I saw a tweet from Jason Concepcion from the Ringer that was Survivor-related. It made me realize I wasn’t the only person who watches Survivor. In fact, there probably is this hidden NBA-Survivor cross-community that is hidden more often than not. I mean, No Dunks, formerly known as The Starters, has a weekly podcast recapping the show.
If you’ve watched ‘Survivor’ for as long as I have, you probably consider it to be a sport more than a game. And if you do, this season is tailor-made for you.
Nicknamed “The Super Bowl” of ‘Survivor,’ Survivor: Winners at War pitted 20 former winners against each other for $2 million, the largest cash prize in show history.
If you haven’t seen the show or this season, this might be where you move to another page and go to CBS All Access to binge all 40 seasons. You’re in quarantine, what else are you going to do? If you haven’t seen the show, or all of the seasons of the show, I highly recommend it. The show blends everything from competition to social strategy to survivalism. It truly is a sport, and this season pitted 20 athletes against one another to see who could win.
Tonight, we will find out who arguably is the greatest player of ‘Survivor’ is when the show airs its 3-hour finale this evening.
This got me thinking, if the ‘Survivor’ castaways were NBA players, who would they be?
Natalie Anderson as Klay Thompson
Natalie Anderson is one of the most under-appreciated and underrated winners to ever play the series. She’s also known to be part of one of the most famous duos from this season, much like her NBA counterpart, Klay Thompson.
Thompson, a three-time NBA champ, often plays second fiddle (even though he can stand tall in his own right) to Stephen Curry. Nonetheless, Thompson is a Top 50 player in NBA history, and so is his Survivor counterpart in Anderson.
Amber Mariano as Pau Gasol
I can read the surprised look on your face through the screen already, but let me explain myself. Amber’s ‘Survivor’ career was strong before she met her Final 2 alliance and now-husband Rob in ‘Survivor: All-Stars.” However, it bloomed as she made her second appearance. Her later appearance here in ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ might not be her highlight, but it is also part of her career that you cannot overlook.
The career trajectory of Amber’s is incredibly similar to Pau Gasol’s. The Spaniard had a strong career in Memphis, but will ultimately be remembered for his second stop on his NBA career, where he became a champion with the Lakers. He also had a third chapter for his career with several teams, including Chicago and San Antonio, that won’t be remembered as much, but are a part to his story.
Danni Boatwright as Paul Pierce
Danni is incredibly underrated and I could write thousands of words explaining why. Her career is most known for winning a season that does not play a huge role down the line in the ‘Survivor’ history books.
This eerily also describes Pierce’s career. Both Boatwright and Pierce are some of the best to play their respective game/sport, and to some critics, they don’t belong among the very best. According to others, they do.
Ethan Zohn as Shaquille O’Neal
For years, Ethan Zohn was the most popular winner in ‘Survivor’ history and you could argue that he still might be. Ever since his 2001 victory, he’s remained in the public light, using his platform to kickstart other careers. He’s also a very strong athlete who played professional soccer once upon a time, much like his NBA counterpart.
Shaq continues to be incredibly popular in the years after his career ended on the court. He also uses his brand to shine in other areas. Not to mention, is there any giant more athletic than Shaq?
Rob Mariano as Kobe Bryant
Some consider Boston Rob to be the greatest player in ‘Survivor’ history. In five seasons, he’s placed in the Final 2 twice and it could be a third if he finds a way to win his Edge of Extinction challenge and enter the game at the Final 6 with an immunity idol. In his lone win, Boston Rob dominated the game unlike any player had done before. You can’t tell the story of ‘Survivor’ without Boston Rob...
...much like you can’t tell the story of basketball without Kobe. I think the past four months have proven just why. Some will argue that Kobe’s their GOAT, much like Boston Rob is considered to be the GOAT by some fans. Kobe’s also one of the greatest winners in NBA history, much like Boston Rob is.
Parvati Shallow as James Harden
In the first three seasons, Parvati Shallow placed 6th or better. It’s one of the strongest track records to date for any ‘Survivor’ veteran. However, she fell short twice, one of which was very questionable, and once she came out on top. Does this story sound familiar, Rockets fans?
Parvati’s journey of falling short in ‘Survivor’ is reminiscent of James Harden’s journey towards MVP races. He’s always in contention, one time he came out on top, and one other time he totally should’ve won.
