This is long. So long that I went OVER the 40,000 character limit. Maybe the first person in Survivor history! If you're crazy enough to read that, I posted the rest in substack
tl;dr horrible social game
When I finished watching the penultimate episode of Survivor: Winners at War (the not so subtle episode title being “The Penultimate Step of War”), I like many other people watched in amazement as Tony Vlachos seemingly took several more steps towards a relatively easy victory against a field of previous champions. He had won three straight immunity challenges at one point. He had found a hidden immunity idol that he hasn’t had to use yet because he has received zero votes this season. He literally doubled down on spy locations by building both a spy bunker and a spy nest, and then the spy nest actually gave him good intel when he overheard Denise’s plot to oust him.
But then I looked outside and remembered I can’t go out there and re-watched the entire season over the weekend. Then it hit me: that’s right, I’m dumb. And my calculations of how Tony has managed to make it this far without receiving any votes were, much like Sandra, off the island. Not to rag on “the Queen” too hard, but the way that she got that moniker could be more fitting to the season 40 winner than the crown itself.
I too can double down and I also happened to finish re-watching Survivor: Heroes vs Villains last week. (Oh you think that’s bad? This is the second time I’ve watch HvV this year. I was binge-watching 20-year-old TV shows before quarantine even started.) I was, slightly less pathetically, watching it with two friends over FaceTime and they had never seen it before. I’ve been taking them through several of my favorites seasons during this time, with my “Survivor Phase One” plan culminating in HvV because it’s the closest thing we have to an event like Winners at War.
It is also, I think, the greatest cast and greatest tribe the show has ever seen. That being the Villains, who fairly well dominated the Heroes throughout and ended up as the final four. Among the Villains tribe were four players who have won Survivor and in Winners at War, including Sandra, the game’s only two-time winner. “Queen.”
Except literally until it dawned on everybody at the final tribal that Sandra had actually built a case to win by reminding the jury that she had tried over and over again to warn them about the rival sitting next to her, Sandra was that season’s joke. The broadcast barely ever brings up her previous win on Pearl Islands, not until it is briefly mentioned to Russell Hantz in the finale as a reason she won’t get votes and that she doesn’t care, “I’ll take the $100,000,” and she’s played as a “goat” being led to the finals as someone who couldn’t get a single vote.
“But I don’t know about that.”
Despite being in the conversation as the worst challenge performer in Survivor history, a title she’s proud of, and rightfully so as the challenges do not matter too much when it comes to voting. As shown in her tribal council against Russell and Parvati Shallow, another previous winner.
In winning a final challenge in a matter of a second or two over Parvati and Jerri Manthey (and not Sandra), Russell secured his second individual immunity. He had found a hidden immunity idol. He had a Hero send him a hidden immunity idol. Parvati had won three individual immunity necklaces. She found a hidden immunity idol. And Russell gave her a hidden immunity idol too. Sandra had none of that.
And why would she need it? She wasn’t the goat. Russell was the goat. Sandra was the false goat. And she was squeaky clean. You don’t need the jewelry to win Survivor, you need the votes.
As much as I love Russell Hantz for being one of the most entertaining players in Survivor history, one of the most dedicated and loving fans of the game, and a real marvel in understanding how to manipulate a group of people, he never stood a chance at winning any of his three seasons. Because while Russell can manipulate people, he can’t do anything to win them back when the game goes to the jury. The people he manipulated. That’s another thing that’s so fascinating about Survivor, is that you’re always facing a group of people at the end who believe they should be sitting where you’re sitting and you damn well better explain how that happened in a way that makes me want to give you the million dollars that should be my million dollars.
Survivor is not always about being the person people want to vote for, it is often about not being the person that people will never vote for. And people will never vote for Russell Hantz.
I believe people will vote for Tony Vlachos and we saw it happen once before. I just don’t believe that any of these people will vote for him.
In re-watching the season, I took down notes on the five players remaining in the game and tried to keep a tally on the moves they had pulled both good and bad:
I also took notes about what people would say about these people, how the jury responded to them, and generally interesting or notable things that happened this season. As you know, Survivor is a gameshow that runs day and night for the castaways and we only get 45 minutes of that per week usually, so I’m only going off of what was shown in the edits. Oftentimes, votes will be notably influenced by relationships and moments that we never saw.
But as I tracked their moves episode by episode, a ranking became pretty clear by midseason, around episode seven.
Tony and Sarah had the most moves out of those five people, and while Tony was getting a ton of airtime with CBS, Sarah was doing a lot more positive things which I’ll go over in a moment. I didn’t really agree at the time that there was a close third place to those two. Denise had made the biggest headline move of the season at that point when she had used Sandra’s hidden immunity idol against her to vote out the “Queen,” but at the time I wondered if that was even smart.
Tony was right there and Sandra was telling her that he was a big threat who had to go, and then Denise took out a player who would have sat out every challenge for the rest of the season if she could have over a player who I thought was dominating the game at that point of my re-watch. It was the best opportunity in the entire game to get rid of Tony and Denise took out a player who would quit immediately after. Not only that, she wasted her own hidden immunity idol on Jeremy Collins, who had cast a vote against her that night.
In retrospect, maybe Denise could see what I think I see now: that Tony was not really a threat at all. Perhaps Tony too is a goat disguised as a lion.
My feelings on Michele at that point were that she hadn’t been shown doing much of anything other than talking about Wendell Holland; CBS really failed the bechdel test on that one for awhile. And Ben was portrayed as the goat in goat’s clothing. Even if Ben were to respond to this, I’m not sure what he’d argue was a moment where he “looked good” in the game in at least the first half of the season.
My ranking around episode seven or eight had to be:
But even then I knew that Tony’s big heroics weren’t even close to coming yet. He had been shown up to that point as being the funny guy, the wacky guy, the erratic guy, the paranoid guy, and with Sarah and Ben only, the loyal guy, but it was in these home stretch episodes where he’s blown away Survivor fans like myself who hope to see “greatness” every season, just like an NBA or NFL fan would. Not MLB though. They’re looking for stuff right down the middle.
Except that before I even got to the home stretch I was quickly beginning to realize that Tony had alienated many jury members. During the season that he won, Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty, Tony’s chaos at tribal was part of his charm. He’d appear to be in trouble but then he’d talk about a “bag of tricks” and other things that he could do and sure enough he did find idols and make cool moves and then he somehow managed to convince Woo Hwang to take him to the final over Kass McQuillen and he’s the winner. Woo’s decision was dubbed one of the worst in Survivor history because of the obviousness of not taking Tony to the finals.
If not for that, maybe nine Survivors out of 10 end up taking Kass, and 90% of the time, Tony isn’t a sole survivor. I now believe this season will be the one where people are begging to take Tony to the finals much like Sandra and Parvati were happy to sit at the end with Russell.
However in this season, Tony’s chaos at tribal has been shown on TV as being annoying to both the jury and the future jury aka the people he’s voting out. The night that he targeted and successfully sent Kim Spradlin to the Edge of Extinction, he first had to create a huge spectacle that caused confusion and slowed down the conversation without doing anything positive for the game. This was actually the second time during the season that chaos at tribal was started by Tony whispering to Jeremy and drawing attention to himself and his paranoia.
The entire time, Sarah was doing damage control. Kim went to Sarah: “What’s Tony doing?” At that point it really hit me like it didn’t hit my dumb brain the first time I watched it: Kim would never vote for Tony to win $2 million over Sarah. Never. In fact, she wouldn’t vote for him over Denise either. Or Michele. And maybe not Ben. Not from what I had surmised from the season.
And then I realized that would be true for a lot of people.
