What has made fans tune into Survivor for almost twenty years? Is it the adventure of a lifetime? The grueling challenges? Jeff Probst? All these factors definitely contribute to the show's success, but what really makes Survivor shine brighter than any other reality show is its players. Viewers enjoy having someone to cheer for. But, by the same token, if the show consisted solely of honorable heroes and scrappy underdogs, it'd probably be pretty boring. That's because every good show, reality or fiction, needs conflict. As much as fans want players to root for, the real fun lies in having players to root against.
When it comes to villains, Survivor brings its A-game. Competing for a million dollars can bring out the worst in people, and therein lies the show's magic. From the nasty ne'er-do-wells to the brilliant backstabbers, here are some of the best villains the show has ever seen.
10 Brian Heidik
Used car salesmen get a bad reputation. Brian Heidik does not help. He blitzed his way through Survivor: Thailand, leaning into the unfortunate stereotypes of his profession. And it worked. Brian threw his competition on the scrap heap and claimed the million dollar prize.
For a myriad of reasons, most fans want to forget Thailand. Many have succeeded. Love him or hate him, though, Brian has earned himself villain recognition. Even though he was the season's biggest liar and backstabber by far, he was able to align himself with an even more unpleasant player in Clay Jordan. Brian cruised to the end, with the clueless Clay riding shotgun. Does that make Brian one of the show's best winners? Not really. Given the strategic chops of the other Thailand castaways, Brian's victory is like bowling with bumpers, but he sure was slick in knocking everybody down like pins.
9 Jerri Manthey
No Survivor villains list is complete without the show's original villainess. Jerri Manthey has been called a lot of names, many too inappropriate to share on this website. On the show's popular second season, Survivor: The Australian Outback, Jerri became notorious for being at the heart of every conflict. Perhaps the most legendary was when she criticized chef contestant Keith Famie on his poor rice-cooking skills. Upon her being voted out, players celebrated the next day by whistling "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead".
Strategically speaking, Jerri was actually quite loyal. On Outback, it was her trust in her original tribe that did her in. In today's Survivor terms, Jerri would hardly be considered a villain. She was just an opinionated person who got a bit hangry.
8 Jonny Fairplay
Jonny Fairplay is the first—and possibly only—player in Survivor history to show up drunk to tribal council. Things just devolved from there. The man's nickname is an ironic wink to the fact that he never plays fair. On Survivor: Pearl Islands, Fairplay was a known snake in the grass. Yet despite frequent blowups and betrayals of his tribemates, Jonny Fairplay made it all the way to third place.
Drunken debauchery isn't what earned Fairplay the villain label, though. His crowning achievement would be lying about the death of his grandmother to his fellow contestants. Everyone—except Sandra—was so distraught that they threw the coveted family visit challenge so Fairplay could spend time with his friend (and co-conspirator) Dan. Fairplay even fooled the production staff, who called his family to offer their condolences...only to have Grandma Fairplay answer the phone.
7 Corinne Kaplan
She may be a two-time Survivor loser, but Corinne Kaplan is the reigning Queen of Mean. Goddess of Mean would be more accurate, but that's not as catchy. On Survivor: Gabon, Corinne was a breath of acerbic air. She turned most of her confessionals into roasts worthy of a Comedy Central special. But Corinne saved the best for last. Her final jury speech was so provocative and harsh, it resulted in finalist/Corinne's whipping girl Sugar Kiper actually flipping Corinne off.
Corinne returned for Survivor: Caramoan, where she was voted off just before the jury, much to the heartbreak of drama-loving fans everywhere. Corinne has turned her villainy into a brand. She has contributed to former contestant Rob Cesternino's podcast, Rob Has a Podcast, with her beloved "Brutal Cast Assessment". Recently, Corinne teamed up with another former contestant, Eliza Orlins, to compete on The Amazing Race. They called themselves—surprise, surprise—Team Villain.
6 Russell Hantz
As dastardly as they are, many fans hold a special place in their hearts for Survivor villains. However, Russell Hantz has the distinction of being one of the most hated villains ever. Many of Russell's confessionals centered around how dumb his fellow contestants were.
