Survivor: Winners at War

Season Preview - Part 3

By Jim Van Nest

February 2, 2020

Winners smile.

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Hello good people and welcome to Part 3 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 couple 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 Parvati, Boston Rob, Sophie, Kim and Denise. This week, we’re headed to the 30s as we’ll be looking at the winners of Seasons 27, 28, 29, 31 and 32. Tyson Apostol, #TeamTV Tony Vlachos, Twinnie Natalie Anderson, Jeremy Collins and Michele Fitzgerald.

First up on this week’s agenda, let’s get into 3-time Survivor and the winner of the first Blood vs Water season, Tyson Apostol. Tyson first graced our screens during the 18th season of Survivor in Tocantins. That game was dominated by JT and Stephen Fishbach, but the screen time was dominated by Coach Wade. Tyson, though, did have his moments as he really served more as comic relief and to be a bit of a heel. Despite finishing 8th on that season, Tyson made enough of an impression to be invited back as a Villain just 2 seasons later where he became the first person to vote himself out of the game, finishing in a disappointing 15th place. Then something odd happened.

Tyson became a fixture in the Survivor community, making many memorable appearances on RHAP and other podcasts. And when he actually focused on the game and the strategy within it, he was remarkably more adept than he ever actually showed on TV. He and his girlfriend, Rachel, were then included in the 27th season of Survivor. The plan for this season was to pit a tribe of returning players against a tribe of their loved ones to see how the addition of a ride or die for each player would affect the outcome. As it turned out, Tyson was an instant target. So much so, the loved ones tribe voted out Rachel early in an effort to get Tyson to swap out with her or to just weaken him in the game. From that moment on, Tyson pulled in Monica Culpepper and Gervase Peterson and controlled the game all the way to the final vote. While I know some here at BOP do not appreciate Tyson or his game, he really presents a unique set of skills that really serves him well for this game. He is well suited for Survivor challenges and is a threat to win just about any challenge the show throws at him. And in this season, he was able to get a foothold in the game and he dominated the strategy from pretty much start to finish. Further, from what all of his cast mates have said, he’s immensely likable which gives him the leg up in the final tribal.

Tyson is versed in using idols and he has been a part of one of the few rock draws in Survivor history. Anyone coming into Winners at War that sleeps on Tyson deserves what they get. He comes off as goofy, silly and like he doesn’t care. But he cares more than he’ll ever let these players know. He wants to win this season. He may not seem like it and he may laugh it off – but to be considered one of the best of the best is much higher on Tyson’s bucket list than you may think. Not to mention that he has a pretty close friendship with Rob Mariano. And sure, Rob’s cut his friends before, but also in this group are Jeremy, Adam Klein and even Kim Spradlin as they all play poker together and have done many tournaments at Run It Up Reno. If there’s any kind of pre-season alliance, this could be the one. Tyson is definitely in the running to be my winner pick for the season. He’s definitely making the merge and I seriously doubt he’ll make the mistake of voting himself out this season.

Next up in the Survivor unicorn himself. #TeamTV. Tony Vlachos. The last time we saw Tony, he was running around the island like a lunatic. Burying himself under leaves, feuding with Sandra and exiting the show on premiere night. I’m not sure that we can legitimately gauge Tony on his Game Changers performance. He’s even admitted that he went out there with the wrong mindset. He went out there to play the character of TeamTV that the production team edited him to be his first time out and got away from what got him the win in the first place. Spy bunkers and clones and all that nonsense was designed to entertain and be “good television” but it got him away from playing an actual good game.

Which, despite some BOPers objections, he had the first time around. In fact, he had a great game the first time around. Tony’s frenetic style and incessant gaming and scheming had pretty much everyone watching the Cagayan season just knew he was flying too close to the sun and that he would crash and burn at any time. And amazingly, that never happened. Tony ran himself ragged in season 28, he hardly slept, he found idols and he even created his infamous “spy shack”. The spy shack itself was ridiculous and would have been the joke of the season IF, he hadn’t used it to actually gather actionable information in the game that allowed him to played the alliance shifting game that he played. He made 2 solid alliances in the game. The first was with Trish Heggarty and it proved to be huge for him. Every time he zigged or sagged, Trish was there by his side to provide damage control. He pissed people off, she smoothed things over and those people continued to work with them. The second alliance was with Woo Hwang. He and Woo were a locked in final 2 for most of the game. So much so that when the players learned that there was a Final 2 and Woo won the final immunity challenge, he went against his own self-interest and brought Tony to the end with him instead of the mother of all goats, Chaos Kass. She had no chance of winning that game and yet, Woo took the guy who could beat him, all because Tony preached loyalty and going to the end with “someone who deserved it”. And in Woo’s estimation, not only was he never loyal to Kass, she didn’t deserve to be there. So, he took Tony and got crushed.

