My Favorite Seasons of Survivor: My Guide for Survivor Newbies

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My love for Survivor has been well-documented on my blog in the past, and I’m happy to hear that other people are getting into it thanks to Netflix adding two seasons (two of the best!) to its catalog.

In the spirit of sharing the love, I’m recommending a few more seasons that Survivor newbies should definitely check out! As far as I know, all seasons up to 34 are available on Hulu, while every season is available on CBS All Access and for individual purchase on iTunes.

A few important notes for these picks:

  • I am personally drawn to Survivor primarily for interesting characters and storylines, with great gameplay coming in as a close second. Because of this, I’ve split my picks up into two separate lists: all-around great seasons, and seasons with great characters where the gameplay isn’t quite top tier. I enjoy seasons in the second camp just as much as those in the first camp, but I think it’s helpful to know if the gameplay will be sub-par going in, just to know what kind of ride it’ll be!
  • My recommendations for newbies purposely do not include returnee seasons! I am a big proponent of watching as many first-timer seasons before jumping into returnee seasons for the sole reason that a lot of the players’ chemistries, reputations, and storylines rely heavily on their past seasons. While I’m sure it’s still possible to enjoy a season without watching the preceding ones – I’ve heard of people enjoying Heroes vs. Villains as their first season ever, which is baffling to me! – I’m almost positive that they don’t hit as hard!
    • I am happy to give suggestions for returnee seasons, though! Some of my actual favorite seasons are returnee seasons but, as I mentioned before, part of their appeal is following individual characters’ arcs. I can even suggest seasons-to-watch-before-you-watch-another-returnee-season if you want!
  • I am going to keep these summaries pretty spoiler-free, which unfortunately means that there’s not a lot to say! I’ll try to include as much as I can without giving away too much, but my preference is to not spoil anything about the season – even my favorite characters! – before letting you jump in.
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To the picks!

All-Around Great Seasons

The first two seasons that came to mind to recommend were Kaoh Rong (32) and Millennials vs. Gen X (33). These were actually two of the first seasons that I watched live, and they did not disappoint! There are fun moments, great villains, spicy drama, and a handful of players that return for future seasons.

This is also one of my favorite challenges ever! (image from

Digging a bit deeper back, my older recommendations are Cook Islands (13) and Tocantins (18). It was tough to narrow this list down, but I feel like I can stand by these two! Again, these two seasons include some of my favorite characters, many of whom return for future seasons, and have some really great overarching storylines, both heroic and villainous, that unfold over the entire seasons.

(I will concede that some themes – Cook Islands’s race-based tribes and Millennials vs. Gen X’s eponymous theme – are kind of cringeworthy! A lot of Survivor themes are! I encourage you to simply push through, as the theme never really carries past the first couple of episodes anyway.)

Finally, I do love recommending Borneo (1), The Australian Outback (2), and Africa (3) to newbies after they’ve watched a few seasons. I loved going back to these to see just how different things were in so many different ways – production-wise, gameplay-wise, even player-wise! The latter two are especially interesting to watch because the show hasn’t revisited them as locations, so they’re worth watching even if just for change of scenery.

Great Character Seasons

I included the disclaimer about embarrassing themes above because one of my favorite seasons ever, Amazon (6), is originally organized as a men’s tribe vs. a women’s tribe. The men’s tribe talks a lot of trash and ends up losing the first (very physical) challenge! It’s great! There are some great characters (emphasis on the character), funny moments, and the setting is definitely unique. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first season, as the gameplay is fairly standard and nothing to write home about, but it’s a ride!

See! Sandra can do a challenge! (image from

My final three recommendations – Pearl Islands (9), China (15), and Gabon (17) – are grouped together because, in my opinion, they are completely character-driven. I could talk your ear off about specific contestants on these seasons, but I am currently completely blanking on any specific strategic moves, especially ones that are purely strategic and not personally-motivated. Not that the winners don’t deserve their wins! This is just how I remember them, and I don’t think anything less of them because of that. (China and Gabon were also not set on beaches, and are both beautiful to watch in their own unique ways!)

Anyway, hit me up when you’ve watched – I’m dying for more people to talk with about Survivor!

(Maybe I will dust off my very old, never published love letter to my favorite player of all time…)

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