Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss me some Survivor when it’s gone in just two weeks. As we barrel towards the two-hour double-episode next Wednesday, and the three-hour Finale Episode on May 13th, I’m reminded how good we have it that Survivor is in our homes right now…at a time when we’re all in our homes. And we’re very fortunate that we still have five hours of Winners at War to get through before Survivor goes away for what could be an extended period of time (with production on Seasons 41 and 42 delayed indefinitely due to coronavirus).

The game is just operating on an unprecedented level right now, driven by one Tony Vlachos, who over the past two weeks has absolutely put on a clinic, on a season where it’s not just returning all-stars, but some of the best players the game has ever seen. The challenges have been surprising, the strategy top-notch, and each week at The Edge of Extinction we’re given stories of endurance and sheer will-power. As for Tribal Council though, it’s not without controversy. The fairly recent trend of “Tribal whispering” sent the game of full-tilt tonight, reviving the argument in the Survivor community over whether Tribal Council “huddles” should be allowed in the game at all. Some fans love the drama these moments provide, others think it is ruining the game. Where do you land in this debate? I’ll give you my take after the page break…and we’ll dissect all of the other major happenings from this week’s chaotic episode.

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.


Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

So are you “Team Whispering” or “Team Traditional Tribal” when it comes to these crazy “break-out sessions” at Tribal Council? If you’re new to the debate I’ll fill you in with a few detailed points on both sides of the argument. On one hand, those that do NOT like the whispering think that it renders much of the rest of the episode’s drama useless, and that it has been overplayed at this point. Tribal Council being a “sacred ritual” in the game, some see this as a bit disrespectful to the process, and is not the sort of chaos they enjoy watching. Those who happen to like the whispering see it as an evolution of the game…Tribal Councils were getting redundant and predictable, and often times the “tension” of the vote was left in the hands of the editors, as they would try to set-up the different scenarios as to how things will play out earlier in the episode. Isn’t it much better to put this power in the hands of the players themselves? And a whisper-filled Tribal always results in an unpredictable vote-out, which after all, is the most authentic ending to an episode that you could ask for.

Where do I fall in this debate? Like many things, I tend to see the “grey area” of it. I do like that it makes Tribal unpredictable…the excitement of watching Jeff Probst read votes on TV is still one of the biggest thrills I get watching any show, in the same way you tense up watching the end of a big sports game. I also like how the whispering has evolved as strategy: Knowing that it creates last-minute chaos, players, like Tony, use it to their advantage in ways that lesser players never thought to.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

But is the whispering also annoying and played-out? Yes it sure is. Players though, are always encouraged to think outside-the-box and are rarely muted by production…I would find it troubling if Survivor laid down “rules” for how to act at Tribal. Tonight gave a few good examples of what I’m talking about. Can you talk to others after the vote and before playing an Idol? Apparently so, as Tony did tonight. Can you flat out ask someone else who they voted for after the vote? Apparently you can, as Tony did tonight. Neither had really been done before, but the players have always been given room to push the boundaries and test the waters (I also think back to “Island of the Idols” where players, had they thought of it, could have bartered with Sandra and Rob for better advantages…another example of the players pushing the game forward on their own).

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

When Boston Rob calls you a “Boss” while Rob himself is watching you play from the jury section of Tribal Council, you know you are a Mount Rushmore-tier Legend of the game. Tony is that, plain-and-simple, and right now, there would be no more satisfying winner of an all-winner season than Tony. I find myself rooting for him right now, only because the chances of him actually winning seem like the longest of long shots. He took out two major forces in this game over the past two weeks, both moves that he was responsible for enacting. In pure Tony fashion, neither were done surgically, and there is going to be more messes to clean and fires to put out (literally) before all is said-and-done. But wow, this guy.

Perhaps most notably of all this week, was that we received iron-clad confirmation that “Cops-R-Us” is a real power couple in this game, and that they’re not breaking up. Sarah was PISSED, to say the least, after the Sophie blindside, but like I predicted (and like Tony predicted), Sarah needs Tony in this game despite his perceived move against her closest ally. That moment at the end of Tribal was very telling too, where Tony – always strategizing for himself to go further in the game – broke character for a minute and would have absolutely played his Idol on Sarah had she told him she wanted him to. It’s the rare moment where Tony looked to Sarah for permission to act, but it shows the mutual respect that they have for one another, even if it’s sometime buried deep down and not visible on the surface.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

It was weird for me to see Kim get her torch snuffed, weirder than many of the other previous winners for some reason, maybe just because I hold her first game in such high regard. She was one of the game’s best winners, and despite not being on the right side of the numbers through much of this season, she was still there and was still a major influencer. What was saddest of all was that Kim ultimately threw her game away for some peanut butter and cookies. Kim choosing to go for food is precisely why Probst and Survivor continues to offer it at the late stages in the game, because when you haven’t eaten anything for 28 days, you aren’t thinking rationally. Kim immediately regretted her decision, but she had sealed her fate, especially when seconds later Tony won his third straight Immunity Challenge.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

Despite all the chaos, Jeremy remains in the game. He saved himself two weeks ago by bailing out at Tribal Council with his advantage, then nearly went home last week if not for Tony. This week, it was him again but not for Tony. Incredibly, Jeremy’s underdog story this season is a winning one…he is still a major threat to win this thing, but on several levels it is a bit disheartening to watch him play as a bottom-feeder. Ben wouldn’t talk to him at all, and Denise give him a literal cold shoulder at Tribal when he attempted to chat with her. Jeremy just a few weeks ago, was telling us in a confessional that he is used to controlling the flow of the game, but this season he is flailing in the undertow…carrying this analogy further, the dude is still breathing though, which means his dream of winning for a second-time still remains afloat.

