Survivor: Winners at War - Episode 1
Greatest of the Greats
By Jim Van Nest
February 14, 2020
Hello good people!! It's finally here!! Welcome to Survivor Season 40: Winners at War!! It feels like it's been forever since we learned that S40 would be an all winners season and they've been promoting the hell out of this thing.
Here we are. Tonight's the night. We start the epic journey toward finding out who is the best of the best of the best at Survivor. Or maybe we'll just find out which forgotten winner can fly under the radar the longest and stick it out til the end. Either way, this should be an awesome season filled with some of our very favorite players to ever step on the beach.
Hopefully, you've had the chance to check out my 4-part preview for the season. If not, go give them a look-see if you want a deeper dive into each player and their past games. Since I went into that much detail prior to the season, I don't see any reason to delay getting to the action.
We begin with 2 boats headed to a sandbar in the middle of the Fijian ocean. One is filled with 10 men, the other 10 women. The men are brought in first, the women right behind. Jeff welcomes them all to the season and then presents a champagne toast. You can tell the game is on as several people check their glasses for clues, or idols or who knows what. But, sometimes a toast is just a toast. As he warms up the players, Jeff drops the bomb on them that this season, they're playing for the largest prize in reality show history - $2 million. And there is much rejoicing. Interesting to this writer is that 3 players clap, but otherwise show very little emotion about this: Tyson, Kim and Adam. Don't let the Globetrotters head band fool you, Tyson is all business this season and it would seem that Kim and Adam are as well.
We divide the tribes into the 2 pre-set tribes setup by Production.
Wearing blue buffs is the Sele tribe consisting of: Denise, Parvati, Natalie, Danni, Michele, Rob, Jeremy, Adam, Ben and Ethan.
Wearing red is the Dakal tribe made up of: Yul, Tyson, Tony, Nick, Wendell, Kim, Amber, Sandra, Sophie and Sarah.
After dividing the tribes and announcing the $2million, Jeff drops another new addition on the Survivors. They're introducing an island currency this season, called Fire Tokens. Each player will start the game with 1 Fire Token. These tokens will be able to be used to buy things within in the game. If they get voted out, they have to will their Fire Token to a player remaining in the game. You can see their minds trying to wrap around how this is going to work, but they don't get too much time to think about it because...
...we ain't messing around on season 40. We have a challenge setup right here, right now. They'll be playing for fire, in the form of flint. Oh, also - 15 minutes into the game - we're playing for Immunity. Whaaaaaat?? And to make it even better, this is a 2 on 2, run/swim out into the water, grab a ring and then WWE it back to a pole to score a point challenge. First tribe to 3 points wins. I love it! Starting with a challenge is cool. Starting with a challenge where they can beat the shit out of each other is fantastic!
The first match-up: Tyson and Yul vs Jeremy and Ethan. God, I love these challenges. Though this isn't much of a challenge. With a decided height advantage, Tyson and Yul are able to overpower and score the first point for Dakal. Next up, the ladies. Natalie and Parvati vs Kim and Sarah. Natalie should destroy this. But wait; is that Kim Spradlin's music? She actually pulls Natalie away from the pole and ends up pulling the entire group to the pole. Dakal leads 2-0. The third pairing is Wendell and Tony vs Rob and Ben. Rob and Ben have to win to stay alive in the challenge. And just to prove that he still has it, Rob drags the crown to the pole allowing Sele to live another round. This round is Denise and Natalie vs Sarah and Amber. Sarah and Amber are just too tough and Dakal wins immunity!
Jeff sends Dakal off to their camp with a snazzy new immunity idol. He tells Sele that they will be going to the first Tribal Council, but it won't be tonight. They'll go to Tribal tomorrow night. That gives them over a day to scramble and strategize. Oh yeah, all while they're trying to build camp. Which means one person will get to work all day long to get camp setup only to be dumped before they get to use any of it. Harsh.
