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: 11
Broadcast Date: September 15 – December 11, 2005
Location: Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo National Park, Petén, Guatemala
Number of Castaways: 18
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Guatemala is often regarded as the forgotten season amongst the Survivor community. It falls in a weird spot between the original eight seasons, a sort of classic era, and the era of the Hidden Immunity Idol and Exile Island that comes to define the “teen” seasons. It’s also one of Survivor‘s most unique and brutal locations ever, set against the backdrop of Mayan ruins deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Sometimes the brutality of the location gives the season a sort of claustrophobic and fatigued feel, but one should not sleep on Guatemala.
Hot off the heels of the highly-regarded Survivor: Palau, the show decides to capitalize by bringing back two of that season’s most popular players, Bobby Jon Drinkard and Stephenie LaGrossa, the last two members of the ill-fated Ulong tribe. Due to this twist, Guatemala can be viewed as the dark sequel to Palau, as the once-great hero Stephenie slips into the villain role. Seeing one of the most rootable castaways of all time turn into the bad guy is perhaps one reason why this season is so forgotten. It’s like the show itself wanted us to forget Guatemala ever happened, later inviting Stephenie back as Hero on Season 20 and virtually ignoring her stint on Season 11. In fact, until Danni Boatright on Winners At War, no original Guatemala player had ever returned.
However, don’t let that statistic fool you into believing Guatemala has a boring cast. One of the season’s best selling points is its colorful array of characters. For starters, just look at some of the job titles. Fishmonger, Magician’s Assistant, Zookeeper; it’s like the producers used a career randomizer in the best way. The unexpected job titles match up with an eccentric cast. There’s no-nonsense cop Amy O’Hara, hot-headed Jamie Newton, whose battles with Bobby-Jon are a recurring highlight, the boisterous and belligerent Judd Sergeant, who has one of the funniest exits ever (“I hope you guys all get bit by a freakin’ crocodile. Scumbags.”), the likable Gary Hogeboom, who attempts to hide his NFL background, smart strategist Rafe Judkins, and Lydia Morales, an underrated gem of a character.
One of the more interesting things about this season is that most players’ loyalties are to their swap tribes, not their starting tribes. Notably, the Nakum 2.0 tribe holds strong in the early merge, picking off the members of the opposing tribe. This season also sees the introduction of the Hidden Immunity Idol, although it’s a different format from what the idol would later become. This idol is played before the votes are cast and functions more as an emergency Immunity necklace and is used by Gary Hogeboom to save himself from impending doom. It’s clear that production had a gold mine on their hands with the idol, but they still needed to work out the mechanics until they landed on a better, more exciting version, one that wasn’t so… underwhelming.
The winner of this season is well known for her under the radar game. However, Danni said in a post-game interview that she didn’t fly under the radar, she “beat the radar.” A key part of this was not really giving the producers much to work with in her confessionals. She allegedly answered the questions generically because she noticed that the producers gave away aspects of other players’ games. This is a great game move, but it doesn’t make for compelling TV, hence why Danni isn’t really the focus of the season. Guatemala‘s narrative is more about why Stephenie lost, as we see her betraying allies left and right on the path to the Final 2. Like Chris Daugherty’s game in Vanuatu, Danni maneuvers herself into the majority and finds herself sitting in the end next to someone disliked by the jury.
Overall, Guatemala doesn’t set the world alight; it’s neither horrible nor amazing. There are some great moments, ranging from the dramatic to the comedic. But sometimes those moments are forgotten due to what is relatively mediocre gameplay. However, it is a solid season with an entertaining cast, and one very much worth revisiting.
11-Mile Hike — In arguably the most brutal opening challenge in Survivor history, the Yaxhá and Nakúm tribes race through 11-Miles of the Guatemalan jungle. The challenge lasts overnight, and while the Nakúm tribe wins the right to live at the Mayan ruins, many of their players suffer massive fatigue in the coming days.
Bait Blake — One of the pre-merge stars, Brian Corridan, comes up with a plan to save himself. He needs to “Bait Blake” by compelling him to share stories about his upbringing—an upbringing that was a lot more privileged in comparison to his tribemates. With enough of these stories, Blake’s tribemates ultimately feel like he may not need the million dollars and he gets his torch snuffed.
Danni’s Birthday — In one of the most bizarre moments in an episode of Survivor, both tribes decide to celebrate Danni’s birthday together (to be clear, they are not merged). Perhaps included mostly to show off Danni’s social game, the tribes gather for a party in the crocodile-proof swimming pool. It’s Survivor at it’s campiest; a fun moment that sticks out to long-time fans.
Judd looks for the idol — The very first idol clue is given out in perhaps one of the best rewards of all time. Everyone “wins” at this reward, with higher placers getting the better rewards. Judd gets first place and wins a steak and lobster dinner, an open bar, cigars, and a clue to the idol. Jamie, who volunteers to be last, wins a glass of water and ramón nuts. When asked about the idol clue, Judd guarantees everyone that the idol is “definitely on the ground.” Meanwhile, Gary catches Judd looking up in the trees and finds it before him.
Cindy’s Car — This one’s a doozy. Cindy wins the car challenge and, with it, the Car Curse, which at this point had made its way into Survivor lore. However, Cindy is presented with the option of keeping the car or giving it up and simultaneously gifting a car each to the other four castaways, apparently absolving her of the curse. Can you guess which she picked? In all seriousness, this is a very tough decision, but the hilarious edit of her talking about her car leading up to her vote out is very entertaining.
The Sacrificial Chicken — This is one of those unintentionally funny moments. A Mayan family visits camp and performs a ritual involving the sacrifice of a chicken. Immediately, Stephenie is contemplating eating the chicken. After returning from a challenge, Stephenie and the others (except for Rafe) decide to pull the burnt chicken from the fire and eat it. “I mean, we can say a little prayer or something if you want to make you feel better?” Stephenie says before chowing down on the sacrificed poultry.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 24. You can check out the previous entries here.