Across 33 seasons of Survivor, many players have been raved about as being either amazing or terrible at the game. However, a few fantastic players have gone unnoticed in the Survivor world and often don’t get the credit they deserve. An underrated player in my mind is someone who is not consistently talked about as a good player and often does not get recognition for the moves they made in the game. They may be talked about with high regard as an amazing character on the show, but very few give them the positive appraisal that they deserve. These are the top twenty most underrated players in Survivor history.
20. Courtney Yates
Courtney always stood up for herself in Survivor China and had a strong partnership with Todd all game long. She was always able to play a very under the radar game despite being actually a pretty cutthroat player. With an incredible final tribal council performance, she won herself a couple of votes to finish in second ahead of Amanda Kimmel, who is constantly referred to as a top 30 Survivor player. The fact that she came so close to winning Survivor China when she really had nothing to do with much of the game strategically speaks for itself.
19. Carolyn Rivera
Carolyn Rivera played one of the best games in recent years, yet didn’t have a shot at winning against someone as likable and worthy as Mike. Carolyn found the hidden immunity idol early on without having a clue, ran the White Collar tribe by being in good with everyone and playing the mother role and then she was able to always have the numbers around her at the merge on her way to the final three. She was very unlucky to get only get one vote at the final tribal council and was highly underestimated in the game as she played a very good game by always keeping her options open and being willing to work with anyone. Carolyn most likely will return to Survivor some day and will likely be able to remain under the radar for the entirety of the game just like she did in Worlds Apart.
18. Lex Van der Berghe
Lex probably doesn’t have a good enough social game to ever win a season of Survivor, but his strategic game is very solid and he came seriously close to winning two seperate seasons of Survivor. Lex ran the strategic side of the game in both of his seasons up until the point where he was voted out. In Survivor Africa, Lex was one of the main architects of all of the vote offs, won challenges and then was voted out at final three due to Ethan being more likable. In Survivor All Stars, everything was coming through Lex and he was the architect of every single move his tribe made. In All Stars, he was only stopped by a better player, Rob Mariano. Someone with as good of a strategic game as Lex could easily return and do very well these days.
17. Terry Deitz
Everyone knows that Terry dominated challenges in Panama, winning 5 on his way to the final three. But what often goes forgotten about Terry is that he actually had a good strategic and social game. He flipped Danielle at final four to go against Aras and Cirie and he was always scheming to try and eliminate Aras the entire competition even if it never paid off. He also found the hidden immunity idol and even though he never needed to use it, he used it to create fear in his opponents. Terry’s downfall came when he lost the final immunity challenge which was set-up from the start to benefit Danielle. If he had made it to the final two he would have won. Yet he often goes remembered as being strictly a challenge beast and nothing more. His social and strategic game was a lot better than people give him credit for.
16. Jay Starett
Usually a player claiming they watch Survivor only for the challenges would be a major red flag, but Jay Starett still manages to be a magnificent player of this game. Jay had an underreported social game in Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X and always knew exactly what to say to try and win allies onto his side, even if it didn’t always pan out. The Millennial surfer made a massive splash in the pre-merge part of the game including helping to sway people out of voting for his ally Figgy and remaining in good name with every player on his tribe. He also was always looking for idols, doing anything to keep himself in the game and had he managed to get to the end very well might have won. In time Jay might be more remembered for his blunders like voting out Michaela, not covering up a puzzle he had solved and playing a fake idol thinking it was real but that shouldn’t be the case as he truly is one of the most remarkable players to play the game in recent years.
15. Josh Canfield
Incredibly popular during the original airing of his season, Josh Canfield has silently and suddenly been forgotten about by the Survivor community since. The New York actor is an excellent Survivor player and had Coyopa not lost so many challenges early on he could have easily gone far. Early on in Survivor San Juan del Sur, Josh was a key cog between both the men and the women of the tribe and had the trust of every single person on the island. In Jeremy Collins Second Chance style, Josh managed to make himself everyone’s best friend and everyone’s closest ally, keeping himself out of danger and silently in control. But when the merge hit, Josh was instantly seen as the most dangerous and strategic member of the minority alliance and was taken out by Jeremy and five of the final six players in the game. When San Juan del Sur ended, Josh seemed like a shoe-in to return to Survivor, but somehow he hasn’t been approached by production. He seems to be doing just fine with his incredibly successful career on Broadway, but should the New Yorker return to Survivor someday, he could be a serious dark horse to win the game.
