Survivor at 40: Five moments, players and seasons the special missed

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

The editing team did a great job of piecing together a fun 20th anniversary special for Survivor, but there were a few castaways and key moments that should have made the cut.

This is a special year for Survivor. It has been on the air entertaining viewers all around the world for nearly twenty years and we are just six days away from the premiere of the most anticipated season. Fans of the show received a nice treat yesterday in the form of a special anniversary episode highlighting the best players and moments throughout 39 seasons.

Overall, this retrospective was well done capturing key moments of Survivor’s evolution while not being afraid to show short snippets of scenes we love. Obviously, we wouldn’t be real fans if we didn’t point out stuff that CBS missed, so here we go. We broke it down to five memorable moments, five contestants, and five Survivor seasons that were ghosted from this highlight reel.

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Five Memorable Moments

The first Idol Nullifier play: Even though there was plenty of time spent on new school Survivor scenes especially relating to Edge of Extinction, they left out a monumental moment from David vs. Goliath. When the David tribe worked together and Carl played his Idol Nullifier to stun Dan Rengering, that Tribal Council instantly felt iconic and should have made the cut.

Purple rock… or any rock tiebreaker: One of the most terrifying fears for Survivor contestants is getting their torch snuffed because they drew the wrong rock. When this twist was first introduced in Marquesas, it shocked everyone and forever changed the game. It’s only happened two other times since, proving the power this tiebreaker has at forcing people to make a quick decision. All three incidents were huge moments that are an integral part of the show’s history.

Tai Trang says no to giving his idol half to Scott Pollard: Kaoh Rong brought back the idea of a super idol but in a unique way. In this season a super idol (which can be played after the votes are read) could be formed by putting two Hidden Immunity Idols together. Tai shocked his former ally: Scott Pollard, by not giving him the second half of the idol to save him from elimination, making for one of the greatest Tribal Council moments.

Russell’s first successful idol play: We did get to see Russell change the way players looked for Hidden Immunity Idols, but we didn’t get to see how effective he played them. Russell Hantz negated seven votes with his epic idol play, creating a dynamic power shift in Samoa that eventually brought his minority alliance into power. That moment should have been mixed in with those scenes showing Amanda and Wentworth’s idol plays.

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The first live Tribal Council: Similar to the Idol Nullifier, Game Changers‘ live Tribal Council is another more recent moment that this anniversary special missed. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best moments of all time, but it changed the way castaways approach Tribal Council. From that point onwards we have seen several Tribals featuring players getting up to whisper in someone’s ear a new plan, and that all started in Game Changers.

Five Legendary Castaways

Survivor: John Cochran
STUDIO CITY, CA – MAY 12: John Cochran is the winner of CBS’ ‘Survivor: Caramoan Fans VS Favorites’ Finale and Reunion at CBS Studios – Radford on May 12, 2013 in Studio City, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) /

John Cochran: It was surprising to see that Jeff Probst’s favorite player didn’t even make a cameo appearance. Instead, Jeff shifted the focus to Cirie when bringing to life the archetype of the unlikely Survivor castaway who turns out to be a legend of the game.

Richard Hatch: Since the beginning of this anniversary special did show various seasons from Borneo, we did get to see glimpses of the original Sole Survivor, but we never saw him speak. The biggest misrepresentation is the fact that they gave Sue Hawk and Kelly Wigglesworth the credit for inventing the alliance and creating the Tagi 4. It’s sad to see CBS replace Hatch from the history books because of a current feud between the two.

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Kim Spradlin: Known as one of the most dominant winners and players of all time, Kim Spradlin was missing from our screens yesterday, excluding any Winners at War content. With all of the focus on Survivor Girl Power, Kim and her powerful all-female alliance still didn’t make the cut. It’s a good thing we at least get to see her play again!

Tina Wesson: Look at that, five of the biggest snubs are all winners ahead of an all winners season! Tina’s win in the Australian Outback is another classic Survivor triumph that was overlooked. Let’s not forget that up until Winners at War, Tina remains to be the closest player to match Sandra’s feat of winning twice, as she finished just outside the Final Three in Blood vs. Water.

Survivor: Tom Westman
NEW YORK – MAY 15: Survivor winner and firefighter Tom Westman celebrates at the end of the “Survivor: Palau Finale/Reunion Show” in the Ed Sullivan Theater May 15, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images) /

Tom Westman: Besides one brief shot of him getting voted out in Heroes vs. Villains, Tom Westman was snubbed from this retrospective. Many people including Sandra Diaz-Twine still feel that Tom played the best game ever. The way he was able to play as a respected tribe leader yet still avoid putting himself out there as a big target made his game truly unique.

Five Iconic Seasons:

Amazon: All podcasting aside, there’s no denying that Rob Cesternino changed the game of Survivor in the way he shifted allegiances and pulled off big blindsides in season 6. Amazon was one of the funniest seasons creating an entertaining men-vs.-women dynamic. It also had Jenna and Heidi stripping for peanut butter, which is another scene that could have been included.

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Cook Islands: As one of the best seasons of Survivor to ever graze our screens, Cook Islands was greatly overlooked. It introduced viewers to Ozzy, Parvati, Yul, Penner, Candice, and Cao Boi. From the epic mutiny twist to a shocking tribal comeback and an ingenious way of using an idol, there were so many iconic moments from Cook Islands and all they end up showing is the pointless fire-making challenge.

Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites part two might be one of the worst Survivor sequels, but it still has its fair share of unforgettable scenes. The three amigos Tribal Council is an epic Survivor moment that many fans will always cherish. During the finale, Brenda Lowe delivered the most shocking jury speech in the show’s history. And yes, we’re still surprised that there was no love for Cochran.

Fiji: The fourteenth season tends to get overlooked thanks to its lack of returning players. The only person that did return, Yau-Man, was only seen for half a second when his torch was snuffed in Micronesia. Survivor: Fiji included numerous iconic scenes: Yau-Man playing the first modern Hidden Immunity Idol correctly, Yau-Man’s Final Three car deal with Dreamz and a hilarious idol play gone wrong.

Vanuatu: Here’s another underrated season that didn’t make the cut. Vanuatu featured the first all-female alliance, several fierce arguments, entertaining feuds and a remarkable underdog winning story. It still has the feel of a modern Survivor season despite the fact it aired over 15 years ago.

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The point of this entire article is that there are too many great Survivor moments to fit into a one-hour special. Now our focus shifts to Winners at War which is sure to add to this list of unforgettable Survivor moments, and it’s these trademark moments that make this show awesome.