Survivor can be – and often is – a brutal game. Lack of food, the stress of gameplay and exposure to the elements can all cause a contestant to crack under pressure. But not these badasses. The following women are among the best to ever play the game, and a lot of people have played this game (626, to be precise). So without further ado, here are my picks for the most badass women to ever play Survivor.
- Stephenie LaGrossa – Palau, Guatemala, Heroes vs. Villains
Few players have gotten a rawer deal than Stephenie LaGrossa in her first Survivor outing, Palau. Assigned by chance to the underdog Ulong tribe, Stephenie watched in frustration as her tribe lost every single immunity challenge, desperately waiting for the tribal merge that never happened. The last person standing on her tribe, Stephenie spent a night alone at her camp before she merged with the still intact Koror tribe. She even managed to survive two more tribal councils before being ousted. She returned the following season for Guatemala, where she experienced what it felt like to actually win a challenge once in a while. Stephenie made it all the way to the final tribal council, where she lost to Danni Boatwright. Steph returned once more to compete in Heroes vs. Villains, and right off the bat, she had the opportunity to prove what a badass she is: she dislocated her shoulder in the very first challenge and kept competing until the round was over. Although Steph was the second person voted out of Heroes vs. Villains, her badass reputation had already been cemented.
- Parvati Shallow – Cook Islands, Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villians, Winners at War
Generally considered one of the greatest Survivor players of all time, Parvati Shallow knew how to use her assets to her advantage. But Parvati was so much more than a beautiful flirt, and her strategic dominance helped her make it deep into her first three seasons: she placed sixth in Cook Islands, won Micronesia, and came in second behind Sandra Diaz-Twine (more on her in a bit) in Heroes vs. Villains. Parvati was the mastermind behind Micronesia‘s “Black Widow Brigade”, which successfully eliminated the men left in the game. And on Heroes vs. Villains, in one of her most badass moves ever, she used two hidden immunity idols to protect her alliance mates Sandra and Jerri. In doing so, she surprised even her closest ally, Russell, WHO HAD GIVEN HER ONE OF THOSE IDOLS (he thought Parv herself was in trouble). Parvati returned once more, for Winners at War, and though she had her worst finish ever (15th place), Parvati’s legacy as an absolute badass was already sealed. Parvati was one of just two women to be selected for the inaugural class of the Survivor Hall of Fame in 2010 (the other woman was the aforementioned Sandra). With 149 days under her Survivor belt, Parvati is surpassed only by Rob Mariano for most days played.
- Amanda Kimmel – China, Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains
Sweet, adorable Amanda Kimmel never got the respect she deserved for her accomplishments. Not only was she was the first person to make it to the final tribal council in two seasons, but she did it in CONSECUTIVE seasons with just a short break in between. In China, Amanda was the first player to orchestrate the flushing of a hidden immunity idol, which sent James Clement home with two idols in his pocket. In the final immunity challenge, Amanda’s ingenuity gave her a crucial win and secured her position in the final tribal council. In Micronesia, Amanda was a member of the “Black Widow Brigade” with Parvati and Cirie (more on her in a moment) and played a hidden immunity idol at just the right time, when the fans were targeting her for elimination. And while Amanda was never able to convince a jury that she deserved the title of Sole Survivor, her performance was enough to convince the producers to bring her back for a third season two years later (Heroes vs. Villains).
- Cirie Fields – Panama, Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains, Game Changers
A self-acknowledged couch potato with no prior camping experience, Cirie has played four seasons of Survivor and is one of the most beloved castaways of all time. In Panama, Cirie was immediately targeted for her perceived weakness, yet she found a way to avoid elimination. She made it to the final four, where Danielle beat her in a fire-making challenge (she did win the season’s Fan Favorite vote, though). In Micronesia, Cirie pulled off one of the most badass moves of all time by convincing Erik Reichenbach to give up individual immunity – and then promptly voting him off. Cirie made it to the final three in Micronesia, with Amanda voting her off because she (correctly) believed Cirie would beat her for the million dollars. Cirie only made it to day eleven in Heroes vs. Villains, but she returned once more for Game Changers, where she became the first person in Survivor history to be eliminated without a single vote being cast against them (see the clip below for a breakdown of the craziest tribal council ever).
