For more than 20 years, Survivor has been a reality TV stalwart and hugely popular with fans across America. Part of why the show has stayed successful for so long is because it’s so relatable. Even though there’s little to recognize about being stranded on an island with total strangers for 39 days, Survivor reflects so much about social life and what it means to be human.
After 40 seasons and hundreds of castaways, Survivor has depicted people and situations that, despite the strange circumstances, were instantly recognizable. From their strengths to their weaknesses, from their triumphs to their collapses, certain Survivor players have stood out as the most relatable to viewers at home.
9 Carl Boudreaux (David Vs. Goliath)
Starting out on the “Davids” tribe, Carl was a blue-collar underdog. A stroke of luck put an immunity idol “nullifier” in his hands, and once the tribes merged, Carl and his allies used the nullifier to orchestrate a blindside voteout that put them in the majority. But the success went to Carl’s head. He grew overconfident, and his allies resented his arrogance. So they organized another blindside, this time to vote out Carl.
Carl’s arc is relatable because it’s such a human foible to become convinced of the inevitability of one’s own success. Even for someone who struggled in the past, it’s easy to believe, once one achieves a measure of success, that the good times will roll on forever. It’s all too common for people to be hoist with their own petards, so viewers could relate to Carl’s downfall.
8 Rick Devens (Edge Of Extinction)
Rick Devens was the first of two players who, via the season’s titular “Edge of Extinction” twist, returned to the game after being voted out. After his return, he seemed like a strong candidate to win. But on Day 35 of 39, Day 8 voteout Chris Underwood became the second player to return via the EoE. He beat Devens in a fire-making challenge, sending Devens out of the game and eventually winning the $1 million prize.
Despite his faults, Devens overcame a lot of adversity — he was part of Manu, one of the most cursed tribes in Survivor history — to make it deep into the game, only to have the win slip through his fingers thanks to the same twist that gave him his second chance in the first place. Fans have never stopped debating whether the Edge of Extinction twist was fair, but that’s just another reason why Devens is so relatable.
7 Stephen Fishbach (Survivor: Cambodia)
Stephen Fischbach quickly developed a reputation as a braniac during Tocantins, his first season. In a successful alliance with eventual winner J.T., the pair earned the nickname “the wizard and the warrior” from their dramatic and quotable Survivor tribemate, Coach. But during Cambodia: Second Chance, Fishbach’s reputation did him no favors. The idea of Fischbach as a strategist stuck, making him a target despite of his hapless challenge performances and lack of a strong ally to ground him.
Fishbach was never arrogant enough to oversell himself, but it didn’t matter, because his tribemates oversold him to themselves in their own minds. Many viewers could relate to Fishbach’s frustratation at having to perform in the shadow of expectations that only set him up to fail.
6 John Hennigan (David Vs. Goliath)
At first glance, musclebound Goliath tribe member John looked like one of the least relatable players on David vs. Goliath. But the physically imposing professional wrestler quickly proved to be one of Survivor‘s friendliest and most likable players. He was vulnerable too, admitting in a confessional that he often felt uncomfortable socially. “I do get a little bit awkward,” he said. “I run out of things to say. Self-doubt, insecurities … for sure, I’ve got that. Big time.”
It’s hurtful when people expect someone to be a certain way just because they look a certain way. John reminded viewers that every human is vast and contains multitudes, and everyone struggles, often in ways no one suspects. John even formed a bond with nerdy robotics scientist Christian because what they shared in common was awkwardness and a need for friendship. What’s more relatable than that?
5 Laurel Johnson (Ghost Island)
When Survivor fans think of allies from Ghost Island, they think of Domenick and Wendell, one of the best friendships in Survivor history. But Dom and Wendell had another ally, Laurel, who made it to the final three with them. Unfortunately, the jury saw Laurel as a coattail rider who made it to the end on her allies’ backs. She received zero jury votes.
Laurel deserved more respect than she got. Viewers saw that she was indeed more involved in decision-making with Dom and Wendell than their fellow players saw. A lot of viewers could relate to the difficulty of having one’s work go unrecognized because more bombastic figures by their nature soak up more attention.
4 Bret LaBelle (Millennials Vs. Gen X)
Burly, beer-loving, gregarious Boston cop Bret seemed to fit a stereotype on Millennials vs. Gen X. But it wasn’t until some time into the game, during a challenge reward over a couple of brews, that Bret revealed privately to Zeke that he, like Zeke, is gay. “I didn’t grow up in a time when it was normal to talk about being gay,” Gen Xer Bret said in a confessional. “The millennials do not care. Zeke finds comfort in being himself … I’m hoping that, as my life goes on … I can be that way.”
Bret is relatable to Survivor fans whether they’re also members of the LGBTQ+ community or not. After all, it’s common for folks to conceal and reveal different aspects of their personalities with different people at different times, for any number of reasons. Sometimes this aspect of human existence can cause a lot of inner turmoil and pain, but it’s a very relatable sort of pain.
3 Chelsea Walker (Island Of The Idols)
When the cast of Island of the Idols was revealed, Chelsea was on many fans’ lists as a strong contender to win. She was smart, charming, and a super fan of the show. Sadly, her game was cut short. Her friendship with tribemate Dean sparked rumors of a showmance, a situation her tribemates nipped in the bud to prevent the emergence of a power couple. She became the third player voted out.
In post-game interviews, Chelsea insisted the idea of a showmance between her and Dean was entirely false. But a rumor is a powerful thing, and in Survivor as in life, perception is reality. On paper, Chelsea was destined for Survivor success, but she was done in by other people’s gossip and false beliefs about her. It was an all too relatable way to fall.
2 Nick Wilson (Winners At War)
During David vs. Goliath, which he won, Nick Wilson was savvy and shrewd. He played an excellent social game and threaded the needle of being smart without seeming too smart. When he returned to Survivor for the show’s first all-winners season, though, Nick was like a small fish in a big pond. Though he made it far into the game, he often seemed clueless, out of his depth with the other veterans, and buffeted by the whims of his more powerful allies.
Nick’s situation was a relatable microcosm of a scenario a lot of viewers recognize from their own lives, such as transitioning from high school to a univeristy of moving from a small town to a big city. There are lots of times in life when people go from feeling on top to being on the bottom, from powerful to powerless, from winner to loser. Nick’s humbling reminded viewers that success is often not only situational but fleeting.
1 David Wright (Millennials Vs. Gen X)
TV writer David Wright seemed at first like he should’ve stayed home. More than just neurotic, David was downright scared of everything. “I don’t really like sleeping outside. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like the sun. I don’t like the ocean. All of those things are terrible,” the reedy Survivor super fan said in an early confessional.
However, David loved the game itself, the strategy and the social aspects. As a fan, his knowledge of Survivor proved useful, and he surprised even himself with his social prowess in the game. He made it deep, placing fourth, and became a fan favorite as a classic underdog. His ability to overcome his many obstacles to Survivor success inspired fans who, despite loving the show, might have believed they could never actually play the game.