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: 26
Broadcast Date: February 13 – May 12, 2013
Location: Caramoan, Philippines
No. of Castaways: 20
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Survivor: Caramoan is a messy, uncomfortable, and nonsensical season, a grim final chapter in the “Dark Ages” of Survivor. While there are a couple of thrilling highs along the way, the season also contains some of the show’s all-time lows. From flawed casting to inconsistent editing to distressing incidents, Caramoan is a grey cloud raining down on all the positive work the previous season did to redeem Survivor‘s terrible run in the early 20s.
The third season out of the past four to feature returning castaways, Caramoan reprises the previously popular Fans vs. Favorites concept from season 16. However, the choice of returning players is baffling, to say the least. Given the unpopularity of the previous few seasons, I don’t think anyone was screaming out for the return of, say, Brandon Hantz, especially given the Hantz overload of the early 20s seasons. And the casting is just as bad over on the Fans side, which is mostly made up of bland model recruits, the majority of them having never even heard of the show, let alone seen an episode.
Caramoan‘s pre-merge is one of the worst in the show’s history. The Fans are utterly outmatched by the Faves, losing countless challenges and six tribe members before the merge. But it isn’t just the lopsided gameplay that puts a damper on proceedings. Awkward and troubling events permeate the pre-merge. A cool kid clique forms on the Fans tribe and leads to several arguments between Reynold Toepfer and Shamar Thomas. Adding to the downer, Shamar keeps talking of quitting only to wind up being medically evacuated due to getting sand in his eye. Sherri Biethman’s early control of the tribe is refreshing, but it ultimately doesn’t lead anywhere as she is shafted in the post-merge edit.
Meanwhile, on the Favorites tribe, Brandon is evidently not in a good headspace and, at one point, destroys the tribe’s supply of rice and beans. Brandon lashes out on several occasions, mostly aiming his rage at Phillip Sheppard, who, to his credit, handles the volatile situation the best he can. The emotional toll caused by Brandon’s outbursts sees his tribemates forfeit a challenge and vote him out on the spot, leading to the infamous Jeff Probst shoulder massage. This all made for deeply unpleasant viewing, showed up Survivor for its casting flaws, and put into question the show’s psychological care (or lack thereof). Many viewers argued that Brandon should never have been put back on the show in the first place.
The post-merge brings some excitement with Malcolm Freberg’s double idol play and a couple of genuinely gripping blindsides. But the editing is a letdown. Brenda Lowe and Erik Reichenbach are essentially ghosts the entire season. Reynold and Eddie Fox go from cool kid jocks to sudden underdogs who we’re meant to root for. Sherri all but disappears before becoming a Final Tribal goat. Dawn Meehan is unfairly villainized for her gameplay, culminating in another uncomfortable moment at the Final Tribal when Brenda orders Dawn to remove her dentures. And John Cochran’s victory, while well-earned, becomes blatantly apparent from the merge onwards.
Caramoan‘s brief moments of flashiness cannot overcome its lackluster casting and troublesome factors, making for an awkward season that does not hold up on a rewatch.
Malcolm’s double idol play — In a precursor to “Big Moves” era Survivor, Malcolm ignites a “live Tribal Council” by pulling out two idols before the votes are cast and handing one to Eddie while keeping the other for himself. While the bold plan doesn’t quite work in fracturing the Stealth R Us alliance long-term, it’s an electric moment in a season which until this point had been rather glum.
Brandon’s #SurvivorBreakdown — While the show plays up Brandon’s outbursts and eventual removal for drama, it’s not at all fun to watch. Jeff does his best to calm the situation, but one can’t help but think it should never have been allowed to get to this point in the first place.
Dawn’s teeth — Speaking of uncomfortable, Dawn loses her false teeth in a lake and is deeply distressed. Brenda helps by swimming down and retrieving the dentures. But after Dawn later votes Brenda out, the Nicaragua alum plays on Dawn’s insecurities by making her remove her teeth at the Final Tribal Council.
Andrea’s blindside — At the Final 7, Andrea Boehlke starts to get antsy and thinks it’s time to blindside Brenda. But when she reveals her idea to Cochran and Dawn, they come up with a counterplan, blindsiding Andrea instead with an idol in her pocket to boot.
Francesca first boot again — While a first boot returning might have seemed odd on a paper, Francesca Hogi was a fun character with great potential in Redemption Island. Sadly, she finds herself having her torch snuffed first for the second time.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 34. You can check out the previous entries here.