For a while there, Survivor was arguably doing too many all-star seasons. From Seasons 31-40, there were four either full or partial all-stars seasons, plus a fifth that featured Boston Rob and Sandra as on-island coaches. That stretch saw the show get a bit obsessed with the legacies and multi-season narratives of players like Aubry Bracco, Sarah Lacina, Tony Vlachos, Joe Anglim, and Kelley Wentworth. To be sure, it was an exciting stretch of seasons with some memorable moments, but by Winners at War, it felt like the show had maxed out on these returning players, and a downshift was called for.
Then came a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, followed by a pair of truly crackerjack seasons that left fans with a ton of players whose Survivor journeys feel cut short. We're in a golden age for Survivor casting, but that also means that there are more worthy players than ever who haven't won and who the audience would love to see get another shot.
To be clear, this isn't going to happen any time soon. At the Survivor 42 finale, Jeff Probst teased viewers with a trailer for Survivor 43 that had no familiar faces in sight, and with seasons filming back-to-back (and no word to the contrary), we can safely assume Survivor 44 will be an all-newbie affair as well. So it would likely be fall 2023 at the earliest before we could possibly get another Survivor all-star season. Still, there's no better time than now to start fantasy casting.
So what kind of all-star season are we talking about? Survivor's tried a few different formats over the years, from straight-up "All-Stars" to "Heroes vs. Villains" to "Game Changers." Some seasons mixed returning players with newbies, either in a "Fans vs. Favorites" format or with only a few scattered all-stars captaining tribes. Any would be welcome, really, but if we had the choice, we'd emulate Survivor: Cambodia's "second chances" theme, which invited back 20 former Survivors who had only played once and never won. In that case, CBS conducted an online vote to determine who should come back, but since this is our exercise, we're making our picks without consulting the public.
Here are the 20 players we'd most like to see back on Survivor as soon as possible:
Angelina Keeley (Survivor: David vs. Goliath)
The biggest no-brainer of any returning-cast season is Angelina, the negotiation-loving, jacket-coveting, Yale MBA-having, ball of off-putting personality who helped make the DvG so entertaining. Angelina spent a good chunk of her season as the player everybody wanted to drag to the end because nobody liked her, but she ended up making a surprisingly strong case for herself. Still, let's be honest: we're casting her for that chaos factor.
Chrissy Hofbeck (Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers)
A second-chances season would be perfect for Chrissy, and frankly the show owes her. If Survivor hadn't sprung the fire-making final four twist on Chrissy's season, there's a good chance she and her tribemates would have eliminated Ben Driebergen, and she would have won the million herself. Chrissy defied the "mom" archetype by being as proactive and devious as anyone on her season, winning her a lot of fans.
Christian Hubicki (Survivor: David vs. Goliath)
For as in love as Survivor has historically been with big, athletic alpha males, is also has a soft spot for industrious nerds. John Cochran was the last nerd to return to Survivor and win it all, but he was never nearly as popular as Christian, who memorably talked his way through an endurance challenge to win immunity and seemed for a while like he was destined to win his season. For a player who thought through his strategy so thoroughly, he'd have a field day sizing up all these returning players.
Cydney Gillon (Survivor: Kaoh Rong)
All three finalists from the Kaoh Rong season (Michelle Fitzgerald, Aubry Bracco, and Tai Trang) have returned, some of them multiple times. But the best player that whole season might have been Cydney, who probably would have lost to an embittered jury, but who hopped alliances with aplomb and was a big physical threat.
Domenick Abbate (Survivor: Ghost Island)
Domenick came as close as anyone to winning Survivor without actually winning Survivor, after a deadlocked jury vote was broken by the third finalist, Laurel, in Wendell Holland's favor. Few players deserve a second shot at the title more than Domenick, even if he'd probably end up being a huge target from the moment he set foot on the beach.
Drea Wheeler (Survivor 42)
If you just finished watching this season of Survivor, you're likely dying to see Drea back out there collecting advantages and building whisper alliances again. Drea proved to be a shrewd player and also a hugely compelling personality, with her love of the game shining through. Get her back!
Evvie Jagoda (Survivor 41)
Evvie played such a strong game in the pre-merge half of their season and might have made a longer run post-merge if they hadn't ended up on the wrong side of the numbers. Evvie was fond of a big move — they pretty much engineered Xander's big idol switcheroo that foiled Liana's Knowledge Is Power advantage — and you'd imagine that big moves would be required to win an all-returnee season.
Hai Giang (Survivor 42)
There were a few weeks during Season 42 where it was pretty much accepted by both the TV-watching audience and the players on the island that Hai was running the game. And if Omar hadn't invented a brilliant lie about him, who knows how far he'd have been able to go?
