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.
This one should be so much higher! For me it is my favorite season (I could watch Wentworth everyday of my life) but I don’t understand how this isn’t in everyone’s top 5. Great format for a returning player season. Everyone was at the same point in their survivor “development”. Everyone plays so hard. Fishbach is a perfect narrator throughout. Jeremy is a likeable winner who makes few mistakes. Spencer and Kas’ relationship continues its twists and turns. Joe is hot and at his Joe-est. Kelley is a fantastic foil to the majority force. Pre-merge is a little slow, but I say that about almost every season that does have a Hantz in it. And starting with the first post merge tribal, fireworks fireworks fireworks!
Oh c’mon! Cambodia should definitely be in top 10. While I can see how some of the old-school seasons, like Australia or Exile Island, can rank higher thanks to nostalgia and character-driven nature (though I do think both of these seasons drag sometimes unlike Cambodia), there’s no way Cambodia is worse than the chaotic dissapoinment known as Winners at War. I know some people blame Cambodia for starting the “BIGMOVEZ” era, but this is the one all-stars season where it actually works and despite the “game-botty” character of post-merge some people complain about, the season still has a lot of flavour, funny moments and great cast composed of both big characters (Abi, Keith, Kass, Varner) and players (Spencer, Stephen, Ciera), with the winner being both. And the edit is quite balanced except for few characters (Wigglesworth, Monica, Kimmi – none of them very interesting to begin with) and all main characters have their own strong story arc. Even the challeges don’t suck like they start to do in the 30+ seasons. In conlusion, Cambodia is one of the most complex seasons deserving the spot in top 10.
Surprised… this is easily a top-10 season to me. Great cast, great gameplay, good story arcs and the eternal 4 months waiting the season to start after s30 finale was a torture.
I apologise in advance for this rant!!! 😀
Perhaps this is overdramatic, but I strongly believe Cambodia is the season that has “ruined” Survivor. All the seasons before it (including Kaoh Rong because it was filmed earlier) are all very character-driven and the idols/advantages/rewards were kept to a minimum. At least, the edit of the show focused on characters and the advantages were secondary. Everything changed with Cambodia. Suddenly, the main focus of the show was idols, big movez, vOtInG bLoCs (and lol at everyone being fawning over and being so excited at this being some kind of revolutionary strategy when voting blocks have literally existed since Borneo, and “temporary voting blocs” existing since Marquesas) and meta-commentary on strategy, especially at tribal councils. Just compare the tribal council discussions in Cambodia vs. Kaoh Rong or Worlds Apart for example. This trend continued and was magnified for the worse in MvGX.
I felt little to no emotion during most of Cambodia towards the players. The whole season felt so oddly robotic and soulless – the epitome of this was Spencer’s absolutely terrible production-manipulated growth storyline which made no sense because in the last episode he suddenly becomes this CPN monster out of nowhere and gets 0 votes. The storytelling made no sense – this is because it was a complete lie. The editing in general really turned for the worse this season, and it continued in the similarly gamebotty MvGX. Keith, Kimmi, Monica, and KELLY WIGLESWORTH among others barely had an edit, and was a total betrayal to the viewers who had voted to see these legends play again. I think Tasha’s awful comment about letting certain players “go far would be an insult to the fans” sums everything up. Instead, we got Spencer’s 50th confessional about showing emotion, and Kelley’s endless confessionals about idols.
I apologise if this sounds overly negative, but Survivor was once my favourite show, and it’s very sad to me that I believe Cambodia really started steering it into the wrong direction. I don’t watch Survivor to see players going on about “numbers” and give tedious strategy analogies, and Survivor definitely wasn’t made for this purpose either. It was to show complex and human stories about different types of people trying to live together whilst having to vote each other off to win. Probst having to use a friggin whiteboard to explain how somebody was voted out is a bottom 5 Survivor moment lol. Thank goodness Kaoh Rong, a top 5 season came afterwards as a palate cleanser, but then came MvGX and I knew that Cambodia’s damage had been done 🙁
Finally!!! One of those boring seasons. The voting of cast and the Wentworth underdog story are the only saving grace of this overrated season. Sadly, Jeremy isn’t truly likeable. Voting blocs are overrated and like you said, made the show robotic (game-botty) and a total snooze fest.
Besides the truly likeable players being eliminated first even one withdrawing, another disappointment? Spencer. He was a sure winner in Cagayan if only he made it to the finale and not Tony. I was hoping he will be able to redeem himself this time but apparently reaching the finale isn’t enough. He was a bit neglected by the bitter jury and overshadowed by the apparent “more needy” winner. Jeremy’s sympathy win is worse than Adam tbh.
What I remember was from this season moving forward, it was a downward spiral to gamebot invasion, less emotional investment to characters and tribe dynamics… i miss that old passion that I had for Survivor. No thanks to this “evolution of the game”.