Survivor: Winners at War – “This Is Really Happening”

Survivor‘s monumental 40th season kicked off with an iconic premiere that saw 20 former winners return for a shot to win again! And viewers were screaming at the TV from the get go.

After 20 years, Survivor celebrates its’ 40th season by bringing back some of the most memorable and recognisable winners to engage in the ultimate battle bigger than we’ve ever seen. The two hour premiere was huge, from the challenges, to the twists, to the strategy, and the eliminations. Let’s look back on the episode that began Survivor: Winners at War.

EPISODE 1 RECAP

As 20 former winners returned by boat to the islands of Fiji to kick off the 40th season, fans indulged in seeing some of the best winners come back again. From Ethan Zohn, and Tony Vlachos, to Parvati Shallow, and the only two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine; already, we knew this was a season to celebrate. Players were quick to notice married couple and former Sole Survivors, Rob and Amber Mariano were back to play, together, again. As well the return of some winners that have been out of the spotlight for years, like Yul Kwon and Danni Boatwright. The game was on.

Divided into two tribes, the breakdown of the tribes was as follows:
Dakal (Red) – Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, Tony Vlachos, Sophie Clarke, Yul Kwon, Amber Mariano, Wendell Holland, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Nick Wilson, Sarah Lacina, & Tyson Apostol.
Sele (Blue) – Adam Klein, Danni Boatwright, Jeremy Collins, Denise Stapley, Ben Driebergen, Parvati Shallow, Ethan Zohn, Natalie Anderson, Rob Mariano, & Michele Fitzgerald.

All 20 former winners, standing together before the game, and 40th season, begins.
IMAGE: TIMOTHY KURATEK/CBS

Host Jeff Probst opened the season with a glass of champagne and a toast, to commemorate 20 years of Survivor, but the game began instantly when he revealed that a new twist in the game, currency in the form of fire tokens, was in play, where players can buy different luxuries or advantages while playing. Also, the widely criticised Edge of Extinction was returning, where players have a shot at returning to the game if voted out. And then good news came, when Probst revealed that the winners would be playing for $2 million, instead of the usual $1 million. If that wasn’t enough, they were going to launch right into their first Immunity Challenge.

Competing in pairs, the tribes will battle to grab a large ring in the ocean and then bring it back to their flag, scoring a point for their tribe. First to three would win. While Ben and Rob managed to beat Wendell and Tony, Dakal beat Sele 3-1, meaning the first winner voted out would come from the Sele tribe, on Day 2.

With their first win on their belt, Dakal walks to their camp and even discover the methodology of fire tokens. It’s a big twist in the game, one that Nick believes he can adapt to as the most recent winner in the ‘twist driven’ nature of Survivor. Wendell returns to his old roots of leading the shelter build, something he wanted to avoid but was unable to. Elsewhere, Tyson has an emotional time thinking about his children that he had left behind, and how grateful he is for what the show has given him. Sandra also reminds us all she is rightfully the queen of Survivor, given that she’s the only player to win twice, and hopes to maintain her crown.

Over on Sele, Rob reflects on the big target he is bound to have on Day 1, seeing the first loss as another disadvantage to his game. Parvati, another huge threat, is back after 10 years since playing; but this time, her life has changed. Formerly recognised as the flirtatious strategist,she hopes to use her mothering angle to move forward through the game. Cancer survivor Ethan talks about the time after his illness, and that he wants to bring back the young man that won so many years ago. Rookie mistakes aren’t avoided, even with a winners season, as Adam and Denise separate away from camp, as Denise flashbacks to attending every Tribal Council. But more importantly, they form an alliance, one that is suspected by the rest of the tribe when they notice the absence of the two.

