Best Season Rankings – No. 24 – San Juan Del Sur

The Best Season countdown continues.

Photo: CBS

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: 29
Broadcast Date: September 24 – December 17, 2014
Location: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
No. of Castaways: 18


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San Juan Del Sur is often regarded as a middling season of Survivor. Following the show’s universally beloved 28th season, Cagayan, San Juan Del Sur had a lot of hype to follow and some big, Tony Vlachos-sized shoes to fill. With the return of the Blood vs. Water theme (just two seasons after its first appearance), the Exile Island twist, and Nicaragua as a location, San Juan Del Sur‘s premise doesn’t bring anything new or particularly exciting to the table.

The season’s pre-merge is relatively unremarkable, with Huanapu’s dominance leading to a stagnant and mostly forgettable early game. Natalie Anderson‘s confrontation with John Rocker, Huanapu’s multiple negotiations with Jeff Probst, and Drew Christy’s blindside after throwing a challenge are definite pre-merge highlights, but the pace never really picks up, even after a tribe swap. At first, it seems like the merge will suffer the same slow, uneventful fate when Julie McGee abruptly quits the game just before the first merge Tribal Council. However, to the surprise of many, what follows is a slew of entertaining blindsides, idol plays, and one of the all-time great winning endgames from Natalie.

Photo: CBS

Losing two major power players in Josh Canfield and Jeremy Collins back-to-back at the first two merge votes opens the game up considerably. And just when it looks like there’s no way Jon Misch will lose control, he gets blindsided with an idol in his pocket at the Final 6. Natalie’s victory manages to be compelling and satisfying without ever being overwhelmingly obvious. She has a strong storyline in avenging her twin sister Nadiya and her best ally Jeremy and exerts a significant amount of control starting at the Final 7. Natalie plays a key role in the Alec Christy and Jon blindsides and pulls off a flashy idol play on Jaclyn Schultz at the Final 5, all while never having a vote cast against her.

San Juan Del Sur is certainly an uneven season of Survivor. It’s slow at first, and the pre-merge gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. But as the season goes on, it reveals itself to have some entertaining characters, particularly Keith Nale, whose obliviousness brings a particular charm to the season. This, combined with the exciting post-merge gameplay, makes for a satisfying endgame that is worth the wait.


“Stick to the plan” — After the back-to-back Josh and Jeremy blindsides, Reed Kelly attempts a coup against Jon. Immune, he convinces the majority to split their votes against Keith and Wes Nale and tells Alec, Keith, and Wes to vote Jon with him, blindsiding Jon in a 4-3-2 vote. Reed even pretends to be voting for Keith during Tribal Council, prompting a confused Keith to tell him to “stick to the plan.” Keith’s gaffe causes Jon’s alliance to realize that Reed and Keith are likely working together, leading Natalie to tell Jon to play his idol. Keith plays his idol too, saving himself but sending his son Wes out of the game with just 2 votes.

Drew’s downfall — In one of the most satisfying downfall edits ever, Drew, the self-declared “badass,” throws an Immunity challenge so he can vote out Kelley Wentworth. However, behind his back, the rest of the tribe decides to blindside Drew instead.

Natalie flips the vote on Alec — At the Final 7, the majority alliance led by Jon and Jaclyn decide to split their votes between Keith and Alec, with Keith going unless he plays an idol. Knowing she needs Keith further down the line to execute her eventual blindside against Jon, Natalie decides to switch her vote from Keith to Alec at the last minute, sending Alec out 4-3. Back at camp, she pretends to have misunderstood the split vote plan and successfully convinces her alliance that her Alec vote was a silly mistake rather than a calculated game decision.

Jon’s blindside — There are a lot of great blindsides in San Juan Del Sur, but Jon’s elimination at the Final 6 is arguably the best of the season, sending one of the game’s major power players to the jury with an idol in his pocket after a 2-2-2 split vote.

“Jaclyn, did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” — At the Final 5, Natalie (who’s not immune) plays her idol on Jaclyn at Tribal Council after confirming that the latter voted as the two had planned. Three votes against Jaclyn are negated, sending Baylor Wilson to the jury and splitting up the last remaining pair in the game.

Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 23. You can check out the previous entries here.

Written by

Christine Pallon

Christine is a writer, musician, and lifelong Survivor nerd based out of Urbana, Illinois. When she’s not playing shows with her bands or working at her day job at a tech company, she spends her free time tweeting about bad horror movies, Kate Bush, and the filmography of Juliette Binoche. Christine writes Inside Survivor’s episode recaps for Survivor US.

7 responses to “Best Season Rankings – No. 24 – San Juan Del Sur”

  1. I do think this season suffers from having to follow Cagayan. I just did a rewatch and it held up considerably better than I remember; it’s a great season with a solid cast.

  2. What? No way. I would have this at a solid 13-18 tier. The merge was ok with some memorable situations. And after Josh and Jeremy were blindsided, most season would probably go south quickly, but Natalie sindlehandledly gave it life and picks up so much steam towards the end. Like someone earlier said, it holds up great upon rewatch and I feel a very underrated season. Which is more than I can say for, say although fun but messy Gabon or all flash no substance – MvGX.

  3. San Juan del Sur deserves a much higher ranking. Like everyone else said, on a rewatch its really a great season, that starts slow but only keeps getting better and better. Seems crazy that seasons like Borneo, Africa, Marquesas and even Millenials vs Gen X will be ranked higher than this one

  4. Iconic season and the 2nd best post-HvV season behind Kaoh Rong. Far better than Cagayan and other more generally acclaimed seasons imo, because the storylines and character-driven narrative is so good. It takes the Blood vs. Water twist and makes it interesting, especially with Jon & Jaclyn, who are both top 10 Survivors of all time. Natalie’s revenge arc for Jeremy is incredible as well, and a satisfying narrative. Some people think the pre-merge sucks, but I think it’s very good (like an 8-9/10) and the post-merge is epic. Supporting characters like Drew, Baylor, Missy and Keith are great as well and are all memorable and create lots of compelling drama. I don’t really understand why people prefer Cagayan over this – that season had lots of editing issues and especially the post-merge and does not hold up on rewatch at all. SJDS on the other hand, becomes better on rewatch as you notice all the narrative foreshadowing through great editing. Jeremy’s blindside is such a turning point (and thank goodness Julie quit which allowed Jaclyn to flip on Josh – the season would’ve sucked if he and Jeremy had dominated) and then kickstarts Natalie’s narrative. Amazing season, and judging from the other comments, I’m glad its reputation is going way up, especially compared to when it was first airing.

  5. For me this is a top 15 season, nat game was amazing. She’s actually in my top 5 of the best winners ever. She did very well on winners at wars.

  6. This season was so iconic. What I love the most is the decoy winners (From Jeremy to Josh to Jon, even Jaclyn in the Finale Episode?) only to end up with Natalie, a satisfying winner. This season was wild, unpredictable and just entertaining in general. Maybe I’m biased because I was rooting for Natalie the entire time. And the all-girls F3 even makes it better with the all-girls alliance talk in the pre-merge and how the season started with more men and how the men kind of being rude and chauvinistic towards the women. It was an amazing ending.

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