Survivor: Winners at War recap: The queen abdicates her throne
One contestant heads to the Edge of Extinction, and another one leaves.
There are a lot of weird things happening in the world today. The almost complete shutdown of society probably tops the list, with episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of Tiger King coming in a close second. There are celebrities that really shouldn’t be singing recording themselves singing John Lennon songs in weird hats. People are fighting over 1-ply toilet paper. My teenagers both hung out with me the other night. Like I said, weird things.
And, at first, I thought we had yet another shocking development on our hands when the only two-time winner in Survivor history quit the game. Sandra Diaz-Twine, who emerged as the champion of both the Pearl Islands and Heroes vs. Villains seasons was voted out last week, and when she arrived at the Edge of Extinction at the start of this week’s episode, she did two things. 1) She helped make sure Parvati Shallow was not engulfed by flames. And 2) She took a look around, found out she would have to walk up a giant hill for a cup of rice, and essentially said, “Peach out, bitches!” (Admission: I actually meant to write “Peace out” but had a typo. However, after careful consideration, “Peach out, bitches!” is much better, so I decided to leave it.)
“You don’t have to convince me,” Sandra told her confused island-mates. “I already know this is not for me. Sorry y’all, I can’t be here. I can’t. I’m not going to sit here for 23 days to fight my way through a challenge to get back in.”
There were more explanations to come:
“I don’t want to stay because I feel like I can’t do anything else. I feel like my time here is done, and I’ve done everything else I can possibly do in the world and in the game of Survivor, and I don’t need to do anything else but move on.” (Well, you haven’t done everything in the game of Survivor if you choose not to do Edge of Extinction, but I digress.)
“I’m not good at the challenges. Everybody knows that. So I feel like I would be wasting my time to get back in the game, which I’m not going to succeed at.” (Hard to argue that point.)
“I’m happy to go into retirement and know that I did the best I could with what I had. At the end of the day, I’m still the queen, and I’ll always be the queen.”
And that is the question we must all debate now, I suppose. The first person to call herself the queen was actually Parvati Shallow, but Sandra assumed the title after winning her second season in only two tries. It’s become her calling card. How many times have we heard her say it: “The queen stays queen.” But can the queen stay queen after quitting the game? And make no mistake: This is quitting the game. Same as Keith and Wendy, who raised the sail back in season 38. If you still have a chance to win it all (as Chris Underwood did a year ago), then you are still in the game.
Which is why I was so shocked at first — not only by Sandra’s decision to bail, but by the immediacy of the decision. Was she still reeling from the Denise bomb that detonated earlier in the evening at Tribal Council? Had she taken a night to sleep on it, would she have changed her mind? Was she still pissed at Rob for not telling her he was playing, so wanted to get out of there? (We know as recently as a month ago she was still hurt by Rob’s silence, which she revealed at our premiere party panel.)
We’re used to people quitting by now. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as when Osten first laid down his torch — or Jeff Probst laid it down for him — back in season 7. Even some returning players have been known to call it quits, sometimes through asking people to vote them out or via a suspicious medical situation. So again, while quitting is definitely frowned upon by fans who would do anything in the world to get on that beach, it does not carry the same shame as it once did.
And the calculus of quitting at Edge of Extinction is surely a bit different from an active player still on a tribe. It's a quit, but not all quits are the same. Yes, having of the faces on the Survivor Mount Rushmore raise the sail is kind of crushing. And I was momentarily stunned by the decision. But then I thought a bit more about it. Sandra is all business. People talk about going out to Survivor to play the game they love, or to have the adventure of a lifetime, or to test their limits, or to prove something to themselves and to others, or to score more camera time. But Sandra doesn’t care about any of that. Sandra is about the money, baby!!! The bling! The scratch! The dinero! The cheddar! The moolah! The dead presidents! The loot! The dough! The clams! Whatever, you get the point.
Sandra wanted the million, and when she found out it was two million, she wanted that even more. But after being voted out, she knew the chances of her winning a challenge to get back in the game were somewhere between none and less than none. She already got her guaranteed money (at least $35,000 for the show and reunion… if there even is a reunion) so in her mind, she clearly was like, “I’m not going to make any more money by sitting around here since I’m not getting back in the game, and if I’m not going to make any more money, then why the hell would I stay out here and suffer?”