Again, a lot of people don’t like Tony and they have little to no respect for his game. I think those folks are missing the big picture on this. However, they’re not wrong when they say that this game can never win again. That’s why he’s referred to, by many, as the Unicorn. That game will never be duplicated. And THAT was his problem in Game Changers. He not only tried to duplicate it, he tried to one-up it. This time around, I expect Tony to be much calmer. I expect him to let the game come to him a little more and to not run around all crazy the moment they land on the beach. If he’s allowed to last after the first couple votes, his ability to read and persuade other people could take him far. Also – one has to wonder if we’ll see the re-emergence of Cops R Us with Sarah Lacina. Just something else to think about. Do I think Tony can win? Probably not. But I don’t think he’s the sure fire first or second boot like he was in Game Changers. He has a lot of game left in him, not let’s see if he can make something of it.

The very next season, Jeff Probst decided to go back to the Blood vs Water well in a season called San Juan Del Sur. But this time, he scrapped the returning players and went with an entire cast of Survivor newbies. But not everyone was new to CBS reality shows. Two of the players were the Twinnies! Veterans of 2 seasons of The Amazing Race, Nadiya and Natalie Anderson were part of the draw of the second iteration of the Blood V Water theme. Many didn’t enjoy the antics of the Twinnies, but Probst was banking on their separation being an interesting story. As it turns out, Nadia was the first boot of the season and the Survivor audience was spared all of the Twinnie nonsense that divided Amazing Race fans. It also lit a fire under Natalie Anderson and she rode that fire all the way to a very impressive win.

Between Nadiya’s ouster and the boot of another Winners at War player, Jeremy Collins, Natalie channeled her need for revenge into a pretty dominant performance. She was no slouch in challenges and if you follow her Twitter, you can see that she works out like a fiend, so I can only assume she’ll be that much tougher. She also found an idol, played that idol for someone else and absolutely crushed jury management; both at regular Tribal Councils and the final Tribal. Her masterstroke was the idol play for Jaclyn Schultz at the final 5. She put a plan in place to vote for Baylor – the daughter half of the Missy and Baylor team. Jaclyn was also vulnerable at that night’s Tribal. When Jeff asked for idols, Natalie gets up, walks to Jeff and then turns back and asks Jaclyn, “Did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” When Jaclyn nods, she plays her idol for Jaclyn, saving her from elimination and sending Baylor to the jury. She could have just played the idol and been done with it – same result, right? Wrong. She put on a show for the jury. “Did you vote for who I told you to?” “…who I told you to” The jury then knew that every single piece of this blindside was from Natalie. She also talked Jon Misch into playing an idol that he was ready to go home with. She realized at one point she was going to lose a challenge, but before she stepped down at the 3 hour mark, she negotiated some food out of Jeff.

Bottom line, she’s not afraid to do what it takes. She has proven loyal and that she has some serious strategic chops for this game. Hell, she even pretended to screw up a vote so as not to piss off her alliance, when she purposely voted how she did. I think the problem with The Amazing Race is that it just wasn’t her game. Survivor, however, IS her game. And hell, I didn’t even mention how she went tip top toes with John Rocker, getting him to threaten to knock her teeth out. Natalie Anderson is a Player – with a capital P. She has what it takes to win this season. The concern for her is that people lump her with Jeremy and decide to split a potential power couple. Otherwise, she can go far. Real far. Like, to the end, far.

And that brings us to Jeremy. Jeremy Collins. The winner of Survivor: Second Chance. Jeremy was part of the fan vote for the 31st season and he was pretty well in front from the get-go. He wasn’t quite Kim Spradlin dominant, but he dominated this season just the same. He found a couple idols. Played one for Stephen Fishbach and then crushed the final Tribal Council. Jeremy is one of those players that has a perfect skill set for this game. He’s physically intimidating, but is oddly not very good in challenges, so he’s never the biggest physical threat. He’s strategic, but never seems to be the one calling the shots, so he’s never the biggest strategic threat in the game. He’s immensely likable and people gravitate toward him.

I feel like I should devote more time to Jeremy, but I’m finding it hard. He’s just an all-around good guy and an all-around great player. For me, if I were coming into a game with him, he’d be #1 on my list. He’d either work with me from the jump or I’d do whatever it takes to get him out. He’s too likable and too dangerous to be allowed to gain any traction in the game. On the downside, he already used the “I’m doing it for my pregnant wife and unborn son” reason to vote for him. So, he can’t use that again. I kid – the dude won 10-0-0. It was a final tribal ass kicking and it was never in doubt.