Sele celebrate the start of the season by putting their hands together. It’s game on.
IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

Back on Dakal, Tony realises his old strategic antics can’t return this time, since it ended his game prematurely when he returned in Game Changers; he wants to avoid any possible target that may arise. Amber, knowing she is a big threat for her marriage to Rob, is on the hunt for an idol just in case she may be voted out soon, but fails to find one. Meanwhile, Sophie and Yul form an alliance, already targeting those that are more connected within the game, like the ‘Poker Alliance’, which started one year ago (seemingly as a joke) between Rob, Jeremy, Kim, and Tyson, the latter two of which are on Dakal.

On Sele, Parvati and Rob discuss working together this season, as opposed to Heroes vs Villains where they played against each other. Knowing they are big threats, they form an alliance. But it might be too late as a group of tribe members discuss Rob as a target, namely Danni who wants to eliminate the well connected and legendary player. This is then relayed by Ben to Rob, who succumbs to being starstruck into revealing it was Danni, despite being aware he shouldn’t have at all. Rob then confronts Danni, but Danni doesn’t deny the fact, which Rob admires and even turns to form an old school alliance with her, Parvati, and Ethan.

On Day 2, Sele really start to scramble to decide who might go home at that nights’ Tribal Council. Alliances, bonds, deals, discussions are all happening, with many names being thrown around. Natalie and Jeremy, a tight friendship and alliance from San Juan del Sur, want to target Adam and Denise for separating from camp early on Day 1. And while the tribe seems to be okay with this, Ben decides to tell Adam about this plan, seeming him as a potential ally. Adam, frustrated, brings up the fact that Jeremy and Natalie are prior friends before this season, unlike Adam and Denise. Now wanting to flip the tribe to split this duo up, word gets back to the old school alliance, with Rob and Parvati seemingly making the call, both of whom laugh at the fact they aren’t targeted. The plan isn’t solid, and before we know it, Sele is off to Tribal.

At the first Tribal Council for the season, the tribe quickly discusses the lightning fast pace that the game travels at now. Adam and Denise’s separation from camp is mentioned, and even they agree it was an error. Jeremy senses some danger after a comment from Parvati, so he whispers to Ben, suspecting Parvati and Rob may have a secret plan. Eventually it is time to vote. When Jeff returns, Adam receives one vote, and Denise two, but it’s Natalie who is blindsided 7-2-1, sending her to the Edge of Extinction. But not before she gifts her fire token to Jeremy, as she departs.

Natalie is the first winner blindsided in Survivor: Winners at War as Jeff snuffs her torch for the first time.
IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

Arriving at the Edge, Natalie is upset and mad that she is eliminated, having high expectations for herself and her game. She learns that fire tokens may assist the players on Edge to get back into the game, although she is unsure how exactly it may work.

It’s Day 3 on Dakal, and Yul, Sarah, and Sandra discuss the familial relationships within their tribe. Sandra is particularly frustrated that Rob never told her he was coming into the 40th season (after saying he wouldn’t on Island of the Idols, the previous season), and is now targeting Amber because of it. Yul recruits the two women, Wendell, and Nick to target the Poker Alliance, consisting of Amber, Tyson, and Kim.

After Tribal on Sele, Michele is disappointed she was left out of the plan to vote Natalie, and especially wants to prove she’s a rightful winner after an underappreciated win in Kaoh Rong. Ben now wants to take control with the new school players over the older ones, weary of the power that Rob and allies have. Thanks to Natalie, Jeremy celebrates having two fire tokens and sees it as a possible blessing in disguise.

Speaking of which, Natalie receives some more information about the Edge of Extinction, learning she can find advantages or idols to trade with someone in the game, for a fire token that she can use while on the Edge. After a gruelling journey on top of a mountain, Natalie finds a hidden immunity idol good for three Tribal Councils, that she can sell to someone on the tribe that loses Immunity. It’s a new twist, and I like it.

At the Immunity Challenge, a massive ocean-based challenge with a ring throwing stage at the end sees Dakal push off to an early lead. A barrel roll obstacle where the tribes must roll over to advance puts Sele even further behind, as they struggle to lift tribe members over the barrel. But Rob launches many over the barrel, keeping Sele in it. Team work prevails to see Sele close the gap, and they even manage to get even with Dakal on the ring throwing, before Jeremy seals victory for Sele, defeating Dakal.

