Survivor: Winners at War Recap (Episode 11)

Updated: Jan 23

A sleeping giant awoke this week to wreak havoc on the game. The stage is yours, Mr. Vlachos. .

After laying low for most of the season, Tony stepped out of the spy shack to play his game for the first time all season. Tony's frenetic style has to be aggravating to play with, but it is fun to watch.

Tony's moves this week were punctuated by three big moments: his idol find, dealing with the extortion disadvantage, and strengthening relationships with his tribemates. Our breakdown will focus on each of these as we examine how Tony blindsided Sophie.

Idol hands make fretful minds

One of the early sequences the show presented this week was Tony's idol search. Granted, this had the smallest impact on Sophie's ultimate ouster, but it was still a pivotal moment for Tony. And it all started after the tribe returned from tribal council at the beginning of the episode.

After the chaotic tribal council last week, Jeremy was public enemy number one. No one would divulge any details about what went down after he left. I guess leaving tribal council deprives you of the right to know what happens. I mean, he was getting voted out, but screw that guy for doing what he had to save himself. Am I right?

While I say this with sarcasm, I don't understand the negative energy thrown Jeremy's way. Everyone was voting for him. Is he not supposed to do whatever it takes to save himself? Don't get salty because he ruined your plans. It's a game, and he outmaneuvered you this round.

Tony takes advantage of the animosity towards Jeremy, working under the radar to make some notable moves. Goal number one for him: find an idol. Tony has displayed an impressive restraint this season to avoid looking for hidden immunity idols. He clearly learned from his Game Changers experience when he leaned too far into the Tony persona. Timing is everything in this game, and he finds the perfect time to find his first idol of the season.

Of course, his search is interrupted by Nick, but this moment may be more pivotal to the end result of the episode than initially thought. While he sent him down the wrong path, Tony looped Nick into his search. Now, this was a team effort featuring two allies looking for an idol together. Tony gained found an immunity idol and strengthened his relationship with another player all at the same time.

For someone like Nick, who has been searching for allies ever since the merge, it must be impactful to have someone WANT to work with you, or at least seem like it. Tony built the type of trust with Nick that allows you to approach a player later on with a plan to blindside someone.

How to make friends and influence people

It's actually kind of funny that, immediately after this moment, we get a Sarah confessionally detailing Tony's chaotic playstyle. Sarah doesn't see Tony forming relationships as she does, a flaw in his game Sarah thinks hurts his chances of winning.

She isn't necessarily wrong. Historically, this is how Tony has played the game; however, he has displayed a more patient strategy this season. He has focused on building relationships and lowering his threat level. I don't say that to criticize Sarah's assessment or her gameplay, but rather to illustrate the nuances we often miss with Tony's strategy. Yes, he is loud and theatrical, but he is good at moving the pieces into place to make the moves he wants to.

This week is the perfect example of his relationship-building skills. We already talked a little about Nick, so let's dig into Jeremy's role here.

After the events of the previous tribal council, Jeremy was clearly on the outs. He was on the chopping block at the last tribal council and alienated some of this tribe after just leaving tribal council.

Tony was able to take advantage of this divide to firm up his relationship with Jeremy. Tony still wants Jeremy to go home at some point, but this is the old keep your enemies closer situation, which pays an immediate dividend at the end of this episode.

Now, he has an added ally to make a move against a bigger target. These earlier conversations helped paved the road for trust between the two, a path that Tony travels down twice this week with Jeremy. The first is getting fire tokens to pay his extortion fee (more on that in a minute).

The second is when Tony approaches Jeremy with the plan to vote out Sophie. Jeremy was dead set on voting out Ben. When Tony told him Kim and Denise had flipped, Jeremy did not want to believe him. Imagine if Tony hadn't laid the groundwork with Jeremy in advance? Jeremy would probably be sitting on the Edge.

That isn't an advantage at all!

Tony worked hard this week building the bridge to several tribemates. Some would say he is trying to climb the ladder to success.

My goodness, Tony has been great TV this season. Anyways, all of this would have been for naught had he not been able to pay his extortion fee. That's right, the next evolution of the fire token took place on the Edge this week when Natalie and Pavarti found the Extortion Advantage.

This advantage allowed Natalie and Pavarti to extort as many fire tokens as they wanted from one player. If that player cannot pay the toll, they have to sit out of the next immunity challenge. They both knew this would be most effective in the hands of someone who would go to any lengths to pay the fee. Enter Tony.

First off, Tony's confessional detailing the disadvantage was one of the most entertaining confessionals he has ever done on the show. He was so excited to get to extort someone until he realized he was the one getting the raw end of the stick.

Tony had to pay six fire tokens to be able to compete in the next challenge. The problem, of course, is that he only had three. As with every other move this week, Tony relied on his relationships with other players to secure the fire tokens he needed.

First, he went to newly cemented ally Jeremy. Kim might be able to see through Tony's ruse, but his relationship with Jeremy is the gift that keeps on giving. Then, Tony gets tokens from Ben and Nick. We have already discussed Tony's relationship with Nick, but this is the second time this episode alone Tony intrusted sensitive information with Nick, another move that strengthens their bond.

It is surprising to see Ben help Tony out here, though. They don't seem overly close, but we also don't get to see everything going on at camp. Of course, Ben is in an awkward position here. Tony is influential with other tribemates. Had Ben refused to help, it is conceivable that Tony would use this as ammunition to vote Ben out.

And Jeremy would have won immunity if Tony wasn't competing! So who knows if Tony would have tried to flip the vote on Ben if possible, especially with Jeremy already targeting Ben. Either way, Tony receives three fire tokens and went on to win the immunity challenge this week.

Timing is everything

Tony is starting to take command of the game. Now, with an idol in his pocket and two consecutive immunity wins, he has more agency in the game that will allow him to play aggressively. That is what he did this week, orchestrating Sophie's ousters. But was this the right move for Tony?

Sophie is a threat to win the game if she gets to the end. He also managed to solidify his relationships with Nick, Jeremy, and Michele. Most importantly, Tony got to step out of the shadows to make a big move and begin building his end game resume. When looking at her elimination through that lens, this was the right move.

With that said, timing is everything in this game. Tony is already a huge threat, and there is a lot of game left to play before the final tribal council. When you make a big move like this, you paint a target on your back. If you do it too early, you make it hard on yourself to get to the end.

Tony announced his presence this week. This move is reminiscent of old school Tony, a chaotic blindside that caught some of his closest allies off guard. It will be a little harder to trust Tony now if you are working closely with him because you never know what he will do next. That doesn't mean it was a mistake, but he will have some damage control to do if he wants to make it to the end.

As for Sophie, she heads to the Edge with an idol in her pocket. I refuse to criticize her, though, for not playing it. This season has seen a high level of gameplay. These are all capable winners. She more than held her own against some of the best and was well-positioned to win the game. She should be proud of the game she has played. And who knows, she may have a shot of coming back from the Edge.

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