Survivor: Winners at War - Episode 14
Finale: It All Boils Down to This
By Jim Van Nest
May 28, 2020


Hello good people and thank you for joining me for the final installment of Survivor's 40th season, Winners at War. My apologies for the lateness of my recap - sometimes life gets in the way.

At any rate, I'm here now and ready to break down this behemoth of a finale episode and find out who the new king or queen of Survivor will be. When last we spoke, Nick Wilson was sent to the Edge, leaving Tony, Sarah, Michele, Denise and Ben as the final 5. We watched the Edge-ers get ready to return to the game. They spent their fire tokens and were all headed to the challenge. So naturally...

Tonight's episode Jeff Probst's garage. Wait, what? Well, he tells us that there is no live finale and that he'll be hosting from a makeshift Tribal Council in his garage. We see all 20 winners sitting on computer screens at home and then finally, we get to the actual episode.

And THAT begins with the Edge of Extinction challenge to see who gets back into the game and who gets to go to Ponderosa and have a real meal and a shower. The return challenge for this season's Edge returnee is the same as Chris Underwood's in S38. This one is an obstacle course followed by a table maze. Jeff sets the table: Natalie, Parvati, Yul and Wendell will all get the first advantage: skipping the rope intertwined with a series of posts. Natalie also bought the second advantage; she won't have to dig for ropes. She also bought the 3rd advantage which enabled her to have the first 3rd of her rope bridge assembled. Survivors ready? Go!

And Natalie has a horrible time with the first of her obstacles and she is passed up by Wendell, Yul, Parvati, Sophie, Tyson and Rob. When she finally gets through that obstacle, skipping the dig proves to be huge for Natalie as she joins Wendell at the front of the pack. In fact, Wendell completes his bridge before everyone else and gets ready for the table maze. Rob, Yul, Sophie and even Jeremy complete their bridge before Natalie, but she does complete it. Rob, Yul and Natalie all join the table maze as Wendell already lands the first of 2 balls. And Natalie lands the first ball tying her with Wendell for the lead in the challenge. Parvati and Tyson are on the table maze and Tyson lands the first ball. It's really a 3 person race right now between Wendell, Natalie and Tyson. Wendell gets to the end and drops, which opens everything up for Natalie who lands the 2nd ball and earns her way back into the game. That's right - the first person voted out now sits in the final 6 with an idol in her pocket and a well-known path to the end of the game. Disaster looms for Season 40.

Before we head to break, we get some touching moments with the losing players. We spend a lot of time with Kim, Tyson, Amber, Rob, Parvati and Ethan. Jeff gives them a proper sendoff and we head to break getting ready for a frantic endgame. I won't recap all of the conversation here, but if you didn't watch, go take some time and watch this segment. It's pretty uplifting and is a real nice cap on the season for all of these players.

We come back from break and Natalie tells us how amazing it is to be back in the game. Now's probably the time I should mention that Natalie WAS my winner pick - so everything going exactly how I planned! She also tells us that she needs to start telling some stories if she wants to keep the target off of her own back. And she goes right after the big dog. She tells everyone that the people on the Edge are all about how Tony is winning the season and that they love him. Tony does NOT like to hear any of this. So, his first thought is that Natalie has to go. He goes to his #1, Sarah, first asking if she thinks Natalie would come back into the game with any kind of advantage. Sarah quickly downplays the idea. Sarah tells us that she will not let Natalie turn her against Tony. She is also very concerned about getting a message out to the rest of the players (especially the jury) that just because she and Tony are working together; it doesn't mean Tony's calling the shots. The bottom line is that it's become quite the narrative on Survivor that anytime a man and woman work together as a duo, the man gets all the credit and the woman is seen as a follower. That's what Sarah aims to change.

And after the commercial it's time for a Probst Sighting - and not in his garage. It's immunity challenge time! Today's challenge will see everyone going through a gauntlet of 3 obstacles to collect 3 bags of puzzle pieces. They'll have to carry each bag up a huge staircase and then use a water slide to get down. Once they have all 3 bags of pieces, they'll assemble them into a 3-tiered puzzle. It should be noted that in her season, Michele won this challenge. Everyone is pretty well neck and neck as the challenge progresses, except Michele. Michele falls quite far behind. Everyone is well into working on the puzzle before she even has her 3rd bag. Michele finally gets her bag and makes it to the top to start her puzzle. And very quickly, Michele finishes the first tier. As she works on her 2nd tier, Natalie and Sarah finish tier 1. Michele finishes tier 2 and frankly, no one else is going to even get close. Michele quickly finishes Tier 3 - ceremoniously kicks the puzzle down and wins immunity at the final 6. As we head to break, Tony tells us how tricky the next Tribal is going to be. He tells us that Chris came back with an idol in S38 and he does not want to get burned because Natalie brought something back into the game with her.

