Best Season Rankings – No. 28 – Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers

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: 35
Broadcast Date: September 27 – December 20, 2017
Location: Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
Number of Castaways: 18


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At first glance, the theme of this season seems contrived, and that assumption would be correct. There is no discernable reason why Heroes, Healers, and Hustlers are the three groups the cast is divided into, besides them all starting with the letter H. The theme is like an unsuccessful and somehow even more abstract attempt to rebrand World’s Apart. Also, this season introduces the compulsory Final 4 fire-making challenge that most fans despise. That said, Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers has already aged better than its surrounding seasons, and that’s due to a pretty strong cast, who may be better remembered if the endgame had played out differently.

One of the things that Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers gets right is the casting. Chrissy Hofbeck, Ryan Ulrich, Ben Driebergen, Devon Pinto, Lauren Rimmer, Dr. Mike Zahalsky, Joe Mena, Ali Elliott, and Alan Ball all bring something to the season in their own way. Even some of the side characters, like Patrick Bolton, Jessica Johnston, Ashley Nolan, and Cole Medders, have their moments, particularly as foils for other more prominent characters. Unfortunately, there are those left completely by the wayside in the show’s edit. For example, the audience gets very little time to get to know players like Roark Luskin and Desi Williams, who seemed to have potential.

The pre-merge is a little slow at times and not massively memorable, but one could argue that the time is spent setting up the plots for the post-merge to capitalize on. Yes, this leaves some early episodes feeling a little empty, which is certainly a flaw, but there is pay off down the line. That’s not to say the pre-merge doesn’t have any stand-out moments. There is Devon’s hungry drone shot, Alan making JP Hilsabeck strip to look for the idol, and Ben talking openly about his struggles with PTSD. Ali is also a star of the pre-merge, although she follows the unfortunate trend of the 30s seasons having complex female strategists being eliminated right before the merge.

Photo: CBS

While the early post-merge looks to continue the season’s slow-burn approach, with a Pagonging in the making, things really take-off following Cole’s elimination. There is a brilliant coming together of separate alliances with the Ben, Ashley, Devon, and Lauren makeshift grouping. This sees Ben going undercover to infiltrate the majority alliance, leading to him flipping on Chrissy and Ryan and blindsiding JP. This makes for entertaining television as roles are reversed, top dogs become underdogs, outsiders rise to the top, relationships are broken, and tensions rise. Things then flip again a couple of episodes later, as the tribe realizes Ben is a massive threat to win should he make the Final Tribal Council.

However, what is gearing up to be a dramatic finish is completely undone as the game becomes bogged down by advantages and twists. In particular, the season finale throws a wet blanket over what should have been an exciting, dynamic ending. Ben, being public enemy number one, uses three idols in a row to save himself, calling them his “Ben Bombs.” While the first idol play is a historic moment, with Ben canceling all the votes except his own, the others are more frustrating. It starts to feel like Ben is avoiding the entire concept of the game (not getting votes) and merely relying on idols to move forward. Then, in what seems like a moment of karmic balance, Ben dramatically loses the Final Immunity Challenge and is all set to be voted out—until he’s saved once again by an out-of-nowhere Final 4 fire-making twist.

This unannounced twist, which would become a staple moving forward, was a step too far for many fans and brought down what could’ve been an excellent ending. Don’t get me wrong, Ben is a fantastic character and a strong player; however, his story isn’t as satisfying due to the way he won, and the following backlash soured many people on Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers as a season.


JP strips for Alan — In a frantic search for the idol, Alan is convinced that JP is hiding it from him… in his pants. To prove that he’s not, JP strips down naked and shows clearly, the idol is not smuggled in his underwear.

This is… not an Advantage — Jessica finds an advantage at the reward that allows her to block the vote of one player at the next Tribal Council. Since Jessica’s tribe also wins Immunity, she decides to block Devon’s vote on the other tribe. Devon, unfortunately, is not aware of exactly what advantage he received. His reaction when reading it out loud at Tribal is an amusing moment.

