If you love Tony Vlachos like me, then tonight was about as good as it gets when it comes to Survivor. From the first moment until the last, this was a Tony-centric episode through and through, culminating in yet another absolutely epic blindside at Tribal Council. They even managed to fit in a Survivor fashion show.
There’s no question that tonight’s big move was epic, entertaining and masterfully executed, but was it the right move? Or, was it just the product of impatience? Let’s break it all down, shall we?
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!
What. An. Episode. “Winners At War,” for me, continues to fire on all cylinders, and who can ask for more than wall-to-wall Tony on our television screens? The episode started with Tony returning from an absolute bonkers Tribal Council that saw Tyson blindsided, two advantages and one Immunity Idol played. Tony was livid with Jeremy for bailing out from Tribal – or at least that was what Tony wanted everybody else to think. Because by the end of the episode, Tony would throw Jeremy a much-needed lifeline, and by gosh it worked. Perfectly. The move itself was executed to perfection, timed perfectly, and done with the precision of an all-time great. In a vacuum. But there can be only one winner on Survivor, even among a season full of winners. So was Tony’s take-down of Sophie the correct play?
I’m going to argue “yes.” I know, on the surface the move screams “impatience” from a player known for his frantic and chaotic game-play. Tony has had impeccable patience this game, knowing that “Spy Shack Tony” wouldn’t get him very far in a game played at this level this season. He came in, and did his best to blend in and not create waves. Internally, the hamsters were running as fast as ever. Tony never stops. But 28 days in the game and this close to the end, Tony finds himself in a position that probably surprises even himself: He finds himself still in the game. Even he probably thought his target was too big to get him this far. And to think that he remains in the game on the strength of back-to-back Immunity Challenge wins? Tony is simply crushing it.
But on the flip-side, Tony just executed a humongous move and took out a player that was low-down running the game, only to make the numbers 4-4, if allegiances were to hold solid. Yes, from a numbers-perspective only Tony may have been better off just “sticking to the plan” to get rid of Jeremy…he would find himself in an alliance with a 5-3 majority, and he still has a hidden Immunity Idol to play. So I get the argument that this move may have been a bit short-sighted. However, when you start to breakdown Tribal dynamics, I really feel like this may have been Tony’s best move forward, and you just have to know that Tony has worked out and gone over millions of possibilities to arrive at this move as being his best…he may play in chaotic style, but there is not one action that Tony makes in the game that isn’t calculated and precise, in his own mind at least.
We see that Tony‘s move has Sarah PISSED OFF next week, as she should be. She too, was just blindsided, a ruinous one that swept her closest ally in the game off the game board, taking an Idol with her that could have been used to benefit Sarah’s game down the line as well. Tony may overestimate his own social skills and relationship with Sarah, but he had to know she’d be furious with him. He’s banking on the fact that he can calm her down, because Sarah is also a very rational player. While she may be pissed, Tony has basically forced Sarah’s hand, and now Tony is her closest ally in the game, for good or for bad. The Sophie blindside also was a major gesture of allegiance to Jeremy, who in turn has Michele locked in. Factor in that Nick was on-board with the decision tonight, and Tony probably feels like he DOES still have a 5-3 majority alliance, if only he can convince Sarah to still play with him.
Kim is no fool, and is somehow still in the mix despite how dangerous she should have been perceived from the get-go. Kim looks to be targeting Tony next week, because she knows that Tony playing a successful “Tony-style” game and making the end is probably the one scenario that would make Kim a loser if she were to make it to Final Tribal herself. Her underdog story – and her reputation coming into the game – probably makes her believe she can win against anybody…anybody but Tony. So he’s got to go. But Kim is once again on the minority, and only theoretically has Denise as a close ally. If Sarah ends up seeing the logical argument Tony will pitch to her – and that’s a big “if” – the good ole “Cops-R-Us” alliance will be in great shape to make a run for the end.
Ironically, Tony‘s biggest flaw in making his big move tonight might be that Jeremy is perhaps the one best positioned to take him down. It is odd to see Jeremy so out-of-the-loop and without any control in the game, when we’re used to seeing him running things when he plays. He had no choice to leave the last Tribal Council even if the optics were bad, and he again had no choice but to believe Tony heading into Tribal this week. But wow, did Kim and Denise do a number on Jeremy…they had him hook, line and sinker. Knowing Jeremy’s style, he will not be very happy to have let himself get duped so severely, but the strategic-side of Jeremy’s brain must cue him in to the fact that the main roadblock in his way to the end isn’t Kim or Denise…it’s Tony.
The middle of the episode was filled with – guess who? – Tony, and the brilliance of the Fire Token twist was clear to see tonight. I was very skeptical of the concept of Fire Tokens leading into the season, but wow have they added a great element to the game…I’d go so far to say that I think I love their inclusion. Not only do they keep us engaged with those on The Edge of Extinction, but there are so many levels to how they can be used, and tonight’s “Extortion Advantage” was super-fun to watch play out. Natalie and Parvati definitely picked the right recipient of the advantage, and Tony did not disappoint. This was the first episode where, in-game, we witnessed players needing to pool their Fire Tokens together for a common cause. The six Fire Token price was a steep price to pay, but not doing so would have resulted in disastrous consequences for Tony’s game. Tony got Jeremy, Nick and also Ben to give him a Fire Token, which led to Tony being able to compete in the Immunity Challenge, which led Tony to win Immunity. What this means is that Ben has a bit of Sophie‘s blood on his hands as well, since he played a part in what went down leading up to her blindside.