14. Neleh Dennis
Neleh Dennis came so desperately close to winning Survivor Marquesas and was so unfortunate in the end to lose out to Vecepia. A big reason why she may have lost the game was because of something completely out of her control, her age. Neleh was just 21 years old at the time of Survivor Marquesas which would have just made it so hard for a jury of older adults to collectively give her the money. Nonetheless, she only lost to Vecepia by one single vote, highlighting how desperately close she came to winning the game. The Utah native was just such a likable figure in Survivor Marquesas and easily got along with everyone she met on the show, contributing heavily to the fact that she never once found herself in danger of being voted out. She also played a crucial role in the move that flipped the entire game on its head in the elimination of John Carroll, and from what we saw on the show, might have been the person who suggested they take the swing at the Rotu 4 leader. How she hasn’t returned to Survivor already is a mystery to me and being such a likable and personable player she would likely do very well on a return as well.
13. Rodney Lavoie Jr.
The show presented Rodney to us as a goat. If he had made it to the end, we were made to believe that he would have not had a single vote tossed his way and Mike still would have won with ease. In reality, the jury loved Rodney and he actually very well may have won had he been able to take Mike’s spot in the final three. Rodney’s strategic game also often goes unnoticed. After seeing how it worked out for him the first time that he got himself into an obvious pairing with Joaquin, he kept his alliance with Will a relative secret, while simultaneously working with both the Blue Collars and the White Collars at the start of the merge to keep himself safe. Rodney is arguably the figurehead of the new alliance that formed at the merge to combat Mike’s display at the auction and it nearly paid off for him in the end. Rodney was a hilarious character and despite knowing nothing about the game going into it, he nearly won. He’s often remembered solely for his hilarious impressions and meat-head-like logic, with the majority of fans forgetting how solid of a player he actually was.
12. Dreamz Herd
Here me out, Dreamz was by no means a good Survivor player. But he was willing to do anything for the money and is a lot better than people give him credit for. He’s constantly cited as one of the worst contestants of all time but he really isn’t at all. Quite honestly, behind Earl and Yau-Man, Dreamz is probably the third best player in all of Survivor Fiji. Dreamz flipped on all of his allies (not the best move), to advance himself in the game. Yes, this resulted in everyone despising him in the game, but he desperately needed the money and knew how to advance his position in the game to get him to the end. The deal that he made with Yau-Man involving the car is also often highly blown out of proportion. Yau-Man absolutely knew what he was doing, offering the homeless Dreamz a car, knowing he would take it and trying to ensure his place in the final three. The fact that Dreamz was willing to eliminate Yau-Man at final four just shows again how much of a cutthroat player he was, as he wasn’t even afraid to eliminate someone who gave him a car. P.S. Yau-Man isn’t mad about the car incident so we all don’t need to be mad about it either. Dreamz is by no means a good Survivor player, but he’s not a bad one either and hardly anyone in the Survivor community gives him the credit he deserves.
11. Twila Tanner
Twila arguably played the best strategic game in Survivor Vanuatu, and absolutely would have won the game had Chris not gone on an immunity run. Realizing that she and Scout were on the bottom of the all girls alliance and that Ami was their leader, Twila used Chris and Eliza to change the game and vote out Leann and then Ami, putting her new alliance in control of the game. Twila, not Chris, orchestrated the vote offs of Leann, Ami and Eliza and was the one who was controlling the game in Vanuatu. She’s remembered mostly for that horrible lie she told to Ami Cusack which got her into serious trouble in the game and at Final Tribal, but she was a really solid player and managed to still get two votes at the end of the game despite most of the jury absolutely despising her as a person.
10. Brian Corridan
Brian like so many other names on this list is one of the very best players to never return. What makes Brian so special though is that he has managed to make a name for himself as a quality player despite being voted off pre-merge. Brian probably is the best pre-merge player of all time. His game-play in Guatemala was masterful and his incredible “Bait Blake” was an incredible piece of Survivor strategy that still hasn’t been used ever again despite there being multiple times where someone could have done it. Knowing that Blake was digging a whole for himself by some of things that he was saying, Brian “baited” him into continuing to do the thing that was annoying everyone. So Brian would ask things like “So Blake what’s your best drunk story?” and then Blake would tell his story and Brian would highlight how annoying he was. Brian got tremendously screwed over by the tribe swap but somehow managed to escape the first few votes before he was sent home. If he ever returns, he’ll probably do amazingly well as he has all the tools that a good Survivor player and villain needs.
