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: 30
Broadcast Date: February 25 – May 20, 2015
Location: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
No. of Castaways: 18
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Jeff Probst felt like Survivor needed to do something monumental to celebrate thirty seasons—something that would top season 20’s highly regarded Heroes vs. Villains. Plans were in place for a massive returnee season, including a cast of thirty “second chance” players and some never-before-seen twists. However, somewhere along the way, things changed.
“Just keep in mind, Jeff—it is our 30th season, but it is also just our 30th season,” Mark Burnett told Probst over the phone. Burnett wasn’t dismissing the achievement; he was simply trying to get across that, yes, it was the thirtieth season, but there would be plenty more to come. While Survivor might not have been the biggest show on TV anymore, it had a loyal fanbase and still consistently topped the Wednesday night ratings. “From that moment on, I realized, yeah, this is not the end of Survivor. It just happens to be a big number. Let’s just do a great season,” Probst said after listening to Burnett’s advice.
And so, season 30 abandoned the returnee plans and brought in a cast of all new players—dividing them into tribes based on occupation (White Collar vs. Blue Collar vs. No Collar). Probst hyped the season to an alarming degree before the premiere, stating that, “Person for person and pound for pound, I will say that this is the best group of people I think we’ve ever had.” Unfortunately, it was impossible for the season to match-up to Probst’s gushing adulation. Worlds Apart was met with a negative reception from fans and critics due to some ugly moments of bullying, a group of unlikable castaways, and a highly predictable winner.
In Probst’s defense, the cast seems promising pre-merge, with some colorful and quirky personalities providing unintentional humor (Vince Sly’s one-sided beef with Joe Anglim and Jenn Brown’s reactions being a stand-out). But the laughter stops post-merge as the game takes a disturbing turn. For as entertaining as the Survivor Auction is in the moment, the fallout leaves a stain on the rest of the season. Will Sims’ vicious verbal attack on Shirin Oskooi makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing, even if it does lead to the much-GIFed moment of Shirin denying Will his family letter. Combine this with Jenn essentially giving up, Dan Foley’s bullying behavior, and Rodney Lavoie’s temper tantrums, Worlds Apart is not exactly a fun place to spend a Wednesday night.
Even Mike Holloway’s impressive Immunity streak and ultimate victory over the “Axis of Evil” loses its impact due to the predictability. Probst all-but ruined the result pre-season when he stated that Worlds Apart featured “one of the favorite winners of all time,” but Mike’s win is blatantly obvious even without the heads-up. Despite a somewhat comedic pre-merge and most of the villains getting their comeuppance, Worlds Apart is another one of those seasons with a nasty vibe that is hard to shake. Thankfully, the Second Chance fan-vote, which launched at the back-end of the season, provided a welcome distraction at the time.
The Survivor Auction — As touched on above, the Survivor Auction is one of the season’s most intense moments. It all kicks off after Shirin works out a way for everyone to get their family letter for $20. However, Mike momentarily backs out to save his money for an advantage. Even though he eventually pays up, this act turns the entire game on its head and pushes Mike into an underdog position for the remainder of the season.
Shirin denies Will — As the only person who didn’t receive a letter from home, Will asks Jeff Probst if he can give up a chance at Immunity in exchange for his letter. Jeff is only willing to do it if the rest of the tribe accepts, asking them to raise their hand if they disagree. After a brief silence, Shirin slowly raises her hand, a karmic moment of revenge for Will’s dehumanizing attack days earlier.
Rodney’s birthday blues — Rodney is a polarizing character, sometimes humorous, mostly irritating, but he provides good material when things don’t go his way. At this point, Rodney has yet to take part in a reward, but as it’s his birthday, he feels confident that someone will pick him as their plus one. Unfortunately for Rodney, that doesn’t happen, so he spends his birthday back at camp, washing dishes and cursing under his breath.
Jenn’s idol play — Before Jenn decides to stop trying, she nails a perfect idol play, negating seven votes against her and causing a dent in the majority. It’s a small glimmer of hope in a season that is to become very dark very quickly.
Check back on Monday when we reveal which season placed at number 35. You can check out the previous entries here.
Queen Carolyn not mentioned once in this review. Shocked!
Mama C was the light in a dark negative season.
Jeff himself said that he wants her to play again and I would love her to.
Strong older lady who stood her ground, was strong physically and her idol find to her playing is so late in the game was iconic
I agree. She was excellent, especially for her demographics. Might be one of the best all-around “mother” type to ever play.
I see you made absolutely zero mention of Shirin’s comments about Will that precipitated his verbal assault.
Yeah because there is no justification for that kind of verbal assault.
While I was not a Shirin fan, I’m also not a hater. She was justified in denying Will. Will was entertaining on The Tonight Show. He was anti-entertaining on SURVIVOR.
Rodney and Dan catch more crap than they deserve. Change my mind.
Mama C’s return to SURVIVOR is long overdue.
Agreed all around. I thought this cast was fresh and good–different mix of personalities and faces than we are used to seeing.
I usually agree with 99.99% of what you write (especially in this series), but I disagree with this assessment. Wifey and I re-watched this season just now (finale last night). I was sure that it must have aired while my son was a newborn (turns out it was 6 months prior to his birth), as I had little recollection about the gameplay–I remembered many of the characters but did not remember their exits and did not remember the winner until he was crowned. Maybe it’s because Mike never played again, that on re-watch, I somehow did not remember him and his dominance, so I wasn’t sure who was going to win (this is one of the few seasons from this era where none of the final three played again, unless my memory is even worse than I realize), although his winner’s edit was otherwise pretty obvious, . Maybe it’s just my black hole of a memory from this season when it aired in real-time, but I found the re-watch very enjoyable–especially the immunity challenges, and the epic final one. Also, no mention of the ridiculously long fire-making challenge for the final 3 spot? Mike should be considered an all-time great, and I feel he doesn’t get the love, probably since this was his only season. Or maybe I just don’t know Survivor history as well as I thought I did.