Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season No: 02
Broadcast Date: January 28 – May 3, 2001
Location: Goshen cattle station, Herbert River, Queensland, Australia
No. of Castaways: 16
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Survivor was still riding the buzz of the first season back in early 2001, and everyone was anxious to see the sequel. Following the breakout phenomenon of Borneo, CBS knew it struck gold and went all-in on Survivor, increasing the second season’s length, giving it the post-Super Bowl premiere spot, and putting it head-to-head with ratings juggernaut Friends. There was a lot of pressure on The Australian Outback to deliver. It was a real sink or swim moment for the franchise. Was it the Survivor format that was a success? Or did people just really take to the Season 1 cast? Thankfully, for the most part, The Australian Outback delivered.
While fans had grown attached to the Borneo cast, turning them into household names in the process, it didn’t take long for viewers to find their new heroes and villains. The Australian Outback‘s cast is stellar from top to bottom—it remains the season with the most returning castaways. There are fan favorites like the clean-cut All-American boy Colby Donaldson, sweet (at the time) Elisabeth Filarski (now Hasselbeck) and her kindhearted father-figure Rodger Bingham. There are larger-than-life personalities like the crazed Mike Skupin, snarky Jeff Varner, chicken defender Kimmi Kappenberg, and the fierce Alicia Calaway. And, of course, there is one of Survivor‘s most legendary villains in Jerri Manthey. All of this is capped off with Survivor‘s first woman winner in Tina Wesson, who emerges as a brave and tough competitor throughout the season.
It’s a season of iconic moments, especially in the pre-merge, which is one of the best in Survivor history. Skupin slaughters a wild pig, Kel Gleason is accused of smuggling “beef jerky,” Tina flips the vote on Mitchell Olson, Kimmi and Alicia clash over chickens, Colby and Jerri flirt, and how can we ever forget Skupin falling in the fire? Other than maybe Richard Hatch winning and Fairplay’s dead grandma lie, Skupin passing out hands and face-first into the fire is probably the moment most Survivor viewers remember. It’s frightening and captivating all at once and a reminder of just how real Survivor can be. It’s also the event that completely changes the season’s direction, as Skupin’s evacuation evens up the tribe numbers heading into the merge.
While the merge doesn’t quite deliver the all-time classic highs of the pre-merge, there are still excellent character moments and some surprising eliminations. The first merge vote is a tense showdown that sees Varner eliminated in the first-ever tiebreak scenario. The Colby and Jerri relationship takes a turn as Colby grows frustrated with Jerri’s flirtations and general attitude. This culminates in a bucket of cold water and a blindside of Jerri at the hands of her so-called alliance—the first instance of an original tribe booting on of their own before the opposing tribe. And in another example of the dangers of Survivor, the tribe camp is washed away in an epic flood. This sees a determined Tina and Keith Famie clambering across a choppy creek in the dead of night to retrieve a container of rice.
Sadly, the season does begin to lose steam in the endgame, with the extended three days only adding to the monotony. The finale, in particular, is a real drag, with just Colby, Tina, and Keith twiddling their thumbs. We’re basically just waiting for the final Immunity challenge and vote-off. To the season’s credit, the ending is worth the wait, as Colby makes the shocking decision to take Tina to the Final 2 over Keith. This is still regarded as one of the most boneheaded decisions in Survivor history, as Colby would have undoubtedly beaten Keith in Jury votes. Instead, Colby chooses friendship over strategy, taking Tina to the finals, where she ends up defeating him in a close 4-3 vote.
Survivor has never been as popular as it was during The Australian Outback, which, to this day, remains the most-watched season. It’s a season that overcame the “dreaded sequel” pressure and assured Survivor would be a staple on CBS for years to come. The location is memorable, the cast is fantastic, and it features some of the most iconic moments ever in Survivor.
Beef jerky-gate — Early in the season, Jerri accuses Kel of smuggling beef jerky into the game. Kel profusely denies it, claiming he was just chewing on grass, but the reputation sticks, and Kel is soon voted out. While this seems such an innocent thing now, it’s crazy how much this blew up at the time. It painted Jerri as this “evil woman” to many viewers, even though when you look back, Jerri really didn’t do anything wrong, especially compared to later Survivor villains. Also, from what has been said by other cast members, plus Jeff Probst, it seems likely that Kel really did have beef jerky.
Skupin falls in the fire — As I said earlier, this is a top-five iconic Survivor moment. It happens as Skupin is tending to the fire and accidentally inhales too much smoke, causing him to pass out. It’s so unexpected that the cameraperson doesn’t catch the initial fall on tape, just the aftermath of Skupin screaming and running towards the water. The image of the skin melting from his fingers is one I’ll never forget.
Tina flips on Mitchell — An understated moment that is kind of forgotten these days, but it really sets the tone for future Survivor. Remember, all anyone had seen at this point was Borneo, where the Tagi 4 picked off everyone outside the alliance one-by-one. Tina flipping Colby and Keith into voting out Mitchell removes Jerri’s power and puts Tina into a controlling position. It’s the first instance of someone going, “Hey, you know what? I don’t just have to follow the status quo,” and successfully changing the direction of a vote.
The chicken fight — “I will always wave my finger in your face,” is one of the classic Survivor quotes from the early years. Alicia and Kimmi’s fight is also one of the first major arguments on Survivor. And what is the argument over? Something that would become a consistent source of controversy throughout Survivor history… Chickens!
Jerri & Colby — What starts as mutual, candy-based flirting (“I ain’t no Hershey bar”) turns into a bitter personal grudge between this legendary pairing. Perhaps one of the greatest moments is when Colby and Jerri are paired up in a post-merge Reward challenge… and end up winning. This sees them sharing the day together on a beach by the Great Barrier Reef. Jerri sees it as a romantic getaway… and Colby just wants to get away.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 14. You can check out the previous entries here.