Jeremy will never vote for Tony. Another player blindsided by Tony after he had earned trust with Jeremy (“extremely believable” was how Jeremy felt about him just before Tony voted him out) and he’s going to vote for Michele if he gets the chance to. If he can’t vote for Michele, he’ll vote for Sarah. Or probably Denise, who used that idol on him.
If Natalie Anderson doesn’t come back from the edge, then she’s going to be a vote and she hasn’t seen a lick of the game except for at tribal council. She only knows that and what she’s heard. And Natalie is so close to Jeremy, that’s why she was the first voted out. If Jeremy isn’t voting for Tony, neither is Natalie.
Slowly the votes topple one by one.
Nick Wilson isn’t going to vote for Tony. Sophie Clarke isn’t going to vote for Tony. Adam Klein isn’t going to vote for Tony. Wendell Holland isn’t going to vote for Tony. Parvati Shallow isn’t going to vote for Tony.
Not if he’s up against Sarah or Michele, in my opinion, and potentially not if he’s up against Denise. If any of those three are in the finals with him, then I am not sure he can get enough votes to win. I am not sure he can get votes at all. Because not only that, I think most players who would return from the edge can beat him. Remember, Tony doesn’t know most of these people. He played with Sarah twice before and he can’t put her on the jury and expect to get her vote, she already said that. If he backstabs her, he’s even more hopeless. He was out of his second season, Game Changers, almost immediately. So nobody from that season really knows him either.
The only reason Sarah is protecting Tony is because she knows she can beat him. And she maybe can’t beat Michele. Tony and Sarah have made these moves together and Tony can’t betray her, so he has to go up against her. Meaning he has to go up against someone who will probably beat him in a landslide once you realize that Sarah has also made a ton of really nice moves, more successful moves, and has won the social game that Tony has failed at to a disastrous level.
These are how I rank the final “six” players in Survivor, based on how likely it is that I think they will win. This is not necessarily my ranking of how they played the game, but the beauty of Survivor and the fans is that we tend to create a mysterious and illogical space between those two concepts. Sarah
Sarah gets the advantage over Michele because she has done the best job of positioning herself for the final three. While her alliance with Tony and Ben is described as “rock solid” by Sarah, Michele has no such luck. She doesn’t know who is coming back from the edge and if they’ll want to work with her. It doesn’t mean that won’t happen, it just means that I can only go off of the most recent episode.
Let’s say that Natalie returns from the edge. Is that someone who will want to work with Michele and Denise and vice versa? I think the answer is obviously “yes” but only out of total necessity; Michele can’t beat Natalie either. Or at least, she has to fear that the person who spent 30+ days on the edge with most of the jury will end up with some votes.
I think Sarah has played the strongest game up to this point. Getting the opportunity to buy the “steal a vote” advantage for a token wasn’t up to her (so I don’t give credit to a lot of the people who got those scrolls from the edge) but it included a challenge of her having to sneak it and snatch it from inside a torch at the enemy’s camp. What an insane challenge that nobody else had to go through! Hey, find some consistency with these tokens next season, we need at least one good economy left!
On top of that, Sarah actually used her advantage successfully and most idols and advantages this year have been for naught. They were wasted. Sarah’s wasn’t. At the first tribe swap, Sarah and Sophie seemed out-numbered, but she flipped Ben immediately and then at tribal, does a complete sell job on Boston Rob to make him feel super comfortable in case he has an idol. He didn’t, but Sarah and Sophie were claiming themselves as helpless victims and if she had actually felt that way, she would have wasted her steal a vote.
Instead, it helped get Tyson Apostol out for the second time.
She created the Cops R Us alliance with Tony (or, re-created) in the beginning of the season, saw him as a wonderful shield to absorb all the negative feedback of their moves, and then legitimately escapes blame for the times he went rogue and voted behind her back. Like with Sophie. Who will obviously vote for Sarah over Tony, her secret alliance that shockingly was kept secret at all in spite of the fact that this is their third time playing together.
Cops R Us was all behind the scenes — it had to be in order for it to work, but also because it helped Sarah separates herself from the villain of the season in Tony and “perception is reality” — it’s the statement that Michele tells Sarah late in the season to try and get her to flip on Tony. “They see him as the one pulling the strings.”
“Tony is a boss,” says Boston Rob at the tribal council where Tony stops Jeff Probst so that he can quietly ask Jeremy who he voted for (a tribal first, I think), then loudly asks Sarah if she wants his hidden immunity idol, to which she politely declines. I’m not sure if it was a compliment.
Sarah hears this from Michele: “perception is reality” that Tony is the one pulling the strings. She feigns worry. Or maybe she doesn’t, but I assume she does. This is the plan. “Yes, Tony is the one pulling the strings. You want me to get rid of him for that? Nobody likes the strings. They want impeachment.”
But Tony wasn’t the only person who she was shown having a strong connection with.
We see early in the season that Tyson and Sarah love to laugh together. It’s an odd scene to place in an episode when you’ve got 45 minutes per week or so, but it endears me more to Sarah. In fact, I’ve found myself liking her more and more as the season went on, and that she may be in my top-five all-time. And it occurs to me why: She’s likable! And CBS is making an effort to show you that she’s likable. Including late in the year when she’s hosting a fashion show and tells the people at home, “Tony sucks at the social game.” Sarah was also criticized by some people for giving a reward to Nick on his birthday, but it never circled back to her and put a target on her back and spoke again to her playing a social game.
As reward challenges are phased out of the broadcast, this one stays in.
Of course Sarah has to eventually turn on Tyson, Nick, Kim, and others, just like Tony does, but he gets the blood on his hands. She also manipulates Ben as she needs to, including getting him to believe that blindsiding Nick is his idea, even when he desperately has wanted to get out Jeremy for several votes and failed.
It’s not a clue, it’s right in our faces: People don’t want to give Tony Vlachos $2 million unless they absolutely have to. And yet he’s definitely going to try and help Sarah get to the final because he knows that he can’t cut her now. If Tony backstabs Sarah, he’s just giving $2 million to Michele or the Edge.
Sarah’s two alliance members also both possess hidden immunity idols, making it difficult to see how the other three can beat them at the next vote without getting very lucky, unless Ben realizes he can’t beat Sarah or Tony and flips to two other people he can’t beat. Sarah is strong with Tony and Ben because they are the two people left in the game who could get zero votes.
I see Sarah having the clearest path to the final, the easiest win if her alliance is the final three, and an edit that has all the elements necessary to sell her as the true champion of Winners at War.
Advantages Left: 3 Fire Tokens Michele
Everybody who wins their season of Survivor deserves to have won that season of Survivor and that is the beauty of the game. The only way to determine who did the best is “Who won?” That’s it. Nobody’s gonna talk about how you really crushed it at finishing fourth. It’s the same speech that Boston Rob gives Michele early in the season as he’s trying to get hoop on stick in tree, his favorite game as a kid outside Fenway just hopin’ to get a glance of Ted Williams, I imagine.
That being said, it doesn’t mean we can’t assign quality of win to players each season and I can’t say that Michele’s current season has shown much championship quality other than the cut of her talking about how she’s proving herself this season after being considered a “lucky” champion of a different Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty.
I didn’t quite understand how she was using her fire tokens; like buying a 50/50 coin but then so flippantly giving it to Jeremy, even though she was voting against him. Then she would voluntarily sit out challenges, play terribly in other challenges, and stepped off for shared peanut butter to gift an immunity necklace to Denise at a critical point in the game. Like, “THIS IS YOUR ONLY TIME PLAYING THIS SEASON, KEEP THOSE FOR YOURSELF.” There’s some mentality that you have to be ruthless to win. To gain respect. But Michele has gained respect through her generosity and taking on a caregiver role with her alliance members and tribe mates and she probably has the most friends on the jury right now.
