Survivor: Winners at War

By Jim Van Nest

February 10, 2020


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Hello good people and welcome to the final chapter of BOP’s Survivor, Season 40 Winners at War Preview. We’re less than a week away from the 2-hourt premiere and I’m here to wrap up the preview of all 20 players and offer my predictions and my winner pick for the season.

Last week, we talked about Tyson, Tony, Natalie, Jeremy and Michele. This week, we’re headed to the 30s as we’ll be looking at the winners of Seasons 33, 34, 35, 36 and 37. Adam Klein, Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, Wendell Holland and Nick Wilson.

First up this week is self-proclaimed “Super-Duper Fan” (that’s more than a super fan, for the record) Adam Klein. In a season that has produced 3 returning players, an Amazing Race team, a participant on Ex and the Beach AND an American Ninja Warrior– it should be noted that NONE of those big personalities actually won the show. That honor went to a pre-merge under-the-radar player that saved his best game playing for the end of the season. Adam was able to use his immense knowledge of the game to lay low early on and come on strong at the end, kinda following Jeremy’s winning game play of always having a bigger threat in front of him to take the hits. When all was said and done, Adam took 2 people to the end with no chance of beating him.

Some suggest his “reveal” of his mom’s cancer diagnosis at Final Tribal is what got him the win. His mom died, quite literally, 2 hours after he returned home to her bedside. Some of the last words she ever heard were Adam saying, “Mom, I just won Survivor.” I know, right? But all that aside, he had this game won, solidly regardless of his mom’s situation. Adam put together a solid end game, complete with an immunity win. His game was not flashy, not filled with “big moves”. It was just a solid strategically social game. By that I mean that he made the social bonds with the people he needed to when he needed to. He also knew when to cut bait on a losing situation. Many forget that he was on the chopping block because knucklehead Taylor stole some food and shared it with him. Once they realized Adam was flipping on them, Taylor and Jay blamed Adam for stealing the food and that stigma sat with him for a bit in the game. He was able to overcome it, obviously, and turn it into a clean sweep of the jury 10-0-0.

So make no bones about it, the kid played a helluva game to win in a landslide like that. That all being said, I think Adam is in deep ca-ca for Winners at War. He snuck up on people in his first season. He took advantage of knowing more than his cast mates. He does not have that luxury this time. Not only does EVERYone on the show know just as much as him, none of them will be surprised to see him coming. While someone like Michele might get a pass as a mostly social winner, I don’t think Adam will get that courtesy. As much as it would absolutely kill him, I could see him being targeted first. Unless he can turn his inner-fanboy on and get scooped up by someone like Rob or Tony looking for numbers, I struggle to see where he’s going to get a foothold in the game. If this does happen, while it will suck for him, he should take it as the ultimate compliment. The best of the best of the best saw his as one of the chief threats on the board. I hope I’m wrong, because I really like Adam, I’m just having a real hard time finding his path through the game.

The first time, she played like a cop…and lost. The second time, she played like a criminal…and won. That’s right, it’s Game Changers champion, Sarah Lacina. And I’ll say it right now, if there’s anyone that’s “dead woman walking” it’s Sarah. The most recent female winner, her game is very fresh in the minds of these players, as evidenced by Dalton Ross’ pregame “first boot” photos. As of this writing, 17 photos of these players casting their pregame first votes have been revealed and Sarah is on 5 of them. She’s in trouble.

In her first game, she tried to form Cops R Us with Tony, and at the merge, her refusal to flip flop as well as her refusal to entertain working with “Khaos” Kass made her the target of the brain/beauty alliance and she went out in that episode. When she came back for Game Changers, the first thing people thought was, “Really? Sarah was a game changer?” But after that, she did get a foothold in the game and she pretty well burned every single person in the game. She shifted alliances, she tricked Sierra into bequeathing her the Legacy Advantage and she rode a jury who really took their theme to heart and they gave her the votes to win out over Brad Culpepper and Troy-zan.

Who knows how she plans to come into this game? And does it even matter? She painted herself in her last game and it’s clear that the other players know it and they do not seem in any hurry to let her do it again. The one thing she has going for her is that she starts on a tribe with Tony. And he’s going to need some friends to help him make it through the early game. Could Cops R Us reignite and get both of them farther in the game? Or will the taint of her Game Changers performance even scare off the Survivor unicorn? She’s in serious contention for my pick as first one out. Not sure I’m going to find anyone else more likely to go out than here. But, stay tuned to the end of this column for my official predictions.

