Survivor: Winners at War recap: Criminal behavior
This fall on CBS, what happens when two craaaaaaazy cops decide to become roommates…and then a global pandemic hits?! He’s a wily street-smart patrolman from the Garden State of New Jersey, she’s a corn-fed flatfoot from the Hawkeye State of Iowa. Now they’re stuck together. And together they’re…Cops ‘R’ Us!
Tony Vlachos and Sarah Lacina star in network television’s most anticipated new comedy, and these two officers of the law are about to be charged with zaniness in the first degree. Will Tony say “Auf Wiedersehen” when Sarah tries to turn the duo’s living room into a fashion show runway? Will Sarah be able to convince Tony not to climb up to the roof on his homemade ladder made out of duct tape and dreams? And what happens when Tony tries to turn their apartment’s only bathtub into a spy bunker? Nothing good!
Critics are going wild over Cops ‘R’ Us!
“Tony’s a boss, dude!” applauds Robert Mariano.
“They won’t let me vote the way I want,” raves Benjamin Driebergen.
“Have you seen my toothpick?” asks Wendell Holland.
And the laughs just keep on coming! This season on Cops ‘R’ Us, hilarity ensues when nosy next-door neighbor Adam Klein pops by and becomes convinced that the expired tub of margarine in the refrigerator is actually a hidden immunity idol. And will Sarah allow the wool to be pulled over her eyes when her roommate orders up a llama as their new pet? Plus: Get those Kleenex handy for a very special episode in which local good Samaritan Woo Hwang shows up out of the blue and hands Tony a million dollars in cash for absolutely no reason whatsoever while sabotage-minded building superintendent Kass McQuillen looks on helplessly!
Who knew a quarantine could produce such side-splitting results? Cops ‘R’ Us! This fall, only on CBS!
I mean, I’m kidding, of course. But I also would totally watch it. I’ve been saying for a while that Tony and Sarah should have their own sitcom, and that was never more evident than when the duo returned from Tribal Council this week after Tony blindsided Sarah by voting out Sophie. Sarah yelled at Tony and told us “I’m absolutely infuriated with him.” Tony tried his best to defend himself and told us of Sarah’s reaction, “C’mon, give me a break. I’m playing the game too. This is war. Stop crying.”
Tony is like the kid repeatedly caught with his hand in the cookie jar coming up with terrible excuse after terrible excuse as to why he is stealing all the Chips Ahoy. And Sarah is like the exasperated older sibling who keeps thinking she has talked some sense into her crazy younger brother, even though we all know better. I'm not exactly sure why that dynamic is so hilarious, but it just is. I keep waiting for Sarah to look up at the heavens, wave her fist in the air, and yell “TOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNYYYYYY” at the top of her lungs.
Even funnier than the blow-up after Tribal was the duo acting all buddy-buddy a few hours later as if nothing had even happened. That’s the appeal of the Tony-Sarah dynamic. They’re the pals at the bar that will scream at each other until they are blue in the face, but then be cracking up together the very next day. You see the genuine affection the two have for each other. I have no doubt that there is no one out on the beach that frustrates Sarah more than Tony Vlachos. But I also know there’s no one she cares more about either. And I likewise have no doubt that Tony feels very strongly about Sarah. But THE DUDE SIMPLY CANNOT HELP HIMSELF! And I can’t help but get the feeling while watching Tony have to beg for forgiveness and Sarah absolutely unload on him that the two stars of the show are, in a weird way, as entertained by the entire ordeal as we are. Honestly, how could they not be?
Okay, let’s hit on the other highlights of the week.
Tony Gets Pooped On
In a scene that Sarah has no doubt been watching on a continuous loop ever since it aired, Tony got pooped on by a bird. I don’t really have much more to add than that, but would be completely remiss in my duties if I did not go to great lengths to point it out, including using the headline “Tony Gets Pooped On.”
Speaking of Birds and Nests…
If you can’t beat ‘em, join em. Perhaps afraid he might be pooped on again if stuck on land, Tony Vlachos took to the skies! He evolved his Spy Shack-turned-Spy Bunker concept into a Spy Nest — climbing up into a tree and hiding behind the branches so he could attempt to pick up some intel at the water well from unsuspecting tribemates. To illustrate just how absurd this idea is, keep in mind that one can only ascertain so much by eavesdropping on Survivor. Take a look at last week’s water well conversation between Jeremy, Kim, and Denise as an example. Kim and Denise told Jeremy they were all good to get Ben out. But they were lying. Similarly, Ben told Kim and Co this week that he was good to split up Sarah and Tony. He wasn’t.
