The premise of Survivor is that a handful of Americans from different walks of life are thrown together on a deserted island. As host Jeff Probst has said in many an intro, the contestants "battle the elements... and each other." On day one, players are divided into tribes. These tribes live together and compete together. In many ways, tribes are like families. Some are loving and synergistic, others are explosive and volatile.
So what makes a great tribe? Challenge wins? Those help, but some of the winningest tribes are way too lovey-dovey and conflict-free. Who wants to watch a bunch of people getting along for an hour? Above all, the key is dysfunction. Winning or losing, there has to be a clash of strong personalities, petty squabbles, and inflammatory accusations. Here is Survivor: 10 Best Tribes Of All Time, Ranked.
10 Ta Keo (Cambodia)
Cambodia was also known as "Second Chances". This was a season of returning players, all voted in by fans. Everybody had something to prove and "pre-game" alliances were an open secret. At the beginning of Cambodia one tribe dominated... and it was not Ta Keo.
But what they lacked in challenge prowess, they sure made up for in drama. First, there's Abi-Maria. She stirred the pot as soon as she hit the Ta Keo beach, accusing Peih-Gee Law of stealing her bracelet. Apparently, this is Survivor: Fourth Grade... and we love it. The controversial Jeff Varner spiced things up by flip-flopping alliances, contributing to back-to-back blindsides. Often the writing is on the wall for the first couple votes, so this was an appreciated mix-up. Finally, Ta Keo provided Kelley Wentworth's coming out party. She found a Hidden Immunity Idol early on and proceeded to become one of the show's biggest threats.
9 Aparri (Cagayan)
Cagayan showcased several memorable players, most notably winner Tony Vlachos. He was on the Aparri tribe, also known as the "Brawn" tribe. Full of athletic players, Aparri dominated at both challenges and entertainment value, with Tony playing the game like the Road Runner. One minute he was building his Spy Shack, the next he was forming the Cops-R-Us alliance with fellow police officer and future winner Sarah Lacina.
Besides Tony's antics, there was the testy hairstylist Lindsey Ogle getting into spats with the underrated Trish Hegarty. Rounding out the tribe were the amiable Cliff Robinson and Woo Hwang. But despite their even tempers, Aparri proved that big muscles can mean big drama.
8 Tandang (Philippines)
Sometimes on Survivor, being on a winning tribe can be a curse. The misery of sleeping outdoors and barely eating is exacerbated if you're living with some of the most annoying people on the planet. Luckily for the viewer, Tandang had no short supply of those.
Television gold Abi-Maria makes her second appearance on the list. On Tandang, she and boy-toy Pete Yurkowski were the Prom Queen and King from hell, constantly picking on their desired targets. One of them was RC Saint-Amour, known for her distinct giggle and leopard-print bikini. The other was Michael Skupin, notorious for being more than an Abi-Maria victim. Tandang member Artis Silvester was quiet, but every now and then would drift out of the shadows to say something nasty, albeit hilarious, about Skupin before floating back into obscurity. Last but not least, Tandang even had a celebrity player in Lisa Whelchel, former star of The Facts of Life and tribe mom.
7 Maraamu (Marquesas)
The first half of Marquesas may as well have been called The Boston Rob Show. Maraamu was like his own personal sitcom. He came across as a loudmouth Godfather wannabe, but was having so much fun, the audience couldn't help but be charmed by him. Other characters on The Boston Rob Show included his gal-pal Sarah Jones, aka Cleopatra—known for sunning herself while the rest of the tribe paddled their raft to shore. Boston Rob also had opinionated bestie Sean Rector and well-meaning but nagging mother figure Patricia Jackson.
Boston Rob was one of the first contestants to employ the strategy of voting out physical threats early. He made quick work of dispensing with his golden boy rival, Hunter Ellis. Oh yeah, The Boston Rob show also featured under-the-radar winner Vecepia Towery.
6 Casaya (Panama)
This is the only swapped tribe on the list, but the new Casaya became so legendary, they had to be included. With a few hiccups, Casaya had an overall solid challenge performance. But who cares? Their bickering was to die for. Shane Powers, an outspoken heavy smoker going through withdrawal, was particularly cantankerous and would argue with firecracker Danielle DiLorenzo at the drop of a hat. Strategic mastermind Cirie Fields was a sheer delight to watch as she wedged her way into the dominant alliance by quietly exploiting its cracks. Chill yoga instructor Aras Baskauskas kept himself out of Casaya's dramatic fray and he would go on to win the million dollar prize.