I honestly have no idea where to slot the next winner on our list. Ben Driebergen had such a weird game in Heroes v Healers v Hustlers. He found 137 idols and he benefited from the first ever final four fire making challenge. Ben was the target for the last 4 Tribal Councils – and he saved himself with 3 consecutive immunity idol plays and then won the fire making challenge to make the final 3. The end of the game centered on whether the jury was more impressed with Ben’s idol finds and plays or Chrissy’s challenge dominance. In the end, the theatrics of the “Ben Bombs” won the jury over and Ben was crowed the champion of the season.

The weird thing about Ben is that he was considered a threat in the game from the moment the game began, despite showing no real reason to be deemed so. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They claimed him a threat and because of that, he became a threat. He had a solid alliance for most of the game and he even went stealth and infiltrated another alliance to break them up from the inside. So, he had a good game, but at the end of the day, you can’t count on idol finds and idol plays to make it through the endgame. Especially on a season with many people who know how to find and play idols.

Where I go back and forth on him is that unlike winners like Michele, Kim and Wendell (to name a few) – Ben knows what it feels like to be the target of the vote. He was the target of 4-5 votes in a row. Some of these winners were never in danger, which makes you wonder if they’ll recognize when they’re in trouble. People who’ve lost the game obviously know this feeling, but so does Ben, despite winning in his only game. And swinging back, can this guy ever leave camp without drawing suspicion? Yeah, that’s a negative. The only thing I can assume is that this means he’ll go out somewhere in the middle while not really contributing too much to the ending result.

Our penultimate winner is the just mentioned Wendell Holland from Survivor Ghost Island. Like Jeremy, Wendell is the ultimate likable dude. Everyone who meets Wendell wants to be his friend. He just draws you in. He was such an obvious jury threat in his first season and yet, no one wanted to vote him out. He’s that kind of player. He also spent a lot of the season building things to make people more comfortable around camp. To his credit, he seems to think that kind of stuff won’t play with a bunch of winners, so he plans to tame that down a bit. I think that’s a good idea. With this crowd, ANY thing that can be used to set you apart and can get a couple people to lock onto as a reason to vote for you, they’ll take it. Being super likeable and winning friends by making them more comfortable is a great reason for it to be you instead of me.

What people wonder about Wendell, though, is that he did not win his game alone. He had Dominick Abate as a partner and the two dominated the game together. A good comparison for these two could be Stephen Fishbach and JT Thomas. They played the game hand in hand, made it to the end and JT won (granted – he got ALL the votes and Dom and Wendell tied – but stay with me here). JT came back for Heroes v Villains and ended up lost and handing out idols to Russell Hantz and getting blindsided. He came back in Game Changers and had his worst showing ever. Could all of that been because he didn’t have Stephen to help him through the strategic part of the game? Probably. Now, how does that apply to Wendell and Dom? I don’t know. I guess that’s what we’re going to see, right? It’s definitely something to think about though.

Personally, I think Wendell will do quite well. I still think there are going to be some huge threats, with huge targets out there and I don’t see Wendell as being one of those. Also, what happens if Wendell and Tyson (who also had a partner in crime in his winning season) got together and just played the 2-man best friend game all the way to the end? It worked for both of them in the past, right? Wendell also isn’t an out of the gate physical threat and can easily blend into the background. Where I can’t find the path for someone like Sarah or Adam to get to the end, I can map out about 30 paths to the end for Wendell. Not sure if he’s my winner pick, but he’s definitely in the running.

And that brings us to the final and most recent winner in the cast. Nick Wilson from Survivor: David vs Goliath rounds out the cast. Nick was one of those winners that I probably didn’t appreciate enough during the season. Christian, Davie, and the Mayor of Slamtown – they all had larger arcs in the season and more screen time. Same with Angelina and Mike White. Nick didn’t really hit the radar as a possible winner until late in the season. At the beginning, he was just kinda goofy. Making 2-person alliances with everyone, giving them all names – it was quite ridiculous. Until it wasn’t. He managed to take one of those alliances, The Rock Stars for the record, all the way to the end. He brought along the season goat into the Final 3 forcing Mike White to win the fire making challenge, which he did, and their half season long alliance of 3 sat comfortably at the end.


At the final Tribal, Nick’s southern charm and lawyerly closing argument earned him a victory over Mike by a 7-3 vote. Lost in a lot of this is that Nick did win the final 3 immunity challenges to ensure he’s sit at the end. But, he was in an endgame with not many challenge threats left. Does that make a difference when he’s faced with some of the best? I think so. And he’s not going to be able to rely on naming his alliances to forge bonds either. First of all, he won the game about 6 months before Winners at War started filming. Everyone is quite aware of his shtick. No one will fall for that again. Second of all, these people are WAY more advanced, as players, than to fall for the “Oooh, he named our alliance. It must be his REAL alliance.” So, Nick is going to have to find a new way to get to the end.

