The first in a two-part series celebrating the most memorable villains of Survivor’s early years.
Fans enjoyed the 40th season of the long-running reality show last fall, and it might be a while before we get another installment. The absence of the CBS staple has left a Survivor-shaped hole in all our hearts, and it feels like a good time to revisit some of the more remarkable characters of the series.
As far as reality shows go, Survivor set the precedent for the reality competition genre and carved out a space for survival television that has given all amateur survivalists a show to love.
These contestants, especially the Sole Survivor, arguably have more grit than any other genre of reality television and have to stack their physical tenacity with a calculating wit, making winning much more than brute force.
However, the best and most talented person doesn’t always win, and Survivor villains have to not only be strong competitors but make viewers at home have a strong reaction. Because this is TV, these villains also must strive to remain in the collective conscious for at least 15 minutes.
Over the course of 40 seasons and 20 years, there have been plenty of big personalities, but these are the villains who will remain in our memories for as long as there are outdoors to survive. Part 1 of this list will take a look at the early seasons and the very first Survivor villains, so there are plenty more where they came from.
‘Boston’ Rob Mariano
‘Boston’ Rob Mariano is the only Survivor contestant to compete in four seasons and act as a mentor in one. He was the winner of Season 22, Redemption Island, and went on to marry another Survivor contestant Amber Bkrick, making him kind of like Survivor royalty.
While Rob didn’t really make as much of a name for himself as a villain in his early seasons, he evolved into one of the most notorious of the series. Known for quoting The Godfather, he earned the nickname the Robfather and didn’t pull any punches with his rivals, even when they were in a particularly vulnerable place.
By the time the Redemption Island season rolled around, he was a bit more seasoned, and was a husband and father, and played the long game a little better than when he was a green 25 years old in Marquesa season. He was always one step ahead of the rest of the contestants, and this is what ultimately led to his win.
Jonny ‘Fairplay’ Dalton
Jonny ‘Fairplay’ Dalton is one of the most infamous players in Survivor canon. Although he wasn’t really a fan favorite, viewers always tuned in to see his antics, which were most often deceitful tactics.
Most famously, Jonny ‘Fairplay’ (named that ironically because he was known to play any way except fair) manipulated both cast and crew of his season, Pearl Islands, by lying about a dead grandmother.
In order to garner sympathy, or perhaps just generally acquire an edge, Jonny conspired with his friend from home to lie about his grandmother dying. He put on such a show, in fact, that some of the other contestants were moved to tears and wound up throwing the family visit challenge so he could have more time to “grieve” with his friend.
Despite this suspect behavior, he was asked back for a second season, Micronesia. The Survivor lore changes depending on who you ask, but it’s pretty widely accepted that he quit, almost immediately after arriving.
If you ask Jonny, it was because of injuries he sustained in a stage fight with other-reality star, Danny Bonaduce, but if Jeff Probst tells, Jonny Fairplay is the only contestant to ever quit the show.
Todd Herzog was the winner of Season 15 Survivor China and became known as one of the few villains that were absolutely straightforward about all his conniving and backstabbing. He flat out told his opponents he outwitted them and why it was the smart play to do so. His strategy was simple but effective: eliminate threats.
Todd was an excellent strategist on his season of Survivor at the tender age of 22, and maneuvered his way into the finale, taking home a million dollars. After that, however, things didn’t go so well for Todd off-screen and he struggled with addiction and alcoholism.
He also famously appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in 2013 which he appeared to be so inebriated that producers had to help him onto his chair. He later claimed, and Dr. Phil denied, that he was given access to alcohol and drugs prior to his segment on the show.
After a stay in rehab, Todd is now sober and in November 2020 married his husband Jess Hermansen.
Hayden Moss may have come in seventh place on his season of Survivor: Blood vs. Water, but he will live in infamy for pulling a real boss move during his tenure. He forced a rock-draw tiebreaker, which by then was only the second in the history of the show at the time of his season.
