Survivor favorites preview the Winners at War finale
We put together a remote roundtable of all-stars to get their thoughts on the season.
There are so many questions heading into the Survivor: Winners at War season finale, but instead of simply asking them rhetorically like a lame-o, we spent all the Fire Tokens we could muster to create a remote Survivor roundtable of 10 former (and perhaps future?) favorites to get their take on the biggest season yet of the franchise. Who has played the best so far? Who is most and least likely to win? Would the jury ever vote for someone from the Edge of Extinction to win the $2 million, even though Jeremy Collins said before the season that winners would never do such a thing? We asked our panel all that and more. Read on for their hot takes heading into Wednesday's finale!
What’s been your favorite moment of the season so far?
CIRIE FIELDS (Survivor: Panama — Exile Island, Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Survivor: Game Changers): Although I always Love the family visit this season is hard for me to pick 1 favorite moment . So here's my top two. 1: Adam going balls to the wall and trying to play the fleur-de-lis at tribal. How epic would that have been if he was right? 2: Denise slaying the Queen (no shade). It was an instant lesson... never underestimate any opponent.
JONATHAN PENNER (Survivor: Cook Islands, Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites, Survivor: Philippines): Besides seeing Yul's beautiful moment talking about Stacy and our family, I loved seeing Tony just plain kicking ass.
ANDREA BOEHLKE (Survivor: Redemption Island, Survivor: Caramoan, Survivor: Game Changers): My favorite moment was Adam trying to play the fleur-de-lis on Jeff's podium as an idol. I was screaming at the TV for him to go and try to retrieve a possible idol from the podium, and then hoping with all my might it was actually an idol. I've always thought they should hide an idol at Tribal Council, so big props to Adam for going for it!
RICK DEVENS (Survivor: Edge of Extinction): It's a toss-up between Tony's ladder and Denise's huge play to take out Sandra. The ladder scene had me laughing out loud. There was so much spirit. I love how Tony got the entire tribe involved. The scene was a beautiful peek at the best parts of life in a Survivor camp. The Denise move was just awesome. and I did not see it coming. Denise made such a huge statement. She was fearless and she sent the Queen home. I rank it as the biggest move in the game so far.
JESSICA LEWIS (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X): When Denise slayed the Queen. I loved this moment not because Sandra went home, but the way in which Denise pulled of an incredible move in such a calm and calculated fashion. It was a moment that had my entire family almost jumping on the furniture (to be honest, I actually was).
DAVID WRIGHT (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Survivor: Edge of Extinction): Three words: fleur-de-lis. Give me back my million, Adam! Just kidding.
PEIH-GEE LAW (Survivor: China, Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance): I think it's truly a testament to this season that there are so many good moments that it's hard to choose. I think my favorite montage was Boston Rob's play pen. Just the entire scene with him sharpening the knife, the players all just sitting around giving each other looks, him explaining the buddy system to the camera. Sarah saying that no one's putting her in a playpen, and then the camera pans to their shelter which does indeed look like an oversized playpen. And the best part- despite (or perhaps because of) all his high handed maneuvering, the girls manage to topple Boston Rob when he had the numbers! Incredible.
STEPHEN FISHBACH (Survivor: Tocantins, Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance): My favorite moment was probably the very first — all these incredible contestants arriving on the beach to play Survivor together. Seeing those initial alliances — Yul teaming up with Sophie! Parv and Rob back together! — felt like such an iconic moment in the history of the series.
My favorite gameplay moment came when Tony blindsided Sophie. As sad as I was to see my friend get voted out, it was the strategic highlight of the season. Tony created a new voting bloc, saved his meat shield (and king of hilarious facial expressions) Jeremy, and isolated his ally Sarah. He did it all minutes before Tribal Council, so nobody could counter him. And he left his old allies and his new friends no option but to stick with him, by having them all vote against each other.