Russell played as villainous a game as he possibly could. He burned a fellow contestant's socks. He lied and backstabbed at every opportunity. As entertaining as Russell may have found his own antics, though, all he was doing was mowing down a path to victory for his closest ally. He perfected the art of the second-place game, but by his third appearance, contestants were wise to his shenanigans and swiftly voted him out early.
5 Richard Hatch
If you had a nickel for every time somebody lied on Survivor, you'd be a millionaire. On Survivor: Borneo (the show's inaugural season), though, o lie, or even strategize at all, was considered most egregious. That's what makes Richard Hatch Survivor's OG villain.
Most of the Borneo contestants were about as strategic as a bunch of five-year-olds playing soccer. Only Richard had a long-term master plan. He took wicked glee in effortlessly dispensing with his competition. A game for a million dollars has no room for integrity. Richard was able to recognize that and it's thanks to his villainy that the show has evolved the way it has.
4 Tony Vlachos
Has anyone ever had as much fun being a Survivor villain as Tony Vlachos? He turned Survivor: Cagayan into his own personal theme park, complete with attractions like the Spy Shack. Tony was known for leapfrogging between alliances so quickly, it gave whiplash to both contestants and viewers alike. His madcap gameplay was a delight to watch and, somehow, Tony was able to ride his wave of chaos straight to the end.
Tony is truly a great villain because nothing was ever personal to him. He deceived and betrayed, but he was never cruel. Even his dust-ups with fellow players were packed with humor. He's as much known for "speaking llama" to Kass as he is for being the zaniest winner in Survivor history.
3 Sandra Diaz-Twine
You don't become the only two-time Survivor winner without getting blood on your hands. Whereas other villains like to peacock their "big moves" for all to see, Sandra preferred to lie low. She perfected the art of the "as long as it ain't me" strategy, willing to cut her allies loose at the drop of a hat.
Speaking of hats...Sandra may have played an under-the-radar game, but her personality was anything but. If Sandra didn't like you, she would tell you and tell you loudly. Jeff Probst referred to her as the "lippiest mother we've ever had on the show." In Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Sandra flat-out told her sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy Russell Hantz that she was against him. She even threw his signature fedora in the fire right before Final Tribal Council. Having won twice, she can afford to buy him a new one.
2 "Boston Rob" Mariano
Like his game, Boston Rob's villainy evolved over the course of his four seasons playing. In Survivor: Marquesas, Rob was a loud-mouth known for quoting The Godfather and taking politically incorrect, below-the-belt pot shots at his tribemates. Upon returning to Survivor: All-Stars, Rob had fine-tuned his strategy, but he had a villainous tendency to kick his enemies while they were down. He faced a disgruntled jury who opted not to award him the million dollar prize.
By the time Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains rolled around, Boston Rob had grown up quite a bit. Now a husband to All-Stars ally Amber Brkich and a father, Rob was able to play a subtler game. Unfortunately, Russell emerged victorious and Boston Rob got the boot, pre-jury. The fourth time would be the charm. In Survivor: Redemption Island, Boston Rob was able to fill whichever role his allies required of him, from doting big brother to true-blue buddy. Rob learned that you don't have to be a jerk to be a great villain, a lesson that earned him one million dollars.
1 Parvati Shallow
The femme fatale Survivor strategy is a risky one, mastered only by one player ever: Parvati Shallow. She learned from her first appearance on Survivor: Cook Islands to never rely solely on flirting. Seen as a dangerous villain, Parvati was booted mid-jury. She came back with a vengeance for Survivor: Micronesia, where she created the Black Widow Brigade, the deadliest all-female alliance the show has ever seen.
Like Boston Rob, Parvati was a true Survivor chameleon. In Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, she recognized Russell's strategy of aligning himself with an attractive, deferential female and exquisitely played the part. Parvati completely scammed Russell into thinking he was calling the shots, when in fact he was just her puppet. Alas, come Final Tribal Council, the jury thought of Parvati as too close to Russell. Still, even though Parvati finished second place, she will always be a first-rate Survivor villain.