SPOILERS FOR ALL 42 SEASONS OF SURVIVOR TO FOLLOW.
While the jungle is certainly full of snakes and rats, the creature that seems to be overtaking the game of Survivor more than anything else is the bookworm. Or the dork, the geek, the whizkid, the strategist, the superfan, the dweeb, or the nerd, depending on your phrase of choice.
Survivor, a game once characterized by its social and physical survival elements has grown increasingly more cerebral with the arrival of hidden immunity idols, idol nullifiers, extra votes, stolen votes, shots in the dark, fire tokens, and of course the Tyler Perry Idol. And casting, which once relied heavily on beautiful, statuesque recruits who had never seen the show before, has thankfully scooped up Survivor completists of late, who come to the game with a massive trove of historical knowledge they intend to use to navigate the twists, the game, and each other. Survivor 42 which just aired its finale, had no fewer that seven “nerds” on its roster of 20. Zach the neurotic student whose hobbies included “social strategy games”; Swathi, the Ivy League student whose hero is Elon Musk; Daniel, the law clerk who collects pocket consitutions; and Lydia, a comedy writer who is afraid of vacuum cleaners, were just four of this season’s ill-fated nerds. With SO MUCH strategy involved, the cast needs to include a hefty size of geekdom for the players to even wrap their heads around what is happening (plus Jeff loves their giddy enthusiasm for even the most trivial of Survivor moments.)
And so with Maryanne as our reigning winner and most recent nerd, I thought what better way to celebrate this golden age of the Survivor nerd, than by rank some of the best to ever play the game. A few ground rules:
1. I am not ranking every nerd to play, just the ones who have left the biggest impression.
2. Nerd is a bit of a subjective term, so I tried to do my best to qualify the individuals I selected in my “nerd criteria” which includes things such as occupation, level of Survivor knowledge, puzzle-solving skills, hobbies, social awkwardness, and attire. I also tried to select people who were cast “nerds” by the show and who weren’t just smart people. Cirie, for example, is an incredibly smart player, but she was definitely not cast as “the nerd” of her season, but rather as “the mom” or as Jeff often says “the woman who got up off the couch to play the game.” The nerd archetype often nudges up against the mom, the business professional, or the old person, but I tried to stick with castaways squarely in the nerd camp.
3. Lastly, this ranking is based on overall performance in the game, nerdiness on the show, and general iconicness. In other words, this is HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE.
Let’s dive in (off an ole-timey pirate ship after throwing a bunch of bananas and live chickens off before us).