9. Jenna Lewis
If Jenna had made it to the finals in Survivor All Stars, she would have won without a question. Jenna had been part of all the same strategic moves that Rob and Amber orchestrated, except she hadn’t pissed anyone in the jury off. Jenna also has the distinction along with Richard Hatch to be one of the only players in Survivor Borneo to recognize that the game they were playing was both a strategic and social game. Jenna actually controlled every single vote on Pagong and she only went home thanks to Sean Kenniff’s alphabet strategy and some brilliance from Rich. Then when Jenna returned for Survivor All Stars she flew under the radar wonderfully and somehow managed to control every single one of her tribe’s votes again while in the process also controlling Rupert as well. If things go a little differently, Jenna goes down as a winner of Survivor and a very good one as well.
8. Erinn Lobdell
Erinn is a highly underrated player. In fact, she is a very good Survivor player that often gets no credit at all for the work she did in Survivor Tocantins. Erinn was always on the bottom of her tribe, Timbira, but managed to escape the first few votes. When she went to exile island, she stroke up a deal with Joe to try and help her in the game. Then when the merge hit, she flipped on her whole tribe, which was entirely their fault, to go with the Jalapao three. She was one of the main people pushing to get Tyson voted off at final eight, possibly even the main person responsible and she was absolutely responsible for Coach’s elimination at final five. Then suddenly she was the last Timbira member standing after being on the bottom of her tribe from day four. At the final four she then somehow managed J.T. and Stephen to vote off Taj instead of her, but then fell short of making it to the finals when J.T. won the final challenge and took Stephen. Oh and she’s one of the best at puzzles in Survivor history. Her record is insanely good and she won every single puzzle challenge for Timbira. Erinn is actually a very good player and because she flipped on her allies, she is responsible for changing Survivor Tocantins and the outcome of the game.
7. Ian Rosenberger
One could argue that Ian was even more in control of Koror in Survivor Palau then Tom Westman. Him and Tom made the strategic decisions together and Ian’s social and strategic game was pretty much equal to Tom’s yet Tom to this day still gets all the credit. Ian always kept himself safe in a comfortable spot in the majority and tried not to isolate Colby who always felt at the bottom. Furthermore, when Ian realized that Gregg and Jenn might sway Katie after they vote out Caryn at the final six, he gets Caryn on their side and then threatens Katie not to flip by telling her that they’ll go to rocks and Katie could end up going home. Tom actually had very little to do with this whole ordeal and the whole idea came from Ian. Tom gets all the credit for the decisions in the alliance but he didn’t do anything without confronting Ian first. It’s unfortunate that he stepped down at the final three immunity challenge to save his friendship with Tom, because he absolutely would have won had he gone against Katie and could have won had he gone against Tom as well. Instead we remember Tom as one of the greatest winners of this game and Ian as someone who made a dumb move stepping down at final three rather than as a good, maybe even great player of this game. His strategic and social game in Palau has gone down the rabbit whole and often goes completely unremembered.
6. Ken Hoang
Kenny Hoang was the mastermind of Survivor Gabon and played an incredible strategic game. He would have won had he been able to make it to the final three and should consider himself very unlucky to not be the winner of that season. Ken’s first piece of good gameplay in Gabon was recognizing that Kelly was on the bottom of Kota and picking her at the tribe swap so that he could increase the numbers on to his side. Then he convinced Sugar to take back the idol from Ace and vote him out. He then convinced Susie to flip at the merge and vote out Marcus and Charlie. He was also responsible for the Randy and Corinne boots as well before his game came crumbling down at the final seven. Unfortunately Ken’s downfall came when he got too comfortable in the game and when he foolishly put a vote on Matty, leading to Matty getting suspicious of him and leading to his elimination from the game.
5. Trish Hegarty
While Tony was burning bridges all over Survivor Cagayan, Trish was working hard to repair them. Every single relationship that Tony destroyed, Trish was right there to attempt to fix it. Trish was the key in so many of Tony’s moves. She was crucial in the Cliff vote off, she convinced Jefra to stay on her team and she was absolutely integral in Kass’s decision to flip at the merge. It’s unlikely that Tony and his allies would have ever been able to take control of Cagayan had Trish not managed to convince Kass to flip. Despite, Lindsey quitting out of fear that she would punch Trish in the face, her social game was actually incredible in Cagayan and with the way Tony was voting people off so rashly, Trish likely would have won had she managed to go to the end with him. She’s very underrated because it often goes forgotten how much work she did to reign in Tony and clean up the messes that he had made in the game. She often gets overshadowed by Tony and some of her best moves often get wrongly credited to him. If Trish is ever given the chance to play again, I expect her to make it just as far, if not even farther than she did the first time.