5 Koror (Palau)
Koror is one of the most dominant tribes in Survivor history. They never lost a single Immunity Challenge and instead of a merge, they simply absorbed Stephenie LaGrossa, the lone remaining member of the opposing tribe.
Though an unbeatable force in the challenges, Koror was hardly a big, happy family. The tribe dynamic was distinctly cliquey, with cool kids in the dominant alliance and nerds on the outs. Acid-tongued Katie Gallagher had frequent conflicts with outsiders, and the vocal Coby Archa resented his status at the bottom of the Koror totem pole. Still, this was one season where viewers didn't root for the underdog. Firefighter, tribe hero, and winner Tom Westman was a fan favorite, best known for catching a shark. How many tribes can cross that off their bucket list?
4 Vanua (Millennials vs. Gen X)
People love to laugh at how hard the theme was shoehorned into this season. Still, Vanua, the millennials tribe, lived up to the generation's stereotypes in the best and worst ways. Like how they didn't build a shelter on the first day. Also, snowboard instructor Taylor Stocker and bartender Figgy were more interested in making goo-goo eyes at each other than playing the game.
Vanua was anything but predictable. Professional gamer Mari Takahashi was many fans' winner pick, yet she was the first person booted from the tribe. But there were also some memorable strategic heavy-hitters on Vanua, like Zeke Smith and Hannah Shapiro. Winner Adam Klein's path to victory embodied the quintessential millennial experience. It was awkward, with some cringeworthy missteps, but ultimately Adam was able to get his head on straight and conquer his obstacles, inner and outer.
3 Ogakor (Australian Outback)
Ogakor is a Survivor Greatest Hits of unforgettable moments and characters. Who could forget Beef Jerky-Gate, leading to Kel Gleason's early demise? Then there was Rice-Gate, with villainess Jerri Manthey criticizing chef Keith Famie's preparation of tribe meals. She became the contestant viewers loved to hate. Jerri's lapdog happened to be none other than future Survivor winner Amber Brkich, now married to Boston Rob.
The tribe flamed out hard, losing most of the pre-merge Immunity Challenges. Still, two fan-favorite Ogakors made up the final two. Colby Donaldson, the cowboy with a killer smile, was the runner-up, with sweet Southern mom Tina Wesson being crowned the victor.
2 Drake (Pearl Islands)
Winner Sandra Diaz-Twine said, "It feels good to be a pirate." That makes sense, considering that the pirate theme of the season worked so well in Drake's favor. They gelled early, working as a cohesive unit to barter in a local village for supplies. Famously, Rupert Boneham, a beloved hippie-pirate contestant, stole the other tribe's footwear. He and sassy Sandra were only a couple of standout contestants. Another was the potty-mouthed Jonny Fairplay, infamous for lying about the death of his grandmother.
The well-stocked Drake tribe obliterated their competition in the first half of the pre-merge game, but there was still trouble in paradise. The athletic guys, Burton Roberts and Shawn Cohen, alienated themselves with their frat boy behavior, mocking Rupert for wearing a skirt. They were so infuriating that Drake threw an Immunity Challenge just to give Burton the boot. This led to the tribe's downward spiral, but the waters are bound to be choppy on the high seas.
1 Villains (Heroes vs. Villains)
On every tribe, even the great ones, there will be standouts and forgettable players. Not the Villains tribe. Survivor truly rounded up the best of the best. Throwing the show's most dastardly contestants together on one beach was sheer genius. There was truly never a dull moment. We had Randy Bailey throwing his buff in the fire after being voted out. Also, the odd flirtmance between Coach Wade and Jerri. Most notably, there was the gunslinger fight for control between Boston Rob and Russell Hantz, with the latter emerging victorious.
Russell may have seemed like cock of the walk, but he was really being controlled by puppet master Parvati Shallow. Still, not even she was a match for smooth operator Sandra, who took home her second victory. Mua-ha-ha.