ELIZA ORLINS: (Survivor: Vanuatu, Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites): Adam trying to play the podium at Tribal Council was by far my favorite moment. It's possible I have never laughed that hard at Survivor before. Adam is one of the most endearing Survivor players who plays with his entire heart and this was such an incredible moment. Also it spawned a lot of memes like this one:
CHRISTIAN HUBICKI (Survivor: David vs. Goliath): Two words: Spy Nest. Specifically, when Sarah and Tony are coordinating their surveillance together and Tony is talking to Sarah from the spy nest. It's both logistically impressive and visually hilarious. Also, it's an earned callback to Tony's original Spy Shack and its less-renowned sequel, Spy Bunker. In truth, it rehabilitates the legacy of the Spy trilogy series — much like Iron Man movie trilogy. The first installment was a delightful surprise, the sequel was inevitable but didn't recapture the essence or effectiveness of the first, and the third was a thoughtful and satisfying retooling of the idea with a fully developed character that has learned to play better with others. I just hope that Hollywood resists the temptation to reboot the series 15 years from now, which I expect would just be called "Spy."
Whom are you rooting for to win the battle back challenge to get back into the game from the Edge of Extinction?
CIRIE FIELDS: I think Natalie deserves to get back in more than anyone for the obvious reason, but also because she's a beast. However, if I was a Survivor Fairy Godmother, I would wave my wand and POOF! Parv and Jeremy would be back in.
JONATHAN PENNER: Yul, because he's my best friend in Survivor, but Natalie sure looks like where the smart money goes. Because she's not only tough and magnificent, she's been playing the game amazingly given the game she's been given to play. I'm rooting for them both.
ANDREA BOEHLKE: I'm rooting for so many of them, but I would have to say I'm really rooting for Sophie. She was playing a very good game and pulling a lot of strings throughout the season, and just got unlucky with Tony targeting her so he could be closer to Sarah. Plus: She's in the elite club of women being voted off with an idol (that I started, we're a fun group!), so I want her to get back in and mess stuff up!
RICK DEVENS: I'm so torn. I want everyone to perform well. Wendell is a friend and I always root for him to succeed. Natalie has been so incredibly impressive on the Edge. I have nothing but respect for how focused she's remained on the game. Tyson is an all-time great character. My mom has become a huge fan of Tyson this season because he's showed his softer side. I'd love to see him battle his way back for a second time.
JESSICA LEWIS: Boston Rob. I imagine Jeff envisioned the winner of Season 40 wearing a black tank, with a red cap and gold necklace. I just want to see the look on Jeff’s face when Rob manages to complete the “Edge of Extinction” dream that Jeff created. It’s really all about Jeff.
DAVID WRIGHT: Ethan! After all he has been through, it really moved me to watch him overcome the hill challenge on the Edge. With the advantages other players have, it won’t be easy, but Ethan making it back in would be amazing. He deserves the David Wright money this season, which is a lot less than Sia money, but should cover the cost of a Happy Meal.
PEIH-GEE LAW: While I applaud each and every Survivor that stuck it out on Edge, I really gotta hand it to Natalie Anderson. Her fighting spirit hasn't seemed to waver once, despite being the first one voted off and having spent the longest time on Edge. I love that she just sucked it up, powered through and kept her head in the game. She has amassed a fortune in fire tokens through some really hard work, sneaky plays and has cemented admiration and loyalty from her fellow Edgers. I think if Natalie can get back into the game, she has a very good chance of winning.
STEPHEN FISHBACH: I’m rooting for Jeremy, Tyson, and Sophie. First of all, because they’re my closest friends out there. Secondly, because I think any one of them could deeply impact the strategy going forward — they’re all savvy Survivor players and strong physical competitors. They also all have had amazing journeys this season. Jeremy was the target of almost every vote after the merge. Seeing him dodge and weave week to week was the most exciting story arc of the season for me. Sophie was playing a really smart, subtle under the radar game before Tony sniped her. And Tyson just keeps coming back for more strategy, hilarity, and peanut butter.