We come back from break with the Dakal tribe. The first thing we see is a Fire Token Menu. You can buy food, comfort or challenge advantages. Everyone gets their token and a note that says this 1 token cannot be stolen from them and refreshes that if they get voted out; they have to will their token to someone else. After the hugs and Fire Token explanation, they get right to work on building camp. Everyone seems to turn to Wendell for the shelter. He had made a deal with himself to not come out and just start building everything, but he also knows that in this group, you can't do anything to stand out in a bad way. So, he takes the lead on the shelter building, much to his own chagrin.
Leading up to this season, many of the old school players have remarked about the speed of the game and how much it's increased over the years. We see some of this here at Dakal as mere moments after landing and getting started on camp, we join Sarah and Amber at the water well and Sarah's trying to bond over having kids. Tyson joins the conversation as he now has 2 daughters as well. He tells us how his life is spent with his girls every day. He doesn't have an actual 9-5, so he spends a lot of time with them and leaving was hard. Mixed in with this confessional is a shot of Tyson making the first fire for the Dakal tribe and making it look easy too. Wendell addresses Sandra as Queen and she quickly squashes that and leads us into the first Sandra confessional of the season. She talks about Game Changers and playing with Sarah and Tony. She also knows everyone will be coming for her, 'cause they want her crown. Interesting interaction playing under the confessional is Sandra and Tony discussing how Game Changers is water under the bridge. No hard feelings and all that. They even end it with a hug. Uh oh - if Sandra and Tony becomes a thing, this game could get turned on its head.
We come back from break to finally check in on the losing Sele tribe. We start with Rob. He knows he's in trouble already and losing the first challenge didn't help him any. As everyone mingles we check in with Jeremy and Parvati talking about babies. Rob and Danni get in on the conversation and like that, do we have the start of a "we have kids" alliance? We check in with Ethan and he talks a bit about his journey through and after cancer. He's just thrilled to even be able to play this game again.
The next thing we see is Denise and Adam with the map to the watering hole in hand. They get along really well, with Adam trying to play the Malcolm to Denise. They manage to get lost, even with the map and that keeps them away from camp long enough to be noticed. The other 8 people all notice them being gone and just like that, Adam and Denise are the first official targets of Survivor Season 40.
Over at Dakal, we're still building the shelter and Tony is lamenting the fact that he can't leave camp or he'll be targeted like he was in Game Changers. He tells everyone he's on probation and has his house arrest bracelet on. Amber is worried about the target she has on her back as half of the only married couple in the game. We join her on an idol search around the outskirts of camp - which would be amazing considering she's never played with an idol before.
Meanwhile, we have the super brain alliance forming as Yul and Sophie (easily the 2 smartest people out there) discuss an alliance and the other players. Yul points out that there is a poker alliance out there with Rob, Tyson, Kim and Jeremy...with a side order of Rob's wife. He even talks about something Tyson said during a televised poker match with that crew - he suggested that if they ever end up on the island again, they could be the power alliance. Oooh, someone did his homework. He and Sophie feel that as "outsiders" or players with no actual ties to anyone else, that maybe they should pick up the other stragglers, like Wendell and Nick, and make their own alliance. Sophie feels that Tony, Sandra and Sarah are all together and that Kim, Amber and Tyson are together. This could possibly leave their outsider alliance as the dominant alliance. She also tells us that she can use Yul as her nerd shield out there. She does admit, though, that it's more about who she wants out than who she wants to work with.
But, let's get back to the game at hand over at Sele. And there it is - the ultimate Survivor alliance. Rob and Parvati are working it out. This is a ridiculously smart move. You're 2 of the 3 biggest targets in the game, you're better off together than alone. To emphasize the point, we see Danni talking to Ben, Ethan and Adam about getting Rob out. The IoI statue is mentioned as are the connections that Rob has in the game. This next sequence is absolutely classic Survivor.