While the most recent episode showed Michele winning the immunity necklace right when she needed it most — a similar story to her BvBvB win — her strongest moves have been much more subtle. I don’t think that anyone the jury cares if Michele wins a single immunity, but she may need to win at least one more to get in front of the jury at all because she’s the number one threat and she is the second-to-last person Cops R Us wants to see sitting with them in the final three.
Michele seems to have used her relationships to position herself to get votes against any of these three players who have made big moves. These people who have stabbed the jury in the back. Or in the case of Ben, just been a huge asshole to people like Adam and Jeremy along the way and you can’t get a single vote.
She’s the anti-Ben.
Michele says that this season has been a “struggle” to get people on board for a single vote and that will be played up at final tribal if she makes it. “I kept trying to pull moves but I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me.” It would be the exact same argument as Sandra at HvV. She saw Ben playing both sides but couldn’t get him out. She wants to take out Tony in episode 12 but can’t.
Tony is her Russell Hantz.
Russell took Sandra because he thought she was such an easy win because he only thinks about the game as being some impressive display of wartime strategy. “Aren’t you amazed at how I’ve manipulated all of you into being stupid enough to give me a million dollars?” No, they aren’t amazed. They’re pissed. They just want the money for themselves but if they can’t have it, neither can you.
She could be Tony’s Sandra, if he doesn’t know it.
“She’s bad at most challenges”
“Her 50/50 coin didn’t matter”
“She didn’t find any hidden immunity idols”
The jury doesn’t care about any of this. Tony played the game the hardest, but playing hard doesn’t win Survivor. Getting votes at the end does.
Jeremy would vote Michele, and Natalie would most likely follow him.
Nick and Wendell would most likely vote Michele. If Denise is in the jury, her too. Parvati would vote Michele. That’s six votes without much of a thought and six votes could be enough to win if the remaining 10 votes are split.
We saw Boston Rob and Michele talk about the validity of winning and Boston Rob assured her she rightfully won her season. What does he care of Tony and Ben? Ben flipped on him and voted him out. Sarah voted him out. Many of these people have simply been sitting on the edge and watching the jury and it would not be hard to see Boston Rob and his wife Boston Amber (she took his first name) taking that information and jointly voting for Hoboken Michele.
Other than certain players who could return from the edge, Michele probably has the most jury power right now. But because she’s not in as good of a position to make the final three as Sarah, I can’t see her as being quite as likely to win. But Michele was seen as a favorite going into the season and her edit has been a mix of good and bad that would keep her off the radar and also allow for a “champions” edit at the start of the reunion show.
There’s no question to me that Sarah and Michele have the most obvious b-roll shots and comments about their game for a “champions” edit. This is a really close 1-2 for me, but Michele has a more difficult path to the final three.
Advantages Left: 3 Fire Tokens Edge Edgerton
I won’t spend too much time on this because we simply don’t know who will come back from the edge. Here are my power rankings for who comes back from the edge as of right now:
Ethan (shocker, I know)
Tyson has an advantage in the challenge to get back in, he won the first challenge to get back in because he’s a challenge beast, and he has a hidden immunity idol gifted to him by Natalie. I also think Tyson’s gotten an edit that would imply that something special in his season is going to happen.
Natalie has THREE advantages in the final challenges, though we don’t know what those advantages are. I find the flaw in this season’s edge and fire tokens to be that Natalie had the most advantage on the edge because she was there the longest. Which means that she was out of the main game the longest. But she’s rewarded for that? I don’t agree with that concept of gamesmanship but so be it. She’s a freak athlete and she has three advantages, an idol, and was loading up on peanut butter. Natalie could get back into the game.
Finally, Ethan is one of the people in this who won’t have an advantage. He’s also been on the edge since the fourth vote, so he must be tired and weaker by now. But Ethan’s gotten a ton of airtime this season. He is the most likable person on the show maybe and that could be the only reason why he’s shown a lot, but he’s not just here to smile and crush adversity. Ethan can play too, and if he gets back into the game … sorry, I’m already crying.
Wendell has an advantage and something about his edit in the last episode told me, “It could be him.” Boston Rob has an advantage, an idol, and is THE challenge beast, but what we saw this season was not the same Boston Rob. Parvati’s also gotten a lot of time on TV and she’s won a ton of friends in the jury while playing from the edge. If the challenge has to do with concentration and endurance, that’s where Parv really shines.
Any of these players may come close to sweeping at final tribal, which is why the final five might actually have to band together one more time to get them out. If that person is Tyson, Natalie, or Boston Rob, we know that’s not going to happen at the next tribal because of the immunity idol, and that’s where the game could get extremely interesting. Denise
I really don’t see much in Denise’s game this season, but that’s not the way that Sarah sees it. In one of the last episodes, she really fears that Denise will win the game if she makes the final three. That she hasn’t pissed off a single person on the jury, people like her, and she “took out the Queen.” When Denise boasted at the merge of her move to take Sandra’s idol and then vote her out with it, we saw people like Wendell make it clear that he didn’t want to see her on the island for a second more.
Which tells you that if Wendell is sitting on the jury and Denise is sitting at tribal council, he might vote for her to win. And a lot of others may agree with Wendell.
If Tony backstabs Sarah and brings Ben and Denise, we could see Denise win this game with 12 or 13 votes. At least. She doesn’t have a long resume and she doesn’t need a long resume. Though Denise is clear during the season that she’s “here to play the game like everyone else,” she also notes that her strategy is to look weak. “I need you more than you need me,” she explains in a confessional.
But she’s got a pitch to the jury that is not quite that weak.
Denise won two immunity necklaces (albeit both in gender-split competitions and with two females stepping down for peanut butter at the last one). She found one idol, then bought an idol from Sandra to get her out of the game. She could claim now that she didn’t get Tony out at the time — or at any time — because she too recognized that he couldn’t get any votes. She gave Jeremy her idol because she wanted respect for playing the game hard in between the moments where she’d pull her “humble” game and do the “anybody but me” Sandra routine.
Jeremy: “Denise is playing better than you think.”
Wendell: “That’s what I’m saying.”
She would build relationships but then be totally open to betraying them if she had to. She was into blindsiding Jeremy. She was fine with voting out Adam, her day one ride or die. But she was so meek, so humble, so small, and so quiet, that the target was never on her. Tony and Jeremy are constantly focused on “meat shields” because they see themselves as the biggest threats, guys who need to keep each other around, but what they overlook is the fact that Tony and Jeremy are simply “meat shields” to the perceived weaker players. Like Denise.
Denise has slid under the radar because of both the Cops R Us side and the Michele-Jeremy-Nick side. If you want to say she’s “riding coattails,” she’s fine with that. Anything that gets her to the end. Her best play right now would be to convince Tony that he can’t beat Sarah — which is true — and to instead let her beat him. I mean, he’s going to believe that Sarah has more moves and maybe that Denise only has two or three jury votes, but I don’t know about that.
Michele and Sarah simply have better arguments and better paths to the finals. Denise has a few moments that could be built up as a really sneaky assassin victory for Winners at War, but not nearly as many as those other two. I don’t know that she can beat three of the six remaining players — which is precisely why she’s fourth for me.
Advantages Left: None Tony
In between all the moves that make for great Survivor television, Tony Vlachos was efficiently dismantling any hopes he had for winning Winners at War. That’s the only way I see it now and I think there’s only two people who Tony could potentially beat at this point: Ben and a really weak player from the edge, like maybe Adam. (I actually love Adam as a player, but he can’t win this season.)
Even in that scenario, I wonder if Sarah would successfully destroy Tony’s game with whatever amount of time she has to talk to the jury when he betrays her. “Let’s give it to that cutie Adam, remember how cute it was when he tried to play Jeff Probst as an idol?”