We come back from break and Tony is still worried about Natalie. She tells them she plans to look for an idol and Tony wants to prepare as if she has an idol. He talks to Ben about it. Ben is not hearing it. He wants Ben to join him in a 2-2-2 vote and if she doesn't have an idol, they vote out Natalie on the revote. Ben balks at it because he does not want to put any votes on Denise. Denise and Michele take a walk to make plans against the power 4. The four continue to talk around the fire and NO ONE will believe Tony that Natalie has an idol. Natalie and Michele are flying high knowing that they're both safe. They decide not to vote for Tony tonight, because they think he'll play his idol as well. Ultimately, they're fine with him playing it. They want him to flush it. We join in another conversation with Tony and Ben and Ben will not vote against Denise. Tony says he thinks they're gonna flush his idol and he is ADAMANT about voting Denise because Natalie has an idol. He's worried that Natalie will have an idol and that he and Ben will then burn their idol and either Denise of Sarah goes home. Sarah tells us that Tony is just crazy and she's tired of trying to calm him down. "Guess who's in control right not, Sarah." Um...yeah...notsomuch!

We finally get to the first Tribal of the night. A lot of the talk centers on being worried about the returning player. Sarah says that it's good that Natalie came back as it gave her information that she wouldn't have had until after the season. That information being that it looks like Tony is running the show. This gets Sarah talking about the gender bias in Survivor. Where a man can lie, cheat and steal and he's looked at as a great player, but when a woman does the same thing, she's deceitful and a bitch. We get a very nice dialogue about how over the seasons and years, women do have a tougher road in Survivor and Jeff even owns up to his part in it. He even talks about how he never calls any of the women by their last name. So, from now on, she'd like to be called Lacina. The rest of Tribal centers around Tony and the perception that he is running the game. Good thing he has an idol, he could be in trouble at this time.

Jeff tallies the votes and asks if anyone would like to play an idol. As Tony had been telling them all along, Natalie has an idol and she plays it. "Told you guys." Just loud enough for the jury to hear. "Damn, I told you guys. I knew it." So, as expected, Tony decides to play his idol also. Ben ALSO reaches into his boot and pulls out his idol. And we're talking best case for Natalie as all idols have now been played. If they had just listened to Tony, none of this would have been necessary. First vote: Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Ben, Ben. No votes count. We'll revote. Because 4 people are immune, only Denise and Sarah can get votes. If there's a tie between them, they'll have to settle it with fire. Jeff comes back with the new votes and there's not a real surprise here. Denise gets all votes and becomes the 17th person voted out of Winners at War.

We come back from break to the camp right after Tribal. Tony talks to Ben about how he always compromises for them and they never compromise for him. He tells us that now everything is screwed because everyone is vulnerable at the next Tribal. So, he ain't waiting, he gets himself a little fire and heads out into the jungle to get a head start on idol hunting. By the looks of it, he searches all night long and emerges empty handed. As the sun rises, everyone wakes up and starts their own idol hunt. After a little bit of searching, finally the idol is found. By Natalie. She goes straight to Michele to share the news. Ben and Tony finally give up the search figuring that either Natalie or Michele has found it. If the other one wins immunity, this could be a worst case scenario.

It is time for another Probst Sighting! Today's challenge will have the players running through some obstacles collecting a key. That key will free some sandbags which they'll need to land on a small platform. First player to land both sandbags on the platform wins immunity. As is almost always the case, they survivors finish the obstacles at different times, but all end up on the carnival game portion at the same time. Ben lands the first bag. Ben almost wins, but the 2nd falls off. Tony lands his first bag. Ben almost wins teetered but fell off. And just like that, Tony lands the second bag and wins his 4th individual immunity. As we head to commercial, Ben is pretty pleased that Tony won immunity. It means that they can get rid of either Natalie or Michele and the core 3 can remain intact.