We have Jeremy, Ben and Rob walking the beach. And what we get here is the beach scene mixed in with confessionals from Ben. In a nutshell, within like 10 seconds, Ben has spilled everything to Rob about the plan to get him out. Also, that it was started by Danni. Meanwhile, in confessional, Ben is telling us that he knew what Rob was doing here and he couldn't help himself. It's actually quite hilarious to watch someone be completely manipulated, know they're being manipulated and also be powerless to stop it. And then to get Ben's play by play on the whole thing after the fact, it's really classic Survivor. If you only watch one scene from the entire premiere - make it this one.
At any rate, with this knowledge in hand, Rob goes straight to Danni. With Parvati and Ethan looking on, he asks her if she threw his name out there. And she cops to it right away. She tempers it by saying she threw a lot of names out there. But, she tells him that she came into this game with no connections and that he has a ton of them and that's a scary thing. And oddly enough, this seems to appease the Rob-father and he has deemed Danni trustworthy. By the time the conversation is over, we're sitting with a 4-person old school alliance of Rob, Parvati, Ethan and Danni. As we head to break, we hear more about how the old school players make better connections than the new kids and they can't wait to show these new kids the ropes.
We're back from break with one more scene before Tribal. Everyone is talking to everyone. Plans are being made all over the place. Everyone is scheming, everyone is paranoid. Nobody wants to be first out. We get a quick reminder of how close Natalie and Jeremy were from their first season playing together. They seem to have their eyes set on taking out Adam. But, no one will actually lock in on a specific person. Ben is feeling like Adam might be a player he needs to keep around. Adam is really annoyed that he and Denise having a 10 minute walk is being more scrutinized than Jeremy and Natalie's friendship and Rob and Amber's marriage. So, he sets his eyes on splitting up Jeremy and Natalie. He takes it to Ethan, who takes it to Rob and Parvati.
Rob can be on board with that. But he doesn't trust Adam and Denise at all. What's crazy is that we're seeing the beginning of a possible final 3 alliance with Rob, Ethan and Parvati. All of a sudden, somehow a pair of the biggest threats EVER are sitting in the swing vote position. Parvati is marveling at this in confessional and she and Rob are confused as they sit on the beach. We get a nice back and forth here between the two of them and Parvati's confessional where they just can't believe they're not the targets of the first vote. "Rob and I are like, are we being punked?" Rob to Parvati, "We have to play Survivor for everybody; the 2 of us are playing for 10 people." I agree. How can you be on the beach with these 2 and NEITHER of them is the target of ANYbody?? Parvati is concerned that Tribal is coming soon and there doesn't seem to be a solid plan going in. Buckle up, kids.
We get to Tribal and we do the "light the torch" ritual. I'm annoyed that Probst still says, "Fire represents life in this game. Once the fire is gone, so are you." Because, IT'S NOT TRUE, DAMMIT!!! Not this season. But, Jeff has been quoted as saying that Edge of Extinction will be going away for a while, so I'll climb down off my soapbox now. It's here and I just have to deal with it. Anyway, back to the action. We start with Ethan and the culture shock coming from Season 8 to Season 40. It is SO fast now; it's hard to keep up. Even Rob talks about how fast it is. He calls out people being gone. When asked who, Jeremy says, "I don't remember." Denise cops to it and explains what happened with her and Adam. And perception is everything, so she's in trouble. And here's where Adam makes his move. He says that he and Denise met yesterday and THAT'S the relationship we're worried about here? Parvati throws everything into a tizzy when she says that everyone has a loaded revolver behind their back and no one knows where it'll end up. A lot of people are comfortable and maybe they shouldn't be.
Jeremy doesn't like to hear that. Adam, Michele, Ben - they're all in the same boat. Even Ethan, who is IN on the plan (or at least the plan that we know about) is confused. Jeremy leans over to Ben and asks him if he thinks Rob and Parvati have something going. Ben, who knows that they do, tells him he's starting to think so. Ben is actually playing this pretty well, but more on that in a minute. Once everyone acknowledges that they're all panicked, that no one knows what's going on, it is time to vote. We see know votes, but we do see Ethan after dropping his vote in say, "It's good to be back." A little inside baseball, apparently the press corps, which gets to hang around through the first Tribal, all stood and cheered when he said that. EVERYone loves Ethan. He's a lock to win this thing if he gets to the end. Mark it down. Jeff goes to tally the votes and, uh, commercial. Dangit.