- Eliza Orlins – Vanuatu, Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites
One of the most intelligent Survivor contestants ever, Eliza Orlins is a personal favorite of mine. She finished in a respectable fourth place in Vanuata, but got caught in Parvati’s crosshairs in Micronesia and was the ninth person voted out of the season; crucially, she became the first member of the jury, and what a jury it was. I call Eliza “Queen of the Tribal Council reaction shots” and believe me, she has earned that title. Eliza graduated cum laude from Fordham University Law School; after graduating, she found work as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society, where she continues to advocate for criminal justice reform. BADASS.
- Jenn Lyon – Palau
One of the few women on this list to play only one season, Jenn Lyon nonetheless earned her place in the Survivor badass hall of fame with her courageous and ultimately unsuccessful battle against breast cancer. On January 19, 2010, Jenn became the first former Survivor contestant to pass away, at the age of just thirty-seven.
- Aubry Bracco – Kaôh Rōng, Game Changers, Edge of Extinction
Aubry Bracco’s first appearance on Survivor was Kaôh Rōng, which divided the tribes up as Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn; Aubry, a self-professed nerd, was on the Brains tribe. She is one of the smartest and most strategic players to never win a season of Survivor. Aubry came in second place in Kaôh Rōng; Michelle Fitzgerald beat her because she was perceived to have played a stronger social game than Aubry. Aubry returned for Game Changers, where she made it all the way to fifth place; in Edge of Extinction, her status as a returning player made her an early target for elimination, and she was the third person voted out. Wacky and weird in the most wonderful way, Aubry remains one of my all-time faves.
- Sarah Lacina – Cagayan, Game Changers, Winners at War
In her first Survivor outing, despite an alliance with eventual winner Tony Vlachos, Sarah finished in eleventh place. But Game Changers was hers to lose; she had control of the game from day one, finding idols and advantages, winning challenges, and orchestrating blindsides. Though she was chastised at the final tribal for her backstabbing ways, Sarah was rightfully crowned the winner. Returning one more time for Winners at War, the first all-winner season, Lacina finished a respectable fourth against some of the titans of the game, including Rob Mariano, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, and the eventual winner, Sarah’s Cagayan ally Vlachos.
- Kim Spradlin-Wolfe – One World, Winners at War
In what was perhaps the most impressive performance by a Survivor winner, One World‘s Kim Spradlin-Wolfe absolutely dominated every aspect of gameplay: physical, social and strategic. It was as close as you can get to a perfect game (although it made for a rather boring season). Kim returned for Winners at War with nothing left to prove; her ninth-place finish did nothing to tarnish her reputation as one of the biggest badasses in the history of Survivor.
- Sandra Diaz-Twine – Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains, Game Changers, Island of the Idols, Winners at War
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Sandra Diaz-Twine is one of the biggest badasses to ever play the game of Survivor. She was the first person to win two seasons (after Winners at War, she is tied with Tony Vlachos for the two-time winner trophy). As one of three former winners on Game Changers, Sandra had a huge target on her back but managed to make it farther in the game than the other two former winners (Tony and J.T.). Sandra appeared on season 39 (Island of the Idols), but not as a competitor; she and Rob Mariano served as mentors to an all-new group of castaways. The following season, Winners at War, Sandra competed once again; this time, she was the fifth person voted out after Denise Stapley (more on her in a minute) orchestrated a brilliant blindside. No matter; Sandra has appeared on more Survivor seasons than any other woman. Is she the most likable Survivor contestant? Absolutely not. But Sandra never gave a shit about being likable; her only goal was to win.
