Survivor Heroes vs. Villains has the best returnee-only cast in practice (but not on paper)

Still from Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains episode 1. Image is a screengrab via CBS
Still from Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains episode 1. Image is a screengrab via CBS /

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains would not be as good as it is without its casting, and knowing how the season plays out, it’s the best all-returnee cast.

By the 20th season of any show, it’s hard to come up with new innovations, although Survivor is slightly more resistant to this problem than other shows by virtue of being a game show and having a surprisingly flexible format that allows for some experimentation. As a result, season 20, Heroes vs. Villains, still feels pretty fresh, because it reused a concept that the show had done only once: use only returning players.

The result was the second-best on-paper cast of returnees ever, and the best practical cast of all returnees ever. On paper, All-Stars is slightly (slightly) better, because it had only one kind of questionable casting choice in Shii Ann, and HvV has two: Candice and Sugar in particular. Not that we don’t enjoy the presence of Shii Ann (especially her sticking it to everyone by winning immunity), but that’s why the specification is “on paper.”

Let me explain why Danielle actually makes sense. If you look, there are a lot of one-to-one matches across the two tribes. In some cases, the two had worked together, and in others, they had directly opposed each other.

  • J.T. / Tyson and Coach: Tocantins
  • James (or Amanda) / Courtney: China
  • Rupert / Sandra: Pearl Islands
  • Colby / Jerri: Australia
  • Amanda, James, and Cirie / Parvati: Micronesia
    • Alternatively, Candice / Parvati: Cook Islands, but Amanda, James, and Parvati were famously close in Micronesia, so it seems the intention was to pit them against each other.
  • Cirie / Danielle: Panama
  • Sugar / Randy: Gabon

Tom and Stephenie matched up based on Palau. Russell doesn’t have a direct analogue because Samoa immediately preceded HvV. Boston Rob technically can match with Colby or Rupert over on the Heroes because of All-Stars.

At the time, Entertainment Weekly argued that Danielle was a weird decision, but based on Danielle and Cirie being on the same alliance (and Danielle’s calling Shane bonkers, among other things), it makes sense to split them up. (That same article notes that we could have had Richard Hatch on this season, which is why I cite it.)

Anyways, in the reward challenge, which involved fighting over a bag, plenty of injuries happened. The medic had to pop Stephenie’s shoulder back in. Sugar went topless at one point (and had to have her fingers blurred out too). Rupert broke a toe. The Heroes took the reward of flint.

The Heroes also started the first immunity challenge ahead of the Villains, but then it came down to the puzzle.

Based on her difficulty fitting in at camp, the Heroes settled on Sugar as a target. Of course, Sugar also floated Amanda’s name (and ended up voting for her), Tom tried to change the tide to Cirie, and Cirie even noted that Stephenie had those close ties to Tom.

But at the end of the day, Sugar went home with nine votes.

Quick notes:

  • “Slay Everyone, Trust No One” is from Coach. Do try and look shocked.
  • This episode is the source of Cirie calling herself “a gangster in an Oprah suit”.
  • Russell built alliances with Danielle and Parvati on day 1.
  • The Heroes found some chickens.
  • Everyone was on deck for Jerri and Coach.

Next: The winners of Survivor, ranked

It’s time to talk a little more about the Villains on our next look back at Heroes vs. Villains.