It’s hard to believe that we have just one more episode left of Survivor, with no more (for the time being) loaded in the chamber. “Survivor: Winners at War,” the monumental 40th season of the greatest Reality TV Show of all-time, gave us a two-hour penultimate episode tonight, with a massive three-hour Finale and Reunion set for next week, May 13. After that? Well, production has been halted indefinitely on Seasons 41 and 42, despite CBS making an official announcement Wednesday that Survivor was renewed and is part of their 2020-21 schedule. That means we have one more episode, possibly for the rest of 2020. Just one more reason why 2021 can’t get here soon enough.
There was a lot jam-packed into tonight’s two-hour fiasco, including a lengthy preview of next week’s Finale usually reserved for, well, the beginning of the Finale. The stage is now set for how Winners at War will shake out, with just five players remaining in the game, and another 14 awaiting a come-back challenge to see if their hopes of a second Survivor crown can be revived and come to fruition. We’ll tackle everything we saw tonight, and take a glimpse forward as to how things may play out when Season 40 wraps up next Wednesday, in what is sure to be epic fashion.
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!
Let’s start with a bit of good news. It appears (about 99% likely) that I will be able to land exit interviews with whomever the Final Three are this season. My full interviews with the Final Three will appear on my podcast, The FilmSurvivor Podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and/or Podbean. My podcast is full with past episodes you can download, featuring interviews with nearly all 20 of this season’s cast…so check that out in the meantime, and make sure to look out for my exit interviews with the Final Three sometime next Thursday, the day after the Finale! On that same day, I’ll also update my rankings as to where “Winners at War” ranks among all of the “most memorable” seasons of Survivor, as well as my updated winners list. Spoiler: Whoever wins “Winners at War” is likely to take the top spot away from Queen Sandra!
This episode felt a bit over-stuffed, especially when we headed to the first of two Tribal Councils at just the 20-minute mark of the two-hour episode! There was a lot of strategy talk crammed into a small amount of air-time, but some common themes were still present in that first segment or two. Michele continued to find herself on the wrong side of the votes and out-of-the-loop. Tony still was calling any of the shots in the game, even as his closest ally, Sarah, has played just as impressive of a game. Ben continued to dodge bullets that he didn’t even know were aimed at him. And Jeremy continued to be the most popular target in the game.
Ultimately, the jury grew by two tonight, with Jeremy and then Nick seeing their torches snuffed…Nick’s for the first time in his combined 73 days in the game. That’s quite a run, and an impressive showing for the most recent winner among all of this season’s contestants. Ironically, it was Nick who sealed Jeremy’s fate in the game. And while Michele might be on the wrong side of the numbers, she is aptly tuned-in to the social dynamics in the game…she’s low-key one of the better social game players ever, in the sense of social awareness and likability. What keeps her out of the category of, say, Parvati, is that Michele hasn’t shown the ability to really be able to persuade or influence the game like one of the “greats.” Oh, and by the way, Michele did the right thing for her game by playing the 50/50 Advantage herself…had she given it to Jeremy and he was then safe, she would have entered into a tie-break scenario and would have likely been voted-out upon a re-vote.
Pissed at Nick after he decided to vote-out Jeremy, Michele explained to him that he just sealed their fate in the game, and that Michele and Nick were the next targets. Michele then went out and won an Immunity Challenge, her first of this season and third of her career. Her game was over if she didn’t win, and she willed it to happen. It was impressive, and couldn’t have come at a better time for her. You can’t fault Nick, he was playing the game hard and I think lasted a lot longer than many might have predicted at the start, but his decision here is probably one that sticks with him and keeps him up at night.
There were a lot of “small” moments that I think were very big in the grand picture of things this episode. Take for example, Jeremy‘s blindside, and Tony fessing up to him that he turned on him. “Bad move, dude,” was Jeremy’s parting response. Might this foreshadow that Tony may end up not having such a clear walk to the win with the jury after all? On the flip, Michele told Sarah straight-out that Tony is going to win this game unless someone does something to stop him, and Sarah countered – correctly – that maybe he isn’t the one calling the shots all by himself. But Michele’s reply back to Sarah is the key to EVERYTHING in the game of Survivor: Perception is everything. It seems like every single season we, the viewers at home, get to watch one player get to the end and “deserve” to win, only their game wasn’t perceived properly by the jury. I think Michele’s words ring truer than ever, and Sarah is going to face a major perception problem if she sits at the end against Tony.