Sandra Diaz-Twine as LeBron James
As the only two-time winner in ‘Survivor’ history, there is no question that Sandra is one of the greatest players to wear a ‘Survivor’ buff. She also won arguably the toughest season of them all, ‘Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains,” where she beat out Parvati, the James Harden of ‘Survivor.’ Tonight, someone will join Sandra in the two-time winners club, but she’ll always be considered as one of the greatest ever and nobody can erase that.
Much like nobody can erase LeBron James out of the GOAT club in the NBA. LeBron’s a three-time champ, a participant in nine NBA Finals and a sure-fire Greatest 5 players ever. There’s controversy with Sandra as she’s not the best in physical challenges, and there’s controversy with LeBron in that he doesn’t win in the Finals. This is a match made in heaven.
Yul Kwon as Phil Jackson
Yul Kwon might be the smartest person to ever play the game of ‘Survivor.’ Strategically, he’s brilliant, and socially, he’s a savvy player. I believe if you put all of these winners in a game and simulate it 100 times, Yul would probably win the most often. He’s that good. Some might forget about him because he isn’t the most prominent member of the ‘Survivor’ community, having made his second appearance 14 years after his first, but he’s incredibly smart and wise, just like his NBA counterpart.
If Yul wins the most out of anyone, then it makes sense that Phil Jackson is his counterpart. Jackson has won more rings than anyone in this article and needs more than two hands for all his NBA rings. He’s also always thinking about the big picture and has the right balance to manage a lot of strong personalities, something Yul needed in his big win in 2006.
Wendell Holland as Dr. J
This one was one of the more difficult pairings, but once I put Wendell next to Dr. J, it made sense. Not only is Wendell from Philly...
...but he loves to keep viewers on their toes. That’s an effect Dr. J had on his audience, something that is hard to do, especially amidst a sea of champions.
Adam Klein as Kevin Durant
When Adam burst onto the scene in 2016, he had mixed reactions. People appreciated his knowledge of the game but some found him to be a nuisance. That showed this season as players found it difficult to play with his paranoid style of gameplay. He’s probably one of the more polarizing players this season had to offer.
Kevin Durant shares that quality with Adam. Durant is one of the more polarizing players the NBA has ever seen. Both of them also don’t care about your opinions that they shouldn’t have won a championship because they won and don’t really care about what you think. They’re cashing their check and laughing to the bank.
Tyson Apostol as Dennis Rodman
There might not be a more eccentric ‘Survivor’ player in 40 seasons than Tyson Apostol. Tyson is goofy, funny, athletic, strong and might make a stupid decision once in a while.
The first pairing I wrote down was this one. Rodman is the equivalent to Tyson in ‘Survivor’ 100%. Both Dennis Rodman and Tyson are one-of-a-kind and beat to their own drum. They might do questionable things once in a while, but both of them are committed to their craft and have the championships to back that up.
Sophie Clarke as Tim Duncan
Sophie is one of the most underrated players in ‘Survivor’ history. It might have to do with the fact that she won a seasons fans usually don’t point to as one of their favorites of all-time, but that shouldn’t take away from her win. She played excellently in her first game, showcasing surprising athleticism once in a while and added with a strong strategic game.
Tim Duncan also fits this narrative. He’s not the first guy you think of when you think of a freak athlete, but he is just that. He’s also part of one of the least popular dynasties ever, and that’s not a knock against the Spurs. It’s just that the Lakers and Celtics have more nationwide and international appeal for their dynasties than the Spurs.
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe as Larry Bird
After Kim’s win in 2012, people considered her to be one of the best to ever play. That narrative has faded slightly as the new-school players have taken over and pushed her down that list. This season, she proved that she could still hang with the best of them and she should be considered as such.
When Larry Bird was playing in his prime, he was considered to be one of the two best players to ever play the game. That narrative has also faded over the years with the likes of Kobe, MJ and LeBron entering the mix. However, even after all these years, Bird should still be one of the greatest to ever play the game, just like Kim.
Jeremy Collins as Steph Curry
Jeremy is probably your son or daughter’s favorite player. In each of the three seasons Jeremy has played, he’s been one to watch from the beginning. He also won an all-star season by a unanimous vote and was one to watch all season long. If he can win tonight’s Edge of Extinction challenge, he could enter the Greatest of All-Time conversation.
I wouldn’t say Steph is in that GOAT conversation in terms of players, but possibly among point guards. He’s also probably the best three-point shooter ever. This is very similar with Jeremy, where he could be seen as one of the best new-school players ever, but among the all-time best, he falls just short.
