Survivor: Winners at War

Season Preview - Part 2

By Jim Van Nest

January 23, 2020

Shallow? Perhaps.

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Hello good people and welcome to Part 2 of BOP’s Survivor, Season 40 Winners at War Preview. For those of you who wisely checked out of Season 39: Island of Inappropriate Touching – you may not be aware that the long clamored for All Winners Season is finally happening.

When Survivor comes back to the airwaves on Feb 12, they’re bringing 20 winners of the game back for the end all-be all Season to determine who is the best of the best of the best. Despite hate watching last season, BOP is back to cover this long awaited all winners season.

Over the next 4 weeks, I’m going to be previewing the season and refreshing your memory (and mine, for that matter) on the 20 people who’ll be vying for the ultimate title and the increased ultimate prize of $2 million!!

Last week, I talked about Ethan, Sandra, Amber, Danni and Yul. This week, we’ll be looking at the winners of Seasons 16, 22, 23, 24 and 25. Parvati Shallow, Rob Mariano, Sophie Clark, Kim Spradlin and Denise Stapley.

The first name on the agenda today really needs no introduction. She’s regarded by many as one of the best to ever play the game. She had a 6th place finish in the Cook Islands and then came back for the 16th season, titled Fans Vs Favorites and she dominated. I’m talking, of course, about Parvati. And yes, she is one of those players that are a one-name player. Parvati became known for playing the “flirt game” her first time through and many still see her this way. But to call her game “the flirt game” does her a massive disservice. Her game is very social and very cut-throat and strategic. She organized her “black widow” alliance in Micronesia and rode it all the way to the end. Oddly enough, there have really only been 2 successful all-women alliances in the history of the show and we’ll be talking both of them today. But, in all honesty, Parvati’s best game would come 4 seasons later during Heroes Vs Villains.

It was in Samoa for Season 20 that we saw the best of Parvati. She has a remarkable read on people, much like the next person on our list, Boston Rob. The best display of this was her double idol play. To refresh, it was widely assumed that Parv had an idol. With that knowledge in hand, JT organized a vote against Jerri Manthey and ahead of Tribal, Parvati’s bestie, Amanda Kimmel, warned her that the Heroes were coming for her and she needed to play her idol. Reading Amanda like a cheap romance novel, she sniffed out the lie. At Tribal, she took her 2 idols and gave them to Sandra and Jerri to protect against the possible Hero blindside. As it turned out, they HAD thrown their votes onto Jerri and Parvati’s play knocked JT out of the game and assured that the remaining villains would ride all the way to the end, which they did. Also, it should be noted that she was the first person to really employ the “goat strategy” with Russell Hantz. She took him all the way to the end, knowing he’d be a zero vote finalist. What she didn’t know was that the jury would look down on that play and would instead reward Sandra with her 2nd win in as many tries. As it would turn out, Rob would use this exact strategy just 2 seasons removed from HvV, but with better results. Ultimately, Parvati was a whiff away from being the 2 time winner and many agree that she should have been. So, even though it’s been 10 years since she last graced the Survivor Island, you can damn well bet Parvati will be in everyone’s head as soon as they land on the beach.

As mentioned already, next up is finally the winning season of one “Boston” Rob Mariano. We should also mention that on the heels of possibly the greatest season of all time, Heroes v Villains, Survivor went through a dark period. Season 21 sucked, hence no Fabio on S40. They introduced the ridiculous Redemption Island in S22 as well as a Rob vs Russell theme for the season. They continued the Vs theme with Ozzy vs Coach and then concluded this horrible time with the phenomenally boring, One World. But, I digress. Right now, we’re talking about Season 22, Redemption Island and Rob finally getting a million dollars of his own.

The Russell/Rob rivalry bubbled over during Heroes V Villains, so much so that at the live finale, Rob even challenged Russell to play the game against him anytime, anywhere. I can only assume that set off ratings bells in Jeff Probst’s head, because 2 short seasons later and the challenge was on. Correctly assuming that one or both would be huge targets right off the bat, Producers came up with “Redemption Island” as a way to keep their stars in the game. Being voted out would not be the end of your game. You’d get sent to Redemption Island where you could win your way back into the game via a series of duels. As expected, Russell was voted out almost immediately and then lost a quick duel at RI and was sent out of the game on Day 10. What we saw next was as if one of the players was on his 4th time playing the game and everyone else was new to it. Oh wait…

Rob took over the game. He created an alliance on his original tribe, pulled in The Specialist, Philip Sheppard to be the game’s ultimate goat and he rode this alliance to a ridiculously easy win as Philip got 1 vote to break the unanimous win for Rob. It was like nothing we’ve seen before. An entire tribe and then an entire merged tribe scared to vote Rob out. He created a buddy system for his alliance, where no one was ever left alone. When anyone dared get out of line, the word would get back to Rob and he’d remove that person from the game. While he earned the nickname “The Robfather” many season before, this was really the first season where it really applied. He was the mob boss and everyone out there existed for nothing other than to be a step on his path to ultimate victory.

