Survivor: Winners at War – Cast Assessment (1/4)

Survivor: Winners at War is probably the most anticipated season of Survivor ever before! Why? The season not only marks a staggering 40 seasons and 20 years on television, but 20 former champions of the game return for another shot at winning it all.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to watch this Survivor season play out. We are only weeks away from this blockbuster event and if the show’s 10th year and 20th season (Survivor: Heroes vs Villains) is anything to go by, this season might just become the best one ever.

Survivor invites 20 former winners to return with nothing to lose as old-school players, new-school players, legends, strategists, idol hunters, and idol slayers join for the epic 2020 event. New and old twists are set to resurface, like the Edge of Extinction where players can re-enter the game after being voted out, a new currency system dubbed Fire Tokens that will impact all aspects of the game, and the biggest prize money in history, with two million dollars being offered the next Sole Survivor. This cast is so amazing, I’ve had to split my pre-season assessment in four! And first up, we start with one of the best.

This is the first instalment of my pre-season assessment, you can find part two here, part three here, and part four here!

SANDRA DIAZ-TWINE

Survivor: Pearl Islands & Survivor: Heroes vs Villains

IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

The show’s first (and currently only) two-time Survivor winner Sandra Diaz-Twine is back for a fourth shot to claim a third victory of the greatest television show on earth. After winning Pearl Islands in a 6-1 vote, and then defeating Parvati Shallow (also returning) and Russell Hantz in Heroes vs Villains with a 6-3-0 vote, Sandra saw a relatively early exit in Survivor: Game Changers where she finished in 14th place. But Sandra has one trick up her sleeve that only one other winner shares, she also appeared as a mentor in the previous season, Island of the Idols. And what she learnt as a mentor both from the players on that season and fellow mentor and former winner, Rob Mariano, will be the ticket to her seeing success in Winners at War. Sandra is probably the most prepared to win more than any other season she’s played, and she teases that her iconic strategy, “as long as it isn’t me,” will be switched up from her previous three playing instalments. Sandra’s previous ‘weak’ qualities might be refined this season too, noting that she now knows how to open a coconut within five minutes as opposed to an hour. Maybe physically she’s doing better too, and thus can hold some more ground in the challenges. She also notes that any previous relationships are out the window when it comes to playing the game, most notably the continuing friendship with Rob after spending 36 days together last season. But equally, Sandra has expressed interest in banding together with winners that would typically be seen as big threats, like Parvati, Kim Spradlin, Tyson Apostol, and others. Sandra is thinking clearly, she’s thinking wisely. She’s managed to dodge the bullet of being targeted early before, only being voted out of Game Changers because of a tribe swap that left her without allies. Perhaps this makes her an even bigger target this season because others know that she IS capable of surviving through the game with two wins on her resume. Maybe Sandra will be able to work a similar charm to do it again this season. One problem? Edge of Extinction. I think Sandra would struggle out there and has already expressed disdain for being sent there. Maybe two million is enough to motivate Sandra to stick it out, but given she’s won twice before and would probably be a safe bet to not win the physical re-entry challenge, maybe Sandra calls it quits early. On the other hand, Sandra never gives up. So it’s a toss up. I think if anyone’s taking a guess, the sheer likelihood that Sandra can win for a third time and outlast 19 other winners is unlikely. She’s a big threat because of her double win, and even if she can overcome that early on, I can’t see her getting to the end as smoothly as she has before. She’s an excellent social player, and I really hope Sandra can go as far as possible. Entertainment wise, strategic wise. I don’t care. Let it happen. I can see a small world where Sandra emerges as retaining her legacy with three wins against every one time winner, but realistically, I’ve gotta put Sandra either early pre-merge or early merge. Strangely, I don’t think she will repeat her Game Changers exit and fall short of the merge. I think she’s either gone straight away because of her threat status, or she’ll be taken out once the tribes merge for being sneaky. That’s my prediction, even if they’re a fair bit split from each other; but I would absolutely LOVE to be proven wrong. Even Sandra being a final six boot would just be amazing.

