The very first season of “Survivor” aired on CBS in the year 2000, launching what would become one of the most successful reality shows of all time. In each season, 16 to 20 contestants are marooned on an island for 39 days, forced to battle the elements and each other for the million-dollar prize and the title of Sole Survivor. The game is both physically and mentally taxing; contestants must balance alliances, challenges and secret advantages — especially those pesky hidden immunity idols. It takes strategy, strength and a whole lot of luck to come out on top.
The “Survivor” narrative reached its climax in the most recent season, “Survivor: Winners at War.” This epic culmination brought back 20 winners from seasons past, integrating stories from contestants as far back as Season 3 for a span of 19 years. It was great to see some of the millionaires come back and try to replicate their win, but the “Survivor” legends who haven’t won the game also deserve some recognition. Only 38 people have achieved the title of Sole Survivor even though many more contestants were just as deserving. Here are the top 10 “Survivor” contestants who never won the million, despite their impressive gameplay. Beware: there will be spoilers!
10. Yau-Man Chan
Dating all the way back to 2007, Chan made his debut in “Survivor: Fiji.” He impressed his tribemates right off the bat by using his expertise in island life and physics to accomplish important tasks around camp. Chan is most famous for giving his fellow contestant Andria “Dreamz” Herd a Ford F-350 in exchange for a promise of the final four immunity necklace, should the two still be in the game and Herd win the challenge. However, Herd reneged on the deal, and Chan was voted off at the final four to the dismay of fans everywhere.
He returned for “Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites” two seasons later, but was eliminated early because of his high threat level. Still, Chan’s spectacular ability to form tight alliances, find idols and make rational, forward-looking decisions definitely warrants him a win. It was only Herd’s betrayal that cost him the million.
Although Eastin played three times, she is best known for two shocking moves in her first season, “Survivor: Blood vs. Water.” Her legacy began when she voted off her own mother, returning player Laura Morett, sending her to Redemption Island. Although Eastin was part of a dominating four-person alliance, she chose to force a 3-3 tie at the final six because she felt that she couldn’t make it to the finals otherwise. Unfortunately, Eastin was sent home at the following tribal council, but her bravery has put her down in the “Survivor” history books forever.
In “Survivor: Ghost Island,” Abbate was a dominant strategic force, using both real and fake advantages to work his way into the final three. He made history when he wound up in the show’s first and only tied vote at the final tribal council with Wendell Holland. Although many fans felt that Abbate deserved the title, Holland was crowned the winner through a deciding vote from the remaining member of the final three, Laurel Johnson.
Despite losing four tribal immunity challenges in a row and facing a tribe decimation in “Survivor: Philippines,” Freberg was able to make his way all the way to the penultimate tribal council, and would have won if he hadn’t cracked under the pressure of the final immunity challenge. In his second season, “Survivor: Caramoan,” Freberg and his “Three Amigos” alliance worked from the bottom, using idols to vote out their enemies. Unfortunately, Freberg didn’t last long in this season, and fared even worse in “Survivor: Game Changers.” Still, with a strong social game and an even stronger physical one, he earns his spot on the list.
6. David Wright
Wright started his journey in “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X” as a frightened, paranoid contestant, but he soon transformed into the most strategically dominant player of the season. He found two idols, and almost made it to the million, but was betrayed by his closest ally and voted out at the final four because he was too big of a threat.
In his second season, “Survivor: Edge of Extinction,” Wright continued to make strong strategic plays with his partner in crime, Rick Devens, but got booted quickly post-merge. Despite his unfortunate early demise, he makes the list because of his bright, strategic mind, his strong social gameplay and his inspiring personal growth throughout his “Survivor” journey.
Besides being a strong physical competitor — she managed to win her way back into the game on her first season, “Survivor: Redemption Island” — Beohlke showed herself to be a strategic mastermind, especially in her latter two seasons, “Survivor: Caramoan” and “Survivor: Game Changers.” Twice she was blindsided by her alliance because of her strategic gameplay, becoming the first woman to be voted off while in possession of an immunity idol. With four individual immunity wins, 103 total days played on the island and 36 votes cast against her — the highest combined vote total to be cast against anyone in “Survivor” history — Beohlke definitely deserves her place among the top five non-winners.
4. Rick Devens
Devens, deemed worthy of last-name status by Jeff Probst after a singular season, showed his colors on “Survivor: Edge of Extinction.” Devens was voted out early but managed to win his way back in, going on to snag four individual immunities and dominate the advantage scene with the successful use of both real and fake hidden immunity idols. He hustled his way into the final four, only to be defeated by Chris Underwood, who famously gave up immunity to eliminate Devens in the fire-making challenge. Fans are crossing their fingers for Devens’ return in an upcoming season.
3. Russel Hantz
“Survivor” fans love to hate Russel Hantz. His ruthless style of gameplay rubbed many viewers the wrong way and ultimately cost him the win in all three of his seasons, but we have to give Hantz credit where credit is due: He managed to control dominant alliances and bring himself to the final three two seasons in a row. He was also the first to ever find a hidden immunity idol with no clue, and possessed a grand total of six idols — the most of any player.
Lusth has played “Survivor” four times for a total of 128 days, which is only slightly fewer than Rob Mariano and Parvati Shallow (both winners). He is arguably the most dominant physical player in “Survivor” history, especially when it came to swimming, with a total of seven individual immunity wins. Five of these occurred in his first season, “Survivor: Cook Islands,” bringing him to the finals where he lost to Yul Kwon by a single jury vote.
Besides being a physical threat and a provider, Lusth has also made some impressive strategic moves. In “Survivor: South Pacific,” he volunteered to be voted out and sent to Redemption Island in hopes that he could win his way back in and help his tribe in the upcoming merge. He ended up competing his way back into the game twice, only to have his journey cut short at the final four, setting the record of being voted off three times in one season.
1. Cirie Fields
Fields, known as “the woman who got up off the couch and played ‘Survivor,’” has participated in four seasons for a total of 121 days on the island. Although she was not one of the strongest contestants physically, she succeeded through her impeccable social game.
Her greatest strategic moves include voting off Courtney in a 3-2-1 vote split in “Survivor: Panama” and leading the Black Widow Brigade in convincing Erik Reichenbach — who would come to be known as the “dumbest Survivor ever” — to give up his immunity necklace in “Survivor: Micronesia.” In a shocking twist in her fourth season, “Survivor: Game Changers,” Fields was eliminated by default at the final six when it was revealed that every other remaining player had immunity — yanking away her last chance at victory. Ultimately, her bright personality, impeccable strategic gameplay and stunning personal growth earn her the top spot on the list of “Survivors” who never won the million.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Season 41 of “Survivor” has been taken off of CBS’ fall line-up, but the show will hopefully be back up and running once this crisis ends. Fans are excited to see a new generation of players, but for now, we can take this time to appreciate the “Survivor” legends of the past 20 years, whether they’ve won the million dollars or not.