But against almost any player in the final three, I don’t see how Tony can be a more favorable option to give $2 million to than of them because he’s the last person many of these jury members may want to win. It’s not as simple as thinking that the jury will respect that Tony backstabbed, lied, and flipped his way to the final three however he could. That’s what Russell believed would happen and he got zero votes.
Final tribal at HvV was a moment to sound off on all three players, including Sandra but especially Russell. What will they have to say to Tony?
During this season, many people did have positive things to say about Tony. Yul says at one tribal that he thought Tony would be an “asshole” but that he’s actually great. Later in the season with her neck on the block, Kim says that she loves Tony, but he’s got to be the one to go. We never saw a truly jovial side to Russell and we do see that in Tony. He’s always been a fun guy to have around. The type of guy who’d catch a shark for you. The type of guy who’d climb a 30-foot ladder made out of popsicle sticks for you. The type of guy who, if he’s truly loyal to you, will jump on a grenade for you.
But the problem is that he was only truly loyal to Ben and Sarah and he has been fake loyal to many others. That duplicitous nature is what got Russell zero votes and could land Tony in a similar position.
He wants Jeremy around as a meat shield, and vice versa, but as soon as Jeremy wants to target Sarah or Sophie, Tony tries to organize a blindside against him. When Jeremy gets voted out down the line, thinking Tony had his back because he was “extremely believable,” he tells Tony “bad move, dude” for flipping on him. Sounds like now he’ll never get Jeremy’s vote. Or Natalie’s for that matter.
At one point he sees his only path as playing both sides, so he makes Jeremy-Michele-Nick-Kim believe that he’s with them and he even appears to be momentarily. They blindside Sophie, which causes Sarah to call her partner “Grimey.” Ben also loses trust in Tony after that, attempting to hide the fact that he found a hidden immunity idol from Tony but without being covert enough. He used four people to betray his alliance but now three of those people are gone and Kim never truly believed Tony. She’s never going to vote for Tony if she’s got Sarah, Michele, Denise, or an edge player as options. We can also safely assume that Sophie isn’t champing at the bit to make Tony a champ.
We even see that on the edge when Parvati and Natalie find the extortion advantage, they have an opportunity to try and ruin anyone’s game out there. In one scenario, the player is out of fire tokens and in debt and in the other, they’re not playing in the immunity challenge or getting a vote at tribal. The person who receives this note from the edge could be completely screwed and they know it.
The person they chose to use the extortion on was … Tony.
As he reads the note, Tony believes that someone is willing him an advantage in the game. That’s how unaware he is that he’s the villain. If Natalie and Parv are willing to extort Tony for six coins, are they also willing to vote for him to win $2 million? Exactly how many friends does Tony have on the edge?
During the first tribal of the penultimate episode, the discussion from Jeff centers around how people will view brutal blindsides this season. Everyone feels comfortable that they’re safe during this one, which obviously means that someone is very wrong. Nick says, “We’re not chess pieces.” People don’t want to be treated like objects this time around, they want to be treated like people. The same people they were when Survivor brought out the loved ones for every single person, whether they were on the edge or in the game, and this season above all others has been stressing family.
Not just the families that these people have often discussed on the show — kids left behind by the Bostons, Tyson, Sarah, Parvati, Jeremy, and probably more than that — but also the Survivor family. Jeff is so excited to bring back 20 winners in the premiere that he has maybe the only cringy moment in 20 years when he does some pirate accent during the toast. Then the whole edge bombards Jeff at the end of tribal after they had received loved ones visits that day. They love him and they love this game and they want to crown a winner who is not the black sheep of that family.
I believe they love Tony too, but there may not be a single person on the jury who has really played with him prior to this and he has been the black sheep of this season. He would not be the person that I think they’d crown as the winner of WoW unless he situates himself perfectly at final tribal. Because he can’t really backstab Sarah to get in that position anyway, I see few scenarios where Tony can actually win.
Cops R Us is actually “Good Cop/Bad Cop” and are people going to vote for the person who is punching them in the face or the person who is getting them a Diet Coke? Sarah is dragging Tony and Ben’s bloodied bodies into the final circle not out of loyalty, but because it’s her best shot to win. People want to vote for the person who has made Winners at War an enjoyable experience for them. In the case of the viewers, that’s Tony. In the cases of the people on the island, it’s not the person who turns a simple vote into stressful chaos.
Advantages Left: 1 Immunity Idol, 3 Fire Tokens Ben
Can you have played the worst game of the season if you make final tribal? By definition I think that’s what a goat really is. The only valid reason I can see to why Ben is still around at all is that he seems to be the furthest thing from a “big threat” that he constantly seems to claim that he is.
But again, in the game of Survivor, not being perceived as a threat can be the same thing as being a threat. Unfortunately for Ben, he could also be the most hated player left in the game, even more so than Tony, who is at least being cutthroat in the spirit of winning the game. Ben seems to have simply succumb to the harshness of the environment and the more annoyed he gets with living in these conditions, the more annoying he becomes to his tribemates.
It’s not as though Ben has done nothing. Side-by-side with Michele and Denise, Ben’s paper resume could be as good or better. He positioned himself under Tony, Jeremy, and Tyson at the merge and targeted floaters. He aligned himself with Sarah at the first tribe swap — but I honestly think that’s also one of his flubs.
Instead of using Boston Rob for one vote to get out Sophie or Sarah — more legitimate threats during this season probably — he worked with Sophie and Sarah to get out Boston Rob. Then he could have used the remaining player to get rid of Boston Rob at the next tribal. Of course, Ben didn’t know that Sarah had a steal a vote that would have saved her and sent home Boston Rob, but I still think it’s what he should have done.
Instead, he teamed up with Sarah, Sophie, and Adam against Boston Rob, then spent the next nine days or so being a complete asshole to Adam. At least from what we saw on camera. He aligned with Adam out of necessity, but he burned him as a potential jury vote for no clear reason. He later did the same thing with Jeremy, who brings with him Natalie’s vote also. When Ben attempts to blindside Jeremy, who was warned by Tony and saves himself, he stares down Ben. He’s not going to get Jeremy’s vote.
What exactly is the “strategy” there?
Ben does find an idol, but he was not in control of his situation awareness enough to see the idol and hide it from Tony. To leave it be and know where it is and grab it when Tony’s not looking. But he doesn’t do that and so he has to fake celebrate with Tony instead — and the damage is already done. He’s got an idol and he’s lost trust with Tony. He didn’t trust Tony at that point, but that doesn’t mean he should have sacrificed the trust that Tony desperately needed from Ben after blindsiding Sophie.
When Nick and Kim see their chance to blindside Tony, they go to Ben. He could have taken that information and kept it without pissing off anybody, but he goes and tells Tony. Nick and Kim are foiled. They too, will never vote for Ben.
When Boston Rob wants information out of Ben early in the season, it’s easy. When Sarah wants to plant the idea in his head that he’s the one making the Nick blindside decision, it’s easy. Does Boston Rob (and Amber Rob) want to make the winner of Winners at War the player who he could so easily have mind control over?
I doubt that.
Ben also tries to get Jeremy to get Michele to give him the 50/50 token again just to be sure that she doesn’t have any advantages. Jeremy, the guy who he’s giving the cold shoulder to and losing all trust with. Jeremy, the close friend of Michele. “At first I liked Ben, and now everything he does annoys me” Jeremy. This pisses off Michele. She too won’t vote for Ben.
Throughout the season, Ben talks about how this season he wants to find “good people” who he can trust and he seems willing to keep everyone else outside of that circle. But by the end, Ben’s only friends seem to be the two people who he would be sitting at the end with, and even those two probably wouldn’t vote for Ben. That’s why Ben’s here. Because he can’t get any votes.
