When it comes to ranking Survivor castaways, the discussion usually revolved around who the best Survivor players of all time are. With more than 40 seasons under CBS’ belt and hundreds of Survivor alumni, there are plenty of great players from the show’s more than 20 years of production.
There are ways to think of the castaways in other ways than just how well they played the game or even who the fans’ favorite players are. To whit: Who are the most likable castaways to ever play Survivor? It’s a valid question because being nice doesn’t necessraily help someone win the game. In fact, likability often works against good gameplay. But some people are just too nice to sacrifice their own likability for $1 million.
9 T-Bird Cooper (Africa)
Despite being only the third season in the series and airing 20 years ago, Survivor: Africa is still widely regarded as one of the most brutal seasons in the show’s history. The cast dealt with punishing heat, a severe lack of clean water, and dangerous roaming wildlife that kept the tribes confined to their camps. It was easy to sympathize with the castaways whenever tempers flared.
The viciousness of the season’s conditions are all the more reason why T-Bird seemed like such a ray of sunshine in an admittedly sun-beaten landscape. The 42-year-old Georgian won fans’ hearts with her cheerful demeanor and irrepresible smile. T-Bird’s defining moment came during a grueling, last-game endurance challenge. To keep her spirits up, she started belting “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie.
8 Cirie Fields (Panama, Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Game Changers)
Winning Survivor calls for a deep skillset that includes not only a strategic mind but the cutthroat temperament often required to eliminate opponents or even allies from the game. These tools are frequently at odds with the elements of a likable personality. That’s why it’s so rare for a player to be regarded as both great at the game itself and one of its most likable players. Four-time player Cirie Fields is one of those rarities.
Not that she’s won. Cirie went deep in the competition during some of her appearances but always came up short. That said, she is often named the best Survivor player to never win the game. And if her likability held her back, it’s not because she lacked the killer instinct to win but because her fellow players saw that, if she were ever allowed a seat at the final tribal council, she’d be sure to earn the most jury votes and take the prize.
7 Francesca Hogi (Redemption Island, Caramoan)
Poor Francesca. She’s best known for a decidedly ignoble achievement that’s likely never going to be matched or topped: Francesca played twice, and she was the first player voted out of the game both times, instantly making her one of Survivor‘s all-time best first boots.
Another way to look at it is to note that Francesca is the only player to be voted out first and then be asked back to play again. That’s a testament to her likability. Clearly, the show’s producers must have believed her first elimination cheated viewers out of someone they believed would be a fan-favorite. And she really was likable during both brief appearances, suffering her first elimination only because she ran afoul of Phillip Sheppard, one of the most chaotic players in the history of Survivor.
6 Christian Hubicki (David vs. Goliath)
Survivor: David vs. Goliath is arguably the best season in the modern era of the series. It’s packed full of great drama, intense challenges, infuriating villains and lovable heroes. Perhaps the most likable of the latter group is Christian Hubicki, the awkward but capable self-described nerd who made zero enemies and became an instant fan-favorite.
Christian combined almost all the elements of a likable personality. He was genius-level smart without being smug, self-effacing without being self-loathing, capable at the game but a good team player, and genuinely interested in getting to know his fellow players. Christian made so many friends, in fact, that he marveled at it himself, admitting to the cameras that his nerdy awkwardness usually made it hard for him to fit in.
5 Woo Hwang (Cagayan, Cambodia)
Woo is one of the most earnestly and effortlessly positive people to ever play Survivor. The young martial arts instructor from Southern California brought a sunshiny charm to the beaches of Cagayan that almost never quit.
Woo’s natural likability probably robbed him of $1 million. Having made it to the final three, Woo won the last immunity challenge, granting him the privilege of choosing who would sit next to him at the final tribal council: Tony, who played what the other castaways acknowledged was a deceitful but skillful game, or Kass, whom the jury overwhelmingly disliked. Woo made what he called the honorable choice: Tony. Tony ultimately won, and the jury made it clear Woo would’ve won had he chosen Kass. Still, it’s hard to fault the guy for doing what he believed was the right thing.
4 Gervase Peterson (Borneo, Blood vs. Water)
Gervase played Survivor during the show’s legendary inaugaral season, and he was the show’s first most likable player. Despite some sexist comments that drew fire from tribemates and viewers, Gervase was a gregarious and entertaining castaway during his first season. His likability kept him in the game nearly to the end, and many viewers bet on him to win the whole shebang.
In an alternate universe, Gervase could have won. His likability was such that he never made any true enemies among his tribemates, and while there was a lot of acrimony in the merged tribe, he wasn’t really a part of it. Gervase lost because, like the rest of the original Pagong tribe, he had no idea the former Tagi tribemates had organized a voting alliance. He was simply a victim of being on the show’s first season, when alliances hadn’t even been codified yet.
3 Erik Reichenbach (Micronesia, Caramoan)
Erik is widely acknowledged to have made the dumbest move in the history of Survivor. After winning an immunity challenge, he was the odd man out among the four-woman “Black Widows alliance.” Erik willingly gave up his immunity necklace to Natalie at tribal council, the woman having convinced him it was the honorable thing to do. Of course, he also believed they would likewise have the honor to keep their promise not to vote him out. But they did vote him out.
Yes, Erik owned himself. Looked at another way, however, one might say Erik was hoist by the petard of his own likability. Maybe he acted out of genuine honor, or maybe he was just concerned about seeming unlikable. Either way, Erik was made a sucker because he was just so likable, and there are worse reasons to be made a sucker.
2 Ian Rosenberger (Palau)
Like Erik Reichenbach, Ian Rosenberger sacrified his own game and a shot at $1 million out of a desire to do what he believed to be the right and honorable thing. Unlike Erik, Ian knew exactly what he was doing and was not decieved into doing it.
Likability aside, playing Survivor often means backstabbing allies, and Ian attempted to do just that. Unfortunately, his plan failed. He wound up in the final immunity challenge against a betrayed and hurt Tom and Katie. Ian faced off against Tom in the endurance contest for hours. In the end, he willingly dropped out of the challenge, and the game, to win back Tom’s friendship. It takes a truly likable person to value a friend over $1 million.
1 Tina Wesson (The Australian Outback, All Stars, Blood vs. Water)
Tina won Survivor‘s second season over the heavily favored Colby Donaldson. Few predicted she would take the prize because she was so unassuming and played such an under-the-radar game. On the whole, she was the polar opposite of the show’s first winner, the cunning and ruthless Richard Hatch.
With the precedent that Richard set for Survivor winners, no one expected a likable, middle-aged mom to win. Richard was, after all, the villain of his season. Tina was anything but a villain. Yet as fans now know, every season is different. Likability wasn’t Tina’s Achilles’ heel but her key to success. Some may say Tina is one of the least-deserving Survivor winners because she didn’t make any big moves, but by being likable, she demonstrated early on that anyone can win Survivor.