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: 17
Broadcast Date: September 25 – December 14, 2008
Location: Wonga-Wongue Presidential Reserve, Estuaire, Gabon
No. of Castaways: 18
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Survivor: Gabon‘s placement on this kind of list will always be controversial no matter how you slice it. Detractors will say it’s placed far too high, and its acolytes will complain that the season is ranked far too low. To say that Survivor‘s seventeenth installment is polarizing would be a gross understatement. The oft-repeated sentiment is that Gabon was so bad, it made Jeff Probst want to quit the show for good. Regardless of how much truth there is in that statement (there were certainly other factors contributing to Probst’s Survivor fatigue at the time), it still gets at an important truth: Gabon is not a “good” season of Survivor.
Gabon is bizarro, clusterf*** Survivor at its finest. It’s the Mad-Hatter’s Tea Party of Survivor seasons. The cast feels like it was genetically engineered in a lab to be as chaotic and dysfunctional as possible, with the Fang tribe, in particular, being one of the all-time great trainwreck tribes. Major strategic players go home early. With a few exceptions, the gameplay is completely baffling, with the season’s outcome being almost entirely shaped by a pin-up model named “Sugar.” The cast bickers over ridiculous s**t like cookies. Sometimes players disappear from camp before an Immunity challenge. They willingly throw a Hidden Immunity Idol into the ocean. The merged tribe’s name is “Gabon” backwards, for God’s sake!
However, all of this is what makes Gabon so special. There’s no other season of Survivor quite like it. Gabon is, hands-down, one of the most entertaining seasons of the show from a comedic perspective. The cast is stacked with memorable characters, even just in the pre-merge. There’s Fang’s resident elephant dung expert Gillian Larson, reluctant Fang leader Danny “GC” Brown, and wannabe James Bond villain Ace Gordon. Post-merge, we have iconic villains in Randy Bailey and Corinne Kaplan, laid-back surfer Matty Whitmore, an unlikely powerhouse duo in Kenny Hoang and Crystal Cox, and, of course, Jessica “Sugar” Kiper, the pin-up model who unexpectedly ends up controlling most of the post-merge gameplay.
It’s only fitting for Survivor‘s strangest season to have the show’s strangest winner in Bob Crowley, who squeaks out a win over runners-up Susie Smith and Sugar in a close 4-3-0 vote. Bob usually ranks somewhere near the bottom of most Survivor winner rankings, and for good reason. Bob’s winning game is hard to pin down beyond making fake idols, scoring some impressive Immunity wins, and winning the Final 4 fire-making challenge. His strategic game certainly leaves a lot to be desired; then again, that could be said for Gabon as a whole. As a result, Bob’s win isn’t particularly satisfying, but it serves as a fitting conclusion for a season as wacky as Gabon.
Gabon is definitely an acquired taste. Between the messy gameplay, the bitterness between many of the cast members, and a lackluster winner, this season won’t win everyone over. But for those who can appreciate a good trainwreck with some larger-than-life characters, Survivor doesn’t get much better than Gabon, which is just downright hilarious from start to finish.
The Sugar Shack — Sugar holds the record for most Exile Island visits, having been sent to Exile a total of five times throughout the season. No one (especially Corinne) expects Sugar to be able to find the Hidden Immunity Idol during her visits, but lo and behold, she finds the idol her first time at Exile. Sugar spends her subsequent visits in the lap of luxury, enjoying the free food and the hammock in the Exile hut she dubs the “Sugar Shack.”
Marcus’ blindside — Marcus Lehman is Gabon‘s clear strategic front-runner from the get-go. He’s smart, level-headed, well-liked, and creates the Onion Alliance on Kota just a few days into the game. After a fake merge feast where Marcus convinces everyone to throw an idol into the ocean, there’s a surprise second swap at Final 10. Marcus is safe, in theory, with his old Kota allies outnumbering original Fang members Kenny and Crystal. He targets Kenny, but Kenny and Crystal convince Marcus’ ally Susie to flip on him, blindsiding him in a 3-2 vote just before the merge. This leads to not only the most iconic Survivor GIF but one of the most memorable GIFS ever.
Randy’s boot — Randy’s boot episode has everything: the auction, Cookiegate, Bob’s fake idol, and two of the greatest voting confessionals of all time from Sugar and Crystal. Bob’s decision (at the behest of Sugar) to give a fake idol to his own ally is one of the more baffling moments in Gabon since it serves no strategic purpose other than to embarrass Randy on his way to the jury. It’s a good thing Bob did, though, because that fake idol helped give us one of the most memorable Survivor exits ever.
Corinne’s jury speech — Love her, hate her, or love to hate her, you can’t deny Corinne’s villainous impact on Gabon. Her journey as Gabon‘s resident mean girl culminates at Final Tribal Council with her infamously cruel jury speech where she asks Susie to remove her vocal cords and attacks Sugar for crying about her dead father.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 19. You can check out the previous entries here.