The decent thing for him is he does not scream schemer and rabid Survivor fan like Adam does. So, if it comes down to it, he might be able to play his good-ole-boy charms to make others look more dangerous. He might even be able to scrape together a couple immunity wins. What I wonder, though, is would anyone vote for him to win the money in the end? Unless he creates a compelling story out there or just simply dominates the game, I’m not so sure that can happen. I worry for Nick and am kinda seeing him as a pre-merge boot when some of the larger threats decide to settle on someone.

And there we have it everyone, all 20 contestants in the ultimate Survivor competition, Winners at War. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this season to begin. But before we can get to that, it’s time for me to put it on the line and make some predictions for the season.

Before I do, though, I have to qualify these by saying, #EndEdgeOfExtinction – I will not be factoring it into my predictions. Who will come back? Who will win? That’s impossible to predict. Example, I have no doubt that Tyson could win any EoE challenge out there, but he may never go to EoE. Meanwhile, someone who is dead person walking, Sarah for example, could be the first one out and then win the challenge to get in a final 5 and ride her EoE relationships to victory. I ain’t about trying to figure that shit out and if it’s at all possible, I’m going to will something like that to NEVER happen again.

All that being said, I seem to have my picks split in half. 10 people I think have no chance and 10 people I think could all potentially win the game. I’m going to go ahead and give you my merge tribe of 13 players: Ben, Danni, Denise, Ethan, Jeremy, Kim, Natalie, Parvati, Sophie, Tony (that’s right, #TeamTV will make the merge) Tyson, Wendell and Yul. As excited as I am to see him back and I do think he’ll perform better than expected, I don’t see Tony as a winner. I also don’t see this group giving Ben a change to idol his way to the end. I know Danni is the pick of a lot of people, but she’s not going to be mine.

I’m going to go ahead and give you my prediction for the Top 5 Baby!! They are: Natalie Anderson. Twinnie may not be awesome as half of a Race team, but she is made for Survivor. She makes top 5. Kim Spradlin makes top 5. How? I have no idea, but I know better than to doubt her. Tyson, Tyson will make the top 5. You can tell by his outfit that he’s putting out an air of “I don’t care”, but spoiler alert: he does. I expect Tyson to pull out all the stops and use his large supply of pre-game alliances and friendships to make it into the top 5. Jeremy Collins. He was my winner pick in Second Chances and he’s a top 5 pick for me here. He is too charismatic and his meat shield strategy might never have had a better season to be used. Jeremy makes a deep run. And rounding out my top 5, Sophie. Wait, who? That’s right. We have seen in all-star seasons that there are some people who no one expected to be on the cast and they make a deep deep run into the game and sometimes win it (Amber and Sarah come to mind.) Sophie is that player for me.

Now, how will it play out, you ask? At the final 5, the group finally realizes that if Kim gets to the end, she wins. Not only that, but she’ll go down as the hands down greatest player in history. At the very least, Tyson wants that title. Kim’s road ends at Final 5. That leaves Tyson, Natalie, Jeremy and Sophie in the potential final 4 fire making challenge situation. Of that group, Tyson is the clear immunity threat and I think he’ll win it. I think this is the time where he knows that he has to get rid of Jeremy. They played all season together, but he doesn’t want to face off against Jeremy in a final Tribal. So, he gives up immunity, sending Sophie and Natalie to the final 3 and faces off against Jeremy in fire building. I’m also going to say he wins that fire building competition taking his spot in the final 3.

So, with my final 3 of Natalie, Sophie and Tyson – I think it will be a close one and all 3 players will get votes. Some will be impressed with Sophie’s strategic game while others will like Tyson’s social and physical game. Natalie will have her supporters as well, namely Jeremy, on the jury signing her praises as an all-around player. But in the end, the ultimate winner of the ultimate season of Survivor will be none other than TWINNIE!!! Natalie Anderson is going to fight her way through and use all facets of the game to propel herself to the win. You heard it here first – a 2-time Amazing Race loser is going to become a 2-time Survivor champion!! Unless, of course, Edge of Extinction turns out to mess it up for everyone. It could happen.

And with that, I’m out everyone. Survivor 40: Winners at War premieres on CBS THIS Wednesday, Feb 12 at 8pm (EST), 7pm (CST). It will be a 2-hour premiere, so set your VCRs accordingly!! Also, I wanna know what YOU think. Who’s your winner pick? Please find me on the Tweetbox and let me know who ya got: @vannestjc. Thanks kids and take care!



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