And the thing about it is… she’s right! She was not going to get back in the game. Now, I want to be crystal clear on something: I don't like anyone quitting the game. And it's for all the obvious reasons, including the aforementioned one about all the people that would do anything and everything to get a chance to play. So to watch someone throw that opportunity away is a huge bummer. But I’m not Sandra. Sandra is all business. She did a cost-analysis business transaction in her head, decided it wasn’t worth it to stick around with no additional payout waiting, so bailed. Which is kind of the most Sandra thing imaginable. And remember, as I wrote in my season premiere recap, there was a moment at her first Tribal Council that never made it to TV where Sandra talked all about how much she hated the Edge of Extinction. Now, she was talking more about hating it as a twist in the game rather than hating having to live there, but the fact remains that she — like the majority of players this season — wanted no part of it from the get-go.
Leaving is not the way I would have done it, and not the way I like to see it done — especially from one of the legends of the game. But also, after further reflection, it’s not so surprising either. So back to the question at hand: Does the queen stay queen after quitting? That’s up to you. Meaning it is up to everyone to decide for themselves. Because if there is one thing we can all agree on here at #SurvivorNation, it is that we are incapable of agreeing on anything.
Except perhaps this: It’s a bad time to be an old-schooler on Survivor. These are the people (in order) that have been voted out after Natalie, along with their first appearance on the show: Amber (season 2), Danni (season 11), Ethan (season 3), Tyson (season 18), Rob (season 4), Parvati (season 13), Sandra (season 7), and now Yul (season 13). That means the longest-tenured Survivor player still on a tribe is Sophie at season 23! That’s crazier than my man Joe Exotic!
What gives, you ask? Is it because the newer players were simply more used to the speed of the current game? Is it due to the fact that the older, more revered contestants were seen as the bigger targets? Or were the new schoolers just better at creating pre-game alliances than the OGs? The truth is probably a combination of all three of those things, and now we are looking at a season that is eerily familiar to Game Changers, in which big names like Tony, Malcolm, JT, Sandra, and Ozzy were all among the first nine people ousted.
Yes, it’s crushing that folks like Parvati, Ethan, and Yul are out already. But no, it does not mean we need the Edge of Extinction to keep them around. That’s selling the other winners short. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Adam has created a HUGE amount of story this season. Sure, some of it may be at his expense — getting caught playing both sides, tuning into a Keystone Cop with any sort of Tribal Council prop, being hilariously insistent that Ben or Sarah had an idol when they didn’t — but it is wildly entertaining. The Michele and Wendell island romance from hell has been one of the most awkward things I have ever seen, and if I catch the coronavirus, I am going to edit together all of their scenes and watch them on a continuous loop until I feel better.
Kim Spradlin gave the best single-season performance in Survivor history. You telling me you don’t want to watch what she can do post-merge? Denise Stapley just pulled off one of the most epic moves ever. Jeremy Collins and Sarah Lacina are straight-up assassins. Sophie is an immensely underrated player on all three levels — social, strategic, and challenge. And ladies and gentlemen, I have yet to utter the three best words in the entire English language: TONY MOTHERFREAKIN’ VLACHOS!!!
Don’t tell me this season is ruined because so many of the favorites are gone, because if you tell me that, I will bury you in a sea of Fire Tokens and then make like Sandra and get on a boat as quickly as possible in the opposite direction. And here’s hoping the producers don’t feel the need to keep showing us Edge footage at the expense of the players still in the game. Because if they want the winner of winners to feel truly earned, then they need to show it. Yes, Rob, Tyson, and the others are all great. But they’re not the only great ones out there. I’m bummed some of my favorites have been voted out, and yet still super stoked to see those who are left. Even Nick Wilson.
Oh, I kid ‘cause I love! I’m a kidder! It’s who I am! I would join any alliance Nick was a part of, no matter how stupid the name. The Party Boyz? I’m in! Lean & Mean? Let’s do this! Buffs R Us…? No, sorry, I can’t do Buffs R Us. That’s a step too far. But pretty much anything else and I’m good. And if you’re good too, let’s go ahead and hit on a few other things from the latest episode of Survivor: Winners (After Season 22) at War!
Ever dated someone you worked with? It tends not to end well. And then, all of a sudden, you start dreading that job you loved, and all your other coworkers just feel super awkward around you and your ex. There’s a reason why people say it’s a bad idea, and I sort of feel like we have been getting a glimpse at that dynamic over the past three weeks with Wendell and Michele.
