For its 40th season, “Survivor: Winners at War” brought together $21 million worth of prize money by inviting 20 former winners to come back and compete for a doubled $2 million prize.
That means either Sandra Diaz-Twine will become the first three-time winner, or someone will join her as one of only two two-time winners in the history of the show (and the someone gets an asterisk next to their name for being in an all-winners season).
This is like the ultimate “All-Star” edition of “Survivor,” filled with legends from across the era of “Survivor,” including back when it was one of the biggest shows on television. Don’t get us wrong, “Survivor” is still a huge success for CBS, but everyone knows the names Boston Rob, Parvati, Sandra, Ethan.
These are the players that wrote the rulebook of how to play this game only to see it continue to evolve into a behemoth of a game that they were visibly struggling to keep up with. One of the biggest shifts in the game is how fast it happens now, and that was evident from the beginning as the newer players began strategizing almost from the jump.
But we absolutely cannot rule out the old-school players, who have legendary status working for them, as well as a style of social gameplay the newcomers have never seen before. This really is anyone’s game, as proven by the two players who became the first two millionaires voted out of the game and sent to the Edge of Extinction.
Of course, “Survivor” is going to bring back a twist that keeps these winners a part of this game as long as possible. If it runs similar to how Edge worked last time, there’s a chance that this entire cast could be there on the last night, either as part of the jury or part of the three finalists battling it out for the $2 million.
RING GRAB AND TOSS
It was all about rings in the first two challenges of the season, which the tribes split between them. And there were some superstars who stepped up in a big way for each of those challenges. And, perhaps it’s no surprise, that those superstars were primarily among the older-school players where team was more important early on.
Yul and Kim dominated the first challenge, which is the classic one where teams of two battle it out to drag a ring (and everyone else) to a flagpole in the shallows.
While the Dakal tribe won that first Immunity challenge, it’s notable that the lone point Sele got was from Boston Rob, who proved he’s still got every bit of what’s made him possibly the most frightening male to ever play the game.
In the second Immunity challenge in as many days, Rob again proved pivotal for his team, literally launching his teammates over a barrel role in the water. It was enough to bring them within fighting distance of Dakal, who had a massive lead only to lose it when Jeremy smoked Wendell in the ring toss portion.
PLAYER REPORT CARDS
Yul Kwon (Cook Island-2006) who would have thought one of the oldest-school players would come out here and start playing the hardest. Sophie might see Yul as a “nerd shield” in front of her, but he is showing his mastery at perceiving the game, the shifts, the alliances. He may turn out to be a better player than last time. And dude is working hard right out of the gate, building strong alliances and thinking far ahead of everyone else so far. Grade: A+
Wendell Holland (Ghost Island-2018) is one of the newer winners, and he’s playing balls to the wall already. That said, he’s solidified an unexpected early alliance with Yul, Nick and Sophie. Known for his loyalty to those he works with, Wendell is in a good position to ride deep into this game right now as he’s not seen as big of a threat as the legends around him. Grade: A
Parvati Shallow (Fans vs. Favorites-2008) should not be doing as well as she’s doing in this game, but it almost seems like the newer players have forgotten how dangerous the old-school players can be. Parvati had one of the best social games ever, and she can be a challenge beast. Solidifying an old-school alliance with Rob, Ethan and Danni could just help her sail deep into this game; and in particular if her and Rob are serious about their strategic twosome. Grade: A
Sarah Lacina (Game Changers-2017) is in a very good spot because no one is really looking at her as the threat we know she can be. She’s also got a good relationship with Sandra (a huge meat shield) and is in a tentative temporary alliance with Yul and the outcasts, plus her pre-existing relationship with Tony. All of these are bigger perceived targets than her, so she’s sitting pretty for now. Grade: A
Rob Mariano (Redemption Island-2011) should have been first out, but he pulled his bizarrely effective Godfather routine on Ben and got the guy to spill everything about the plot to get him out. While it’s amazing to watch him play, these winners are seeing what he’s doing. Even Ben saw what he fell for, so Rob is going to have to play hard every minute of every day to keep the target off his back. But he’s totally capable of it, and well-aligned for now. Grade: A-
Ethan Zohn (Afrida-2001) is doing his best to keep up with this new style of play after nearly two decades away, and he’s doing a pretty admirable job. He’s admired by everyone, but also not sees as a tremendous threat. He was a powerhouse in that second challenge for his team and his old-school alliance finds themselves in a pretty good spot for the time being. Grade: B+
Sophie Georgina Clarke (South Pacific-2011) is laying very low and quiet, even as she solidifed an early alliance with Yul, Nick and Wendell. She’s likely to be overlooked for quite awhile and if this alliance holds she could find herself sliding right into the merge, or at least the middle of the game. Grade: B+
Nick Wilson (David vs. Goliath-2018) has actually found himself in a pretty good spot, having an early alliance with the outcasts of the Dakal tribe (those without pre-existing relationships). Yul, Wendell and Sophie are a tight four right now, with Sandra and Sarah willing to work alongside them to control the early game, and Nick is smartly laying low in that alliance. Grade: B+
Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng-2016) may be the most overlooked player in the game right now, and that’s kind of how her season went. But while no one is threatened by her at the moment, they are willing to talk to her as a number and a vote, which is actually a pretty good spot to be in early on. Stay off the radar and lay low. That just happens to be her specialty. Grade: B
Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands-2003 & Heroes vs. Villains-2010) is shockingly still in this game and actually in a pretty respectable position for the time being. She’s going to struggle mid-game as everyone knows her style of play (and that she’s already won twice), but she’s in the perfect spot to do what she does, if these people will fall for it. She already has shifted the immediate target off of her. Grade: B
Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen-X-2016) made a rookie move getting lost with Denise on Day One. It looked like they were forming an alliance (they were) and immediately painted an easy early target on them. Having survived that first vote, though, they might be able to shake that off and move on. And yet, he was able to shift the target off of their back and onto the alliance of Natalie and Jeremy, who’d played together, proving his manipulation and mastermind skills are still sharp. Grade: B-
Danni Boatwright (Guatemala-2005) immediately jumped in bed with Rob, Parvati and Ethan as the old-school players who are ready to show the new kids how it’s done. And they’re proving they’re ready to play this new style of game, even if it’s overwhelming and confusing from Day One. She’s positioned herself well for now strategically. Grade: B-
Jeremy Collins (Second Chances-2015) has his back against the wall, or at least it looks that way. It may be that the first eviction for his tribe will prove to be the best thing that could happen to him. Time will tell. He is an incredible physical asset and a stealth player, so he should be safe during these early rounds as these tribes full of targets both want to win. But he needs to get some allies going. Grade: C
Denise Stapley (Philippines-2012) did the most important thing she could under the circumstances; she survived her first tribal after that rookie mistake of getting lost with Adam. Other than that, though, she’s not really been a big part of any of the alliance talks. Her alliance with Adam, though, if it stays on the down-low, could prove pivotal later on. Her being overlooked could be the best thing for her game. Grade: C
Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water-2013) is in a precarious position due to the perceived “poker alliance” that doesn’t exist. But the fact his tribe left it intact, perhaps they’ll make it official. Either way, he’s already doing his charm offensive, which is both working and painting a bigger target on his back. He could be in trouble early. Everyone else could be in trouble if he lasts too long. Grade: C
Tony Vlachos (Cagayan-2014) is working his hardest to shed his larger-than-life persona from earlier seasons, but it seems likely he’s still going to be an easy early target in this game. No one is going to trust him, no matter how hard he tries. He’s strategizing intelligently, seeking to keep bigger targets than himself in the game. It’s telling that he failed in that right out of the gate. Grade: C-
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe (One World-2012) quickly found herself in a bad spot through no fault of her own, but she didn’t really start fighting her way out of this perception of a “poker alliance” until Tribal Council. Right now, she’s got a target on her back, and even though she survived, that’s a three-person perceived alliance that could spell trouble in the early game if she doesn’t start working on relationships. Grade: D
Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers-2017) is playing hard, and yet he fell for Rob’s charm offensive early on. He needs to put away his fanboy hat and put on his “Survivor” hat if he wants to win this game, but we know what kind of runs he’s capable of with his back against the wall. And he’s definitely thinking smart in targeting Rob early on. But he’s gotta be smarter about it. Grade: D-
Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur-2014) fell victim to the first-vote curse, which is usually based on almost nothing. In this case, it was the fact that she and Jeremy played together in their season, so Adam seems to have orchestrated the target being put on them, to get it off of him and Denise, and it worked. Edge of Extinction keeps her hopes alive, but severely dimmed. Grade: F
Amber Mariano (All-Stars-2004) was a huge surprise and disappointment in this game. She just didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the new style of play. And with her husband also in the game, she was instantly one of the biggest targets out there. She said she’d been studying Rob’s playbook, but clearly not hard enough. Grade: F
“I spent 36 days with Boston Rob on ‘Island of the Idols’ and Boston Rob never told me that he was playing again. And so, I definitely feel betrayed.” –Sandra
“It’s gotta be the greatest feeling in your life. I’m amongst the greats right now. I see some legends, a lot of legends, 19 legends out here. It feels good, man. It’s the best feeling.” –Wendell (starstruck)
“I feel like a dinosaur that’s been time-bombed into the future. The world has changed, people have changed, ‘Survivor’ has changed, and I think I’m gonna have to change.” –Yul (and boy did he)
“Don’t call me queen, it’ll put a target on my back.” –Sandra (to Wendell)
“They all want what I already have, which is my crown.” –Sandra (the queen)
“We played with no idols, no hidden immunities, no chance to get back in the game.” –Ethan (trying to adapt)
“I would like to not go to every tribal council.” –Denise (after losing immunity — she went to every tribal in her season)
“Denise and Adam, they walk off. Really rookie moves. For winners to do that is unheard of.” –Jeremy
“See what happens when you have to maintain a low profile, like myself. I can’t go nowhere.” –Tony (so badly wants to go Idol hunting)
“So do you want to work together this season?’ –Rob
“That would be a change, wouldn’t it?” –Parvati
“I don’t think we should let the new-school people dictate how it’s gonna go.” –Rob (to Parvati)
“He got a statue built of him on an island. Do any of us have a statue?’ –Ben (about Rob)
“See this right now, with you not telling me, makes me kinda feel like I can’t trust you.” –Rob (working his magic)
“I was starstruck and just told him everything. I shouldn’t have done that.” –Ben
“You wanna know how stupid this feels? You and I are probably the two biggest targets and I don’t really feel too worried, like what’s wrong what that?” –Rob
“I know, me either. It’s crazy.” –Parvati
“Denise and I met yesterday and this is the relationship that you’re worried about?” –Adam (at tribal council)
“Winning the challenge, it’s a great moment. But in the back of my head I’m worried about having my wife on the other tribe. Amber has a huge target on her because of me.” –Rob (truth)
“I don’t have anywhere to go but into their warm, poky, poisonous embrace.” –Tyson (getting in bed with Nick and Yul)
“There’s so many close relationships that’s so much closer than the ‘poker player alliance’ that met for three hours.” — Kim (at tribal council)
“When $2 million is at stake, I think friends or not, we’re willing to do anything.” –Amber (and yet, she didn’t do enough)
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