Tony can’t get any votes either. But Ben less so can’t get any votes. I could see Tony beating Ben and Adam. I couldn’t seen Ben beating any two players who could be sitting at this final tribal. He has few friends, few moves, and his only real play is that he intentionally isolated and annoyed so that he could position himself in the final three against Cops R Us. “The true villains of WoW who backstabbed you all. Split the votes with them 5-5, give me the other 6.”
I don’t see any scenario though that gives him six.
Advantages Left: 1 Immunity Idol, 0 Fire Tokens
20 years ago, Jeff Probst and 16 castaways started this amazing game for the first time. By the end, the “villain” had won: Richard Hatch defeated Kelly Wigglesworth by a 4-3 vote. Except that while Richard was naked and cutthroat about the game and the people in it, he essentially became a Survivor legend — the first winner and in some ways the architect of alliances — not because of what he had done. But because of what his opponent had done.
Hatch was not a challenge beast. Kelly was. Actually, when the game was on the line, Richard Hatch crumbled. He couldn’t win immunity to get from 4 to 3, and then at 3, he was the first to quit. He saw no reason for him to continue, he believed that both players would take him to the end. He was right.
Wigglesworth won the last five immunity challenges — dominating her way into the final two against all odds — but the jury wasn’t there to read resumes. They were there to get revenge. And while it is true that the vote was also decided by one player making his choice at random, the moment that everyone remembers about Survivor: Borneo was Sue Hawk telling Kelly that she could suck her dick.
Okay, she didn’t say “suck my dick” but that would have been pretty funny. What she said instead was also funny and much more specific, which was that she wouldn’t give her water to save her life. Suck. My.
Vote??? Read the Rest here
I don’t expect anyone to read all of this because I really went overboard, but maybe you'll want to check out what I thought of certain people's premiere. (I’m not sure if my confessional count is correct, I was trying to count while taking edgic notes.)
Danni UTRP2 (2 confessionals): Ah Danni, the OG UTR Queen is back at it. Danni’s opening confessional didn’t tell us much – simply that the style of play has changed drastically since Guatemala and that she was nervous about it. We didn’t get any explanation of how she intended to play this new style, other than pointing out that she thought Rob should go because there wouldn’t be many opportunities to take him out. This name-drop of a target obviously didn’t come to fruition because of Ben rating her out, so for me, this wasn’t really a strategic confessional that could warrant MOR or CP, but more something that was included to build on Rob’s story of being a threat.
I gave Danni P-tone because of Rob saying how much he respected and trusted her for telling him the truth. Danni’s only other confessional was a throwaway comment about paranoia during the scramble, and for that reason she never rose above a UTR rating for me. This introduction, coupled with the fact that Danni was the only member of her tribe not to speak at tribal council, doesn’t give me high hopes for her winning this season. (Unless she’s hiding her strategy from production again!)
Michelle UTR2 (1 confessional): Poor Michelle, this really wasn’t a good premiere for her. Other than a short soundbite in the opening montage, we didn’t really hear from Michelle at all until after her tribe had gone to tribal council. Even then, her one confessional was just saying how bad tribal went because she was left out of the vote. She did mention having something to prove because of the doubt surrounding her win, but then Ben took the reins of narrating how the new-schoolers could turn the tide, so I didn’t find the comment from Michelle particularly complex. Unlike Danni, Michelle at least got to speak at tribal, but again it wasn’t the greatest look – she said she was usually calm, but her head was spinning. I’ve seen some suggest that Michelle was protected by the edit as she voted with Natalie and Jeremy, and that might be the case, but I find it hard to believe. If Michelle was our winner and had to be protected this episode, I still think she would have had a confessional when the tribe hit the beach, and that that comment at tribal about spinning would probably have been left out. I also think she would have had more of a “this is what I have to do now” type confessional – similar to Ben’s – after being blindsided, to give her any winner legitimacy.
Another thing to note from Michelle – which might turn out not to be important at all but that seemed pointed to me – was the focus on her facial expressions/reactions when Jeff was explaining fire tokens and the Edge of Extinction. Michelle didn’t look happy at all and the camera made a point of zooming in on her during this segment – could it be possible Michelle’s downfall in the game will be the result of fire tokens or the Edge? Or maybe the editors were just poking fun at the fact that Michelle’s win didn’t rely on advantages, so of course she wouldn’t want more of them introduced.
Sarah UTR2 (1 Confessional): There really isn’t much to say about Sarah other than I’m pretty sure she isn’t winning with this opening. She got a soundbite in the montage and her only confessional in the episode was reminding us that she’s the most recent female winner and that the other nine women on the cast were all intimidating. She did mention the season being “nasty” and I’m just praying that’s an allusion to her having a full-blown villain edit later – what we deserved from her in Game Changers. Sarah also had no tribal council content, so I’m really not high on her chances of winning.
Adam MORM4 (3 Confessionals): I’m inclined to think this wasn’t a great premiere for Adam. His first two confessionals were just throwaway narration – one about there not being any easy targets, and the second about not sleeping over fear of the Edge. Neither of these explained how he intended to play the game or mentioned anything about his strategy or personal life.
Then we had the whole “lost with Denise” debacle. Firstly, I’m really surprised at Adam of all people for making this mistake – surely his superfan status takes a hit after making this “rookie mistake” as Jeremy put it. Even though the target was eventually shifted from Adam and Denise, I still think the focus on this situation was detrimental to his chances of going far and/or winning. Unlike others who found themselves on the bottom throughout the episode – Tyson and Kim, for example – who noticed they were in trouble and attempted to do something about it, Adam had to be told he was in trouble by Ben. Granted, he got some P-tone from Ben for being a savvy gameplayer to counterbalance his negativity – thus my ranking as M-toned – but Adam didn’t have the social chops to pick up on his predicament himself.
His third confessional – explaining his position – also came across as indignant at him being targeted over Natalie and Jeremy, rather than being focused on how he would shift the target – hence his lack of a CP rating. Though we did see Adam scrambling, and the person he wanted out get sent to the Edge, I don’t believe the edit was telling us this was down to his gameplay alone. Parvati and Rob were presented as playing well, while the new-schoolers mostly came across as blundering and foolish – Adam’s saviour seemed more a result of Ben’s gameplay, blunders on the part of Jeremy and Natalie, and Rob and Parvati’s ultimate control. Overall, this wasn’t a death-null episode for Adam, but we just didn’t see the game from his perspective as much as I think we would have from the season’s eventual winner if they were targeted this early on and managed to scramble out of being the first boot.
Denise MORM2 (1 Confessional): Like her alliance-mate Adam, this wasn’t the best opening for Denise. Her one confessional in the episode reminded us of the Matsing curse, the fact that she’d survived every tribal on her season, and of her alliance to Malcolm. Though not overtly complex, I thought this content, coupled with her alliance building scene with Adam, was enough to push Denise out of UTR and into MOR. Denise got N-tone from her tribe singling her and Adam out for sneaking off, but I considered her tribal council answer – where she owned up to the mistake – to be redeeming enough to give her M-tone overall. There’s not much more to say about Denise – she’s definitely one of the winners with a smaller personality, so I figure if she had won the season, we would notice her getting a lot of unnecessary content, but that just didn’t happen here. We didn’t get to hear anything about her strategy or scrambling on the bottom. All we really know about Denise’s game this time out is that she’s partnered with Adam – and since I don’t rate his chances highly, I also doubt Denise is winning.
