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For as long as I can remember, on every Wednesday night, my dad, sister, and I would sit down and watch episodes of Survivor. We called this Taco Wednesday, because we also ate tacos as we watched. This became our weekly tradition. 

Survivor is a reality based competition show hosted by Jeff Probst. It first aired in May of 2000 and has just finished broadcasting its 41st season (typically broadcasting a season in the fall and one in the spring on CBS). The players/contestants are typically called castaways. The general setup: A group of castaways are split into two to four tribes, depending on the theme of the season, and live on an island with very little food and fresh water. They are usually given one bag of rice, a pot, and a machete at the start of the game, with the game lasting 39 days for those who make it to the end. Every three days or so, they compete in either a reward challenge or an immunity challenge (and sometimes both). Some rewards are to help them back at camp, such as flint, blankets, tarps, while some rewards are a once in a lifetime experience, an excursion, or food. After an immunity challenge the tribe goes to tribal council and has to vote one person off of their tribe. In some seasons this person is given a chance to get back into the game. In some seasons the tribes swap teammates about a fourth of the way through and have to make new connections with other castaways. Around the midpoint in the season, the tribes merge to create one large tribe as the game moves from team play towards individual play. There are still reward and immunity challenges, but this time only one person from the tribe is safe from being voted off. Once the merge happens, whenever someone is voted off, they join the jury, the group of players booted from the game but now tasked with deciding the winner. Depending on the season it either gets down to two or three castaways who have to plead their case to the jury, the same group they helped vote out, why they should win the title of Sole Survivor and the $1,000,000 check that comes with it. This game takes strategy, interpersonal skills, and physical strength to make it to the end, all incorporated in the game’s motto:  “Outwit. Outlast. Outplay.”

These are my top 5 favorite seasons of Survivor. No outcomes are revealed below, just in case you want to check out a season!

1. Survivor: Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16)

This is my favorite season of Survivor. This season started off with two tribes of ten castaways each. One tribe was filled with ten “super fans” of the show, and the other tribe was filled with ten favorite past Survivor players. I always love the seasons where they bring back returning players. This season was full of blindsides, deceit, and betrayal; everything you want in Survivor, on full display, by many of the best players to that point in the show’s history.

2. Survivor: Winners at War (Season 40)

This was another amazing season of Survivor. This season brought back 20 past Sole Survivors, all winners of at least one of their previous seasons. I loved seeing Survivor winners from early seasons and the later seasons all battle it out. In watching this season, it was easy to see how strategy had evolved over the 40 seasons. The older seasons’ players approached the game in a very different way, in general, compared to the more recent winners. Recent winners tended to be much more aggressive players compared to players who won in the early years.

3. Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)

This is one of my favorite seasons because the winner of this season is one of my all time favorite players. This season began with two tribes of nine castaways: eight new players and one returning player on each team. This season also introduced a new wrinkle into the game, something not previously seen: players voted out had a chance to come back into the game.  This changed strategy completely as players had to adapt to this idea, something that they had not had to consider in earlier seasons.

4. Survivor: Borneo (Season 1)

Survivor was already a hit in Australia; CBS bought the idea and produced a season for US audiences to be watched in the summer of 2000. The first season of Survivor was made up of two tribes of eight castaways. The different challenges in this season were fun to watch. One of the immunity challenges had tribes race through the forest looking for one of their tribe members who had been “stranded.” Then they had to carry them back on a stretcher that they put together. There was another immunity challenge in which the castaways were told a folklore story about Borneo. They then had to go into the woods and look for masks which had questions on them. They were supposed to collect the masks and record themselves on a handheld camera answering the questions. I enjoyed the challenges in season one. The show was a tremendous hit; it is estimated that 125 million people watched some part of the season finale.

5. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)

This season was made up of two tribes of ten castaways. One tribe was made up of past season players who were seen as “heroes” and the other tribe consisted of past season players who were seen as “villains.” This season was full of some of my favorite players. It is always fun to watch past survivors duke it out and prove who is the best, and many of the players lived up (or down) to their casting as a hero or villain.

Alexa Russell is a junior at NC State University. She is double majoring in Statistics and Economics with a minor in Global Health. She is from Clemmons, NC. She loves goofing off and hanging out with friends.
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