Wendell’s nightmare edit continued unabated this week. It started when Yul approached Wendell about his concerns about the previous Tribal when the latter told Parvati to make him an offer. Wendell told Yul how much he appreciated the Cook Islands champ being honest and bringing his concerns to him. Cut to the next morning, and Wendell apologizing to Michele for making her feel uncomfortable. Good move! However, that led to Michele explaining how such tactics create chaos between allies, which made Wendell touchy that she was daring to share Survivor strategy tips with him. “If you want to put me on some sort of leash and tell me how to play my game, I might turn around and bite you,” he told us of the interaction.
It doesn’t take a Yul Kwon to point out that Wendell was definitely taking a different tone with Michele than with Yul. Talking down to a woman while showing respect to a man is never a good look, especially when the woman is one who has repeatedly told a national audience how she was “wronged” in the relationship. I’m quite sure this is not how the well-liked Wendell expected his return appearance to be, but that’s what happens when you date someone you work with — or, in this case, have to work with someone you dated. It can get messy, and we’re seeing that messiness right now.
I’ve spent enough time with Wendell to know he’s a good dude. And my time with Michele has been nothing but a pure delight. I don’t know what went on with them romantically, but I do remember that first scene between the two of them a few weeks back where she joked with him that he didn’t think it through being stuck on an island with a woman he dated. And now he is paying the price.
Quest for Fire (Tokens)
Guess what? There was a reward challenge that took place that we never saw. How do I know this? Because CBS put a bunch of photos from said challenge up on their press site and then that challenge never appeared in the episode. From the looks of it, the players had to knock sandbags down off a big net above them and then use to them shoot at and hit targets. You can see some of those photos here…
My spies tell me this was a reward challenge for pizza and that Yara won a bunch of pies, and Sele won a single pie to split amongst themselves. But it never made it to air. That is not unusual. It has happened before and will happen again. In fact, I totally support the philosophy of staging and filming as many events as possible and then selecting the best ones to air. That way, you get the televised equivalent of a Dalton Ross mix-tape: all killer, no filler. (First step to a genius mix-tape? Must be recorded on a 90-minute Maxell XLII. Get that TDK garbage out of my face. And don’t even come at me with Certron.)
Now, you may argue that a reward challenge featuring players still in the game is more exciting than Boston Rob running up a hill and stuffing Fire Tokens down his pants, but that’s all subjective, I suppose. The point is if the crew determined the reward challenge wasn’t all that exciting… then it probably wasn’t.
And I will admit to finding a bit of humor in how quickly Rob popped up off his log to run up and grab those Fire Tokens hidden on the various paths. And even though Tyson made a quip about the former Bostonian being a portly fellow, it was Rob that found 3 of the 4 Fire Tokens (with Tyson nabbing the other). Will those tokens prove to be a difference in the game later? Who knows? But now Rob is in a pretty good position (along with Natalie) if they do.
I realize from that section title above it looks like I am about to wax both poetic and nostalgic about 1980s new waver Adam Ant, and granted, that would be on-brand. Especially seeing as how Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver” remains a staple of Dalton Ross mix-tapes. (Not as a first song, mind you. More like, say, track 4. Song order placement is crucial on any mix-tape or playlist. Please consider this next time you callously select the shuffle option.)
But no, I am not going to go on at length about a guy who performed a song titled “Strip” that contained the following lyrics: “It’s at times like this, the great Heaven knows, that we wish we had not so many clothes.” A true poet, ladies and gentlemen. NO! I aim not to pay tribute to Adam Ant with this section title but rather point out how adamant Adam was. It’s wordplay, people! Get it! You can’t spell adamant without Adam! And adamant he was this episode. Adamant that Ben or Sarah had an idol. Definitely one of those two. And definitely not anybody else. And definitely not Sophie.
“If I’m wrong, I’ll feel like a real idiot,” Adam told us. “But there are few times in Survivor where I feel as confident as I do about this.” Which is precisely why producers put it on the air, because apparently they had run out of footage of Wendell and Michele being awkward to each other and figured this was the next best thing. (Narrator: It was.)
I love, love, love when tribes employ completely different strategies in a race. When teams are just going about their business in the same way and one beats the other, that’s fine. But I love when opposite approaches are put to the test, and that’s what we got in this week’s immunity challenge.
The three tribes were forced to carry a large saucer to a water tower, fill it with water, race through obstacles, and empty whatever they didn’t spill along the way into the well. Once the well was filled, puzzle pieces would drop, and two players for each team would have to finish the puzzle. And if someone happened to wipe out along the way, that was just gravy. Oh, thanks, Michele! (Speaking of which, why was she not forced back to the start of that obstacle to redo it after she fell off? She totally did not make it all the way across. And yes, I recognize I am the only person whose first thought after someone landed directly on their face is to say, “Hey, no fair! She needs to go back to the beginning!” God, I am such a jerk sometimes.)