Ethan MORP4 (3 Confessionals): Ethan was probably the hardest character for me to place this episode. After my first watch I would have for sure pegged him as CP but having gone through all his content again I’d say he’s more likely MOR (or even OTTP, though I don’t think he was that overtly positive). Ethan got good personal content this episode – he talked about his struggle with cancer and life after remission in confessional, and said it was a dream come true to get to play Survivor again, accompanied with teary eyes and swelling hero music. He also told us he was excited to see how he would play in this new era of the game and that others “better watch out”. All of this could be winner-esque content, but it actually reminded me a lot more of the journey/fan-favourite edit – particularly Elaine’s from last season. Elaine was also surrounded with positivity and hearkened on about being a threat to make big moves that no one might expect. Based on this first episode, I’d say Ethan has a really good shot at going far and possibly pulling off a couple brilliant moves. However, I also think it’s likely he’ll fall short of final tribal in a similar fashion to Elaine due to his sheer likeability, somewhere in the 8-6 place range. As we never heard from Ethan about specific tribe dynamics or his position in the game, I couldn’t justify rating him as complex.
Jeremy MOR3 (2 Confessionals): I’m not sure what to think of Jeremy’s edit. I feel like we barely saw anything from him this episode – maybe that’s a good thing for his chances considering he was blindsided. Jeremy’s first confessional was him calling out Denise and Adam for their blunder, thus setting up the storyline of that pairing vs Jeremy and Natalie. From here until the end of tribal, Jeremy wasn’t shown to be playing particularly well from what little we did see of him. When others told him and Natalie to vote Adam, he seemed uncertain, as if he would rather it be Denise but just didn’t want to say so – this indecisiveness/unwillingness to be malleable might just have been the tipping point in the tribe’s reasoning for taking out Natalie.
Jeremy also got a lot of tribal council content, which probably wouldn’t be indicative of a winner being protected from a blindside – think Tommy in Jason’s blindside last season. His confessional after Natalie’s vote off about wanting to “get them” for her and being “the richest on this island”, might be setting up a reverse SJDS revenge-arc, where Jeremy takes out those responsible for Natalie’s demise. However, I just don’t see his content in the earlier part of the episode being the foundation of a winner’s edit – though he might take out a couple big dogs in Natalie’s name before getting snuffed himself.
Kim MORN2 (1 or 2? Confessionals): Yikes. This episode was awful all round for my gal Kim. Firstly, she was completely invisible until like the 95-minute mark, which alone is a death-sentence for her shot at winning, in my opinion. When she finally did come into the fray – it was to tell us that she got bad vibes and that she’d realised she was on the bottom. We never got her explaining her position until the writing was on the wall for her trio. Then we had that awful montage of her futile attempts at scrambling – Queen Sandra even laughed in her face and later Kim fell to her knees to grovel and beg for her life. Right before tribal, Kim tells us there isn’t anything she can do to change the situation she’s found herself in – giving us full scope of her absolute lack of agency. I don’t think the season’s winner would ever be shown to be so defeated. I’m hoping for her sake that Kim can pull it together and get an actual footing in the game (literally, please stand up outta the sand Kim) but yeah, if this episode’s edit is telling us anything, it’s “KIM IS NOT WINNING”.
Nick MOR2 (1 Confessional): Nick’s an odd one for me. He mostly wasn’t present for the episode, but his one confessional was really good and almost winner-esque. In it, Nick talked about how fire tokens would be a huge part of the game and that the eventual winner would be someone that uses the currency correctly. This felt almost prophetic, and could just apply to the winner in general, however, he continued by explaining how his chances of winning were greatly raised by the prospect of the tokens, as he was a newer winner and had played with a variety of twists and advantages. It would have been easy for the editors to leave the latter half of this quote out if it wasn’t relevant. Not only is mentioning winning always good but mentioning how you’re going to win is even better, and Nick did both here. He also referenced the prize money at tribal council, which again is usually beneficial for someone’s winner chances.
It’s not all good news for Nick though. Besides his one confessional, he had severely low visibility throughout the rest of the episode. His only other content was him being name-dropped multiple times as part of the in-between alliance of himself, Wendell, Sophie and Yul, and as the target for the Poker Alliance because he was “sneaky”. This lack of visibility for someone who’s proven he can be a massive character probably isn’t great for Nick’s winner chances – if this was DvG, he would have already coined a cringey name for his alliance and would likely have been shown as the driving force in its creation, rather than Yul and Sophie. That said, I can see a world where the winner of this season remains a background character for some time as the bigger personalities and threats are chopped off, so I’m not completely counting Nick out yet and I definitely think his fire token prophecy is important and something worth remembering.
Wendell MOR2 (1 Confessional): Like his new school counterpart Nick, Wendell also lacked visibility this episode. Though he did get a question from Probst during the marooning and some tribal council content about players’ past connections, he only had one confessional for the rest of the episode, though maybe it was a better one than I had originally pegged. Wendell says he’s “known as the builder” – which I guess is light personal content – but that he wants to play the game differently this time by focusing on “building relationships” and that he wants to “chill” and get a read on the other players. This is all good as it tells us how Wendell intends to play, but then that’s kind of just it? We don’t hear from him again until his comment at tribal, other than the fact that he’s aligned with the middle-grounders, but like with Nick, this alliance-forming is told from Sophie and Yul’s perspective. Perhaps a tribe-swap comes sooner rather than later, and the Sophie/Yul pairing remains intact while Wendell and Nick are scattered. Whatever the case, Wendell’s by no means out of contention for me, but I’m also not super high on his chances after this episode.
Ben CPM5 (4 Confessionals): Ben had a mixed bag of an episode, but one thing’s for sure – he’s an important presence on the season, whether it be for the short term or right into the endgame (I’m leaning towards the latter). Ben had lots of content in the premiere, though the majority of his first two confessionals centered around his competitors and being starstruck by the legends, particularly Rob. The whole scene where Rob essentially scares Ben into giving up his information really wasn’t a good look for the ex-Marine, but at least he admitted it was his mistake.
Ben’s episode picked up when he didn’t like the sound of Adam being the target, deciding instead to “go with his gut” and align with Adam, viewing him as an asset for Ben’s game moving forward. This showed good game awareness and that Ben was willing to make moves to benefit him and him alone. He continued in this vein after tribal when he and Michelle discussed their situation and Ben had that great confessional about the new-schoolers having to take back the reigns of control, or else they’d be a bunch of goats. I found it particularly poignant that this conversation centered around Ben and Michelle – two of the most controversial winners in recent history – here attempting to “ungoat” and prove themselves as deserving of their spot. I could definitely see this scene – and Ben’s established connections in the edit to Rob, Adam, Jeremy and Michelle – leading to a new-school uprising spearheaded by Ben and costing Rob his life in the game. Whether Ben’s the winner or not, I expect him to go far, make several decent moves along the way, and have a fairly glowing edit.
Parvati CPP5 (4 Confessionals): With the three mega-legends on the cast – Parvati, Rob and Sandra – I’m expecting them to have complex, fleshed-out edits for the entirety of their time in the game, so it’s no surprise that they were all at the forefront of the episode. Of the three though, Parvati I think has the subtle legs to her edit that point to her lasting the longest (but probably not winning, as I logically can’t see any of the three making it to FTC). In her opening confessional, Parvati explains how happy she is to have the chance to unleash her “diabolical self” again. She then describes herself as a “phoenix rising from the ashes” who’ll burn the other players’ houses down. This comment was interesting to me. Are the ashes in question her HvV loss to Sandra? Or could this be foreshadowing of Parvati getting blindsided in the future (possibly losing Rob to the new-schoolers?) and rising from the ashes of that blunder to make some serious moves before her own demise? Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it.
I gave Parvati P-tone for her personal content about being the flirt in her previous seasons but now being a Mom and wife. She teared up talking about her baby and said she was definitely going to use the Mom card to her advantage, as the music swelled. She then had the other positive for her edit – her alliance-forming scene with Rob. She referenced their chequered past but explained that she can trust Rob because of their similar threat level. We were always aware of Parvati’s perspective.