The mechanics of the move are complicated, but by forcing a tie, he basically put everyone at risk and that was an incredibly bold achievement for this fairly young show. The tie forced his ally to be eliminated and he only made it one more round after that.
Survivor fans expected him to go farther given he was a reality star veteran, having won Big Brother 12 a few years earlier.
Richard Hatch, as the very first Sole Survivor of Survivor Borneo, set the precedent for how the game was to be played. In those early days, there was no such thing as alliances (he invented that concept in his season) and lying was an egregious act that could cost you in the long run.
Because he invoked trickery and deceit into his strategy, he was labeled a villain back then and wasn’t popular among the cast. In contemporary Survivor gameplay, that is an expected and integral element of the process and is often used to much success. He returned to Survivor All-Stars in 2003, but only managed to come in 14th place.
In addition to his conniving, he remained naked for most of the season, naively believing he would get less camera time for doing so, which he did not.
Widely considered one of Survivors least liked players, Russel Hantz was very good at the game. He appeared in three American seasons: Samoa, Heroes vs. Villains, Redemption Island, and in Australia’s Survivor: Champions v. Contenders.
Although he did fairly well in his seasons, often finding Immunity Idols without any clues, he was brash and lacked the interpersonal skills to really finesse the human elements of the contest. He never really found the right balance between his talent for the game and being a likable person, and this fellow Survivalists found him terribly off-putting.
Because of his consistently shady, and often successful, tactics, he is at the center of a debate over ethics in gameplay in the Survivor series. The game has evolved tremendously, and players like Russel continue to massage the boundaries of fair versus unfair.
Brian Heidik may have won one of Survivor’s least memorable seasons, Thailand, but he remains in the collective unconscious for his bald-faced lies and generally smarmy personality.
He came on the series claiming to be a used car salesman and employed a lot of the same pushy, deceitful stereotypical tactics of his profession. However, it was later uncovered that he was a working soft-core porn actor who went by the name of Dave Roth and appeared on at least eight films on the Playboy Channel and Cinemax.
He may have been the least mediocre contestant on a very lukewarm season, but Brian Heidik will always live in Survivor notoriety for at least a few reasons.
Jerri Manthey has the auspicious honor of being the first female villain of the Survivor series. She came in eighth in the second, and one of the most popular seasons, The Australian Outback, and went on to appear in All-Stars and Heroes vs. Villains.
A lot of why Jerri is widely disliked could probably be contributed to misogyny and the way female antiheroes are treated on television, but as the main antagonist of the season, fans will never forget her.
Jerri found herself at the center of many of the conflicts between castmates, and she often defaulted to criticism and condemnation in the exchanges. The other contestants never really came around to her, and famously whistled Ding Dong the Witch is Dead after she was eliminated.
Using the word “villain” to describe the two-time winner Tony Vlachos might be a stretch, but he is by far one. of the most memorable contestants in the show’s history. And after his victory at Winners at War, he could be considered the Survivor GOAT.
He never lost his humor, even when out-maneuvering the rest of the cast. His aggressive gameplay was often a point of contention, and it was this bottom-line-oriented strategy that most likely earned him the title of villain. The chaotic energy of Game Changers got him eliminated second.
He has called his own style, “fast and sloppy” but he still maintained a bit of whimsy, like his use of the Spy Shack to spy on other players. He is now the Winner of Winners and has quite a reputation now.
Parvati Shallow first appeared on Cook Islands, but she didn’t come into her own until she became the Sole Survivor of Micronesia. She also went on to appear in Heroes vs. Villains and most recently came in 16th at Winners at War.
She is widely considered to be one of the most skilled players of the franchise and has a way to keenly read those around her. Leaning into her sexy persona, she formed the Black Widow Brigade in Micronesia, heading up one of the most powerful and effective all-female alliances in show history.
She was a master of being all things to people, and she shrewdly manipulated other players into doing her bidding without them being any the wiser. Her particular skill set became synonymous with high-level strategy and villainy.