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: 31
Broadcast Date: September 23rd – December 16th, 2015
Location: Kaoh Rong, Cambodia
No. of Castaways: 20
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Survivor: Cambodia is a season like no other that started like no other. For the first (and currently only) time, viewers were able to vote amongst a pool of former castaways to play again. These contestants were from a wide array of seasons and had varying levels of success in the game, but they all had two things in common. 1.) They had never won before, and 2.) They had only played once. Hence, Second Chance (now more commonly known as Cambodia) was born.
The season leans heavily into the theme of second chances, from picking challenges that contestants played in their original season to highlighting how players plan to perfect their games from their first time. The opening walk through the ruins of the Angkor Wat temple plays into this theme beautifully as the castaways each talk of their stories of redemption. But no matter how many twists and trips down memory lane are thrown our way, what really makes a season is the cast. And best believe this cast plays hard. Voting blocs, alliances, immunity idols, and vote steals, no obstacle is too great for these players who have everything to prove to their fans and themselves.
One essential part of Cambodia that makes it so unique is the “voting blocs” that are introduced into the game. Voting blocs are basically temporary alliances that are formed out of necessity, not because the group wants to go to the end together. Whether to get a threat out or to pull off a blindside, voting blocs keep things interesting while players try to minimize the likelihood of targets finding out about their plans. This makes it hard to follow actual alliances at times, but it keeps fans on their toes on a weekly basis. While the term “voting blocs” is sometimes a ruse to cover up loyalties, it also introduces a new level of gameplay to the season.
Some might complain that with all the talk of voting blocs and numbers, the season becomes too “game-botty,” especially in the post-merge. While that is true to an extent, there is still a lot of great character stuff here, from Jeff Varner’s “mid-life quest” (before he ruined all goodwill in Game Changers) to Spencer Bledsoe’s struggle to open up to Stephen Fishbach’s Joe Anglim-centered paranoia. There is humor (Keith Nale driving the tuk-tuk, Abi-Maria Gomes comparing sob stories with Woo Hwang) and drama (Kelley Wentworth’s mid-challenge idol grab), and emotion (Jeremy Collins’ loved ones visit). Yes, sometimes the editing is a bit off, with some players getting obvious winner’s edits while others fade into the background (old-schoolers like Kimmi Kappenberg and Kelly Wiglesworth are often neglected). But with the level of gameplay so high, the edit can be somewhat forgiven.
At the end of the day, what is a high-quality season without a high-quality finale? A shocking Final 6 Tribal Council, different people winning each Immunity challenge, and an impassioned speech at the Final Tribal keep the season strong all the way through, especially with its winner. Jeremy is a star in San Juan Del Sur, even with his blindside just after the merge. He shined then, and he shines even more here, finishing with a unanimous vote to win in one of the most complex seasons of all time. He cements his legacy as one of the greats and is arguably one of the most likable players ever—a satisfying ending for a more than satisfying season.
Cast Reveal — If you were like me, you were probably a little drained by the hostile nature of Worlds Apart. If you were also like me, then you were probably extra psyched for the finale because that’s where they revealed the cast for Cambodia. The buzz in the Survivor community during the campaigning and subsequent cast reveal was an absolutely incredible time to be a Survivor fan.
Wentworth’s idol grab — For the first time ever, an idol is hidden within a challenge, and it’s up to Kelley Wentworth to risk being caught while retrieving it. This moment creates excellent tension for the premiere, and it’s the first of many breakout moments for Wentworth, perhaps the most underestimated player coming into the season.
Loved Ones Visit — The loved ones visit is always an emotional time on Survivor, but it’s even more so with returning players. We’ve spent two seasons being invested in these players’ stories, and this is the time to see the person outside of the game. This is even more so for Jeremy, whose wife Val was pregnant at the time and is able to slip to him that they are having a boy. This is the most important plot point to Jeremy’s arc this season, and to see his game before and after this point is truly something special.
“Wentworth… does not count” — After Kass McQuillen becomes the first out at the merge, it seems like Wentworth, Ciera Eastin, and Abi-Maria are sitting ducks as the Bayon alliance plans to pin all their votes on Wentworth. Little do they know, Wentworth has an idol and plays it correctly, negating a record-breaking nine votes cast against her. In return, the minority alliance votes out Andrew Savage, someone that was in a great position in the majority. As Savage exits, Abi-Maria points out that at least he made jury this time, a reminder that he does not appreciate very much.
No Votes?! — The Final 6 Tribal is certainly one for the books. Two sides of three form, with one side targeting Jeremy and the other going after Wentworth. But both Jeremy and Wentworth play idols, meaning that no valid votes are cast for the first time. There’s a revote, and a threat of a rock draw, for which only Keith would be eligible for. It gets so complicated that Jeff draws out an explanation on a whiteboard at the finale to explain it to us simpletons.
Jeremy’s FTC Speech — Jeremy is one of the players who has a character arc that stretches for the entire season. We know early on that his wife Val (who also competed in San Juan del Sur) is pregnant, but Jeremy isn’t planning on telling anyone. As other players have no problem openly sharing their ‘arcs’ with everyone, Jeremy keeps his reasons for playing to himself. Then, at Final Tribal Council, Jeremy tells everyone that he’s playing for his family, not just the ones here but also for his unborn son. This answer brings Jeremy’s season-long arc full circle, driving it home with his unanimous vote to win.
Check back on Monday when we reveal which season placed at number 15. You can check out the previous entries here.