As the players get back to camp, Natalie decides to target Sarah as the person to join them in voting out Ben. Tony tells Sarah that Natalie is not even panicking, so they might have an idol. He takes a spot in his spy nest and has Sarah bring them to the watering hole. And while this seems cool, couldn't she have done that without Tony being there? Ah, who cares? It's Tony effing Vlachos in an evolved spy shack. I'm here for it. Sarah tries to talk Natalie into voting for Michele. She doesn't want to do that because she doesn't want to face Ben in fire. And just like that, Natalie shows Sarah the idol. So, with Sarah on board, it's looking like we're down to either Ben or Michele. And I just can't see it being Michele. So, the new plan is for Sarah to tell Natalie that Ben and Tony are voting for her so she plays the idol for herself and then they'll vote out Michele. Natalie and Michele have a chat and Michele tries to convince Natalie that they will be voting for her. She knows. Sarah and Ben talk and he suggests that he thinks Natalie will play the idol for Michele as it would be the kind of move that the person from the Edge would need to make to win. And then it happens. Ben tells Sarah that he gives his permission for her to vote for him tonight. He knows he has no path to the win and that he would like to see her have this on her resume to go out and win this game. Sarah really doesn't want to vote out Ben. She's really grown to like him. But, she does feel like she needs to have a move without Tony under her belt if she wants to win the game.

When we come back it's Tribal time. Jeff starts the Tribal by talking about the crazy pace of the game and how Survivor really takes its toll on people. Lacina says that the game brings out the best and worst of people and for so long, she always focused on the worst. Ben relates to that. He wanted to come out this time and be positive and walk away from the game with some friends. Tony says that it's hard for people watching at home to understand the bonds that are formed out there. Sarah admits that today really became an individual game today. Alliances are no more. Michele mentions that it's been an individual game for her for as long time now. You can tell she fully feels like she's going home tonight. Once again, Jeff tallies the votes and asks for an idol. And once again, Natalie stands up. She plays the idol for herself and Tony and Ben smile. First vote: Ben, Michele, Ben, Michele. Final vote: Ben. Whoa, Sarah did it! She just took a huge step in this game. For the first time in the game, Tony is truly puzzled. He has known every vote for weeks and this time, he was totally blindsided.

And we come back from break to an immediate Probst Sighting. Today's challenge is an oldie but a goodie. It's the one handed ball drop into the ramps of doom! Well, that's what I call it. Each player will drop a ball into a rig that will dump it out to be caught at set intervals; they will have to drop more balls into the track until they just can't keep catching them anymore. Last one still catching balls wins immunity. This is a fun nerve wracking challenge to watch, but boring to try to describe. Let's just say that it's very close. Tony is the first to misplay as he drops with 3 balls on the tracks. In the transition to 4 balls, Sarah doesn't make it and she drops out of the challenge. We're down to Natalie and Michele. With 5 balls on the track, Natalie has some big saves and they pay off as Michele's concentration breaks and she drops out of the challenge. So - let's put this in perspective by saying that the first person voted out of the game will now get to plead her case at the Final Tribal Council. THIS is an Edge of Extinction worst case scenario.

We get back to camp and it's all about who will be making fire to get into the final tribal. Sarah and Tony go out together to practice as they're pretty sure that Natalie will take Michele with her and force the 2 cops to make fire against each other. Michele is off on her own practicing and is doing quite well. Natalie is weighing the options. One of those options is sending Michele to the fire making to take Tony out. Tony is watching Michele and she's doing really well and he's getting more and more nervous. Sarah is also doing well, but Tony is struggling. He finally gets a decent fire going as we prepare for Tribal.

As we get to Tribal, all eyes can't help but focus on Ben's absolutely killer biker 'stache. Oh yeah, we have a Tribal to get to. They talk about how no one did anything else at camp today except practicing fire. Sarah and Tony are preparing to go against each other. And Sarah wouldn't have it any other way. He's her partner and if anyone's going to take her out, she wants it to be him. Michele says she would want to go against Tony as well as he's the one in line to win. Natalie, however, will not be putting herself into fire. She feels that she's done enough to win at the end. Wow, she's going to pull a half Underwood. I don't know but I'm pretty sure you need the full Underwood to win. At any rate, she's taking Michele to the end sending Tony and Sarah to the fire making challenge. And it's one. Cops R Us duking it out in fire making. The winner - in my opinion - the person most likely to win Survivor: Winners at War.