Jamal Shipman (Survivor: Island of the Idols)
Jamal got absolutely screwed by one of Survivor's dumbest twists: an "advantage" that first stole his vote from the upcoming tribal council and then required him to write down an obvious fake clue to an obvious fake advantage, causing his tribe to distrust him and swiftly vote him out. If Chrissy is owed, Jamal is triple-owed.
Jay Starrett (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X)
Jay remains one of the most compelling, complex, and just plain lovable characters to have ever been on the show. Ostensibly part of a bromance alliance on the Millennials tribe, Jay branched out into bold strategy (backstabbing Michaela), surprising emotional depth (bonding with Adam over their sick moms), and still has one of the best tribal-council exits of all time. Somebody please rescue this kid from The Challenge!
Jessica Lewis (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X)
If you watch the tribal council where Jay is eliminated, you'll notice Jessica as a juror who's tied in knots when Ken reveals that his legacy advantage is an immunity idol. That's because Jessica was the one who legacy'd that advantage to him, after she was eliminated on the ultra-rare drawing of rocks, where she drew the one black rock out of six and was eliminated despite not being anybody's target. A player like Jessica has huge unfinished-business energy and would have a lot to prove if she came back.
Josh Canfield (Survivor: San Juan Del Sur)
Throughout the first half of San Juan Del Sur, all seemed to be headed in one direction: Josh and Jeremy, each of whom had been in full control of their pre-merge tribes, headed for an epic clash. Jeremy got the better of Josh, and after he was blindsided a week later, he returned to win the first second-chances season in Cambodia. Could Josh — a Broadway performer who proved incredibly adept at the physical and social demands of the game — follow in his rival's footsteps. Only one way to find out!
Kellee Kim (Survivor: Island if the Idols)
There are few players who Survivor needs to do right by more than Kellee, who was the subject of sexual harrassment by tribemate Dan on her season and then — after she was voted out in part because of being alienated from her tribe for voicing her concerns — Jeff Probst conducted a tribal-council forum about the issue while she was on the jury and, per the show's custom, couldn't speak. It was an ugly moment in Survivor history, and if Kellee ever wanted to come back, the show should roll out the red carpet for her.
Mike White (Survivor: David vs. Goliath)
While the writer/director and occasional reality TV contestant may be too busy working on HBO's The White Lotus to make time for a second shot at the title of sole Survivor, he'd be a huge asset to a returnee season. Mike made a late run in his original season, basically guiding a lot of the late-game strategy despite laying incredibly low for weeks. Many people thought he should've won, and he deserves a second chance to do just that.
Naseer Muttalif (Survivor 41)
Is Naseer a great strategic Survivor player? Maybe not. He wasn't great at making alliances and he made some key errors in judgment that got him eliminated. But he was also a hugely entertaining character whose cheerful confessionals were always highlights. A season as strategy-dense as an all-returnee season would be need some players who are pure personality, and Naseer surely fits that bill.
Omar Zaheer (Survivor 42)
Omar played some of the most daring, high-wire Survivor strategic play we've seen in many years, and he seemed to have a blast doing it. He'd be a massive target if he ever came back, but if there's anybody who could maneuver his way out of danger, it's Omar.
Ricard Foyé (Survivor 41)
Ricard and Shan's Survivor 41 alliance was powerful, volatile, and ultimately, after they decided to turn on each other, incredibly moving. Ricard ended up one immunity challenge short of mostly likely making it to final tribal council and winning it all, and his unapologetically aggressive game-play would be a thrill to watch up against other all-stars.
Shan Smith (Survivor 41)
One could make an argument for Shan's inclusion based solely upon wanting to have her and Ricard's partnership back again, but that's just one reason to have Shan back. As the "mafia pastor" of her season, Shan made big moves (sometimes too big) and relished her moments of villainy (even though she was a huge fan favorite throughout). She'll be one of the most anticipated returning all-stars of whatever season she makes it back on.
Vecepia Towery (Survivor: Marquesas)
Here's where the show can really get nuts. As the first of only two Black women to ever win Survivor, it would be a testament to how far the show has come in its inclusion mandate to invite her back to the far more diverse game Survivor is now. What's more, since Vecepia was not invited back to the all-champions Winners at War season, this would be her chance to show everyone that the show made an error in undervaluing her game when she won season four.
Victoria Baamonde (Survivor: Edge of Extinction)
The strategy in Edge of Extinction was all over the map, but time and again Victoria showed an instinct to make big moves and play a heavily strategic game. She was at the center of a handful of her season's biggest blindsides, and might actually manage to be a little bit underestimated in an all-star setting, which one imagines is exactly where she'd want to be.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst