August 12, 2014 11:35 AM EDT

In reality TV, 90% of success is in the concept, and Survivor‘s remains the master equation: isolation + cash prize * hot-weather clothing = entertainment. Still, the 10% that is execution separates the best from the rest, and Survivor remains a constantly surprising and enthralling game, both socially and physically. Even after seven years, there’s no clear single best way to win the political game of Survivor: is it better to be liked (Africa’s Ethan) or respected (the first season’s Richard), a master athlete (Palau’s Tom) or a master strategist (All-Stars’ Rob and Amber)? Whether or not it sheds any light on how people behave in “real” society, it remains the most engrossing example of how people really behave in the fake society of a high-pressure TV contest.

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