We're back and the challenge is on. Tony is quick to get a flame and he's able to keep it going. But Sarah is right behind him with a flame of her own. Sarah uses the husk to get a really good sized flame; the rope is starting to burn. Tony's flame is shrinking a bit. As Sarah's husk burns up, her flame goes down before the rope burns. Meanwhile, Tony is building a serious teepee fire and his flame is real big. Both of them now have flames burning the rope. It's a showdown, to be sure. And then it happens - Tony's rope breaks, his flag raises and Tony effing Vlachos will plead his case at the final Tribal Council. They share a huge embrace and he breaks down apologizing to her. She tells him not to worry about it, to enjoy that breakfast and win this thing. "Lacina, the tribe has spoken."

The sun rises on Day 39 and it's time for the Day 39 Survivor breakfast. As they celebrate and eat and drink, we get a voiceover by each player. Michele talks about all the flack she got the first time around and how she feels like she really proved herself to be a good player and a deserving winner. Natalie tells us that while her road to the finals wasn't conventional, she wants to make sure everyone knows all the hard work she put in to get back into the game and then to get to the end of it. And while I LOVE me some Natalie Anderson and she was my winner pick for the season - a Natalie win on the best of the best of the best season would be a major letdown and a huge flaw in the whole concept of Survivor. The first person voted out should never win the game. Natalie has only been vulnerable in 1 Tribal Council all season, and she was voted out at it. That should be all we need to hear to take her out of contention. But more on that later, let's talk about Tony. He tells us that he feels he brings a bit of every facet of the game and that he wants to be known as one of the best players ever. He also knows that he killed a $2million dream for all of the jury and that convincing them to give him the title will be the toughest part of the game yet. Survivor has had a Queen for 10 years now; maybe it's time for a King.

It's pouring down rain as everyone files into Tribal Council. We start with the Outwit portion of the game and Yul will get us started. He congratulates everyone and lets them know that the jury is looking to fill in the blanks in the game that they might not know. In other words, how did each of them get to the end and outwit the people on the jury?

Denise asks what missteps each person may have taken along the way. Natalie says that hers was going straight into game mode and working on the outplay aspect and that she should have taken the time to make some bonds with people and maybe she wouldn't have been first out. Michele feels that she made pretty solid bonds with people one on one. But you need to have larger groups to move forward in the game. Tony says he's not sure he had any missed opportunities this time around. He made bonds with everyone and used information he gathered to determine how to move forward. Nick tries to call him out on making bonds just to get further in the game. He quickly shoots Nick down saying that Nick was coming after him, so he had to go. Jeremy tries to call Tony out as well, but Ben jumps in to attest to Tony's loyalty in the game.

Natalie goes on to tell the jury how her plan when she got back in was to paint Tony as a huge threat to get jury votes and they needed to get rid of him. Rob asks her why she started to isolate herself from the jury prior to the challenge to get back in. She says she had the couple secret advantages she sent in the game and that she just went into game mode to try to get back in and it worked for her. Parvati and Rob want to know from Tony how he was able to blindside people and no one was really mad about it. He goes into a story about his spy nest and how he gathered information from people and then used it to influence the flow of the game. He really didn't answer the question, but the jury is cracking up at him. Unless he completely torpedoes something, he's got this in the bag. Wendell asks Michele to explain her game for everyone. Good on him, trying to help his girl. She says she just moved back and forth and found cracks and exploited them. She played from the bottom all game. Ben chimes in saying that, as another controversial winner, he now 100% knows why she won her season and that's because she's a good player.

Moving to the Outplay portion of the game. Wendell asks Natalie to share everything that she found and sent into the game. She goes down the laundry list of everything she got over there and it IS impressive, I can't lie. Not more impressive than getting voted out first, but impressive nonetheless. Ben brings up challenge wins - which Tony had 4 and Michele had 2. Michele talks about how winning one challenge can completely change everything in the game for the person who wins. Rob asks the important question - why didn't she take out Tony in fire? She says that her goal was to tear apart the alliance that had been running the game and that sending Tony and Sarah to fire was the final step in doing that. But let's be honest - she was scared she wouldn't be able to win the fire making and she took the guaranteed seat in the finals. Honestly, I think that answer would have garnered her more favor. Ethan asked Tony and Michele how they viewed the Edge. Tony points out that the only things he got from the Edge were an Extortion disadvantage and Natalie coming back telling everyone they needed to get rid of him, so he's not a huge fan of the Edge. Michele liked the idea of it because it could give her a second chance and that she had friends over there that might be able to help her throughout.