- Denise Stapley – Philippines, Winners at War
Denise Stapley would make this list regardless of her appearance on Winners at War, where she coordinated Sandra Diaz-Twine’s ouster. In her first season on the show, Philippines, Denise managed to outwit, outplay and outlast several key opponents, including returning players Russell Swan, Jonathan Penner and Michael Skupin, Facts of Life actress Lisa Welchel and Stapley’s beloved ally Malcolm Freberg. In doing so, Denise became the oldest woman to ever win a season of Survivor at the age of 41. Denise returned for Winners at War, where she pulled off one of the most badass moves of all time by using a hidden immunity idol to slay the dragon, Sandra Diaz-Twine.
- Ciera Eastin – Blood vs. Water, Cambodia, Game Changers
In her first Survivor outing, Ciera Eastin made history by voting to eliminate her own mother, Laura. The politics of Survivor are always tricky to navigate, and I’m sure Ciera never imagined she’d need to vote out her mom, but she and Laura were the last set of loved ones left in the game and they were being targeted for it. Laura, for her part, was prouder than shit of her daughter. Ciera was dangerous and the other players knew it; she made it to the top five before she was deemed too much of a threat to win and was voted out. She placed tenth in Cambodia, only after forming an alliance known as the “Witches Coven” (BADASS), and she was the first person voted out of Game Changers for being a social and strategic threat.
- Sophie Clarke – South Pacific, Winners at War
Challenge beast and strategic mastermind Sophie Clarke was just twenty-one when she won South Pacific, making her the third-youngest Survivor winner ever. Known for her forthrightness and her acerbic wit, Sophie was a brilliant medical student who “played dumb” to keep herself under the radar until it was far too late for the other contestants to vanquish her. By the time Sophie played Winners at War, she was an M.D. (she’s an OB/GYN, which by itself is pretty badass) and as bright as ever. She made an early alliance with one of my all-time favorite players, Yul Kwon; Sophie called Kwon her “nerd shield” so she wouldn’t be considered the smartest player in the game. She also befriended Sarah Lacina, which Lacina’s Cagayan ally Tony Vlachos couldn’t tolerate. Vlachos sent Sophie packing on his way to becoming the second two-time winner; Sophie finished in tenth place.
- Natalie Anderson – San Juan del Sur, Winners at War
I’m the first to admit that I didn’t love Natalie when she made her reality television debut in The Amazing Race 21, in which she competed with her twin sister Nadiya. They were hypercompetitive and referred to themselves as “Twinnie” and spent most of their time yelling at each other – “Hurry up Twinnie!”, “You can do it, Twinnie!”. It was all a little much. So when I heard the sisters were going to compete on Survivor‘s twenty-ninth season, my expectations were low. But then came the twist: the loved ones were placed on opposing tribes. Nadija was the first person voted out of the game, and from that moment forward, Natalie had only one goal: to kick the ass of everyone who eliminated her Twinnie. And kick ass she did; her dominance in the physical, social and strategic elements of the game made her the obvious choice for the win. In Winners at War, Natalie was immediately targeted as one of the biggest threats and was the first person to be eliminated. She spent a record thirty-three days on Edge of Extinction, where eliminated contestants awaited the opportunity to re-enter the competition. Natalie used her time of Edge of Extinction to accrue advantages and on day 35, she was back in the game. She ended up in second place, finishing only behind Tony Vlachos. Absolutely badass.
- Erika Casupanan – Season 41
COVID delayed season 41 of Survivor by a year but for Erika Casupanan, it was well worth the wait. Erika was an early target for elimination, with her tribe even attempting to throw a challenge so they could vote her out. Post-merge, she became a force to be reckoned with, controlling the vote in the background and using advantages to further her game. By the time her fellow castaways realized how dangerous Erika was, it was too late to stop her.
- Maryanne Oketch – Season 42
Just two episodes into season 42, we already have a fan favorite, and her name is Maryanne Oketch. Actually, two MINUTES into the season, she was already my favorite. Oketch’s exuberance and positivity are infectious, and she has a giant heart full of love. When her tribemate Jackson had to be medically removed from the game on day three, Oketch’s reaction was so raw and real. Only time will tell how Oketch will fare in the game, but no matter the outcome, this young woman has a place in my heart forever.
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