Anyway, what was so fascinating was that while the Dakal and Sele tribes went through the course with their saucer as fast as possible, as one would expect, Yara took a completely different tact, hoping that slow and steady would win the race. They allowed the other teams to take huge leads while spilling water all over the place, while Yara concentrated on keeping all their water in the saucer in the hope that it would be enough to fill the well on one trip.
Their bet paid off, and their one trip gave them a big lead heading into in the puzzle, which Sofierce and Ben then demolished to win first place. They meant it came down to Wendell and Michelle for Sele vs. Jeremy and Denise for Dakal. In the end, it came down to a single second, with Dakal prevailing.
Wendell took heat for being a showboat and talking trash during the challenge, but honestly, I didn’t see it. All I saw was his attempt to call Probst over because they were about to finish, and he could sense it was going to be close, so wanted Jeff to see when they were done. Remember: This is a guy who lost an individual immunity challenge on his previous season because he did not indicate to Probst that he was done, so you can’t blame him for perhaps overcorrecting a bit as a reaction to that. Maybe there was some other trash talk we didn’t see. Maybe he flicked a toothpick at the other team, then freaked out because he is stuck in a codependent relationship with his toothpick, so ran over to retrieve it, and that is why they lost by a single second. I have no idea, but saying, “Yo, Probst. I need his attention,” hardly qualifies as trash talk to me. Still, an awesome finish to a very cool challenge. Seemingly much cooler than the reward one not even exciting enough to make it on the air.
The entire episode made us believe Wendell would be the next to go. Because of his attitude towards Michele. Because he came on too strong at the previous Tribal. Because he allegedly talked smack at the challenge. So, naturally, it wasn’t. You all know I am a big Yul guy. And it goes beyond his awesome tribute to Jonathan Penner and wife Stacy Title and his mission to raise money to fight ALS (which, by the way, they have raised to the sum of $165,000, plus a $50,000 match by Yul bringing the grand total to $215,000 and counting. You can help grow that total by donating right here!)
No, my respect for Yul is all about his mind and strategic game theory. Which is probably why it was the smart move to get rid of him. You heard that concern from Nick (who talked about how Yul would be running things if he stuck around) and Michele (who noted that Yul “will probably win this game”). And then Yul had to push it by reminding people how he was constantly considering every angle by offering to put his name up as the pawn in exchange for getting Wendell’s Fire Token should he bequeath it to any of them. All little moments like that serve to do is remind the others that this is an individual game and that the individual named Yul Kwon is out to win it. And if your name is not Yul Kwon and you are thinking of an angle, he likely has already thought it through before you.
This point was driven home at Tribal Council as Yul went on and on about how he had lied more in this game than his entire first season and then started going into the finer points of a market economy and the value of risk versus reward. At one point, I actually yelled, “Dude, stop talking!” at my TV, making me seem like a crazy person who yells at his TV. Market economy?!? Are you asking to get voted out? Sometimes one can be best served by dumbing it down a bit to avoid attention. Judging by my Survivor recaps over the past bazillion years, I could certainly give Yul a few pointers on being dumb.
So after some more Wendell and Michele uncomfortable banter (“It’s not going super great for us at all times”), Yul was indeed voted out and sent to the Edge of Extinction, where he will be left to wonder how it is that he outlasted the other eight people there yet somehow they all have the advantage of possessing more Fire Tokens than he does. Speaking of which, props to Yul for being the first person to split his tokens among two different players: Sarah and Sophie. Leave it to Yul to even consider that option.
And I have a few other options for you to consider. Option #1: An exclusive deleted scene in which Wendell presents Michele with a necklace! Awwww… is everything better with those two crazy kids? Watch the scene above to find out. Option #2: My weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he weighs in on Sandra quitting the game and the utter decimation of the old-school winners. Option #3: Find out who the cast members told me they consider the best Survivor winner ever when I asked them before the game started. Option #4: Go watch Tiger King. Option #5: Follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross, especially because I have one more goody coming your way soon.
But now it’s your turn. What do you make of Sandra quitting? Think Nick and Michele made the right call? Upset that the old schoolers are all gone? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy. Until then… PEACH OUT, BITCHES!