We come back from break; Jeff has the urn and asks if anyone has a hidden immunity idol. They do not, so it's time to read the votes. First vote, Denise. Second vote, Adam. Denise. Natalie. What? Natalie. Natalie. We run the gamut - all Natalie. Damn it!! That's my winner pick as the first person voted off Survivor: Winners at War. What the hell happened? Jeremy looks over to Ben, "Who was it?" "We'll talk." Uh oh - Jeremy is pissed. And we saw what happened the last time this pair was split up and one of them decided to seek revenge. Jeremy might have just become a man on a mission. Meanwhile, my effing winner pick is headed to the damn Edge of Extinction! Have I mentioned how glad I am that EoE is back for this season? Kidding, kidding. Or am I?
On her way out, Natalie has to stop and "bequeath" her fire token. Hmmm, who do think will get it? Yep, Jeremy. Then she grabs a torch and gets on the boat to head to the Edge. For what it's worth, the Edge of Extinction is the exact same location as it was 2 seasons ago. The mast and sail are still there and there's a note waiting for Natalie when she arrives. The note tells her she can earn fire tokens to get back in the game. Hmmm...she's ready to earn some tokens and to get back in the game.
Over at Dakal the next morning, strategy talk is starting to pick up. You know, the winning tribe is always a little slower out of the gate than the first losing tribe. We join Yul, Sarah and Sandra at the water well and Sandra's asking Yul about his free agent status. He is happy to work with anyone that would want to work with him. Sarah expresses her concern about Rob and Amber. And we get a confessional from Sandra about how upset she is that after doing all of Season 39 with Rob, he didn't tell her that he and Amber were coming out to play this season. She's unusually hurt by that and Amber is actually a good target for her.
As they continue to talk, Yul asks them how they would feel about splitting up the "whole poker thing." Following rule #1, Sandra is down for that. Yul confirms that he, Sophie, Wendell and Nick are the real alliance on this tribe. He confirms it with the group and they feel like it might be best for them to team up with Sandra's plan of going after Rob and Amber. With Sarah included, they'll have the 6 they need to control the vote and the game.
We come back from break to the aftermath at Sele. Michele is a little concerned. Not because Natalie went home, but because she was left out of the vote. She (along with Jeremy) was the only non-Natalie vote. She gets into feeling like she has something to prove. She's still hurt over all of the hate that came her way after her win. All of the "Aubry should have won" talk. So, she's really out there to prove that she deserves to be there and to find herself on the wrong side of the numbers on Day 2 is a bummer, to say the least.
However, she is talking Ben up and he's really concerned about the Rob and Parvati alliance. Michele is on board to join up with Ben, Jeremy and Adam to see what they can do to possibly take control of the early part of the game. Jeremy is upset over losing Natalie, but he's pretty pumped to find a shiny fire token in his bag. So, while he's basking in the glory of being the richest man in the game...
...Natalie is getting sail mail. Included is a menu. She can buy advantages, comfort or food. Her concern is 100% focused on how to get enough tokens to get an idol or an advantage. She also gets her first opportunity to earn a fire token. The clue tells her to go to the last place she can see the sunset. So, naturally, the highest western most point on the island. So, off she goes and easily enough, she finds what she's looking for. And it's an idol!
This idol is good for the next 3 Tribal Councils and she can sell it to a player on the losing tribe of the next challenge for 1 fire token. So, as it stands now, she has a live idol in hand, but since we haven't had an immunity challenge yet, we don't even know the pool from which she can choose. I mean, Jeremy's golden now, should Sele lose again. But what if Dakal loses? She has no connection over there that I'm aware of, so that should be interesting to see.
