Morett after she loses the final Redemption Island duel. She's crushed that she failed just at the last moment, talking about finishing strong and how she didn't. Jeff has this as a response.
Jeff: Some will argue that if you're looking to teach your child a lesson, that the lesson of "if you lose you're a failure" is maybe not the right one, but that finishing strong is giving everything you have. You didn't win, but does that mean you didn't finish strong?
Woo waxing poetic about how much he loved seeing the kids in the Final 6 reward, where they delivered school supplies to local children. This was made even better by Woo doing a martial arts performance for all of the kids.
Mixed with tragedy, Woo talking about all the things he wanted to do with the money if he won, including helping his mother and proposing to his girlfriend (with his father's permission, of course).
Tony breaking down into tears when his friend showed up instead of his wife, because his wife was in labor.
The relationship between Kass and her husband. Her interactions with her fellow castmates, ranging from fighting with them to verbally destroying them, wouldn't prepare you for her breaking down into tears talking about his arrival (which she Lampshades, and him listening to her with legitimate care when she rants about the position she's in on her tribe and what she has to face in the game.