ELIZA ORLINS: SOPHIE. GEORGINA. CLARKE. Obviously. She was playing an incredible game as a TOP-TIER winner, and had she played her idol, she may have been sitting in the finals and I would love to see her back in it. Also, she's a dear friend, so I'm totally biased.
CHRISTIAN HUBICKI: I am rooting for Nick to return, and not only because he is the suave millionaire half of our Mason-Dixon alliance. He also has the most to adversity overcome in this challenge. Unlike the 13(!) other players on the edge, he's had no opportunity to win any fire tokens to buy advantages. Even Jeremy, who was voted out just last tribal, had the same the opportunity to reap *eight* tokens like Natalie earned from finding and selling the challenge disadvantage. I would love to see Nick battle back successfully if only to succeed despite the odds.
Do you think anyone from the Edge has a chance to win a jury vote from all winners?
CIRIE FIELDS: If Tyson was able to come back again and put his mouth where the money is, I think he could persuade a jury to see where he may be deserving.
JONATHAN PENNER: Natalie could certainly win, if she comes back. Why? she's been playing WITH the jury not playing TO the jury. her story and her literally being “one of them” and not one of those who put them there, gives her (and any EoE player potentially) a huge leg up.
ANDREA BOEHLKE: I absolutely think somebody from the Edge could win. A lot of the players there are legendary Survivor icons, they have built up great social connections over on the Edge, and have had the chance to squash any beef they had with other players.
RICK DEVENS: I absolutely think the player returning from the Edge can get votes and win. We've already seen players who were against the Edge preseason embrace what the Edge offers. I think players on the Edge will likely be rooting for one of their own, at least to an extent. Success by a player returning from the Edge validates the experience of the others who do not make it back in the game. Why stay out there if you don't believe you have a chance to win? There's also the fact that many players currently on the Edge have not burned anyone on the jury. It will be interesting to see if players remaining in the game (not on the Edge) evolve their gameplay based on what happened season 38, the original Edge of Extinction.
JESSICA LEWIS: When this season started, I very much doubted that this group of seasoned winners would ever vote for someone who has been sitting on the Edge as opposed to being in the game. But the lines have become so blurred at this point and the “we have been suffering together” mantra feels very strong. Those on the Edge were made to suffer through extreme challenges with hardly any food (sounds kind of like old school Survivor…) that I can definitely see it happening.
DAVID WRIGHT: Oh boy… if I had a fire token for every time someone asked me why I would vote for a player that came back from the Edge, I could buy a tarp. But seriously, I think it’s extremely unlikely. Chris Underwood won because he played such an impressive game when he got back — winning immunity, surviving a vote without any advantages, and giving up immunity to take on Rick at fire. The odds of someone emulating that level of gameplay in a few days are slim, and even if they do, they still lose if sitting next to a dominant player like Tony, who’s been playing fantastic all season.
PEIH-GEE LAW: Like I said, I think Natalie has a very good chance of winning despite being voted out first. Throughout all the Edge scenes, we constantly hear other players commenting on what an incredibly strong player Natalie is, with competitive dominance, and I think she is one of the people that is keeping morale high around camp. Seeing her give Tyson an idol, reading out her advantage as a "group activity" cemented for me that she has a very strong social game as well.
STEPHEN FISHBACH: I think it’s unlikely. All these contestants saw the enormous fan backlash to Chris winning season 38, and I think every one of these winners will feel some kind of obligation to give the fans a season they love. Also, almost every one of them said they were against the Edge twist in their pregame press. That said, nobody thought someone could win coming back from the Edge in 38 either! Having a month to build bonds and heal wounds with the jury certainly can’t hurt.