It’s really hard to see Rob being able to get any traction on an all winners season. Aside from the fact that he’s played 4 times and been to the end twice, he was just brought out to Season 39 as a mentor and has a massive statute of his head out in Fiji for all to see. I don’t see ANY way Rob gets any traction in an all winners season, unless he can parley real life friendships with people like Tyson and Jeremy into some sort of alliance. I mean, you don’t want to count the guy out, but I’m kinda counting the guy out. I feel like this will be Rob’s 3rd per-merge boot in his history proving that once again, he is the ultimate feast or famine Survivor player. Either win it all or miss the merge and the jury.

Our 3rd winner on today’s list is one that I would wager many of the readers will not remember and if they do, it’ll be slight. But for my money, Sophie Clarke is one of the smartest people to ever play the game and is going to be deadly on this season. At 22 years old, Sophie finally turned the key and figured out how to play an under the radar game and then actually win at the end. South Pacific was another Redemption Island season and featured the return of 2 multiple time players in “Coach” Ben Wade and challenge beast Ozzy Lusth. We learned 2 things this season. The first, Ozzy will never figure this game out. He’s a challenge master with no other actual skill for the game at all. The second, Coach actually can and did figure this game out.

Coach created a 5 person alliance during the first couple days of the game and while preaching loyalty throughout, rode that alliance all the way to the end of the game. He masterfully manipulated a young John Cochran into flipping against his original tribe and that was all she wrote. Coach did everything a winner needed to do on this season, except recognize that Sophie was playing a brilliant under the radar game and undermining him all the way through. When the final jury came, she was able to finally articulate this type of strategy and get the jury to reward a game that no other Survivor jury had ever rewarded and wouldn’t again until season 32. She showed how Coach had bloodied his hands while preaching honor and loyalty – things she never did. And when all was said and done, the jury agreed with her masterful Final Tribal performance and gave Sophie the million dollar check.

This time around, I see Sophie as a huge threat to not only go far, but win this game. She is wicked smart and has stayed very involved in the Rob Has a Podcast community, which includes doing analysis of just about every season of Survivor at some point during its airing. She is on top of her game and at age 29 is really hitting the prime of a Survivor career. She’s also one of the more under reported players in this game. While people like Rob, Sandra, Parvati and Tony will garner a ton of attention, Sophie might just slip through their fingers. I’m not sure if I’m ready to make her my winner pick, but she will definitely be in the final conversation.

Also in the final conversation for my winner pick is the woman who has played the most perfect first time game of Survivor ever, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe. Thought to be one of the worst seasons of Survivor, One World is held in contempt by many Survivor fans because it was obvious from almost the very first episode that Kim had this game on lock. It’s hard to even describe it, but through 39 days of the game and through 13 episodes, I don’t remember one time where I thought Kim was in jeopardy of going home. And I was right, she never was. This season was the first (and only) season that started with both tribes on the same beach, despite actually being broken up along gender lines.


Kim locked in a group of women to be her core alliance and the only threat to that alliance was Troy(zan) Robertson winning a few individual immunities along the way. Ultimately though, Kim dominated the social part of the game garnering respect from everyone on the island which kept the information flowing to her throughout the game. She dominated the strategic part of the game, going so far as to take credit for every single elimination on the jury – with no objections from anyone. And she dominated the physical game – winning or sharing in 7 of the final 8 challenges in the game, including 4 of the final 5 immunity challenges. Ultimately, we have not seen dominance in a season of Survivor before or after that can match what Kim did in One World. The question for Kim is how many of the other winners remember this?

It’s been suggested that fan reverence for Kim’s game as well as the constant kudos she gets from many Survivor podcasts and blogs might actually hurt Kim’s game. The suggestion seems to be that many players, specifically Sandra, will not want to hear about Kim as the greatest player of all time and may cut her time in the game short because of it. To that, I laugh. They might come for Kim, until they meet her and become one of her numbers. Trust me on this one kids, Kim is in for the long haul on this one. Will she win and cement her case as the greatest of all time? I don’t know – but anyone who discounts her or writes her off, does so at their own peril.

The final winner we’re going to talk about today is licensed sex therapist and the winner of Survivor: The Philippines, Denise Stapley. When asked to name the winners of Survivor, Denise is probably one that people will skip past and then come back and try to remember and ultimately, may not. And why is that? She was a fantastic winner - check. Deserved to win her season - check. Holds the distinction of being the only player to go to every single Tribal Council on a season of Survivor – check. Put up with personalities like Abi-Maria for most of the game – check. She checks a lot of boxes for a memorable winner. The problem for Denise is this was Malcolm’s season. Period. He owned this season and would have won it if not for his shaky hands. This is the one mark against Denise, actually. That she was willing to go to the end with such an obvious winner as Malcolm, that’s a flaw in her game. The final 4 challenge, saved her from herself allowing her to steam roll the Survivor that shall not be named and Blair Warner, er, Lisa Whelchell.