And with that, it's time for a Probst sighting! Wow, been a long time since I was able to say that. Anyway, we have a large challenge setup here today. The tribes will carry a boat to the water and paddle out to get a bag of number tiles. They'll race back over a series on in-water obstacles and then use the number tiles to solve a combination lock. This will unlock 3 rings. Then we have a carnival ring toss to win immunity. Sandra sits out for Dakal. Shocker! It really is amazing that she has won twice, lasted 5 Tribals her 3rd time and is still alive in this game. Just incredible.
Oh look, the challenge is going. Dakal makes quick work of the rowing and Sarah unties the tiles. Sele is struggling to get to the tiles. Dakal is going strong through the obstacles when Sele finally gets to this portion of the challenge. Sele gets really hung up on a barrel role they have to climb over in the water. Dakal is making quick work of the barrel roll while Sele can't get ANYone over it. Finally, Rob ducks down into the water and people start getting on his back. He single handedly pushes most of the tribe over the roll. He finally starts to wear down with only a couple guys left. He finally gets Jeremy over about the same time Yul gets the combination figured out. As Rob finally gets over the barrel roll, Tyson and Wendell start tossing rings. Wendell lands the first ring and Adam starts working the combination.
And then Dakal goes completely dry on the ring toss. Adam gets the combination and Ben and Jeremy take on the rings for Sele. Jeremy lands the first toss and we're all tied up. And really, at this point, there's not a lot of drama. Wendell never does get on track with the rings and Jeremy lands to more winning immunity for Sele and sending Dakal to Tribal Council. And just like that, we get to see who Natalie wants to sell an immunity idol to. As we head to break, Rob tells us how winning is great and all, but all this means is that his wife is going to Tribal and there's nothing he can do to help her.
We come back from the break to Dakal beach. As the group discusses things, Tony asks if anyone wants to go hang out with Natalie. Yul asks them, "What happens now?" It's been so long for him and the game is SO different, he's honestly not sure what they do at this point. Well, what you do, Yul, is everyone splits up over the course of the day and everyone talks to everyone and somewhere along the line a plan is developed and a name emerges. Probably several names. Then you whittle it down to one. Let's see how it plays out.
First name? Nick and Sandra discuss dumping Amber. As Rob feared, Amber is in a bit of trouble. Amber and Kim think either Sandra or Nick. Tyson thinks the same thing, or maybe Tony. Wendell, Nick and Yul are locking in their alliance. Wendell suggests that Tyson is someone to watch out for. And speaking of Tyson, he finds himself alone and wondering why everyone ditched him. That can't be good. Amber is the first person we see to state the obvious, should we just get rid of Sandra? Meanwhile, Sandra is all over the place talking to everyone. She tells Nick his name came up and she tells us that she's telling some truths, some lies and she can do that because...
And we cut to a scene of Sandra on the beach by herself digging Natalie's idol out of her bag saying, "There's nothing to think about, I'm buying this idol with my 1 fire token." And just like that, one of the most dangerous players in the game now has a 3 Tribal immunity idol. Considering she's also a world class shit disturber, this can't bode well for ANYbody. Apparently, she doesn't know how she has it, but she assumes it came from Natalie on EoE.
Tyson is really pushing for Tony to go. He tells Sandra this and, God love her, she went straight to Tony. And aside from Sandra having an idol, the next thing they don't want on this island is for Tony to get ramped up. Which he does. He has it in his mind that Tyson has to go. He wants the group to throw Amber under the bus but really vote out Tyson. He sees Tyson as the bigger player and bigger threat to him and wants him gone. Also, he likes the idea of keeping Amber in the game because she's not doing much and it keeps the hugs husband/wife target out there as a shield for him. See? Dude is not stupid. He understands this game. He's just insane.
