Well I don’t know about you, but this past week has been one of the most stressful and shocking of my life…I’m sure many of you feel the same. I’m certain that recent events have made us all stop and take stock as to what we DO have in our lives, and one thing that I know I am awfully proud and grateful for – following of course my family, my son, my friends, etc. – is that I get to write. Being a film critic and getting to cover Survivor, my all-time favorite show that I was obsessed with years before writing about it professionally, is truly something that I took for granted. I know that now. What a difference a week makes.
And what a week to write about Survivor. Tonight saw not one, but two legends of the game fall from grace. It’s one deadly knock-out blow after another this season, and this week was no different other than it featured TWO knock-out punches. And if anything is clear as we reach the mid-point of “Winners at War,” it’s this: New School is beating the living hell out of Old School, the latter of which who is down and stumbling around the ring looking for answers that don’t seem to be there.
As I do at the beginning of every recap, please heed the following: Remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s episode of Survivor: Winners at War. If you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap. It is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.
CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!
If Sandra fancies herself “The Queen” of Survivor, she must never have seen Game of Thrones. People are coming for that throne, my Queen. And it’s an all-out bloodbath. As Wendell so bluntly put it, to win this season, he’ll stab you in the back, stab you in the front, stab you wherever is needed in order to come out on top. You CANNOT get comfortable. And you definitely cannot sit back on your throne and expect that these other champions are going to bow down at your feet.
I’ll get to Sandra in a bit, but she wasn’t the only legend sent packing tonight. Parvati too, saw her torch snuffed and was sent to The Edge without getting the opportunity to utilize her new “Idol Nullfier” power that she purchased from Tyson. Speaking of The Edge, with a total of eight former winners now populating The Edge of Extinction, a whopping SEVEN of them are bona fide “old school” players/legends. Only Natalie, voted out first, is from a recent season. Then you have Danni, Amber, Ethan, Boston Rob, Tyson and now Parvati and Sandra. So what’s the take-away? Why is old school old news?
It’s not blanket across the board, but in general these old-schoolers have had way more time for their wins to marinate, and way more time to cement their “legendary” status within the game. Of the voted-out winners thus far, only Natalie and Danni are playing this game for the second time, the rest of them have a combined 17 seasons (!!!) in the game, 19 if you count Rob and Sandra‘s mentoring the “Island of the Idols” season (I don’t). And in fact, of the 12 players remaining “in the game,” only three of them – Jeremy, Tony and Sarah – have played multiple seasons. So while yes, past friendships/relationships is a major theme and factor in this season, I think it’s unquestionable that the real theme at play here is this whole “new school vs. old school,” or as Kim phrased it tonight, those that are threats and those that are not.
I don’t quite buy that this data means that new schoolers are necessarily “better.” I think there is something to say about how challenging it is to come into the game not only as a winner (which puts them all on equal footing), but as a legend of the game (a scale in which they are all starting from different points on the spectrum). That is partially why I have always talked about how impressive I thought that made Sandra‘s overall legacy once she won that second time…to have come in as a previous winner and win among other great players? That’s impressive, sorry haters. However, as we’ve seen week-in and week-out this season so far, these so-called “legends” have shown major weaknesses. Namely, that over and over they seem to underestimate their opponents, maybe believing a bit too much in their own statuses as being “legends.” Boston Rob said this season, plainly, that he underestimated some of these players, and that it wouldn’t happen again. The problem with the old schoolers this season is, they’re playing “Winners at War,” and well, “second chances” are for losers.
From the perspective of the newer winners, like Ben, this “lack of respect” is ultimately what is costing the legends. Boston Rob thought that he could control other winners? Sandra thinks that she can somehow manipulate Denise? Of all of the old players, Parvati to me was the most impressive. Watching her “chess match” with Wendell this episode was a thing of absolute beauty and a sign that this game’s strategy is functioning on next-level territory.