Another tribe scramble is on, this time on Dakal, with Sandra, Nick, Tony, Amber, Tyson, and Kim all brought up as potential Tribal victims. Wanting to spread truth, lies, and rumours, Sandra expresses feeling comfortable, as she was bought the idol from Natalie with her fire token. When Tyson throws Tony’s name out, Tony’s on board with the other six to vote out one of the Poker Alliance members. Tyson, sensing danger, begins to scramble to survive, willing to throw Kim and Amber under the bus if necessary. Kim, also sensing trouble, is extremely worried about her position in the game because no one will talk to her, a new experience for her because she was so dominant in One World, when she won. One of the Poker trio is going, but I have no idea who it is.

At Tribal Council, the game’s fast pace is once again mentioned, and how some think before acting, and others just act. The Poker Alliance is discussed, with Tyson, Kim, and Amber all at risk. Kim gets extremely defensive over this grouping, saying it doesn’t exist. It is time to vote, and when Jeff reveals the outcome of it, a split vote between Kim and Amber sees one half of the marriage duo sent to the Edge, as Amber is voted out 6-3-1. As expected, she bequeaths her fire token to Rob, as she meets Natalie on the Edge, much to her surprise.

Amber, after 20 years, is once again voted out of Survivor, this time in 19th place.
IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

REVIEW

Wow. This premiere was everything and more. The cast assembled for this season is phenomenal, and I’m willing to bet the best ever constructed. We’ve already seen impressive gameplay, heightened strategy, and I’m here for it. Let’s look at the highlights.

TRIBAL COUNCIL VICTIMS

I was devastated to see Natalie and Amber get voted out! Then again, I’m practically devo’d if any one of them goes, lol. Firstly, Natalie. I was so excited to see Natalie play again, she was my initial winner pick, and one of my personal favourite winners! I absolutely adore her and her style, so to see that taken away from the main game so soon is disappointing. Thankfully, the Edge of Extinction is here, but I’ll get to that later. What I can’t work out is WHY Natalie was voted out over Jeremy. She is a beast in challenges, and in some ways, possibly even better than Jeremy. If it’s because of physicality, I don’t know how Jeremy was chosen to stay, unless it was close. Otherwise, what was it? Natalie seemed to have good conversations, at least no worse than Jeremy, so there’s some underlying reason why Jeremy stayed over her. Also, why the hell were they even on the same tribe? And they had to do it when her sister was voted out first too?! Natalie was a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and I’m gonna miss her! Then there’s Amber, and yeah, I think we all knew Amber couldn’t go too deep. But damn, the first episode? I really wanted to see Amber play purely out of nostalgia. She’s not my favourite ever, but she’s damn well up there. Although any of either her, Tyson, or Kim would be making me scream, I still wanted to see Amber for as long as possible. It’s a shame the Rob target was such a big thing so early on, and I’m half convinced that if Dakal rocked up to that second Immunity Challenge and saw Rob gone, they’d be more inclined to take out someone like Tyson or Kim. But I don’t think Amber was a physical powerhouse, and given her connection to the other side, it wasn’t a huge loss to Dakal overall to take her out. I can’t wait to see Rob’s reaction when he finds a fire token in the morning, signalling a likely Amber elimination. Will Amber come back from the Edge? Unlikely. But I hope she sticks around, because I am 100%, going to miss her playing this game.