ETHAN ZOHN

Survivor: Africa

IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

The earliest winner returning for Winners at War, Ethan Zohn won the third season, Survivor: Africa. He also returned for Survivor: All-Stars a few years later, where the target of being a former winner wasn’t enough for him to last deep into the game, falling in 11th place. Now 16 years later, Ethan is back for another shot at the title of Sole Survivor. But while Ethan is memorable as a loyal and popular guy, with the afro-looking hair, Ethan’s experience after the show is what makes him so admirable. In 2009, Ethan was diagnosed with cancer, and begun chemotherapy to battle the disease, which returned again months later. Ethan never believed he would be able to play Survivor for a third time, but the motivation to play an all-winner season one day was very much strong fuel to his recovery and battle against the disease. With a stem-cell transplant keeping him alive, seven years later and being in remission, Ethan is healthy and prepared to take on the modern day Survivor game that he is otherwise unfamiliar with. Back when Ethan won in 2001 (Yo, side note, I was born in 2001), there were no idols, no advantages, no re-entry challenges. Ethan’s got a lot to compete with now, and I think he’s up to the task. Ethan details that he’s excited to not only meet fellow winners that he’s watched over the years grab the Sole Survivor title that he held before them, but he’s also excited to dabble in the world of today’s Survivor. Ethan WANTS to find idols, he WANTS to blindside someone. This is a marvellous case of an old-school guy that truly just wants to immerse himself into what the show is about now. That’s going to be pivotal to Ethan’s success this time. No one is gonna expect him to be such a threat in this way, he has a great story, yes, but if you’re looking at who’s finding idols, no one is gonna have their eyes on Ethan on Day 1. He’s possibly in one of the best positions entering the game than anyone else. Ethan’s eagerness and excitement is contagious, and I really want to see him do well this season. And while I have those wishes for many winners, like Sandra before, I think Ethan’s probably my most realistic choice to be able to fulfil them. There’s not really any target on Ethan’s back coming into the game considering who else he’ll be playing with. He’s also a kind soul, even if Ethan is considered somewhat of a threat for being an old-school winner, he’s not seen as conniving as the likes of Sandra, Rob, Parvati and Tony. Many will probably keep him around and actually use him as a good ally heading into the merge. From there, I can see Ethan playing a very well executed under the radar game, and outlasting many more threats that emerge at the merge. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Ethan is crafty enough to actually find and play an idol, which will be a strong tick on his resume heading into the latter stages of the game. He’s in great shape, maybe even an Immunity win is possible. I don’t think anyone should underestimate Ethan. I do think his battle with cancer however might work against him, as I think many will find it difficult to beat this story at the Final Tribal Council if sitting next to Ethan. For that reason, I can see Ethan playing extremely well at the social side of the game, but will fall short of winning it all and end up in 7th or 6th place. If he goes further though, I think I’ll be loudly cheering for his victory until the end. Go Ethan!

MICHELE FITZGERALD

Survivor: Kaoh Rong

IMAGE ROBERT VOETS/CBS

The winner of Survivor‘s 32nd season, Michele Fitzgerald, is up against the big leagues heading into Winners at War, and if she’s expecting the same result as last time she played, we might not see her crowned Sole Survivor. Michele’s win was surrounded in a lot of debate, as her social and physical game was awarded the win in a 5-2-0 vote over the more strategic player, Aubry Bracco. Fans were (and still are) divided on whether Michele deserved to win the season, but I am a firm believer that social games are of upmost importance in Survivor, and while Aubry may have played more conventionally in Kaoh Rong, Michele’s relationships with the jury (and Aubry’s lack thereof) is credited rightfully with being awarded the win. Now Michele is back and has probably the most to prove coming into the season because of her often underrated winning game. Yet, I think Michele is completely capable of bringing back what she knows AND incorporating some strategic prowess that’ll see her push forward right through to the end, quite possibly, again. Michele’s older and wiser now, and she believes she’s more settled and calmer coming into the season than last time. Despite being more of a newer-schooled winner, Michele recognises that the game has elevated and changed astronomically, so she has to adapt if she wants keep up with those other winners. Michele recognises that she left her mark on Survivor by playing a ‘back to basics’ strategy that relied on social dynamics as opposed to flashy and bold moves. This separated her from Aubry, and it’ll most likely separate her from a lot of other winners that strive to achieve check marks on their resume. My only potential problem regarding Michele is that she’ll fall completely back into that old gameplay and believe that sheer social relationships will get her to move forward. In a season where everyone’s a target, Michele might be seen as the goat. I struggle to believe anyone on the jury this season will likely hold a grudge against someone that made a move to get them out, so if Michele is sitting alongside that person, I think it’s anyone’s bet that she’ll sit as a loser at the Final Tribal Council. Many might see Michele as a non-threat, especially if she appears to be playing the same way. If she can correctly execute this old strategy in front of everyone else, yet be bold and do a lot behind the scenes, maybe Michele can bring forward a shock reveal at the end about her impressive game, or if she’s found out, be voted out for being such a sneaky player. I definitely think Michele will have the ability to go far this season, and while I think it’s strictly dependent on how she’ll play this time around, I can see her going right to the end and losing, or being on the bottom at the final eight and getting voted out then or soon after.

