Jeff Probst calls Winners at War 'the best season of Survivor we've ever seen'
Each week, host Jeff Probst will answer a few questions about the latest episode of Survivor: Winners at War. Here, he weighs in on the battle-back competition, the use of Fire Tokens at Edge of Extinction, and the latest voted-out champion.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the battle-back challenge for one player to win their way back onto the merged tribe. I didn’t get Natalie and Rob’s strategy of only using one Fire Token for a single advantage and then saving their three other tokens for an immunity idol should they have won their way back. Shouldn’t all the focus be on winning that challenge, so they even have a chance to win the game?
JEFF PROBST: Your question is a great example of why the new idea of a Survivor economy is so interesting. Everybody sees value in different things. Two weeks ago, everybody thought Tyson was a fool to spend his tokens on peanut butter. Was it the burst of energy that propelled him to the win? The menu of choices was designed specifically to explore this idea. Natalie and Rob took the approach of "If I get back in without any protection, they’ll just vote me out and send me right back here." So for them the protection of an idol made sense. But to your point, you could make the counterargument that even an idol would only protect them for one Tribal Council, so maybe better to spend your tokens for every advantage you can in the challenge, and then if you get back in the game you can take on the next problem of how to stay in the game. And maybe the most sobering news… all those tokens are gone. The idol is gone. They’re starting over. Again.
Quick logistical question: Do Natalie and Rob get their three tokens each back since they never got the idol, or are those tokens now gone?
I partially answered this above, but to dig more deeply into it, they had to make their choices before they left for the challenge. The Edge of Extinction has a no layaway and no return policy. You must have the dough to buy what you want… and once you buy it, you cannot return it… and once the challenge is over, any power in any of the items is gone. They are starting from square one.
When you all did Redemption Island, the earlier you were voted out, the harder it was to get back in because the more duels you had to win. So the folks that lasted the longest without getting voted out were rewarded for staying in as long as they did. But Edge of Extinction seemed to work in the reverse with the Fire Tokens this season, in that Natalie — who was voted out first — had numerous opportunities to amass tokens while Yul —who lasted until one day before the merge — had none. If you ever do Edge with Fire Tokens again, is that something you might look to tweak so that folks who stay longer are not punished for doing so?
Possibly. But it is a subjective opinion that cherry-picks only one aspect of the Edge. Yes, Natalie has more shots at earning tokens because she has spent more days on the Edge, but living on the Edge is significantly more difficult than living at a tribe camp. I think every player would tell you the same thing. Even the journey to get rice on the Edge is an ordeal. I think every player would prefer to stay in the game as long as possible, regardless the perceived advantage of having more time to earn tokens. It’s not a science, for sure — and I’m not saying there aren’t better versions. And word on the street is the Edge is controversial! What?! So we’ll probably give it a rest for a while!
I love the fascinating dynamic at play in Survivor this season where you simultaneously have players worried about being seen as big targets, as well as other players in danger because they are not seen as big targets because the big targets are trying to keep shields around them. It all came to a head at the merge, with Denise saying at Tribal that “This is the defining vote tonight.” What did you make of the first post-merge Tribal, which ended with Wendell having his torch snuffed?
I LOVE how this group is playing. This is a master class in Survivor. I think it will change the way new players view the game because you are watching 20 proven players try to navigate around 19 other proven players. There is no one system that works. As a result, big groups are forming because it’s impossible to play this game on a micro level right now. First, it was the big group of old-school players that were the easy pickings. But now they’re gone. So what’s the next big group? This idea of target vs. no target is fascinating because all of them have won — they’re all threats!
As for Wendell, his game has been up and down so far. He’s seen as a big threat to win, even in a season of winners, because of his likability and his social game, plus he has to deal with a pre-existing relationship with Michele. When Wendell played his first time, he played a really beautiful game that emphasized loyalty, and it paid off. He’s one of the most popular winners of all time. I felt this season he started off a little cocky, and it may have cost him a bit with Michele and Parvati. But you saw the old likable, funny, charming Wendell return at the merge.
It’s so easy (and fun) to sit at home and judge every player’s game. But I really respect this group. They all came back knowing fans would have tremendous expectations and would be ultra-critical of their game play. And, as players, you’re extremely vulnerable on Survivor because there is nowhere to hide. We see them at their best and their worst. Survivor players aren’t allowed to come in and adjust their image like an Instagram post. They let us see the real, raw truth under extreme conditions.
I’m sure neither Wendell nor Michele really wanted to discuss their personal lives, but it came into the game and there was no avoiding it. I hope people remember that as they watch. These players are putting on a phenomenal show for us. Every single episode has been electric! The best season of Survivor we’ve ever seen. As producers, we laid the groundwork and gave them the toys… but they are the ones bringing it to life. I bow down in respect. And as for Wendell being on the Edge… watch out, because he can win a challenge and get back in this game.
Finally, I know you won’t tell me much, but tell me SOMETHING about next week’s episode!
I can’t deny the truth. I think next week’s episode is even better than this week’s episode! I keep saying it, but Survivor fans should be grateful to this group. They are giving us our money’s worth!!
Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from this week’s episode above, and make sure to check out our full episode recap as well as our interview with the just-voted-out Wendell Holland. And for more behind the scenes Survivor scoop, photos, and videos, follow Dalton on both Twitter and Instagram.
Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"