Jeremy had been given Michele‘s 50/50 advantage, and I actually think it wasn’t a bad move for Michele. In this episode, we saw Michele form a Final Three alliance with Nick and Denise, but from Michele’s perspective, Jeremy is much better to keep in the game as an ally than anyone else, really. The only drawback to her strategy was how Jeremy made his advantage public at Tribal, which may expose Michele’s secret help. But had the vote been on Jeremy and had that advantage worked in Jeremy’s favor, that would have been a huge game move done on the sly by Michele. I’m assuming Jeremy returns the advantage to Michele after this Tribal? So Michele keeps her advantage and keeps Jeremy in the game, but it’ll be interesting to see what fallout Nick catches next week, as he went against Denise and Michele (his apparent Final Three) by voting out Kim.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

Ben‘s reluctance to work with Jeremy makes Ben a massive target next week, but I still believe that the biggest challenge Tony faces in this game is from the unlikeliest of enemies, Jeremy. Even though Tony has been keeping Jeremy around, there is no way that Jeremy keeps Tony around down the stretch. And every week Jeremy stays alive, his alliance with Michele becomes more valuable and more powerful. But as for Ben, remember that this is his time to shine…he was targeted too and thought to be a complete goner at this point in his original season, only to find Idols and will his way to the end…Ben finding an Idol tonight might be a sign that he is not going to be an easy vote-out.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

Over at The Edge of Extinction, if nothing else, this segment serves up some great emotion each week from our fallen heroes (and villains). Watching Boston Rob “crack” his elbow was tough, but he proved even tougher. Is there still a version of Winners at War where Boston Rob comes back from The Edge and wins the game? Will anybody who has been voted-out be crowned Sole Survivor on a season of all-winners? Whomever comes back from The Edge and returns to the game (presumably during the Finale Episode), if they happen to reach Final Tribal, they will be seated against two players who managed to navigate Winners at War without getting voted-out at all…I don’t know this for a fact, but my gut tells me our winner this season is one of the seven that are still duking it out on the island.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

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. Kim‘s legacy is a hard one to mess with…as mentioned before her first season was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, single-game, first-time playing win ever. And while she wasn’t able to breeze through this season, I do think she showed how great of a player she was, and she definitely didn’t go down without a fight in the end. However, giving up on an Immunity Challenge on Day 28 for peanut butter and cookies doesn’t exactly provide good optics. But even though that knocks her down in terms of her overall resumé, there’s no taking away her first season win. As for other legacies this week? Tony‘s continues to soar to new heights as he has a chance to become the bona fide “best” there ever was if he can somehow, someway pull this thing off.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War
“Back Burner”

Art by Erik Reichenbach –

Episode Take-Away: If you were mad with the amount of air-time Tony got last week, you probably weren’t too happy again this week. But Tony’s air-time is being earned…he’s a major force right now. He started the episode off getting crapped on by Sarah (and then getting crapped on by a bird, or a bat), but ended the episode receiving the highest of compliments from one Boston Rob. However, his “other half,” Sarah, is a boss in her own right. Her decision to reject Tony’s Idol was an amazing show of confidence and calmness amidst a whirlwind of chaos, and she finds herself moving forward neatly tucked under a massive meat-shield in Tony.

I’m all in on this season, and feel like it somehow is getting better and better. If Tribal whispering isn’t your bag, you probably didn’t like how this one ended, but in this particular case, I think it produced one of the funniest moments in Survivor history, when Jeff Probst went into “play-by-play” commentary instead of his usual line of questioning. Classic Probst. And while there was a lot of whispering, one thing was made loud-and-clear at Tribal: There will be only one winner. And in two weeks, we’ll know who it is.


Denise: 6 FT

Natalie: 5 FT, 1 Immunity Idol

Parvati: 5 FT

Tony: 3 FT, Immunity Idol

Nick: 3 FT

Sarah: 3 FT

Sophie, Yul, Kim, Tyson, Wendell: 2 FT

Michele: 1 FT, “50/50” Coin Advantage

Jeremy, Ethan, Danni: 1 FT

Ben: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol

Boston Rob: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol

Amber, Adam: 0 FT

Sandra: Out of the Game

Voted Out This Week: Kim

Won Immunity: Tony (3), Denise (2)

Vote: No Idols or advantages were played. 5 – Kim (Tony, Sarah, Nick, Ben, Jeremy), 3 – Jeremy (Denise, Kim, Michele)

Next Week’s Episode: It’s the two-hour penultimate episode of the season and things don’t lighten up. Ben is targeted, Tony is targeted, and we see what looks like another physical challenge play out over on The Edge of Extinction.

Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap: Whisperers At War

RETURN OF THE FILMSURVIVOR PODCAST! For long-time fans of mine and/or this column, you’ll be happy to know that my podcast, The FilmSurvivor Podcast, is set to return in the coming weeks. For those that don’t know, it’s a podcast centered on not just Survivor, but also movies, and I’ve been busy interviewing several movie theatre chains in the past few weeks as to what we can all expect at the movies once things “return to normal.” It’s great content, and I hope you check it out…it’s not confirmed yet, but I’m also working on Survivor exit interviews following the Finale Episode. Please subscribe to the podcast, which you can find on iTunes as well as on Podbean.

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, 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.


[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]