With the world shut down and everyone looking for their next show to binge, let me introduce you to Survivor. By now, I'm sure you've heard me ramble endlessly about the greatest social experiment in TV history. I love the show. I watched the first season with my dad when I was 4-years-old and haven't stopped.
A lot of people discount Survivor as "reality junk TV" and think it's just like The Bachelor or something, but it's so much different. It's also not a true survival show like Man vs. Wild or Survivorman. More than anything, it's a competition of minds. That's why I love it. The strategy of the game is what has always drawn me in. You have to (usually) be really smart to win this thing. It's a real-life game of chess. But it's so much more than just strategy. It's also a social experiment. How can you get people to like you, and then use those people to vote each other out? It has trained my brain to always think in Survivor mode, even in real life. Life is just one big ole' game of Survivor.
And in addition to all that, you also have a ton of entertainment through unique characters. There's been like 600 or something people to play this game. Some you will love. Some you will hate. You will laugh. You will cry. It's a game about people, and the show has always done a great job with casting (besides never casting me).
I can babble on and on about this show forever, but you just have to take my word for it and give it a shot. We're going to be social distancing for months. Everyone is looking for a show to binge-watch. Well, give the show that's been on for 40 seasons now a shot, and you won't regret it.
I will lay out a few different strategies for how you can binge-watch the show.
Option 1: Binge Them All
This is the simplest. Start with Season 1 and go on from there. Survivor is an anthology series in a sense, so you don't need to do this, but there are reasons for it. First of all, there are returnee seasons. Those are always fun. They are way more fun when you know the players involved and get excited to see them return. But besides that, this option makes sense so you can see how the game evolves. Season 1 is basically a different show from what it is today. If you binge the show in order, you will be able to appreciate that and see how it changed.
Option 2: Get Hooked, Skip Around
The danger with the chronological rewatch is that you won't get hooked right away. The gameplay isn't as advanced in the early seasons. Maybe you won't be hooked immediately. So if I had to choose one season to get someone hooked on Survivor so that I know they'd love it, I'd choose Season 28: Cagayan. It's the best season ever that features all new players. The gameplay is fast and advanced. The problem is there are some references to early seasons that will spoil stuff if you do decide to go back. It also will be weird to go from Season 28 to an early season, because the game will seem like it's been set back. But if you just want a few seasons to watch to make sure you'll love it, start with Season 28. Other options would be Season 18: Tocantins and Season 13: Cook Islands.
Option 3: The Masterplan - Learn The Story Of Survivor
This is personally what I will recommend. It's somewhere between the first two options. I'm listing out 18 seasons. It's still a tall task, but it gets out over half of the seasons if you don't want to make that whole commitment. If you want to learn the "story of Survivor" then I think this is your best option. You will be able to see how the game's evolved, be caught up on the major storylines, and be able to enjoy returnee seasons. You won't know all the characters, but you'll know most of them and definitely the most important ones. I will list them out in chronological order as that makes the most sense if you're going to commit to this. But again, if you really want to get hooked, then maybe start with Season 28: Cagayan and then begin this list. I would recommend to just do it in this order though.
Season 1: Borneo
You just have to start with the original. This is the season that swept the nation and turned the 16 contestants into overnight celebrities. The game today is barely recognizable from how it started. It was way more of a true survival show back then. There’s not as much strategy or flashy gameplay, but there’s some entertaining characters. This might not be the season that immediately enthralls and hooks you, but it’s a necessary history lesson.
Season 7: Pearl Islands
We can skip ahead to Season 7. The game will look a lot different. The start to the game is a very unique twist that we’ve never seen before. There’s another twist that was radical at the time but has now evolved and become common. Most importantly, there are some legendary players making their first impressions. A lot returnees for future seasons. It also features the greatest lie in TV history. Worth a watch.
Season 8: All-Stars
This is the first returnee season on the show. If you’ve only watched the two seasons prior that I suggested, then use this as a way to catch up on all the old-school characters. It won’t be as satisfying of a season for you since you’ll only be familiar with several of the players, but it’s still worth the watch and has an important place in Survivor history. You’ll see why.
Season 12: Panama
This might not be the most popular pick among others, but I enjoy this season a lot. It’s very character-driven instead of gameplay driven, in my opinion. I think it really picks up after the merge. It’s not one of the all-time greats, but it will keep your attention.
Season 13: Cook Islands
The tribes this season were divided by race which is WILD to think about now. White vs. Black vs. Spanish vs. Asian. Insane to think that was acceptable back then, but it was a different time. All that aside, I absolutely love this season and think you will too. Characters, gameplay, twists, it has it all. This is my favorite of the ones I’ve listed thus far.
Season 15: China
This is a season I personally made a point to rewatch, and it was very worth it. The show really did a great job focusing on Chinese culture and interacting with the location. That’s something that never really happens in modern Survivor since they just keep filming at the same locations. This is a funny season with memorable characters, great gameplay (especially late), an all-time blunder, and a legendary Final Tribal Council performance. Right there with Cook Islands as my favorites of those listed.