The Spaghetti Reward — The winners of this challenge are told that to share their spaghetti reward, they have to go one at a time. At the bottom of the plate is an idol clue, which leads to some hilarious antics, including the spaghetti being transferred to a napkin and then placed on the plate by Cole. Chrissy and Ryan see through this masterful deception, because who serves spaghetti on a napkin? When the castaways get back to camp, a fight over the idol ensues underneath the tribe flag.

Dr. Mike throws the idol in the fire — In a flash of theatrics, Dr. Mike decides to throw half of Lauren’s idol into the fire at Tribal. It’s a moment that could only happen in the modern seasons of Survivor and is indicative of the advantage-heavy game being played.

Devon saves himself — A personal favorite move in this season, Devon plans one step ahead and manages to save himself. At the Final 5, Devon knows that the majority of votes are going on Ben, but in fear of Ben playing an idol, Devon throws a vote on Dr. Mike. Ultimately, when the votes for Ben are cancelled, it ends up a 1-1 tie between Devon and Dr. Mike. On the revote, Devon’s allies eliminate Dr. Mike.

Chrissy’s Immunity streak — As one of the biggest characters of the season, Chrissy not only proves herself a competent strategist, but she also becomes something of a challenge beast, shattering perceptions of the “older woman” archetype. Chrissy wins four individual Immunity challenges during the season, tying the record for most Immunity wins by a woman.

Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 27. You can check out the previous entries here.

Written by

Garrett Stanley

Garrett is a Seattle local, hopeful comedian, and journalist for Arizona State University’s State Press Magazine. Besides keeping up with all of his reality TV, Garrett likes to cook, backpack, and act. Garrett is a lifelong Survivor fan from a family of casuals.

8 responses to “Best Season Rankings – No. 28 – Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers”

  1. Ben is the worst winner ever. So rigged it disgusted Survivor fans everywhere. Chrissy and Devon ate him alive.

  2. Hello!
    Would just like to correct because this season’s run date is not in 2003 but in 2017.
    And from September to December.

  3. Just to point out, Devon saves himself at F5, not F6, which is also my favorite moment of the season. Devon is really underrated as a player and he was robbed of winning the season in my opinion. Without the F4 twist, Ben goes home 4th and I have a strong feeling that Devon takes it home.

  4. I think that Chrissy deserved to win and was royally screwed by her “advantage” she won for her fourth Individual Immunity win.

    We don’t have very many women winners anymore, but she would have been one of the best.

  5. I remember being so pissed at the finale. Chrissy was so robbed she would have made an amazing winner. I hope she comes back one day.

  6. I remember watching the finale of the season and it left a very salty taste in my mouth. Chrissy was ROYALLY screwed over by production. Never has such a season been so anti-climatic.

  7. This theme was so absurd, and yet it almost overcame it all because what this season had was a surprisingly strong pre-merge and, I don’t think it gets enough credit, a stellar cast top to bottom despite some stereotypically frustrating under-edits of women like Roark and Desi, who seem infinitely more interesting than what we’re ever seen or given. For example, do you remember the Desi who emerge out of nowhere as the jury forewoman at FTC? She was so fun to watch, and we saw none of that on the island.

    What kneecaps this season most of all, of course, is Ben’s idolpalooza and inevitable victory. Between the idols that keep getting thrown in his direction and the abysmal new fire-making twist that completely screws Devon, it seemed increasingly obvious that the producers wanted the veteran to win and they got what they wanted. Ryan is a poor and inconsequential F3 finalist; Chrissy works her ass off to get to the end, only to fall short. It’s a thrilling story arc to watch but frustrating to see her fail because Ben must be coronated instead.

    There are a *number* of great people to bring back from this season that I hope the producers don’t overlook in the future. From Lauren Rimmer to Devon, to Chrissy of course; even pre-jurors like sweet, virginal Jessica, and Ali Elliott.

  8. Ben absolutely deserved to win! His finding of idols is the best part of the season. Tribal after Tribal they wanted to vote him out but he did what EVERYONE playing survivor should do … LOOK FOR IDOLS. If the other 4 wanted him out badly enough they should have been out searching just like Ben was. Crissy was ok in the beginning but towards the end she acted way to over confident to me. Her over confidence made Ben feel like the underdog, who doesn’t love an underdog?

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