But let’s give credit where credit is due, shall we? Tony and Sarah, affectionately known as “Cops-R-Us,” are absolute masters of the game, bona fide legends and players of the highest caliber. How are they not being targeted? Pre-game, when asked who each player wanted to vote out first, Sarah’s name came up more than nearly anybody else. She wasn’t supposed to be allowed to make it this far in the game, let alone Tony…let alone the two of them together. But here they are, so incredibly close to sticking the landing. However things play out, they’re games this season should be studied.
This episode also marked a final farewell to the Fire Tokens, a game twist that I think was ultimately a success. It added a whole other level of strategy to the game, and brought lots of drama and entertainment to the season. I can see them being here to stay over the course of the next few seasons, although Jeff Probst did recently announce that “The Edge of Extinction” twist is going to be put to rest, at least for a few seasons. So how would Fire Tokens work if there isn’t an Edge? We’ll likely see Fire Tokens evolve in some way from how they were played this season, but I don’t think they’ll scrap the idea entirely.
So we find ourselves with just six players remaining (the five in the game, and the one player that will win their way back into the game). I think it’s only logical that we break this down by player, as to what each player may need to have happen in order to win the title of Sole Survivor.
Tony. This season is so epic, I feel like the most appropriate winner would be Tony. It just feels right. He overcame a huge reputation to make it this far, and has absolutely driven nearly every vote. This game is now his to lose. If he finds himself in the Final Three against anybody else, I think Tony wins. He’s got to navigate three more Tribals still, and I’m going to figure that he’ll be at the top of everyone’s list of players that they DON’T want to sit next to at the end. If Tony isn’t winning Immunity Challenges, his biggest roadblocks will be Ben and then Sarah…but if these three are truly locked in on a Final Three alliance (and I don’t think it will hold up), then Tony has a very good shot at winning…and let’s not forget that Tony still has an Immunity Idol at his disposal.
Sarah. Then there’s Sarah, the other winner that would “feel right” being crowned winner for this mega-season. She’s got it all going for her, but did I mention the word “perception”? It’s not that she can’t win against Tony…I think she can. Remember, this is a massive jury this year, bigger than ever before with what will be 16 voting members. There are so many factors at play. But is Sarah can make it to the end AND take out Tony along the way? Crown her Queen. I truly believe there is zero chance Tony turns on her, so it’s unclear whether Sarah would betray this alliance, but remember Tony did her dirty on their season, and even earlier this season. He has it coming, should she choose to do so. The idea that Tony is perceived as the bigger threat actually makes him a bigger shield for Sarah during this crucial final stretch of the game.
Ben. As much as I’d be satisfied with Tony or Sarah winning Season 40, there is a part of me – call me old-school – that would love to see the winner of this season be a player that has NEVER had their torch snuffed. That would make the inevitable comparisons with Queen Sandra nice and clear-cut and beyond debate. Remember that while Tony and Sarah have already won the game once, they also both lost. As far as torches being snuffed, that disqualifies everyone currently on The Edge. So who is left right now that are “pure” winners, players that have never had their torch snuffed, not ever? Well, you have Ben, Michele and Denise. As much friction as Ben has caused this season, and for as much as it’s being made out that he “isn’t well-liked,” Ben had absolutely been right in the thick of nearly everything this entire season, and has prevailed. Much like his own winning season, he just continues to narrowly walk that tight-rope week after week, somehow making it another three days until he is the last one standing. Could Ben – gasp! – actually win? I think there’s a path, but it will depend on who he sits next to in the end. His current plan – to go to the end along with Cops-R-Us – is a sure-fire way for Ben to finish in third place. He needs the right combination, but if we’ve learned anything from watching Ben, it’s that you should never, ever, count him out.