Season 16: Micronesia (Fans vs. Favorites)
This is a returnee season, but you can and should still watch it. There are 10 returning players, and you will have seen 7 of them play. You’ll definitely know enough to still have a good grasp on the season. It’s a necessary watch for Survivor history. Some returning players become legends, and it features one of the most talked about moves ever.
Season 18: Tocantins
This would be a pretty good choice for a season to start with if you’re not going to follow the order I’ve given you. There are no returning players. There aren’t really any crazy twists besides Exile Island. It’s pretty basic Survivor in terms of format. But the characters are excellent. The gameplay isn’t the best, which keeps it from being one of the best seasons ever. I don’t want to give too much else away, but this season is just a perfect example of what makes Survivor great.
Season 19: Samoa
This season changed the game in a lot of ways. Many people view this as the unofficial start of “new-school” Survivor. It features one of the most legendary and controversial players to ever do it. You will be entertained.
Season 20: Heroes vs. Villains
Probably my favorite season ever. If you’ve followed my watchlist up until this point, you will be familiar with all but four players. This is just an epic showdown featuring some absolute legends. So many amazing moments. Sucks you can’t start with it because you need to know the players to make it more satisfying. I’m jealous I can’t watch it for the first time.
Season 25: Philippines
Went through the dark ages for a bit with four pretty skippable seasons. Philippines is an enjoyable watch though. It features three returning players that were medically evacuated in their previous seasons getting another chance. You won’t know Skupin, but just know that he fell in a fire during Season 2. Other than that, there is one player you will absolutely love and one that you will absolutely hate.
Season 27: Blood vs. Water
This was a unique twist where ten returning players came back, each with a loved one on the opposite tribe. This season also features Redemption Island, which gives voted out players a chance to return to the game. You will know seven of the ten returning players. The show does a good job really harping on the blood vs. water theme. I’m not as high on it as everyone else in the Survivor community, but it’s still worth a watch.
Season 28: Cagayan
My favorite non-returnee season of all time. When I once wanted to turn a friend onto the show, I recommended this season, and he loved it. If you’re just going to watch one season, this should probably be it. It will hook you in. But if you’re going to commit to watching a bunch, then save it because there are some references to earlier seasons/players. And the game is incredibly modern and advanced this season. If you start this then go back to Season 1, you’ll think you’re watching a different game. It’s better to just watch the game evolve from then to now. But anyway, this season is awesome. Highly entertaining with a couple of my favorite players ever, as well as a great villain. Plus, the tribes Brains vs. Brauns vs. Beauty and there’s definitely a lot of beauty. Just such a good season. Watch it.
Season 29: San Juan Del Sur
This is another Blood vs. Water season, but with all new players. There are some fun characters this season that you should be familiar with for future returnee seasons. It’s not one of my favorite seasons ever, but it’s enjoyable.
Season 31: Cambodia (Second Chance)
This was a unique returnee season in the sense that the fans got to vote for the cast. There were 32 players up for vote, and the top 20 vote getters got in. You will know 14 of the 20 if you’ve followed the watch up until this point. This season is fantastic and considered revolutionary for the changing of “alliances” to “voting blocs.” A lot of twists and fast, advanced gameplay. Top-tier season.
Season 33: Millennials vs. Gen X
The theme is pretty cheesy and dumb, but good characters and gameplay make up for it. It starts a little slow but picks up as the season goes along. Is it a must watch? No. It's pretty low priority on this list, but it's worth watching if you have the time to kill, which you will.
Season 36: Ghost Island
I like this season more than most. I thought the characters were entertaining, and the gameplay was really advanced. The Ghost Island twist was kind of a miss, but I don't think it took a ton a way from the show. This will be the first season you watch with a change after the Final Immunity Challenge. It's a change I don't like, but it is what it is. This season is also necessary to tell the "story of Survivor" because it features a historic moment, the first and only time it has ever happened. You'll know it when you see it.
Season 37: David vs. Goliath
Most people like this season more than I do. Look, I think it's entertaining and am including it on the list, but I think some people who rank it as one of the best ever go a bit overboard. But the cast was just excellent. A lot of people you'd love to see come back. I think I personally just let it get blended together with the seasons surrounding it, but it should stand out.
In Progress - Season 40: Winners At War
Definitely don't just jump right in and start watching Wednesday. But if you get through all those listed above, then you can maybe give it a shot. You would be familiar with 15 of the current 20 players, although you would have missed the "winning" season of 3 of those 15. This is way down the road for you to worry about anyway.
And there you have it. That's how you can binge watch Survivor during this quarantine. I'm jealous that a lot of you guys get to start this journey from the beginning without knowing what happens. You're going to love it. If you have any questions, tweet me or DM @tomscibelli on both Twitter and Instagram. CBS All Access is the best way to watch unless you have some streaming website.