Survivor: Winners At War "This is Where the Battle Begins" Recap

Updated: Jan 25

If you look at Survivor as a game played in stages, the merge is the first real indication of what shape the game will take as we march towards the end. The marooning and tribe swap phases focus more on developing the social stamina to get to the end of the game. The merge consists of using that social capital to help players maneuver throughout the end game towards one of those coveted final tribal council seats.

And this is an all-winners season, only compounding the importance of this moment. These are some of Survivor's greatest players. Everyone- well, almost everyone- has been playing at a high level this season. Now that they are all on the same beach, the game can finally begin.

As was to be expected, the players living on the Edge of Extinction had an opportunity to win their way back into the game. The challenge was a fairly physical one, which only gives more legitimacy to Sandra's decision to quit. Could you imagine her having any real opportunity in a challenge where she has to traverse cargo nets and balance on a small beam while maneuvering a ball up a winding snake plank? Those aren't her strengths, and she wasn't going to win.

This competition, though, highlights a flaw in the edge twist. Yul and Parvati received what equates to a penalty by lasting longer in the game than Natalie, Amber, and Rob. Those voted out closer to the merge had fewer opportunities to win fire tokens and purchase much-needed advantages in the return challenge. Worst of all, Natalie and Rob didn't even play their fire tokens correctly. They each had four fire tokens and could have bought up to three advantages in the challenge. Instead, each of them bought an idol that is useless sitting on the edge. Always read the fine print, kids.

In the end, this will go down as a missed opportunity for Rob, who was mere inches away from pulling out a victory. A second advantage would probably have made the difference. Instead, it is Tyson who makes his triumphant return to the game. Of course, Tyson's purchase of peanut butter fueled the victory, a choice I criticized when he made it. I am big enough to admit when I was wrong, and I might have been wrong on that one. Especially after finding out Natalie and Rob played their tokens in a worse manner.

It's All a Boys Club

After the battle-back challenge, the new Koru tribe returned to their beach for the traditional feast and merriment that comes with the merge. Surprisingly, there was little chat about finding clues at the merge feast, a tradition of sorts in the Survivor world. Someone had to look, so I wonder if there just wasn't anything to find. What the players did discover was the details of Denise's blindside of Sandra. Sophie described her as a badass telling stories over beers at the bar. It was a super impressive move that has now put Denise on everyone's radar.

The other major topic of discussion is Tyson's return to the game. It would be natural for a player returning from Extinction to lay low, but Tyson makes the correct move to jump right back into the game. He is already going to be a target, so no point in waiting for the game to come to you.

Tyson approaches Tony, Jeremy, and Ben with a proposal for all of the "threats" to stick together. Their logic is reasonable: physical threats traditionally receive a lot of attention after the merge.

Now, you could argue their definition of "threat" is flawed here. I would consider Kim more of a threat than Ben, yet somehow he was included in this group. It's all a boys club, but they aren't paying attention to the women playing great games right under their nose. Either way, the group seems content with voting together for the time being.

Jeremy has bigger plans in play too. Back home, he has formed a friendship with Wendell he wants to carry over into the game. The only hurdle is Nick, who is Wendell's number one ally. When Tyson approached Jeremy to keep the physical threats together, this presented the perfect opportunity to vote out Nick. All he has to do is keep Nick from winning immunity.

Just Hanging on by a Thread

This week's immunity challenge was a Survivor classic. The castaways had to hold onto a pole, suspended in the air, for as long as possible. The last man and woman hanging on both win immunity.

The women's side is uneventful, with Denise outlasting the women with relative ease. It isn't surprising to see her win here as she is both light and in great physical shape. For Denise, this was also a much-needed win as her big move against Sandra probably put a target on her back.

On the men's side, the final two came down to Jeremy and- duh duh duh- Nick. A strong sense of irony is on display here by the Survivor Gods. If Jeremy wants to vote out Nick, he will have to outlast him on this pole. A victory here only further puts a target on his back but to get out Nick, Jeremy has to win. And he does.

Jeremy ends up pulling out the victory after an intense battle. There is a humorous moment where Nick looks over with an "oh shit, I don't have much left in the tank" smile at Jeremy, who reciprocated with a death stare. If you missed it, you should go back and check it out.

Musical Targets

When the castaways returned to the beach, Nick's name kept getting thrown around. It looked like Jeremy may get his way until Sophie, fearful of the alliance forming between the boys, quickly moved to flip the vote on Wendell.

It is a good game move by Sophie, but part of me wonders how the Yul voted affected her. Sophie, Wendell, Nick, and Yul had an alliance on the original Dakal. If the three guys stick together in voting out Michele last week, would she be willing to target Wendell now? I'm not so sure. Yul was her number one ally, though, so you cannot rule out the possibility she had that in the back of her mind as she was considering voting out Wendell.

Eventually, word got back to Jeremy about the vote. He wasn't on board with Wendell going home, so he tried to deflect to one person no one would upset to see go home: Adam. He even went to the lengths of getting Adam's only real friend in the game, Denise, to agree to vote him out.

For a minute, it looked like Jeremy was able to flip the vote. Ultimately, though, he wasn't able to make it happen. I love Jeremy as a player, but he overplayed his hand this week. Sophie caught right on to his relationship with Wendell. He then spent a lot of social capital trying to save him before ultimately voting with the tribe against him.

As for Adam, the poor guy cannot catch a break this season. Adam's poor strategic decision early on is the root cause of his continual misfortune. But he seems to be a perpetual target each week, no matter what he does. Yet, he continuously skirts by somehow. I am starting to think he will find a way to get to the end, but it will be a difficult journey getting there.

When the dust settled on the game of musical targets, Wendell was without a chair. He is off to the Edge of Extinction to await his chance to get back into the game. He got votes from everyone, save for Nick and Michele. His season has been a roller coaster, especially in the last few weeks. After a strong start at Dakal, the wheels seemed to fall off after the tribe swap. Wendell was painted as the season's ultimate villain just to be voted out right after the merge. Maybe that's a storyline that continues, but who knows.

Sophie is the MVP this week. She correctly read the situation with the guys working together and broke up a potentially strong duo. Best of all, Sophie managed to stay under the radar in pulling off the blindside. Sophie feels like she is positioning herself as the front runner this season. There is a lot of game left to play, though, so only time will tell if she can keep up this pace.

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