For 21 seasons, players on the CBS reality show Survivor have been forced to battle in exhausting physical competitions, eat disgusting foods and solve complex puzzles to remain in the game and compete for a $1 million prize.
One of the pioneers of competitive reality shows, Survivor has given us a number of great players since it began airing in 2000, from its first winner Richard Hatch to other familiar names like Parvati Shallow, “Boston Rob” Mariano and the evil genius Russell Hantz (perhaps the best Survivor player of all-time.)
But Survivor has also given us a number of unimpressive players. The worst Survivor contestants included players who quit the game, some who couldn’t handle the physical demands and other players whose boneheaded strategies made us all wonder what they were thinking.
Here’s one opinion of the seven worst Survivor players ever to compete in the game.
7 Dan Lembo (Season 21, Nicaragua)
Dan was the weakest contestant ever to progress deep into the game. Dan talked openly about quitting and he was feeble in challenges because of his bad knees, once embarrassingly getting stuck in a mud pit. He also made no big strategic moves in the game.
Yet, probably because he was not viewed as a threat, Dan lasted more than 30 days. That’s a testament to how poor the competition was on his season, not how well Dan himself played. He succeeded in spite of himself and thus ranks as one of the worst Survivor players of all-time.
6 Dave Ball (Season 19, Samoa)
In Survivor Samoa, Dave was the ringleader of the Galu tribe, which went into the merge with a seemingly insurmountable 8-4 advantage. But, though Dave was a smart guy (he used phrases like “strategic acumen” during tribal council discussions), he displayed a shocking lack of basic game awareness at times.
First, he went along with a plan to vote off one of his own tribemates, cutting the edge to 7-4. Then, he directed the entire tribe to vote for Russell, ignoring the possibility that Russell might have a hidden immunity idol. Even though Monica suggested splitting the vote in case somebody played an immunity idol, Dave replied, “We can’t worry about that now.” Way to keep your head in the game, Dave!
Russell, of course, did have an idol and played it, eliminating another Galu castaway and dropping the edge to 6-4. When Russell got Shambo to flip sides, he evened the score, and when he convinced John to switch his vote against Laura, the Galu lead was gone. It wasn’t long before poor Dave joined all of his Galu tribemates on the jury.
5 Lillian Morris (Season 7, Pearl Islands)
Pearl Islands was the Survivor season that brought us Rupert, Johnny Fairplay and Sandra. Lillian is a footnote, having reached the finals but losing in a 6-1 vote to Sandra. But she could have won the game if she had been more of a strategist.
Lilian was voted out early in the game but returned due to the “Outcasts” twist, which brought back ousted contestants. Lillian then reached the final three and could have won if she had taken the hated Johnny Fairplay with her to the end. Instead, she took Sandra, which sealed her fate. That boneheaded move earns her a spot on our worst Survivor players list.
4 Coach Jimmy Johnson (Season 21, Nicaragua)
Sixty-seven-year-old legendary NFL head coach Jimmy Johnson joined the castaways for Season 21, becoming the first celebrity to appear on the program. Though Jimmy tried to stay in the game by claiming he wasn’t a threat (“There’s no way any jury would vote to give me a million dollars,” he said repeatedly), he just wasn’t able to handle the physical demands of the game.
It was a treat watching Jimmy’s motivational skills and coaching techniques within the game of Survivor, but his honesty caught up with him. After Jimmy admitted at tribal council that he was the worst and weakest member of the team, even his supporters couldn’t hold out any longer, and Coach Johnson was the third player voted out of the game.
3 Jonathan Penner (Season 13, Cook Islands)
Survivor Cook Islands was one of the show’s most fascinating seasons. The season began with four tribes divided by race, a decision that sparked controversy, even though tribes had previously been divided by age and gender with no complaints.
Jonathan Penner managed to make it to the final seven, but only because he kept selling out his previous alliances in order to protect himself. He quickly became known as a schemer and a player others couldn’t trust. And that was before he mutinied his own tribe and jumped to the other tribe when given the opportunity. It was a rash decision that Jonathan later regretted.
Jonathan was also delusional in thinking that he and Candice had a tight alliance. In fact, she told everyone that she didn’t like him. Jonathan’s infamous flip-flopping made it impossible for anyone to trust him; therefore, he had no chance of winning. That makes him our 3rd-worst Survivor player of all-time.
2 Sean Kenniff (Season 1, Borneo)
During its first season, Survivor became a cultural phenomenon, with the finale raking in more than 51 million viewers. Richard famously beat Kelly in the finals. But one player stands out from this cast as one of the worst Survivor contestants of all-time.
Sean was too much of a nice guy to compete. He didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings by voting them off, prompting fellow contestants to urge him to “grow a pair.” Instead, he came up with the worst strategy in Survivor history: Voting people off based on how their first names fell alphabetically. Because of this ridiculous strategy, the other castaways knew in advance who Sean would be voting for, so they were able to adjust their votes accordingly.
In recent years, Sean has claimed in interviews that his strategy was actually sophisticated, because it just so happened that all of the members of his former tribe came at the end of the alphabet, and therefore, by voting alphabetically, he could vote out the opposing tribe members without appearing to be ruthless.
Sorry, but we’re not buying Sean’s revisionist history. Even with a million dollars on the line, Sean simply didn’t have the guts to cast a legitimate vote against anybody, and for that reason, Sean is one of the worst Survivor players in history.
1 Erik Reichenbach (Season 16, Micronesia)
There have been a number of hopeless, clueless types on Survivor over the years, but none can match Erik from Fans vs. Favorites. As the only man among the final five castaways in the game, Erik had a target on his back. But he managed to win immunity, saving himself from the vote.
Except that Natalie and Cirie somehow convinced Erik to give up his immunity to Natalie in an effort to “redeem” himself for betraying her at a previous challenge. It was a silly argument, but somehow it worked. In front of a stunned jury, Erik gave immunity to Natalie, and the girls proceeded to vote him off minutes later.
Erik and his fellow contestant from Season 16, Jason Siska, were the greatest Dumb & Dumber pairing in the show’s history. Jason fell for Ozzy’s chicanery, somehow believing that a stick with lines carved into it was an immunity idol. But even Jason wouldn’t have been crazy enough to give up his immunity necklace with a guaranteed spot in the final four on the line. Erik takes the crown as worst Survivor player of all-time.
Worst Survivor Players of All-Time: Sources