Parvati’s final confessional was equal parts good and bad. She got to explain both plans that were taking place, presenting herself and Rob as the swing votes and saying they’ve positioned themselves well despite being the two biggest threats – all good. However, she also seemed confused by their safety, which didn’t seem bad at first – they were safe, that was supported by the edit – but then she had her comment at tribal council about everyone having a revolver behind their back and that a lot of people felt safe but shouldn’t. I couldn’t help but link that back to her previous statement, despite it apparently being aimed at Natalie and Jeremy. I’m worried this foreshadows Parvati and Rob getting blindsided soon by the new-schoolers for getting too complacent. Hopefully if that happens, Parvati survives long enough to burn some houses!
Rob CPM5 (4 Confessionals): Of the three mega-legends, I think Rob’s time in the game is most at risk of being cut short. Almost all of his content revolved around him being the biggest threat on the island. In his opening confessional he says he has a huge target on his back and that losing the first immunity put him at a disadvantage off the bat. Yes, he managed to quickly turn things around and position himself as the tribe’s kingpin – intimidating information out of Ben, forming the old-school foursome alliance and the tight pair with Parvati – but I think his “showing the new kids the ropes” might be a shorter-lived run than he hopes, based solely on Ben and Jeremy’s building edits. Of the four people within his old school alliance – Rob, Danni, Ethan and Parvati – Rob seems the most likely to be targeted if the new-schoolers rise up, especially with his edit revolving around him being a huge threat. Rob’s one saving grace is his feud with Sandra – that storyline alone might be enough to guarantee them both making a swap and duking it out, or it could just mean that story will conclude on the Edge. As for his tone, Rob got negativity from Sandra for his betrayal, but positivity from Ben and Parvati when they discussed his capabilities and trustworthiness as a player – thus the mixed tone.
Sandra CP5 (4 Confessionals): The Queen do be staying Queen. I’m not sure if Sandra has longevity or if she’s just really good TV. Certainly, she seems to have a couple good storylines already set up, though I’m worried they’re short-term or things that might be resolved on the Edge. The first of these narratives was of course her feud with Rob and Amber – she said she felt betrayed and that though it was rare for her to act emotionally, she wanted Amber gone as recompense for Rob’s disloyalty. Low and behold, Amber is the first boot from her tribe – the Queen still has it. So, it’s good for Sandra that she’s the first to call the boot – she’s shown to be right and also gets some credit for the move. What’s also good for her is her second storyline – the amending of her relationships and subsequent alliance-building with Tony and Sarah, where we flashback to Game Changers. What worries me for Sandra though, is despite the scene of her and Tony making up, I feel like there wasn’t much content of that trio alone discussing the vote – the entire thing was always positioned as being decided by those in the middle. Regardless of where Sandra ends up this season – either as the target for the middle-grounders, or fighting Rob and Parvati during a swap, she’s already proven she’s here to play and I can’t wait to see what “truths, lies and rumours” she spreads next.
Sophie CP3 (2 Confessionals): Here’s someone I absolutely didn’t expect to be complex in the premiere – which is why I’m so high on Sophie’s chances of winning this season. Though she wasn’t the most visible character, Sophie didn’t need to be this episode – big characters will always get quantity of content, but significant ones (winners) will always get quality, and that’s exactly what we saw from Sophie. Off the bat, Sophie was the one to succinctly describe her tribe’s dynamics, with the “cool kids” alliance of Kim, Tyson and Amber on one side, the “gritty folks” – Sandra, Tony and Sarah – on the other, and herself, Yul, Nick and Wendell in the middle. She then had an excellent duo-alliance forming scene with Yul (probably the most complex premiere alliance besides Parvati and Rob, but we expect those two to be complex) where I think Sophie comes out on top of the pairing edgically. Though Yul is more visible in the episode and shown to be playing extremely well, Sophie points out that having him be her number one ally is the perfect meat shield, or “nerd shield” as she puts it. This tells us exacting how Sophie intends to play the game: by allowing Yul to be the driving, visible force in their pair, so that he will land himself in the line of fire before she does – allowing her to slip by after any carnage that might ensue. That’s exactly what we saw happening this episode.
If all of this wasn’t good enough, Sophie follows it by saying she’s less interested in who to work with, but who she specifically wants to get out. Though we didn’t actually get to hear Sophie’s thoughts on which person should go at this tribal, it’s clear that she’s in the group calling the shots and that if Yul is at the centre of choosing who goes home, Sophie must be right there behind him, whispering a name in his ear. Sophie’s second confessional and first tribal question were narrational, but that alone tells me she’s significant – in South Pacific she was given the bare minimum of content, but here she’s getting some in place of bigger personalities. She also notes that she’s “excited about the money” at tribal – again a subtle sign of a possible winner.
Sophie barely had any screen time or complexity in South Pacific – a season she won – has a lower-key personality than most of this cast, and probably isn’t that memorable to casual fans, so the fact that she opened Winners at War with this showing means she’s going to be important this season – maybe even its winner. But even if she’s not winning, I see Sophie as a lock for the endgame with this premiere.
Tony CP4 (3 Confessionals): Tony had a strong premiere, though there might be a couple warning signs in his edit that I could see pointing to his ultimate loss. The llama-whisperer had the first confessional of the season, where he talked about his big reputation and explained that this was essentially the Superbowl of Survivor, twenty years in the making. This was likely all just hype, but it worries me for Tony’s winner chances that he was the first to speak. I’m not sure on the stats or correlation between first confessional and winners, but I’d say giving the winner the first chance to speak is a little too obvious for the modern editors. Looking back at IoI, Karishma had the first confessional of the season and this further worries me for Tony’s chances – Karishma was one of the biggest characters last season and had a complex journey edit. I can already see hints in Tony’s edit that might point to him playing a similar role as the Kockroach Queen.
Tony’s first confessional after hitting the beach was great. He told us how he was itching to go idol hunting but that he’d learned from his mistakes in Game Changers and that he didn’t want to put a target on his back so early, but rather wanted to make people comfortable enough that he could easily strike. This almost reminded me of Jeremy in Cambodia – Tony had learned from past mistakes and would play the game accordingly. It also gave us an idea of his basic strategy and told us he’s a self-aware player.
Then Tony’s edit took what I consider to be a negative turn for his winner chances. Firstly, the Poker Alliance threw Tony’s name out as a possible target – his apparent strategy of laying low and keeping the target off his back obviously wasn’t working. Then when Sandra told Tony about his being targeted, he acts almost impulsively reactionary in saying that Tyson had to go now because he’d thrown out Tony’s name. This hurt Tony’s winner chances for three reasons – it seemed to be in contradiction to his laying low strategy, it showed Sandra’s sway over Tony’s emotions, since her telling him he was a target was all part of her spreading “truths, lies and rumours”, and finally, Tyson wasn’t the person who got voted out. Not only was Tony shown to be wrong about who should go, he was also shown to not get his way. If Tony was the winner, I doubt him targeting Tyson would have been included in the edit. For that reason, I’d say Tony is more likely to be a complex character that lasts a decent amount of time, his story centring around fighting his instincts to play erratically, but ultimately falling victim to his inescapable threat level.
Tyson CPP3 (2 Confessionals): Damn this was a stellar episode for Tyson. We’re immediately reminded of his quick wit and humour in the opening as the women fall into the water and he asks if they’ve “hit the sea yet”. I thought at this point we were gonna get an OTT Tyson who spends the season making fun of people and acting as the comedy relief. Then we got his actual content, and boy was I wrong.