Take for example her interchange with Wendell at Tribal, a conversation they already had back at the beach. Wendell makes the first move, opening back up the offer to accept Fire Tokens in exchange for his vote. Parvati counters by calling his bluff. Wendell doubles-down and lets her know that he’s serious, but waits for her to name names as to who they’d be voting out. But Parvati, the chess-master (I said “chess”) that she is, was not buying what Wendell was selling. She knew that if she were to throw out a name, Wendell could quickly and easily use that to vote her out. Wendell – legend in the making – went toe-to-toe with Parvati – one of the greatest to ever play – and he came out on top. Check-mate. But Parvati never for a minute underestimated who she was up against. At least not this week on the show.
It seems that the previous relationship between Michele and Wendell will be one of the other major themes of this season, and as of right now I feel like this may have been a bad move for Michele. Parvati had no one else in the game, she even said as much. Michele lost a major ally, and she herself isn’t shaping up to have too many others soundly in her corner. It seemed like the right thing to do for Nick, and for Yul, who is slowly positioning himself nicely for a deep run. The only thing going against Yul at this juncture is the fact that he’s an old schooler through and through…but his lack of pre-existing relationships with other players could continue to benefit him down the stretch, as more and more of the “bigger targets” are picked off. And I’m getting way ahead of myself, but being an old schooler at the end of the game with a bunch of old school jury members on the other side isn’t all that bad of a scenario.
A word on Wendell: He’s not being given the greatest edit this season, a stark contrast to his calm, cool and collected demeanor from his winning season. If we’re to believe Michele‘s version of events (and why wouldn’t we?), Wendell is a bit of heel this season for scorning Michele in real-life, and he seems to be drinking his own Kool-Aid a bit too heavily at this point as well. Where’s the Wendell that blends in to the background and just chills? Remember Wendell, you win by being Wendell, not Dominick. Just be you.
And Tony, Tony, Tony (not the hit 90s R&B group, I’m talking about Tony Vlachos). I started off talking about being grateful? I’m grateful for this dude. What an entertaining, great TV personality. But he’s not all laughs, Tony won by smartly positioning himself at Tribal too, and although he was totally exposed and vulnerable tonight, you’ve got to love that even three seasons into his game-play, he’s still sneaking off for long periods of time and hiding in “spy shacks,” er, “spy bunkers.” His paranoia will make him a hard guy to go far with, but here’s hoping we get more, not less, of Tony moving forward.
And now for the main event: Denise. What a move. A, dare I say, “legendary” blindside. Yes, I’ve thrown the word “legendary” around a lot this week, but it’s warranted. She knocked the Queen off of her throne and showed the world and her fellow winners that her being out there this season was no fluke. For the cost of a fire token (one not two, promising to pay Sandra the other one once the move was enacted, a move that never came), Denise took down Sandra, who let’s face it, was not going to be allowed to win this time around. Nobody can take away anything Sandra has accomplished in this game, but her move tonight will go down in Survivor history as one of the biggest blunders ever. I’m talking two Idols in James Clement‘s pocket when he gets voted-out, or Erik Reichenbach (sorry Erik!) giving away his Immunity Necklace and then getting voted-out level blunder. Sandra had Immunity for one more Tribal! Instead of just using it on herself, she thought she could shake-down Denise for a couple Fire Tokens. It cost her everything.
Denise, by the way, was also smart to use her existing Idol on Jeremy, and made it an even bigger move by not letting Jeremy in on it. That’s the way you play to win. Letting Jeremy in a move that big, if discussing this in front of a jury, could be seen as Jeremy’s move, a manipulation of her or something like that. Nope, this was all Denise, a move she will own and a move that absolutely sent earthquakes through the game. The reason she needed to use her Idol on Jeremy was to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that her vote for Sandra would stick. Would if, for example, the vote was switched to Jeremy? Jeremy could have gone home, with Denise having cast a vote for Sandra, which would not have been good at all for Denise’s game. She instantly earned respect from Kim and deepened her alliance with Jeremy, all the while making one of the biggest double-crosses the game has ever seen. I mean, that’s BRUTAL, to take someone’s Idol and use it to vote them out of the game. Like Wendell said, stab them in the back, stab them in the front, just don’t get stabbed.