Nick Wilson as Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nick is the new kid on the block, having been the most recent winner to take part in this season. His win came in 2018 and is arguably a very different game than most of this cast has played in before. But, recency bias and being one of the best in the current and future wave in the game allowed Nick to move far into the game this season.
Giannis is the shiny new toy in the NBA game. He has all the potential to be one of the best players ever, much like Nick did early in the season. The newness and potential of Giannis’s future puts him in this position.
Now, we’re onto the Final 5, those of whom are still in the game as tonight’s episode begins. These comparisons will also offer my predictions as to how tonight could play out.
Ben Driebergen as Reggie Miller
Ben needed a miracle in his first season to win the crown and many fans, including myself, believed he didn’t deserve his win. However, he won and earned his ticket to join this season. While he has been impressive this season, he has never truly been in position to win the game in itself.
Reggie Miller is best known for his nine points in eight seconds to land him his miracle win in the 1995 playoffs. Miller is also known for his three-point shooting, like Ben is known for his idol discoveries. While he came close to winning it all in 1998 and 2000, he ultimately fell short, which is where I think Ben ends up tonight.
Denise Stapley as Hakeem Olajuwon
Denise is probably your mom or dad’s favorite player. I mean, how can you not root for Denise? She’s battled numerous hardships in her ‘Survivor’ career — going to every tribal council in her first season and escaping a massive mid-game target in her second season.
You can’t not root for Denise like you can’t not root for The Dream. It’s just something you can’t do. The Dream also dealt with hardships throughout his career and battled notorious adversaries. While he isn’t considered to be the best player to ever live (editor’s note: speak for yourself, Jeremy!), there’s absolutely nothing you can say wrong about the guy. You can’t dislike Hakeem, just like you can’t dislike Denise. While Hakeem came out on top in two of his Finals appearances, the Goliaths Denise has to battle tonight are too big for her to conquer. However, a Denise win would be David beating Goliath, and that has happened before in biblical and ‘Survivor’ proportions.
Michele Fitzgerald as Dwyane Wade
Before this season, Michele was perceived as someone who didn’t belong on ‘Winners at War.’ However, she’s taken that idea and put those perceptions to rest. She’s always been doubted and she’s proved them wrong every time. Her underdog story has been a treat to watch this season and a win tonight would be an amazing conclusion.
It would be a conclusion like we saw from D-Wade last season. Like Michele, Dwyane Wade has been doubted his entire career and has refused to let the critics affect his play. He’s often seen as a sidekick to LeBron but his three rings don’t care. By the end of his career, Wade was seen as one of the most celebrated athletes in Miami sports history. Hopefully, by the end of tonight, we can say the same about Michele, but I think tonight will end up much like Wade’s last Finals appearance, just shy of the title.
Sarah Lacina as Scottie Pippen
Sarah is one of the best ‘Survivor’ players ever regardless of what happens tonight. She’s made it to two finales in two all-star seasons, which is a feat nobody else around her can say. Her social game has improved as she’s made each appearance and her track record cannot be matched.
Very few people can claim as many titles as Scottie Pippen has. Six championships is incredibly impressive. He’s often remembered as Michael Jordan’s right hand man, but even without MJ, Pippen held his own and is without a doubt one of the best to ever play. However, his career is defined by playing next to Michael Jordan, and by the end of tonight, I feel like that’s where Sarah’s career will be defined, playing next to the GOAT of ‘Survivor.’
Tony Vlachos as Michael Jordan
Tony qualified for this season by winning against one of the most impressive ‘Survivor’ casts ever. Many of his ‘Survivor: Cagayan’ cast mates would go on to play in future seasons, including his partner Sarah. In ‘Survivor: Game Changers,” he was destined to lose given his massive target. And that second game has allowed him to play a strong game this season, against THE BEST PLAYERS EVER. If Tony wins tonight, he’s the GOAT.
Michael Jordan :: Tony Vlachos. These two are synonymous if Tony pulls out the win tonight, which I believe he will. Many people saw Tony as one of the best ever after just one win. Even if Tony loses tonight, he’s one of the best. I do believe the game is his to lose heading into tonight, and with the win comes the unofficial G.O.A.T title that Michael Jordan has reminded everyone is rightly his in 2020. Tony’s just doing the same thing.