Ultimately, though, Denise played the ultimate social game. She was on the crappiest tribe of all time, Matsing, and after being left with only Malcolm on her tribe; they were split up and placed on the other tribes. They should have been easy boots at that point. Malcolm didn’t go to Tribal with his new tribe, because Denise went to both of them. And she survived them both. How does that even happen? Once the tribes merged, she and Malcolm faded into the background for a bit, but then emerged as the season’s major power couple and STILL could not be broken up.

Denise HAS to get the credit for this. As a therapist, she has a remarkable read on people. And even more, she has a knack for talking to them and more importantly, listening to them. She gained the trust of everyone out there and by virtue of being on the bottom from the jump, managed to avoid looking like a cut-throat player, but instead looking like someone scraping by. Malcolm went out at final 4, meaning she didn’t have to worry about him getting credit for their moves. She was there, by herself, and was able to claim everything. And when all was said and done, she got 6 of 8 jury votes and easily won the season.

Denise has what it takes to get very far in this game. I worry about her though, as she makes genuine bonds with people out there. And that makes it hard to cut those bonds later. Again, she pretty well had carte blanche to cut people last time by virtue of her position in the game. Assuming that it can’t POSSIBLY go that bad for her again, this time she might have to actually backstab some people in this game and then face the repercussions of that. I think Denise is a lock for the merge and she’ll be fantastic on the jury, but I don’t think she has the winning game this time. Either way though, I’m SO glad she’s on this season. Also – that haircut, though. Rock that shit, Denise!

And that about wraps up Part 2 of this Survivor: Winners at War preview. One last thing though and I didn’t mention it last week. Producers are including Edge of Extinction in this season. Annnnd, I’m not happy about it. I assume the thinking is, with EoE everyone will be guaranteed to stay in the game until the end. And ya know what, That’s! Not! Survivor! You don’t get a consolation prize in Survivor. I mean, sure, sometimes they have a special Tribal Council to give one person a million dollars cause they really, really like him. And yeah, nowadays they have “Sia Money” whereby MORE people that we really like get money at the end of the season. But ultimately, you get voted out – you lose and you go home. THAT’S the way it should be.

“Fire represents your life in this game. When your fire is gone, so are you.” Those words used to mean something. Then the Outcast Twist happened. It was horrible and never came back again. Then Redemption Island happened. It was horrible, but not AS horrible as the Outcasts, so we had it a few times. Then, because apparently someone forgot how it was received in the Pearl Islands, Jeff got the great idea of bringing back the Outcasts, but with a twist. I can imagine the pitch for this idea.
“This time we’ll film them after they get voted off, take away valuable minutes from the actual game to check in with people who already lost and then we’ll give them a chance to get back in the game. But wait, once that happens, people will STILL go to this place, we’ll waste more time on them and then give them another chance to get back in the game. But wait, once they get back in the game, we’ll give them an immunity idol. But wait, everyone who stays on the Edge of Extinction gets to be on the jury, so they can form bonds with the other losers and who knows what could happen after that? Whaddaya say guys?”

Yep – that might not have been the actual pitch, but it WAS the actual reality. And then those bonds forged on the Edge of Extinction were used to award the title of Sole Survivor and the million dollars that goes with it to a guy that played a total of 12 days of Survivor and spent the bulk of the game making allies and friends on Loser Island. It was such a worst-case scenario that I figured it guaranteed that they would put EoE out to pasture with the Medallion of Power. Boy was I wrong. They brought it back just 2 seasons later and it’s being suggested in Survivor circles that it might be back permanently. Somewhere along the line, Jeff Probst thinks this was a hit. A great idea, one worthy of coming back over and over.

Well, as long as I hold a keyboard and have pixels to burn, you can damn well bet I’ll do whatever I can to end the Edge of Extinction. In fact, there’s already a social media hashtag out there for this: #EndEdgeOfExtinction. Please, if you care about Survivor, start using this hashtag early and often. Send the message to Jeff Probst and Matt Van Wagenen and CBS that we want our game back. And while we love the fact that they take chances like EoE, we really like when they acknowledge that a chance sucked and they commit to never doing it again. /End Soapbox

And with that, I’m out everyone. Please be sure to check back next week for Part 3 of our Winner at War preview. And also – please let me know what YOU think? Am I way off base and Rob can actually win this season? You think Kim will be first out? Hit me on Twitter: @vannestjc. Thanks kids and take care!



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