Denise. The “Queen-Slayer” herself, I think, will need to do more to win this game than simply have taken out the Queen. Yes, that was an epic move, but she really seems to be hanging her hat on that, and it seems like it happened a million years ago at this point. Yes, she’s won Immunity a few times, and yes, she’s incredibly well-liked, but I just don’t see that as being the criteria…not this season. With a strong strategic finish, Denise can absolutely win the game, I just don’t think she can based on her game up to this point…
Michele. Michele’s story has been one of the most interesting and fully-fleshed out this season, and it makes you root for her. Starting off as the total “fish-out-of-water,” or frankly, one of the cast member choices that seemed to be questioned by the fandom, Michele has had a lot to prove while still having to deal with the cards she was dealt. Tony referred to her as the closest thing an all-winner season gets to having a “goat,” but Michele is a survivor (no pun intended). She definitely proved this season that she deserved her spot in the game and can hang with the big boys and girls. “Perception” in the game though, will also end up being Michele’s worst enemy, because I think it will be hard to convince this group that she played a better game than any of the others out there. But again, among the right combination of finalists in a Final Three, if you start looking at Michele’s social game and who she had close bonds with (Jeremy, Kim, Parvati…would Wendell vote for her to win?), she may have more winning votes than you think. Her inspiring overall arch this season speaks more to a “runner-up” sort of edit, but I do believe there is a path for her to win, although she’s probably the long-shot…as she has been all season.
The Edge of Extinction “Come-Back” Winner. The biggest “x-factor” heading into the Finale is who will come back into the game from The Edge? For me, I think it would be most exciting and entertaining for a player to come back in from The Edge having an Immunity Idol on them…this would likely make them immune at their first Tribal, forcing the current five to vote someone out and changing the dynamic away from “let’s just vote-out whomever is coming back into the game” mentality. That narrows it down to Boston Rob, Tyson and Natalie, as all three have Idols that only become active if they were to re-enter the game. Of course, best positioned and most likely to re-enter the game is Natalie, who had amassed a whopping 14 Fire Tokens to score her a jar of peanut butter (energy), and three advantages in the “come-back” challenge. You then have Wendell, Yul and Parvati who all had enough Fire Tokens to score them just one advantage in the challenge.
The question remains though: Even if Natalie – or any of these players – returns to the game, will this group of winners really vote for someone who was on The Edge to represent their season as Sole Survivor? I find it hard to believe, but not out of the realm of possibility. For the sake of purity and simplicity, I personally hope that the person who comes back doesn’t win the game, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to the drama that this come-back challenge will create! It would seem very anti-climactic if someone like Danni, or Amber, gets back in the game…so here’s hoping that Natalie pulls it off!
FIRE TOKEN/ADVANTAGE TALLY (current)
(No Fire Token count as they have now been taken out of the game moving forward)
Natalie: 3 come-back challenge advantages, 1 Immunity Idol
Yul, Parvati, Wendell: 1 come-back challenge advantage a piece
Boston Rob: 1 Immunity Idol
Tyson: 1 Immunity Idol
Tony: 1 Immunity Idol
Ben: 1 Immunity Idol
Denise, Nick, Sarah, Sophie, Kim, Michele, Jeremy, Ethan, Danni, Amber, Adam: 0 advantages/idols
Sandra: Out of the Game
Voted Out This Week: Jeremy, Nick
Won Immunity: Nick (1), Michele (1)
Vote #1: Michele successfully played her “50/50” Advantage on herself. 3 – Jeremy (Ben, Tony, Nick), 2 – Ben (Michele, Jeremy), 0-Michele (two votes nullified: Sarah, Denise)
Vote #2: No Idols or advantages played. 4 – Nick (Tony, Sarah, Ben, Denise), 2 – Denise (Michele, Nick)
Next Week’s Episode: It’s the three-hour Finale! We’ll be back to break it all down, and look ahead to what the future of the show may hold. With the pandemic, there is no “Live Reunion Show,” but we’re being promised some sort of virtual reunion show with Jeff Probst as host. With Season 41 not yet in production, it will be interesting if they tease a new season, or if this might be the first-ever Survivor Finale to not preview a glimpse of the next upcoming season. Stay tuned!
RETURN OF THE FILMSURVIVOR PODCAST! Just one more plug for The FilmSurvivor Podcast, which has a few new episodes right now, and a planned Finale Reaction episode with exit interviews scheduled for the Final Three of “Survivor: Winners at War.” 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, 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 – WHO ARE YOU ROOTING FOR TO RETURN TO THE GAME? WHO ARE YOU ROOTING FOR TO WIN THE GAME? AND NOW THAT WE’RE DONE WITH THEM, WHAT WAS YOUR TAKE ON FIRE TOKENS THIS SEASON?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]