Tyson gets with Yul and Nick to pick their brains on what's happening and Yul, as Yul always has done, is completely honest with Tyson and tells him that there is a lot of concern about the poker alliance of him, Amber and Kim. Tyson straight up asks him, "But it's not me tonight?" Nick quickly says no, but Yul gives him the shrug that says, not so sure about that. And in a second, Tyson completely changes his tune. He tells us that he had no idea the poker thing would be "a thing" and if he has to cut bait with Amber and Kim, he will. He tells Yul and Nick that he's ready to vote for whoever they say. Amber? Fine. Kim? Also fine. He is not in a poker alliance and he is ready to work with them.
And what's crazy about this whole scene is that I really feel like none of them will go tell anyone else about this conversation. And that's crazy to me. You'd think Tyson would take this and run with it, but he quickly calculated that he's in a bad spot and to try to scramble anymore would only make things worse. Like Tony, Tyson doesn't get enough credit for how good he really is at this game. We get a group of really uncomfortable scenes with Kim. No one will really talk to her. She even asks if it's her and no one will tell her it's not. She walks into conversations and people stop talking. Whatever they're doing, no one wants her to be a part of it. She has no idea what to do as this was never a thing during her first season. She ran the show from start to finish. That's why so many people say she played the single greatest game of Survivor ever. And frankly, if she's the target tonight, that's probably the right move. To keep her in the game could be the worst possible thing.
Once again, dip your torch and get fire. You know, it represents your life in the game. Thankfully, they skipped that part for the 2nd Tribal. He starts with Amber and asks her the same question he asked Ethan. And she says about the same thing Ethan did. It's so much faster than it was on All Stars, Season 8. Tyson talks about the newer players and how quickly they act, which draws attention to Tony. Amber agrees that Tony was going a bit crazy out there. To his credit, he tells Jeff that he didn't do anything for 2 days, because he didn't have to. But when they lost the challenge, he had to do what it takes to survive. He's taking a page from Sandra, anybody but me. Sandra talks about how a lot of names were thrown out there and over the day, it got whittled down to a small group. As Kim nods, Jeff asks her about it. She claims that she is part of the small group. She tells Jeff that apparently people are afraid of a Poker Player Alliance because she played 1 poker game a year ago. Sandra also lumps Tyson into the poker player alliance which really gets Kim. She basically says the same thing Adam said in the first half of the episode. We played one poker game and hung out for 3 hours. Once. There are much bigger relationships on this island. The poker alliance is, in her words, "not a thing."
Amber makes it real again by saying that when $2million dollars is in play, there are no real friends out there. Sandra agrees that if friends have to be lost along the way to $2mil, it's a price they're all willing to pay. And with that, it's time to vote. Once again, we see no votes. Jeff tallies them up and then asks for idols. Sandra sits on her idol. Because of course, she does. How in the hell can Sandra STILL be safe? The mind boggles. First vote, Nick. Kim. Kim. Kim. Amber. Amber. Amber. We're tied with 3 votes left. The next 2 come up Amber and she becomes the 2nd person voted out of Winners at War. It should be noted that only 1 vote came up Nick and you have to assume that was Amber. Which means even Tyson and Kim turned on her in the end.
As she gives her fire token to Rob and gets on the boat, one has to wonder what the wrath will be next week. When Dakal comes around the corner and Rob sees that Amber is missing. I'll just say this - I wouldn't want to be Tyson at that particular moment. Tyson and Rob are boys and I have a feeling he might get the brunt of not protecting Amber. Speaking of next week, Next Time on Survivor: "If she voted my wife out, this is war." I guess I was wrong. Rob seems to be eyeballing Sandra. Also, Denise tells Adam that Ben knows. What does Ben know? How does he know it? Why do we care? Also, we see a 20 foot bamboo ladder being climbed by Tony and Tyson saying, "How is this guy still alive?" This should be fun.
But before we go, we get to see Amber's arrival at the Edge. She wakes up Natalie, they hug and Natalie tells her she hates that her tribe won, she wanted them to lose so badly. There she is - Extinction Island won't change her. At any rate that wraps it up for me kids. Thanks so much for hanging out and be sure to check back next week for Episode 2. Also - would love to hear what y'all think, I'm over on Twitter at: @vannestjc. Til next week, take care!