ELIZA ORLINS: Absolutely. In fact, I think coming back from Edge favors you in front of a jury, as we saw with Chris Underwood. While on Edge, a player has the opportunity to bond with future jurors, while also not having to be responsible for voting anyone off. It defies the entire premise of the game of Survivor, which is why I hate it, but I think whoever comes back definitely has a chance of winning.
CHRISTIAN HUBICKI: Yes, and here are a few of my reasons why. Our best precedent is Season 38, of course, which had a finalist from the Edge in Chris (who famously won) and the leading non-Edge candidate in Gavin. Further, that 13-person jury had a mix of new and returning players (nine and four, respectively), which makes this a nice dataset for testing whether experience in the game correlates with voting for a winner from the Edge. Of the new-player jurors, two thirds (67 percent) voted for the Edge candidate, Chris, while 75 percent of the returning players voted the same way — including three-time players, Joe Anglim and Aubry Bracco. While this sample size is small, there is no obvious correlation between being an experienced player and finding Edge returnees unpalatable to vote for. I don't have really great reasons to expect that winners would necessarily behave differently.
So what does matter to jurors in a season with the Edge of Extinction? I was curious about two factors: 1) Is time spent together really what drives jurors to vote for a player (and the Edge is basically concentrated quality time) and 2) How much does just being on the Edge affect a juror's likelihood to vote for an Edge returnee? I did some arithmetic and plotted how much time each juror from Season 38 spent with Chris Underwood and Gavin Whitson respectively, as shown in Figure A. My takeaway was that Gavin’s comparatively few votes came from jurors who had spent significantly more time with him than with Chris (eight days longer on average). Second, I plotted the amount of time each juror spent on the Edge and how they cast their winning votes, as illustrated in Figure B. This result here is quite clear that jurors who lived the longest on the Edge overwhelmingly voted for their fellow Edge roommate in Chris.
So how do I think this applies to the Winners at War finale? It tells me that time on the Edge is unusually bonding for these players. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if an Edge player who made the finals received several votes, particularly from the jurors who spent the longest on the Edge. If Gavin’s jury votes are any indication, any in-game players would be most likely to get votes from jurors that the Edge returnee didn’t spend much time with. So if I were still in the game, I’d hope that someone who was recently voted out was the player to return. A player that’s lived on the Edge for a long time, however, could be particularly dangerous in the finals.
Out of Tony, Sarah, Ben, Michele, and Denise, who has played the best game so far?
CIRIE FIELDS: So far, I would have to say Tony is killing it with the challenge wins and shenanigans. However, don't sleep on Officer Sarah. I think she is playing just as good as old Tony boy. Sarah is just using a silent-but-deadly approach.
JONATHAN PENNER: Tony! Toni! Toné! Now maybe it's the edit, but it sure as hell looks like he's in charge, and amazingly has had basically no votes cast against him though he's clearly the biggest threat out there. Means his social game is tremendous too.
ANDREA BOEHLKE: Tony has killed it this season. He has won 3 individual immunity challenges, currently has an idol, dodged an extortion, successfully utilized a "spy nest," has dictated many of the votes post-merge, and is so charming! I'm on the Tony train, choo choo!
RICK DEVENS: Tony. It's been amazing to watch. 3 immunity wins. People know he has an advantage. He pulls rabbits out of his hat time and time again when it comes to securing votes. Tony always ends up on the right side of the vote. All of this, and still nobody has written his name down. I cannot fathom how he has been able to convince other castaways to go with him to Final Tribal. I believe Rob Cesternino nicknamed him "The Unicorn" of Survivor because of how special he is. I could not agree more.
JESSICA LEWIS: Tony. Most definitely Tony. One: He has controlled the votes. Two: The votes have been based on who is a threat to HIS game, and he then managed to get them voted out. Three: He has been able to flip back and forth without ever causing himself to be targeted for doing so, which shows his social game is on point. Four: spy nest.