Firstly, we see him bonding with Amber and Sarah over their kids – a theme that seems very prominent thus far in the season, considering a lot of these players are parents. In confessional he told us that Survivor was “his profession” and that because of the show he gets to be a stay at home Dad and spend every day with his daughters. While tearing up, Tyson got positive music and said he was grateful for all that Survivor had done for him. Then we cut to him starting the fire and someone (either Sandra or Sarah, I can’t remember) is subtitled congratulating him and saying something like “And I thought you were just here for good looks and to make jokes”. It’s evident from the confessional he just had that Tyson takes the game much more seriously than being out there just to make jokes. This scene of him building fire was also accompanied by hero music, and so I think it’s obvious that he was P-toned for this segment alone.
Then we get an insight into Tyson’s gameplay. If Tyson is this season’s winner it would have been impossible to hide the fact that he was targeted along with Kim and Amber this episode, but I think what we were shown is exactly how a winner would have been presented in Tyson’s situation. First off, we never heard Tyson’s alliance of three described by him – this wasn’t presented as a blunder he was actively making, but rather that his group was initially targeted by Sandra because of Rob’s betrayal and connection to Amber. Essentially, we weren’t shown him building an alliance that negatively affected him, but rather that he was unfortunately associated with one. Once Tyson found out about the target on him, he had a brilliant confessional about switching his strategy from “trying to dictate the game” to “pure survival”. He also mentioned that he “felt bad for Kim and Amber”, which showed he is emotionally invested in other players, but that this emotion wouldn’t get in the way of his game because he was “willing to forfeit this battle to win the war”. That was the most winner-esque quote of the premiere! He mentioned winning, he showed he was adaptable, and he tied himself to the season’s theme of war. After what should have been a bumpy episode for Tyson, I have him as my top winner contender and would not be surprised at all if he takes the $2 million home – this is his profession after all.
Yul CP4 (3 Confessionals) This was a good episode for Yul, but perhaps not as great as Tyson’s or Sophie’s. Yul got an opening question from Probst where he says he feels like a “dinosaur” and that he’ll have to change his game to play in this new era, which was all good – he showed self-awareness and an understanding of modern survivor. Then we’re properly re-introduced to Yul when they hit the beach – he mentions how long it’s been since he played his “rationale game” on Cook Islands, that playing new Survivor was “overwhelming”, and that he was worried he would “struggle because of disconnection” to the other players. This had me a little worried too, but then he immediately dispelled my fears by aligning with Sophie, creating the middle-grounders alliance, and narrating the connection of the Poker Alliance to throw a target away from himself.
All of this was presented as good gameplay, but what worried me for Yul is Sophie’s comment about him being her “nerd shield”. Yul never gave a perspective on why he was aligning with Nick, Wendell and Sophie other than them being disconnected like him. We never learned how these people were each specifically beneficial to his game, other than being “soldiers” to recruit into his army, whereas we know Sophie has a reason to keep Yul close, and it’s not a positive one for Yul’s chances. His mention of soldiers and armies was good however, as it tied him to the theme of war, and he did mention that his alliance was one that others might not expect, but that “will control the game”. I actually believe Yul is right here – these four middle-grounders seem to be all significant and could easily influence the course of the season – however, given that he’s the most prominent player of the four and Sophie’s “nerd shield”, I could see a scenario where this group runs a lot of the game but Yul gets targeted and cut by their opposition at some point, only for one of the other three to inherit his story – most likely Sophie. In other words, if I was to guess, I’d say Yul is likely our distraction winner edit this season.
Amber MORM4 (3 Confessionals): Amber’s someone who began the episode on a good trajectory – she got an opening confessional telling us how Survivor had changed her life and that she wants to win a second time and beat her husband, and she got a marooning question from Probst. The mention of winning a second time I thought was significant, and I at least assumed her comment about beating Rob would ensure her outlasting him in the game, but alas I was wrong (unless Amber is an Edge returnee, which I find hard to believe considering how physically stacked this cast is).
Amber’s second confessional about people seeming to be comfortable and thinking she should hunt for an idol seemed really good for her – it paralleled Parvati’s comments about not getting complacent and showed she was being active in playing the game. She then had great personal content (from which she received P-tone) where she cried and said it was difficult to root against her husband in the challenge. But then Amber’s content started to take a turn – she said the “game never stops” and that she had to “take advantage of her time”, which kind of spelled doom for me. We also had Sandra targeting her specifically, for Rob’s betrayal, while her third confessional was her noting that she felt “lost” and needed to dive in. By the time we were heading into tribal council, it was clear that the game now moved at a pace that Amber couldn’t keep up with, which was cemented by Tony and Sandra telling Amber she had to play faster and harder to stay in while at tribal. These comments lumped enough negativity onto Amber for me to push her into M-toned for the episode.
I’m not sure where Amber goes from here. Like I said, I don’t see her as an Edge returner, but I do think it’s possible she helps Rob in some way from the Edge and that maybe their relationship becomes one of the main stories on Extinction when he eventually gets taken out.
Natalie MOR3 (4? Confessionals): This was not the showing I was expecting from Natalie, but maybe there are glimmers of hope in her edit that support a return from the Edge? Firstly, I have Natalie’s visibility so low because despite her scenes on the Edge, she really wasn’t a presence until after being voted out. Her introductory confessional reminded us of her tight relationship with Jeremy and how she played the game for him after he was voted out in SJDS. As I’ve mentioned with Jeremy, I think it’s likely we could see a reverse revenge arc for the pairing this season, so the SJDS reminder might be significant in foreshadowing that. She then says that her and Jeremy are “as close to blood” without being family as possible, but notes that Denise and Adam should be targeted. And that’s all we hear from Natalie until she gets voted out. We see her a couple times with Jeremy during the scramble trying to push for one of Adam or Denise to go, but seemingly never happy when people say they’ll vote Adam. Her and Jeremy don’t appear to be scrambling to save themselves – it looks as if they have no idea that they’re in trouble. Parvati mentioned that the vote was for “Denise or Adam, pick one!”, so I think Jeremy and Natalie’s indecisiveness was here included as part of the reason why Natalie was voted out, the other obviously being her bond with Jeremy.
It makes sense to give Natalie such low visibility in the first half of the episode, considering she was the first on the Edge, had to explain the fire token aspect of Extinction, and had an idol find while there – all of that had to be included in the edit. However, there were subtle things here that might be important. Natalie says she’s “not sad, just mad” at being the first voted off, perhaps hearkening back to the anger that fuelled her stellar gameplay on her original season. Will Natalie’s anger fuel a return from the Edge? She certainly mentioned getting “back in the game” several times throughout her segments at Extinction, which might be something to watch, or could just be included because she’s the Mayor of the Edge and has to drive home the possibility it holds for players.
During her idol hunt, Natalie mentions she isn’t good at riddles, has always relied on her physical strength, and wants to put her mental fortitude to the test. All of this could just be about surviving on the Edge for the duration of the season, or could foreshadow a return if the challenge is a combination of physical and mental components – maybe an endurance challenge? What’s interesting about Natalie’s Edge content is that she gets a flashback while searching for the idol. Now, because over half the cast got flashbacks this episode, it’s hard to say if they’re all that important, but I think it’s significant Natalie had one included here when she was already sucking up airtime – the flashback wasn’t necessary for her idol find, but might be for her story/the season as a whole. Another thing to note was the swelling hero music Natalie received when she found the idol and her comment about “already affecting the game” and that things she does on the Edge can “change the course of the game”. Maybe this was just included because Sandra will use the idol to her benefit and change the game with it, or maybe Natalie will just become really good at working from the Edge to influence the goings on of the game. But I could also see this content leading to a return for her, especially if she uses her influence to gather tokens and win an advantage in the return challenge.