The one thing I want to point out is that Jeremy has played recently enough that he knows the pace of the game. He knows about the idols and advantages and twists and he thrived with them all. Also, he’s one of a handful of players to play in a full-on returnee season. Jeremy is one to watch. He’s in my short stack of potential winner picks. He did me right in Cambodia; maybe he can do it again. The Survivor Gods know that he’s got what it takes. Will he be able to get the breaks he needs to go far? Or will the rest of the winners view him like I do as a huge social and strategic threat that is too dangerous to keep around?


And that brings us to the final entry for this week, Survivor: Koah Rong’s Michele Fitzgerald. Koah Rong was the second iteration of the Beauty v Brains v Brawn theme that saw Tony win just 4 seasons prior. Actually, it was only 3 seasons in actual time. Season 32 was filmed prior to the Second Chance season, but aired out of order due to the fan vote nature of Second Chance. But, when you see the order, Cagayan was 28 and Koah Rong was 32. Either way, though, Koah Rong is remembered by a lot of people for the controversy surrounding the winner. Michele is one of the poster kids for riding the social game to victory. It’s become much more common lately – with Adam Klein, Nick Wilson and most recently Tommy Sheehan winning almost completely due to the social game. But back in the low 30s, this was new.

Michele was not helped one bit by the entire season’s edit. We spent 12 weeks watching this show and becoming invested in Aubry Bracco’s story. From darn near breaking down before the first vote to absolutely owning the strategic game for most of the season, Aubry was very much propped up to become the winner of the season. Now, I’m sure “edgic” followers will be able to give a whole bunch of reasons as to how we should have known Michele would win – but bottom line, no one cares about “edgic.” We care about what we saw and what we saw was Survivor doing pretty much everything they could to get the audience behind Aubry. So, the winner reveal was a blindside to pretty well everyone. It was also not helped by some players telling the press that had they seen the show, they too would have voted for Aubry.

Of all the winners in the history of the show, I don’t think any of them have had the rough ride that Michele has had. Maybe Chris Underwood because of the existence of the horribly conceived Edge of Extinction. But taking that out of the conversation and Michele wins this as well. And it’s not close. With all of the facts and the edit we were given, I also was angry that Aubry didn’t get the win. However, I’ve softened on that stance over the years. Michele didn’t have a flashy game. She didn’t have the “big moves”. All she did was get to know everyone on the island, befriend everyone on the island, get everyone on the island to keep her in the game and then get everyone to vote for her. THAT is a winning game. Like it or don’t. But it’s a winning game. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer the strategic game and if I were out there, I’d vote for who I think played the best version of that game. But I wasn’t out there so all I can go by is what CBS showed us and that’s why I say they did a complete disservice to Michele.

All of this being said; I think this all serves Michele quite well. I mean, she won the game with a pretty weak strategic game and then was dragged through Survivor nation as an undeserving winner. What are the chances that some of the people playing with her view her as a non-factor because of this? I bet a few of them will discount her. Honestly, she strikes me as the Amber or Sarah of this season. The person that people see and go, “Hmmm, why’s she here again?” And then out of nowhere, she steals the game from them. Michele is exactly the type of person who can win this season. She does have a superior social game and she’s 4 years older now, so her strategic chops are bound to be improved. She won challenges in her season, and I would expect her to still perform well in my favorites – the “stand in one place for as long as you can while holding something” challenges.

My biggest question for her is who she will work with. She might hook up with Kim or Parvati. But if that happens, on reputation alone, those players will be likely to get all the credit for whatever they do as a team. I do think, however, that the other players will sleep on Michele at their own risk. I don’t have the guts to make Michele my winner pick, but I think she’s guaranteed the merge. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we get to the end to find her sitting at the Final Tribal pleading her case for why she deserves the $2million. My biggest question for her is who she will work with.

And that about wraps up Part 3 of this Survivor: Winners at War preview. As I promised you last week, I will take at least a few lines of space in every article to wax about the inclusion of the Edge of Extinction twist.

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 4 of our Winners at War preview. Also, I’ll finally make my predictions for the season, including my Final 3 and my pick for the winner of Survivor Season 40: Winners at War! One more thing – please let me know what YOU think? Am I way off base and Tony can actually win this season? You think Jeremy will be first out? Hit me on Twitter: @vannestjc. Thanks kids and take care!



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