And the final phase - Outlast. Each person gets to address the jury. Natalie is up first. She talks about being able to adapt and how she dismantled the major alliance. She talks about how she would have to play the perfect game to go from being the first person voted out to the winner and she thinks she did that. Honestly, she almost did it. She came back in the game telling everyone that Tony was the most dangerous player. That everyone was going to vote for him to win. If ANYthing at all, she should have done whatever she had to do to make sure he was NOT sitting next to her at the end. Coming in knowing he was the man to beat and not taking him out can only be seen as a failure on her part - regardless of your feelings about the Edge. Michele talks about the different in her games. She only went to 6 Tribals the first time around and this time, she played from the bottom and went to like 16 Tribals. She feels proud of the way she played the game this time. She feels it redeems her from her first season and that win or lose, she's happy with how this game went. And finally, Tony. He says he came into this game a completely different person. He came in as Tony, not the crazy person he was the first time. He played 2 games, he says. The game during the day and the game of finding idols and recharging at night. He put a lot of work into playing this season and he hopes the jury will recognize his efforts and vote for him tonight.

After this a large group of jurors have some final words. Danni, Adam, Amber and Rob all speak up to let them know that they all played an amazing game. They're proud that this is the final 3 of the season and that they all fought super hard in the final Tribal and that their decision is going to be super difficult. The love fest continues with everyone applauding and hugs and all that good stuff. Jeff has to break this all up to remind them that they have to vote and stuff.

Sixteen people will vote - the largest jury in the history of the show. We see Rob's vote - he says, "You're right, I said to win this thing you had to play perfect. And he flips over his Tony vote. Parvati votes for Natalie telling her how proud she is of her and all she accomplished. We see Tyson's vote for Natalie as well. We hear Nick talking about how hard it is to be on the outs the whole time, but we don't see his vote. Surprising no one, we see Ben's vote for Tony saying, "Proud of ya, brother." So, it certainly seems like it's gonna come down to Tony v Natalie for the game. Jeff takes the urn and leaves the Tribal Council area and, I guess, goes to his garage for the reading of the votes. We have 5 minutes of show left, so I guess there will be no reunion at all. Jeff brings in the video feed of the 3 finalists as he prepares to read the votes.

First vote: Tony. Natalie. Natalie. Tony. Natalie. Tony. Natalie. Tony. We're tied at 4-4 and with 8 votes left, it's become obvious that Michele is going to be a zero vote finalist here. And dammit - she deserved better than that. Also, the fact that she has to stay on camera kinda sucks. Sorry, back to the votes. Tony. Tony. And the floodgates have opened. The winner of Survivor: Winners at War - Tony Vlachos. Jeff shows all the final votes. Ethan, Tyson, Parvati and Jeremy were the Natalie votes. Everyone else voted for Tony. And seriously, there was no other outcome for this season. After the way Tony played this game, he HAD to win this season. He absolutely dominated this game like few people ever have and he has now cemented himself as one of the greatest players in the 20 year history of Survivor. Natalie did about as much as she could, but the bottom line is that under no circumstance should the first person voted out win the game. And in the season of seasons - for the first boot to win would have been a result that the show might not have been able to bounce back from. Michele played a helluva game and did not get the credit she deserved. Really, she should have had the minority votes and landed in second place. Nothing but mad respect for Michele and how she played this time around. But, this season belonged to the Survivor unicorn. I guess we need to call him the Two-nicorn now. Tony Vlachos proving that lightning can strike twice as he does the unthinkable and not only lasts past the first vote, but wins the All Winners season of Survivor.

We have no idea what's on the horizon for Survivor right now as Corona has shut down any filming until at least fall of 2020. Best case scenario, I guess is that they can film S41 in the fall and air in the spring. More likely - we'll just go a year without Survivor and come back to Seasons 41 and 42 starting in the fall of 2021. Hopefully, the BOP team will be back to recap at that time. Until then, kids, thanks for reading. Thanks for your patience with the looooooooong delay of this recap and take care!