I’m not saying there is no value in gathering information, but in gaining it, you may also easily misinterpret what you hear, so taking yourself out of the social mix to sit up in a tree all afternoon in the hopes of scoring a glimmer of a conversation is probably not a great use of one’s time out on the island. Which is another way of saying that I hope we see a lot more of it because it is so ridiculous.
Sofierce Strikes Again
The folks at the Edge of Extinction were given more manual labor this week in the form of a giant pile of coconuts on the other side of the island, 20 of which had to be transported back to the shelter by each player. The first six to do so would earn two Fire Tokens each for the efforts. Okay, so, no surprise that fitness queen Natalie finished first, but check out Sophie right on her tail — dusting people like Yul, Tyson, Danni, and Wendell in the process. Super impressive showing from someone who performed well in challenges all season long.
Rob had his own statement to make, continuing on and finishing the task even after the first six were done (and he had busted his elbow) because he did not want to feel like a quitter. “That’s what makes the game so good, is that it’s so hard.” Was that a shot at Sandra, who raised the sail? I don’t think explicitly so, but it’s fair to wonder.
Ben There, Done That
Ben was part of many underrated gem moments this week. Obviously, the scene where Tony got pooped on. I mean, that’s not underrated. We all love watching someone get pooped on, so that one’s probably just “rated.” Then there was that SUPER DUPER awkward moment where Jeremy repeatedly asked to talk to Ben and Ben was all, “Nope, I’m good!” But the absolute best had to be when Ben found a hidden immunity idol while searching with Tony and tried to hide it before being called out, so then launched into a really uncomfortable celebration where he was trying to overcompensate for his earlier shadiness.
The thing is, I get it! The best course of action is always to keep an idol secret. Ben has proved to be a master at finding idols. He found another one here and his instinct kicked in to pocket the sucker as quickly as possible. I probably would have done the exact same thing and then tried to cover it up as awkwardly as Ben did after being caught. Only I don’t think I’m strong enough to pick Tony up and run at a full sprint. (Is it terrible that I kind of wanted them to wipe out a little? Okay, a lot.)
To Eat or Not to Eat
You all know how I feel about taking food instead of competing in challenges. Not a fan. Look, if there is a challenge that you stand absolutely no chance of even coming close to competing in and you feel the food will benefit you more in the long run, well, then we can talk about that. But go back and look at Survivor history, ladies and gentlemen, and you will see it littered with the names of people who took food because they thought they were safe, only to then be immediately voted out.
This week’s immunity challenge was the classic where you hold your arm up until you no longer can — except now they do it on a super narrow beam because producers got tired of waiting around six hours for hands to start dropping. Once again, there were separate immunities being handed out to the male and female winner. Which is what makes what happened so curious. On the women’s side, it eventually came down to Denise, Kim, and Michele. While on the men’s side, it was just Nick versus Tony. And then, 15 minutes after the competition began, Jeff Probst brought out peanut butter, chocolate, cookies, and milk. Upon seeing all that sugar, Kim, Michele, and Nick all stepped off for the food.
Kim and Michele did not have a 1 in 10 chance of winning when they took the food. They had 1 in 3 — 33.33 percent. Nick had a 50 percent chance of winning. I mean, at least he got a Fire Token out of Tony for it, but still! Michele and Kim said later at Tribal that they immediately regretted the decision to step down, with Michele explaining, “Me and Kim were just torn up with regret.” And the eventual result of Kim’s ouster shows you exactly why.
The jury’s reaction also shows you why you never want to take food over competition. Did you see the disappointment on their faces when they heard that Kim, Michele, and Nick had stepped down? These are the people voting on the $2 million prize! You are building your résumé every single day you are out there, and stepping down to take food is not something you want on your ledger with a jury comprised of very proud former winners. Parvati’s equal parts confused and exasperated “Kim, why?” says it all.