NICK WILSON

Survivor: David vs Goliath

IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

I think Nick needs to be the staple figure for Survivor in that things can change at any moment, any day. As the most recent winner of the show, Nick won the 37th season after almost being voted out on Day 3 at the first Tribal Council. However, a medical evacuation cancelled the elimination, and Nick was then able to find enough allies, advantages, and make enough moves to win one of the best recent seasons of Survivor to date, in a 7-3-0 vote. Amongst winners who have known each other for years, Nick hasn’t gotten much chance to bond with anyone over the shared experience of winning the game. He hopes to be seen as a free agent that’ll be flexible between alliances and threats to manoeuvre through the game. Nick’s advantage is that he understands how the game has evolved throughout the entire run of Survivor, and the many, many twists and turns that he has had to battle through in his season. Despite such a short time between playing his original season and this one, Nick believes he’s more mature and even more ready to play the game again, and win. Something I think often forgotten about Nick is that he’s an attorney, a job that requires thinking on one’s feet and needing extensive intelligence and resilience, all qualities that helped Nick win the first time and possibly the second time. This is exactly what might undo Nick this time around, and he knows it. Playing under the radar won’t come as easy, and Nick might have to take the lead at times and put himself out there to avoid going home. He vows to be more aggressive, more fun, and more sneaky than before. And I’m so excited to see how that’ll turn out this time. When Nick initially played, I wasn’t a huge fan, but upon a rewatch, it’s clear that Nick’s knowledge of the game and love of the show is the fuel to him seeing success. I can totally see Nick doing well, yet again. Nick’s a pretty physical competitor too, and considering the ages of this cast are relatively high, Nick might be a bit of a physical beast in some challenges, unexpectedly. He did manage to win the final three Immunity Challenges in David vs Goliath, and that run might come earlier this season. Also, advantages and idols are a strong spot for Nick, so maybe, being back on Fiji and on the same beaches, Nick will have a good run at gaining some in-game help through former experience at familiar camps. He’s also got a fun personality, and those immediate bonds are going to be crucial to Nick finding the right alliance moving forward. I don’t think he’s a likely target to go home early, unless he makes a mistake that puts a target on him. I can see people gravitating to working with Nick because he is a free agent, and Nick might be in for a deep run into the game that might see him land in the final episode. I think Nick is a likely lock to reach the merge, and either he’ll be too much of a force that’ll see him exit around the final 12 or 11, or he’ll hide enough to only be seen from the final eight onward. I think we’ll see Nick for a while, no doubt.

DENISE STAPLEY

Survivor: Philippines

IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

The oldest winner returning this season, Denise won Survivor: Philippines and has the notable distinction of being the only player in history to attend every single Tribal Council in one season. Naturally, I’m sure Denise is after just won tribal Immunity Challenge win to begin with. Once again starting on a blue tribe, maybe not, lol. Denise knows that this milestone in of itself might work against her, but hopes that the other longer resume’s of her opponents will keep her under the radar at least early on. Denise also thrives on her love of the game, and the experience that comes along with it. Jumping at the chance to return to the show when called, Denise had no hesitation to go through another gruelling 39 days to potentially win again. But she also sees this season as another opportunity to live something incredible. The money is of course important, seeing Survivor as a 39-day job. But if she doesn’t win, Denise wants to take home the experience of a lifetime that she otherwise wouldn’t have in her life. That’s great! Denise is also very self aware, she doesn’t think she’s sneaky or a good liar, and it’s so much better to know that of yourself rather than be arrogant and unable to recognise it. This self awareness, I think, is paramount to Denise seeing success throughout the season. Survivor has truly being a personally life changing adventure for Denise, who now uses that time as motivation for every aspect of her life today. Entering Winners at War, Denise is calm, cool, and collected. She’s willing to adapt to whatever is thrown at her, and given the game has changed so rapidly since she’s played, that adaptability will play key into Denise’s time on the season. I like Denise’s mindset, I think it’s good to accept the fact that Survivor is an adventure that she needs to enjoy to really do well. And while I love Denise and think her gameplay is otherwise pretty strong and underrated, I don’t think it’s gonna match up this season. There are so many big names, big strategies, and big threats that may overshadow Denise, but I don’t think Denise will make much head way to last long in the game. It’s possible Denise finds a good spot and manages to outlast a lot of people, but realistically and purely just based on a prediction, I can see Denise making a big mistake, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and being a relatively early boot, probably before the merge. While it’s good to be self aware in your weaknesses, I think those weaknesses might be essential to really surviving this season. Denise is probably quiet enough to stay around for a couple of boots, but maybe at a tribe swap I can see Denise not gathering the numbers and paying the price for it early. I’d love to be proven wrong, Denise has great tenacity and fire, and maybe the stars will align for her.

That’s the first quarter of my pre-game assessment for Survivor: Winners at War, the next five to be assessed will be released in the coming days! Stay tuned! Also, be sure to like and follow Reality Review on our Twitter and Facebook pages!

Also, credit goes to ET Canada and CBS.com for information gathered by the players pre-season to make this assessment.

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Survivor: Winners at War airs Thursday the 13th of February in Australia, and the 12th of February in the U.S.


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