Survivor Winners at War Finale recap

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

I would be lying if I said I wasn't dreading this night a little because we might not get a brand new episode of Survivor for awhile. I know Jeff said the show is working on a plan to come back in the fall, but I don't know how it is possible with everything going on. What a sad reality that we might not watch a group of new castaways until next spring. Unfortunately, this is the reality we live in now.


Despite this dread, it is exciting to see the show finally crown the second two-time winner in its history. Well, that moment has, and it's time to move over Sandra - well scoot over on the official Sandra sit out bench- because you need to make some room for Tony! The cop turned Survivor spy played one of the best strategic games in the history of the show, on an all-winners season, mind you. Hopefully, some celebratory lama calls were coming from the Vlacho's house.


Let's dig into his game to find out how he climbed the ladder to victory.




Tony's chaotic and crazy reputation put a target on his back at the start of the game. During his time on Game Changers, Tony leaned into this persona, resulting in an early exit. It was a pleasant surprise to see him learn from this experience by playing it cool early on. Instead of feverishly running around the island, he chose to stay at camp to lower his threat level, allowing Tony to build relationships that helped propelled him forward in the game.


Tony's level of gameplay was unbelievable this season. While he laid back for a good portion of the game, he took control during the Tyson vote. He was responsible for dictating almost every maneuver from thereon. He pushed all the right buttons at the right time to get himself to the end. He found idols. He won immunities. He controlled votes. More impressively, Tony did not receive a single vote the entire season. He played a nearly perfect game.





Of course, Tony doesn't win the game without his number one ally, Sarah. The three-season arc for this duo, better known as Cops-R-Us, has been one of the more fascinating stories to unfold on Survivor over the last few years. The two achieved a rare feat by playing on the same three seasons together, though the road has been a rocky one as Tony blindsided Sarah in Cagayan en route to victory. While the two didn't cross paths on Game Changers, their uneasy alliance featured prominently throughout Winners at War, leaving me to wonder if either would willingly betray the other if it meant they could win the game.


Despite some game moves testing their bond, the duo remained loyal to the end. For Tony, Sarah's relationships with her fellow tribemates, namely Ben and Denise, helped keep Tony out of hot water, even as he would venture off to make moves on his own. Flat out, Tony's game looks vastly different if Sarah wasn't around to help ingratiate him to the rest of the tribe.


With Tony winning the game, that sadly means Michele and Natalie's efforts fell short in their quest to claim the title of Sole Survivor. One of the aspects I will remember fondly about this season is the fact that all of the final three had a real claim to victory. Tony played a better gamer overall, but I wouldn't have been upset if either of them won.


Michele spent the majority of the game fighting from the bottom. Yes, she was on the wrong side of the vote a majority of the time, but her astute observation and never give up attitude got her to the end. She was able to win the immunity necklace twice, both during a time when she desperately needed them to stay in the game.


Where she really excelled, though, was using the Edge to her advantage. Michele received more bequeathed fire tokens than any other castaway this season, allowing her to purchase several advantages that impacted her game. Michele's big moment came when she provided Nick two fire tokens for a disadvantage played against Ben, allowing Michele to win a much-needed immunity necklace. She was one of the few Survivors who saw the Edge as an advantage and tried to use it accordingly.


As for Natalie, her game was all played from the Edge. Look, I am not a fan of the Edge twist, but Natalie was the perfect castaway to be the first boot on a season with the Edge. She worked hard to earn fire tokens and position herself for a chance to get back into the game.


Now some might complain that Natalie was the first boot, so she never had to vote others out or make any strategic moves. But the addition of fire tokens nullifies this argument in a roundabout way. Natalie found and sold the idol used against Sandra, the Safety Without Power advantage Jeremy used, the extortion disadvantage used against Tony, and the 50/50 advantage Michele used. All of these advantages impacted the game in various ways, even if Natalie wasn't active in the game. The new Survivor economy allowed Natalie to make strategic moves in a way the original iteration of the Edge did.


Once she got back in, she was able to make the right moves to get to the end. Her only mistake was not taking on Tony in the fire-making challenge. Hindsight is 20/20, though, so you cannot blame her for not wanting to risk her place in the game.




And with that quick recap, we have reached the end of this crazy journey that has been Survivor: Winners at War. This season was bound to be remembered fondly, purely for the fact that so many beloved winners returned for one more showdown.


Survivor: Winners at War ultimately should be seen as a love letter to the 39 seasons that came before it. From honoring the winners to celebrating important milestones, this season felt like an homage to the best moments of the show that forever changed the landscape of reality television. Tying together several long term arcs fans invested in, audiences will surely remember this season fondly.


As Survivor heads off into what will almost certainly be a forced break, an all-winners season feels like the perfect moment to begin transitioning to a new era. While we shouldn't forget the 40 seasons of groundbreaking television that came before, Survivor has the opportunity now to make necessary adjustments to production to make the show better going forward. From casting to gameplay, producers should take a hard look at the product on the screen and make changes where necessary. More importantly, the show needs to find ways to remain fresh and relevant as the next generation of castaways get their

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