Look, I have the utmost respect for Kim. That is pretty obvious by the fact that I named her One World victory as the most dominant single-season performance ever. In that game, all roads led to Kim Spradlin and she was at the center of everything happening both socially and strategically. Completely different story this time around as Kim was on the outs from day 1 due to her participation in the so-called “poker alliance” that Yul targeted. Kim never quite got her footing in the game, which is why she had to constantly fight and claw to stay in it. And the second she stopped fighting, she got snuffed. I bet that decision is still haunting Kim to this day. “The truth is, I completely regret it,” Kim said at Tribal of her decision to take the food. And that was before she got voted out.
I’ve written extensively before on why I think whispering and side conversations should be banned from Tribal Councils. I’ll spare you the entire dissertation all over again, but the basics are this: When “live Tribals” first started happening, it was super exciting. That’s because up until that point, Tribal Councils were a mere formality and the vote was already determined before everyone left camp. Sure, people may have acted at Tribal like they were weighing their options, but their vote was already sealed. The only thing that could disrupt it was an idol or advantage.
So once votes started changing at Tribal, it was amazing! The players had leveled up into a new stage of competition. Jeff Probst has talked to me a lot over the years about the cat and mouse game between producers and players. The producers constantly have to tweak formats or twists to stay a step ahead of the players. And once the players figure out how to handle that new format or twist, producers need to mix it up again.
That’s what needs to happen here with the live Tribals. Players have essentially been given a stack of get-out-of-jail-free cards. Because instead of having to work to communicate something to certain people without communicating anything to other people — which is the hallmark of a great player and the old school Tribals — contestants can just walk up and whisper whatever they want to whomever whenever they want. And while that was fun and new for a few seasons, the thrill is now gone.
Can you put the genie back in the bottle, though? That’s really the question. But as I have been saying for the past few seasons, I would at the very least explore a situation where players are forced to stay in their seat and every word said has to be to everyone. Maybe they can sneak something by, maybe they can’t. But at least make them work for it. Think of it like a middle-school classroom. Students aren’t allowed in the middle of class to just go over and whisper to their best buddy about which girl they want to smooch. You at least have to be super cagey and hope that embarrassing note you passed back to the fourth row doesn’t get intercepted along the way.
This is my way of saying that we had yet another whisper-fest as the players pitched various cases for Jeremy, Kim, and either Ben or Sarah to go. Before it was all said and done, Tony and Jeremy had big decisions to make. Tony tried to play his idol for Sarah, but then she called it off, feeling safe enough to proceed without it. (Smart move!) Then Jeremy had to decide whether to use the 50/50 advantage Michele had given him. He looked so pained trying to decide what to do, I thought he was imagining being forced to self-isolate with Ben for 18 months. (Unconfirmed reports place the origin of their feud as season 1 of the Rotten Coconutz fantasy football league.)
Jeremy also opted against activating the coin flip, even while Michele encouraged him to use it. I’m sure Michele will take some heat for (temporarily) giving that up. I don’t have a huge problem with it. First off, it’s kind of a lame advantage to begin with. Secondly, Jeremy appears to be the closest thing she has left to an ally at this point, so trying for any semblance of a ride-or-die makes sense. Michele’s biggest problem is that she has either been on the wrong side or the outer ring of a lot of votes since the merge. In a weird way, that could help her make it all the way to day 39, although we’ll have to see how many votes she would then get if she makes it there. Unfortunately for Kim, she will not have that chance unless she wins the battle back challenge, but if Jeremy Collins is to believed, a jury of winners will never award the title of Sole Survivor to someone who was voted out. (Let's hope he's right.)
And if we’re keeping score, yes, Tony Vlahos once again completely flipped the vote. When the consensus was Jeremy last week, he flipped it to Sophie. When the plan was Jeremy again this week, he changed it to Kim. To bend a group of Survivor legends to his will two votes in a row — that’s impressive. And nothing to poop on.
Okay, here’s the bad news. We only have two weeks of Survivor left, potentially for the entire year. Here’s the good news: We have five hours over those two weeks, starting with next week’s two-hour penultimate episode. To get you primed, make sure to watch our exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also, check out my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst about the latest episode. And also make sure to peruse this article where the host weighs in on if the show will make it all the way to season 50. And for more Survivor goodies, follow me on both Twitter and Instagram.
And now it’s your turn. Loving the Tony and Sarah dynamic? Confused by the Jeremy and Ben animosity? Impressed by the Sofierce display at the Edge of Extinction? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a supersized penultimate scoop of the crispy … including updated Survivor season rankings!