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.: 23
Broadcast Date: September 14 – December 11, 2011
Location: Upolu, Samoa
No. of Castaways: 18
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Coming on the heels of Survivor’s much-maligned 22nd season, Redemption Island, South Pacific feels like more of the same at first glance. With 16 newbies, two returning captains, and the return of the controversial Redemption Island twist, South Pacific is more or less a re-do of the previous season, except with Ozzy Lusth and Coach Wade taking the place of Russell Hantz and Rob Mariano.
Beyond its unoriginal format, South Pacific’s biggest weakness is the stagnant gameplay that plagues the post-merge. A Pagonging may be a tried-and-true strategy for winning the game, but it rarely makes for compelling television. After John Cochran’s flip at the merge vote, there are very few unexpected moments in the endgame, save for when Brandon Hantz is blindsided after giving up the Immunity necklace and Sophie Clarke’s clutch Immunity win against Ozzy at the Final Immunity Challenge.
Sophie’s win is clearly well-deserved, as evidenced by her no-holds-barred Final Tribal performance and subsequent outing on Winners at War, but it feels underwhelming, to no fault of her own. Her winning game is criminally under-edited in favor of telling Coach’s story as Upolu cult leader-turned losing finalist. South Pacific tells the story of why Coach lost rather than why Sophie won, and while Coach’s story is certainly interesting, we never get the chance to know Sophie as well as we should’ve.
Those weaknesses aside, though, South Pacific deserves more credit than it typically gets from Survivor fans. Yes, it has one of the more predictable merges in the show’s history. But South Pacific is a treasure trove of larger-than-life characters. You’ve got first boot Semhar Tadesse’s bizarre spoken word performance, a man who wants to be called “Papa Bear” and his failed fake idol gambit, Christine Shield-Markosi’s unexpected dominance on Redemption Island, and all-time great confessionalist Stacey Powell’s iconic anti-Coach (ahem, Benjamin) rant. Ozzy and Coach are at their peak Ozzy and Coach-ness, too. Ozzy’s melodramatic fake Redemption Island speech and Coach’s storyline as righteous leader of the Upolu cult couldn’t be more perfect for their respective characters.
South Pacific’s dull endgame ultimately prevents it from being a great season of Survivor. Still, its memorable characters help elevate it above the other “Dark Age” seasons that came before and after it.
Christine and Stacey — We were robbed of more time with them in the game, but Christine and Stacey’s brief time on Upolu and Redemption Island put them in contention for two of the most memorable pre-merge players of all time. Even if you don’t like the Redemption Island twist, its presence on South Pacific at least gave us more time with these two.
“For revenge, basically” — Just before the merge, Ozzy volunteers to go to Redemption Island for Savaii in order to beat Christine and return to the game. What follows is one of the most unintentionally hilarious Survivor speeches of all time, as Ozzy fumbles through a poorly-acted attempt to convince Upolu that he hates Savaii just before the battle back challenge. Spoiler alert: nobody bought it.
Cochran flips on Savaii — With the numbers even at the merge, Savaii plans to play an idol on Whitney Duncan to send one of the Upolu alliance members packing and gain control of the game. Cochran, who feels alienated and disrespected by his tribe, immediately spills the beans to Sophie, causing Upolu to change their target to Keith Tollefson. Ozzy wastes the idol on Whitney, and the vote ties 6-6, with Cochran flipping on the revote to send Keith out in a 6-4 vote. This bold move didn’t win Cochran the game, but it won him a spot on Caramoan and served as a beautiful moment of comeuppance for Savaii.
The Jack and Jill reward — In one of the most bizarre examples of Survivor product placement, one of the rewards this season was the chance to watch the notoriously awful Adam Sandler movie Jack and Jill. Upolu has the pleasure of indulging in this once-in-a-lifetime reward. Coach, in his supreme Coach-ness, still finds a way to derive a deep and poignant meaning from the film that ties back to the game. Meanwhile, Sophie looks like she wishes she could be anywhere else.
Oral Herpes — In a funny little scene following the hilariously disgusting “Pig Out” challenge, Cochran tells his tribemates that they could have all contracted oral herpes. The Savaii tribe looks at Cochran with more disgust than the challenge itself.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 29. You can check out the previous entries here.