A quick word on Tyson before I shift gears here. His purchase of a massive jar of peanut butter may have looked like a “Tyson thing to do,” but maybe there is more value in food than we at home can comprehend? While his competitors starve themselves to death, Tyson will be energizing himself for his eventual chance to return to the game. It may be every bit as valuable as buying an “advantage” for the upcoming challenge, and should he win it could propel him to win individual challenges once back in the game.
Legacy Watch: Since the game of Survivor will forever be changed as this season rolls along, I’ve added a new segment where we’ll take a look at whose game legacy’s have taken a hit, and whose have risen, based on the actions of this week’s episode. As mentioned, Sandra‘s legacy takes the biggest hit so far, because we already know that by the end of this season, she will no longer be able to hang her hat on the idea that she’s the game’s only two-time winner. Whoever wins this season will get to compare their two-win resumé up against that of Sandra’s, and Sandra is surely going to fall short of whatever resumé that is. And let’s face it, Sandra’s not winning challenges to get back in the game, she’s hardly competed in any challenges up to this point and it would be an absolute miracle or epic proportions…in other words, only a “Queen” or a legend, or both, would be capable of pulling off such a fete…
On the flip, Denise Stapley just blew through the roof. Kudos to her and her big move. I’d also give a boost to pretty much every other winner left standing in the game at this point. They’ve made it to Top 12, they’ve survived a tribe swap and also a double-elimination challenge. I already think better of all of their legacies, for having been able to get to this point with all of those “legends” now sitting it out on the sidelines.
Episode Take-Away: I’m still loving this season more than ever, and not just because it’s a much-needed diversion from reality. I really think this is an epic season, with tonight’s episode perhaps being the best one yet. I’ll also say that I can go on record in saying that I am a MAJOR fan of the Fire Tokens, a concept I was very sketchy about when I first heard it. Not only has the show done a good job of not confusing us with how they work, but I LOVE the added layer of the game where players are now starting to barter…not just for items, but for their own votes or actions at Tribal.
FIRE TOKEN/ADVANTAGE TALLY (current)
Natalie: 4 FT (Fire Tokens)
Michele: 4 FT
Yul: 2 FT
Nick: 2 FT
Denise: 1 FT
Tyson: 1 FT
Jeremy: 1 FT, 1 “leave Tribal before it begins” advantage
Sophie: 1 FT, two-halves of an Immunity Idol (does Sophie have this or did she give to Kim? I think Sophie has it? It’s unclear…)
Kim, Tony, Adam, Ben, Wendell, Ethan, Amber, Danni: 1 FT
Parvati: 0 FT
Boston Rob: 0 FT
Sandra: 0 FT
Sarah: 0 FT, a “Steal a Vote” Advantage
Voted Out This Week: Parvati, Sandra
Won Immunity Challenge: Green Tribe
Vote #1: No advantages or Idols played. 3 – Parvati (Wendell, Yul, Nick), 2 – Wendell (Parvati, Michele). Parvati gave her three Fire Tokens to Michele.
Vote #2: Denise plays an Idol on herself and a second Idol on Jeremy. 4 – Denise (Jeremy, Sandra, Kim, Tony), 1 – Sandra (Denise). Sandra gives her one Fire Token to Yul.
Next Week’s Episode: Yet another chapter in the relationship woes between Michele and Wendell. Elsewhere, Tony is eyeballed as the biggest threat. Honestly, this was maybe one of the lamest, must uneventful-feeling “Next Time On…”‘s that I can remember. Is next week gearing up to suck?
Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic, and with the current coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been putting movie reviews on hold, mainly since none are being released in theaters. In the meantime however, I encourage you to check out my past movie reviews as I am the film critic and Executive Producer of the TV show, “Movie Show Plus,” the #1-rated local program in the Detroit-market (episodes are also available online at the website, www.MovieShowPlus.com.) As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.
TELL US – WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS EPISODE? DID NICK DO THE RIGHT THING IN VOTING OUT PARVATI? AND WHO ARE YOU HOPING GETS BACK INTO THE GAME AT THIS POINT?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]