We go forward now with a regular episode next Wednesday, April 29th, then a two-hour double-episode slated for May 6th. That leads us to the Survivor: Winners At War THREE-Hour Finale on May 12th…word is that there will still be some kind of a “virtual” live reunion show as part of this, with the votes still being read live, but my point in bringing this up is that we are a mere three weeks away from the end of this incredible season. I don’t want to think about the future of the show right now – production has been halted “indefinitely” on Seasons 41 and 42 due to the coronavirus – and there is no guarantee we are going to get any new Survivor for quite some time after May 12th. So live it up, my Survivor people! I hope you are enjoying this season as much as I am, and if you didn’t like tonight’s episode with Tony at the center of it all, I’m not quite sure what else you can ask for.
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. Sophie, Sophie, Sophie. Her parting message at the end of tonight’s episode summed it up perfectly: She had been seen as a lower-tiered winner, who pleasantly found out that she can play with the big dogs. That’s so true. Coming into Season 40, I had Sophie listed as the #29th overall winner (out of 38 total winners) and the fourth-lowest on this cast (with Michele, Amber and Ethan ranked below her). Leaving with an Idol in her pocket (or crotch, I guess) is never a good thing, but Sophie absolutely proved that she deserved to be out there in a season of “the best of the best.” In fact, not only was she out there, but she was simply running the game for the first 28 days until it all came crashing down for her. Her decision to split the vote and throw a few votes towards Michele may end up haunting her more than not playing an Idol. But the fact that Tony outplayed her here and that she never saw it coming also proves that while Sophie has definitely moved up in my mind, she still misses out on “top-tier” winner status. She may have been running with the big dogs, but she got bit hard tonight.
Episode Take-Away: It was Tony-time through and through, and I was thoroughly OK with that. We’re now down to eight and things are starting to come into focus as to who might be able to win this thing. There was a lot of talk about the proverbial “Survivor Resumé” tonight, and I think of the remaining eight players, Michele, Ben and Denise are going to have the toughest time based on their current resumés in the game. Michele, like Sophie (but not quite for the same reasons) has shown that she can play with the big dogs but not much more, mainly because she’s been in the minority alliance for much of the game. Ben is not playing a great social game and I find it hard to believe that this jury would award him as the representative of an all-winner season. And people love Denise, so by no means am I counting her out, but her only real splash in the game was in taking out Sandra…beyond that, Denise has just been getting by, which was her winning strategy before but I don’t think will be enough this time around.
Remove them from the running and you’re down to Tony, Jeremy, Sarah, Kim and Nick. And yes, I know that someone is going to re-enter the game from The Edge, but in my heart of hearts I just don’t see this group of winners giving the Sole Survivor title to someone that saw their torch snuffed this season. Could Jeremy be a long-shot at this point too, given that he was practically saved this week by Tony and that he lost some respect last week by bailing on his alliance?
Cops-R-Us needs to get this thing together…it’s their game to lose I think at this point…although just look at that “Extortion Advantage” as a sign of how quickly and severely The Edge of Extinction players can end up throwing a wrench in even the best laid plans.
One quick note: No new art from Erik Reichenbach this week, but be sure to check out his site, Dabudoodles.com, for his entire collection! He’ll be back with some new art following next week’s episode.
FIRE TOKEN/ADVANTAGE TALLY (current)
Natalie: 3 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Parvati: 3 FT
Denise: 3 FT
Tony: 2 FT, Immunity Idol
Nick: 2 FT
Sarah: 2 FT
Kim: 2 FT
Jeremy, Ethan, Danni: 1 FT
Boston Rob: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Michele: 0 FT, “50/50” Coin Advantage
Ben, Sophie, Amber, Yul, Tyson, Wendell, Adam: 0 FT
Sandra: Out of the Game
Voted Out This Week: Sophie
Won Immunity: Tony (2)
Vote: No Idols or advantages were played. 4 – Sophie (Tony, Jeremy, Michele, Nick), 3 – Jeremy (Sophie, Ben, Denise), 2 – Michele (Sarah, Kim)
Next Week’s Episode: We know that Tony is an exceptional strategic player, but how well will his social game hold up under the wrath of Sarah? She’s not happy, to say the least, and we see her yelling at him, “You sunk my game!” Jeremy tells us that this is “where the war gets ugly,” and we see Kim targeting Tony. What Kim doesn’t see though, is Tony’s new “Spy Nest,” up in a tree, listening in on her conversation. Thank you, Survivor Gods, for Tony Vlachos.
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 TONY’S BIG MOVE? OVERALL, ARE YOU A FAN OF FIRE TOKENS? AND WHO ARE YOU ROOTING FOR AT THIS POINT TO WIN THIS SEASON OF SURVIVOR?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]