DAVID WRIGHT: Tony! He’s the Godfather — he’s controlled votes, won immunities, found an idol, used fire tokens, flipped between both sides, made great relationships, and built ladders. Did he compose the “It’s Coming For You” song featured this season? I don’t know, probably! Most amazingly, in a season of all winners, he still has loyal followers who haven’t turned on him.
PEIH-GEE LAW: I think Sarah has really played a great game — pulled off a lot of fun sneaky moves and skillfully maneuvered people into positions to do her bidding without them realizing it. Her handling of Ben in the last episode was brilliant. It was like when you're playing video games and you give your little brother an unplugged controller so he can feel like he's playing too. Her name hasn't come up and she has been in a great position all game. I want to also give Michele and Tony a shout out, of course. Tony has been the puppet-master since the merge, and I love a feisty underdog. Michele has been fighting from the bottom for so long. I definitely relate to her!
STEPHEN FISHBACH: I think every one of these players has something to recommend their game, but, for me, it’s Tony. That move voting out Sophie cinched it. The fact that he has all his immunity wins, in addition to driving the strategy, means he’s the player to beat. Sarah would earn the top spot if she could vote Tony out.
ELIZA ORLINS: Tony's game has been relatively flawless to this point--he has not had a single vote cast against him, he has been able to placate even those he has not voted with, has won multiple individual challenges, and is playing an excellent social game.
CHRISTIAN HUBICKI: This is probably the hardest season I’ve watched to pick a best game because there has been so much to love. Tony is my choice. He has been in on the correct plan and the correct vote for every single Tribal Council since the merge. Given all the twists and turns, many of which he caused, that’s extremely impressive. It shows a level of control that’s just off-the-charts. In fairness, I worry what would have happened had he not won three consecutive immunities when he seemed in trouble. And yet he was vulnerable for the last two votes and somehow escaped unscathed! I would love to experience what it’s like to interact with him because there’s something about Tony’s manner that must be just magical for succeeding at Survivor.
Out of those final five, who do you think has the best chance of winning at this point, and who has the least chance of winning?
CIRIE FIELDS: Judging strictly on game play, I'd have to say Tony is the frontrunner. Just the fact he still in it goes to show what a master manipulator he is. I mean that as a complement! I think Ben has the least chance of winning at this point. I like Ben, but he has been a solider in Tony and Sarah’s army thus far. Denise would at least be able to argue she beheaded the queen, won immunity, and was pretty much on the bottom of her alliances.
JONATHAN PENNER: Again, Tony has the best shot of the five to win and will win if he sits at a final three with any two of the other four. Michele has the least chance — just will not get the votes as she has nothing to point to as a reason to vote for her. "I made it here, so I played a good game” is true, but not enough and is always what the goat (as opposed to the G.O.A.T.) says. I like Michele, but she can't win. Any of the other four can, if they're not sitting next to Tony.
ANDREA BOEHLKE: I think Tony has the best chance at winning because he has played quite the impressive strategic game and it seems that most people like him. I think Ben has the least chance of winning, because he has been overshadowed by Tony and Sarah pulling the strings, and I think he will have trouble making his case at FTC. You could argue that he's been on the right side of many of the votes, unlike Michele, but she has played a great social game and I think she would pick up more votes with the jury.
RICK DEVENS: I think that Tony has the best chance of winning. His game has been impeccable, and I think he'll easily be able to sell it to the jury. I would think that getting to Final Tribal would be near impossible based on his "résumé" but he seems to have the alliance to get there. He's a great player, but I think Ben has the least chance of winning. Ben has what it takes to get to final Tribal. Once he gets there, it seems like he may have trouble securing votes to win. We've seen that Ben has had issues interacting with some others on the cast. My guess it's been a topic on the Edge and one Ben will have to answer for if he makes it to final 3.
