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Gathering the Tribes

In the calm before this season's ''Survivor'' merge, let's see how Vanuatu rates against the previous eight outings

JOHN KO'D The last member of the pretty-boy alliance got caught napping
Image credit: Survivor Vanuatu: Monty Brinton
JOHN KO'D The last member of the pretty-boy alliance got caught napping

''Survivor'': Ranking the nine seasons

Sniff. Sniff. You smell something? I smell something. What is it? Is it the smell of fresh-brewed coffee courtesy of the Home Café? No. Is it the smell of Crazy Rory, back to his schizophrenic self after a week of relative sanity? Well, kinda, especially after he went from ''If I get voted off this island, the Yasur tribe will burn,'' to getting all weepy after reading his letter and taking it all back, to then boldly proclaiming after the immunity challenge, ''Today I rocked Ami. I rocked the hell out of her world! Now she's number 1 on my hit list.''

That was all pretty bizarre, but no, I smell something else. Oh, I know what it is — a merge!!! We're down to 10 contestants, folks, and if the tease for next week is any indication, a merge should be happening on Thursday. I've been waiting to give my thoughts on how Vanuatu stacks up to the other Survivor seasons, and now seems like the right time.

Well, actually, not quite ''now.'' First I have to give some props to my man John K. Not only did his strategy pretty much consist of looking hot and napping (hey, it worked for Jenna in the Amazon!), but he also managed to confuse the hell out of me with his logic for striking up an alliance with Twila. Let's break it down. ''I take Twila's word because she is a rough redneck. And to me all rough rednecks I have met are pretty loyal.'' Okay, first off, what the hell is the difference between a redneck and a ''rough'' redneck? Are there varying degrees of redneck I was unaware of? Granted I'm kicking it up in New Jersey, but I have family down South, and I can't help feeling they would have clued me in to this development. John didn't seem clued into much during his stay in Vanuatu. And his ouster doesn't come as much of a shock, which has been the main problem this season — few surprises.

And with that let's run down the order, from the best to the rest, of all nine Survivor seasons:

1. Borneo After Amazon aired, I actually had this down at number 2, but recently I went back and watched the DVDs. Not only did it have the newness factor going for it, but the cast (Richard, Rudy, Sue, Gervase) as a whole has yet to be topped. Incredible drama. The thought that Hatch could actually win this thing remains positively ludicrous.

2. The Amazon Easily the most unpredictable of Survivor seasons. The ''battle of the sexes'' beginning totally worked (unlike this time), and alliances and allegiances completely shifted seemingly every week. I don't know what was funnier: Rob Cesternino's wheeling and dealing or Heidi and Jenna's constant bragging about their hotness.

3. Pearl Islands One word: Rupert. But other characters like Sandra, Burton, and — of course — Johnny Fairplay help land this one the bronze medal. The episode where Rupert was voted out remains one of the show's best ever — even though everyone could see it coming a mile away. Still not crazy about letting ousted characters back in the game, though.

4. Marquesas The bad-boy combo of Boston Rob and Sean was too precious. If you think putting this above Australia is sacrilege, need I remind you: Kathy peed on a guy's hand!

5. Australia Most people probably have this listed as 1 or 2, and Jerri did make a fantastic villain. Jeff, Alicia, and Michael were also great competitors, but you had Colby winning almost every single challenge and his alliance with Tina and Keith running the show from early on. Just doesn't do it for me as much as some of the others.

6. All-Stars We all had higher hopes for this, which was probably the problem. The dynamic of having friends play against each other sometimes worked (see Boston Rob vs. Lex), but more often than not fizzled. I mean, Amber won, for crissakes! Think about that for a second: Amber Brkich won Survivor All-Stars. That pretty much says it all.

7. Vanuatu This is where it goes for me, people. At least for now. It's been too predictable, and while there are some fun characters to check out (Sarge, Twila, Crazy Rory), there really isn't anyone to root for. I hoped Chad would be that person, and it is incredibly impressive what he's been able to do with one leg, but let's face it — the dude is bo-ring.

8. Africa I actually thought sticking people out in the jungle would be a nice change of pace. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

9. Thailand Wait, let me think of something good to say . . . uhh . . . um . . . oh, the fake merge was kinda cool!

So there you have it. It's interesting that seasons 6 (the Amazon) and 7 (Pearl Islands) are so high. It tells me that even though this one has been somewhat of a dud so far, we shouldn't be so quick to pronounce the show past its prime. It all goes back to the casting and what the people do once they actually get on the island. It's pretty much out of Mark Burnett's hands at that point, and he — like us — has to hope for the best. Here's hoping the best of Vanuatu is still to come. Or else . . .

What do you think? How would you rank the nine seasons of Survivor? Can the series be Borneo again?

Originally posted Oct 29, 2004