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.
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.