JESSICA LEWIS: Best chance of winning: Tony. His game has been spot-on all season. He’s the only one that I feel can beat them all. His game has been put on display for the jury, which will empower him in a final three. They have seen him control the game (and people) at Tribal. This only serves to prove, from their perspective, that he has been doing so in every aspect of the game. Unfortunately for Sarah, I think Tony will be credited for the moves they both made. He will portray her as having been just another pawn in his game despite her having made rather ballsy, but subtle, moves of her own (e.g. declining the use of an idol on her behalf).
Worst chance of winning: Ben. He has no friends on the jury and even pointed out in this last episode that he hasn’t received a single fire token. I feel he will be viewed as someone desperate for an alliance, so he easily supplied information to those around him instead of utilizing that information for his own benefit. He was left to blindly follow Tony and Sarah without seeming to be aware of it. I respect Ben, but his attempt to play a social game has not given him what he desired. He has a core group with whom he votes. but he has no particular moves that he can claim for himself. Though he wanted to avoid the “Ben Bomb” approach, perhaps a bomb (or two) would have put him in a better position with the jury.
DAVID WRIGHT: Tony, for the reasons above. The struggle for him will be to get past Final 4 (been there!). Michelle also has a very good chance — she has a great underdog story, and her social game has been phenomenal considering almost everyone has given her their Fire Tokens. For the least chance, I worry about Sarah. She said she wants to go up against the best. Woo said the same thing and as a result wasn’t eligible to play in a season titled Winners at War.
PEIH-GEE LAW: The end game of Winners at War reminds me so much of the end game of my first season, Survivor: China. We've got the feisty underdog, a slightly complacent Denise, a goat in Ben (sorry, Ben) and the dominant duo of Cops ’R’ Us. I'm seeing a very similar pattern where to the viewers, Sarah looks like she's playing a great game, just like Amanda seemed to. However, as Michele said, "perception is everything" and I think most players perceive Tony as being in charge. I think Tony will likely win unless Sarah turns on him and votes him out.
STEPHEN FISHBACH: It sure seems like Tony has the jury on his side. Tony built bonds with players in every alliance, and we’ve seen him own his moves at Tribal Council. I think we’ll see a jury that awards good gameplay, rather than a bitter jury. We also know Sarah has some incredible bonds with people like Kim and Sophie.
I think it will be an uphill battle for Michele to win this thing, largely because she’s the only person left without children. So much of the conversation of this season has focused on kids and families. Still, there’s always a chance people will vote for her underdog game! I also think Ben’s a long shot. He’s had a lot of antagonism with influential members of the jury — Rob and Adam and Jeremy all left feuding with Ben. If he does make it to the end with Tony and Sarah, as he seems to be planning, I think he’ll have a hard time separating his game from theirs.
ELIZA ORLINS: I think Tony has the best chance of winning given the above (no votes against, lots of friends, hasn't pissed people off, won multiple challenges, great social game). I think the least likely winner is probably Ben. He's been a follower the whole game (even when Tony and Sarah allowed him to believe he was making any decisions) and he's let personal vendettas take precedence over gameplay. Also, I think he's likely to be viewed as a threat at final four fire-making and therefore, the others won't let him get that far.
CHRISTIAN HUBICKI: I would choose Sarah to win if I’m playing the odds, but there’s enough fluidity that I’m not confident at all in that choice. My thinking is that there must be some reason that she’s not targeting Tony. Perhaps she sees him as a sacrifice to save herself for a vote near the finale. I would also guess Sarah is more likely to pick up Michele and Denise and thus a near-majority when the returning players arrives. The wrinkle would be Ben’s idol, though, which seems to be more in Tony’s corner.
I would gauge Ben as least likely to win. Just from what we’ve seen, he’s never received any advantages, trinkets, or fire tokens from anyone in the game. That is probably not a good indicator of your jury standing. The players still in the game also seem to be constantly trying to manipulate him, and it’s likely hard to respect the game of someone you feel you’re often outwitting. Ben would have to seize the game in a way that’s obvious to everyone on the jury, but time is a scarce resource now.
For tons of Survivor finale scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.