4. Dawn Meehan
Even I can be accused of highly underrating Dawn Meehan at times. Despite dominating Survivor Caramoan she was nowhere near making my Top 50 Survivor Players of All Time list for example. I just can’t put someone who got zero votes at final tribal council in the list. Even Twila who lied and back-stabbed every jury member except for Scout got two votes. Even Stephanie LaGrossa got one vote. Dawn didn’t even get one vote in Survivor Caramoan, which means something was seriously wrong with her game. That being said, Dawn Meehan is a very good Survivor player. But, she just got way too emotional in the game and made way too strong social bonds with other people only to break them, leaving them feel betrayed. Quite honestly, if Dawn hadn’t been so emotional in Survivor Caramoan she may very well have won a few more votes. It was Dawn’s idea to get rid of Brenda, Francesca, Corinne, Malcolm, etc. It was Dawn who was making all of the strategic decisions in Survivor Caramoan, not Cochran, yet Cochran still to this day gets all of the credit, and probably rightly so, he won 8-0-0. Dawn though should not be forgotten and should be remembered as the person who controlled Survivor Caramoan.
3. Natalie Bolton
Natalie is one of the most incredible players to never return. It’s stunning to me that she hasn’t returned because not only is she a fantastic strategist, she’s also amazing TV and such a good villain that you want to root for. Without Natalie, the blindsides against Jason and Erik don’t happen. Natalie was incredible in both of those moves and allowed her allies to take control of the game where they received all of the credit. Natalie, being a member of the “Fans” tribe, used her good social skills and trustworthy nature to deceive the other “Fans” in the post-merge like Erik and Jason, into thinking they could trust her when they actually couldn’t. Natalie is particularly crucial in the Erik vote off, as she is the one who manages to convince Erik to give up his necklace, making sure to tell him that it will redeem him in the eyes of the jury. Natalie was ruthless in voting both Erik and Jason out and the way she managed to get them both to trust her so easily only to vote them both out so stylishly was incredible. Hopefully one day, Natalie Bolton returns to Survivor. We’d all love to see her again some day.
2. Natalie White
I’ve spoken many times about how good of a Survivor player and winner Natalie White is. Yet the general consensus about Natalie is that she is either an undeserving winner or that she deserved to beat Russell but is still one of the worst winners of this game. While Russell was burning bridges with the members of Galu, Natalie was building strong social bonds with each and every one of them, and she was single-handedly responsible for Erik getting eliminated at the merge which led to her alliance taking control of the entire game. On top of her amazing social game was her amazing game awareness and reads on other people in the game. Early on, she realized that all of the aggressive women of the tribe were being voted off, so she knew she had to appear unassuming to Russell and tend to his every need, playing to his ego masterfully. Natalie let Russell get all of the blood on his hands with all of his incredibly flashy, big, bold strategic moves, while she worked on making bonds with the people that would come back to vote for her to win the game. She also constantly played to his ego and responded to him like he was the greatest person in the world, so he always wanted to keep her around. She also told Mick and Jaison to stick with Russell as well, saying that they could both beat him in the end while still making herself look unassuming and beatable as well.
1. Rafe Judkins
Rafe was the strategic mastermind in Survivor Guatemala and would have won had Danni not won final immunity. Rafe was Stepahnie’s closest ally. They were burning all of the same people, except Rafe remained likable and in good faith with all the jury members and easily would have had the jury votes to beat Stephanie. On top of his four individual immunity wins, Rafe was the aforementioned strategic mastermind in Guatemala, making all of the strategic decisions but making it look like it was Steph who was the one in control. Moreover, Rafe wanted to eliminate all of the goats in his season like Jamie, Judd and Lydia, to ensure that Stephanie would take him to the end instead of anyone else, but when Danni won the final challenge, Rafe fell short of a million dollars. Rafe has somehow been forgotten in Survivor history and is possibly the greatest ever non-winner to never return. The reason why he often goes unremembered seems to be that the majority of people think he made a mistake by “freeing Danni of their final two deal at final three” BUT Danni was never going to take Rafe. She was always going to take the goat in Stephenie so there is absolutely nothing he could have done. He is certainly one of the best strategic players of all time yet often goes completely unremembered. Rafe Judkins is the most underrated player of all time.