THE SELE TRIBE

How the hell did Parvati and Rob frickin survive? I love that they did, yes! But damn they are GOOD. They really were at the centre of the vote, and having Ethan and Danni on board for an old school alliance is epic. I absolutely love that Rob turned Danni onto his side, and that both he and Parvati are working together this time. They’re the greatest for a reason, and I hope they can still survive moving forward. Danni’s quick thinking to be honest with Rob was a subtle yet fantastic move, and I’m very impressed she knew how to control the situation accordingly. Well done. Love Ethan too! I’m an old school fan now, I’m convinced. Ben’s shakiness early on worries me, although I love his character. He now wants the new schoolers together, and I think he might be at risk if he keeps playing a little too hard. What’s working for him as that the old school alliance needs one more, and I can’t identify any of the other five that’ll join them. I think Jeremy has an opening now that Natalie is gone, and it’ll be interesting to see where he moves going forward. Adam is a strong strategic force that really ran the yards to get the target flipped from him, I commend this move. Loving Denise and Michele, although their strategic game wasn’t highlighted much, so here’s hoping they’re okay for now.

THE DAKAL TRIBE

Woah, Yul, he was great in Cook Islands so I couldn’t believe it when that same strategist returned this time. He’s running that damn tribe and he successfully orchestrated a giant target on the nonexistent ‘Poker Alliance’ just because he knew they were the biggest threats to his game. He turned being disconnected into an advantage, and how could you not love Yul? A mastermind, yes. He nailed this premiere. With Sophie as a partner in crime, I think she has done well to align with Yul and yet still use him as a shield. Hopefully she can continue with those smart choices. I loved seeing Tony not go crazy this time, and his enthusiasm to unleash is a gift I’m happy waiting for. It’s good to see him think smarter this time, I hope it works out. A little bit of content from Sarah, Nick and Wendell, and I love all three, although Wendell slightly more for having a heart of gold, ah, I love. Tyson and Kim, at risk, and it sucks. They’re too great personalities and players and seeing them in trouble was horrible! Tyson is absolutely hilarious, and I love him even more than ever. I’m also hoping Kim can get back to her old ways, soon. Then there’s Sandra, great job for getting the idol (thanks Nat) and taking out Amber, but damn I’ve never seen Sandra as such a personal player. She was really hurt by Rob, and I get that, but I guess it’s just a really big deal to her. I think she played extremely well to not get targeted early, but the bitterness was slightly too much for me. Love Sandra, but this episode made me look at her differently.

Many of the Dakal tribe members sit and laugh together at their shelter.
IMAGE: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

TWISTS AND TURNS

I really wanna mention the drone shots, INCREDIBLE. Love that little touch to the season and camera department, they look great! I also love fire tokens, I think it’s a great new element to the game that’ll make it that more interesting, especially with the Edge being in play with it. And then there’s EoE itself, now listen, I don’t like the idea that people voted out can come back, I agree with the mass for that. But damn. I love it for this season! I don’t wanna see any of these winners go, and I get what Jeff was thinking when he made it. Natalie and Amber, two favs, thank god they’re still in the season! And with those on Edge having more power to influence the game, it actually does make the segment more compelling. Even if they shouldn’t logically impact what happens, I like it. I can’t help it. The Edge should be left for these occasions, I think. If it never returned, I’d be fine with it. But I’m glad it’s hear for 40. I want to see these players, I want to see how they navigate when they return, and I think the fire tokens make it work so much better than it did in 38. But only on special occasions where it works, like Redemption Island in Blood vs Water, because of the loved ones it worked. If Survivor reserves it for special seasons, I’m OKAY with it. But yay! Natalie and Amber stay on my screen!

THE TOP FIVE

Each episode, I will pick a top five for the week, based on what we’ve seen currently and previously. I will however leave out those on the Edge of Extinction, and reserve it for those still in the main game.

The players in the Top Five this week include:
Parvati Shallow, Rob Mariano, Danni Boatwright, Yul Kwon, and Tyson Apostol.
IMAGES: ROBERT VOETS/CBS

PARVATI SHALLOW: After ten years, one of the best is back! She’s off to a great start to keep her name out of others’ mouths. I absolutely love Parvati and seeing her in a very comfortable position early on is everything I wanted and more!

ROB MARIANO: I really weighed up having Rob here but the sheer factor he’s (still) a force in the challenges and can manipulate others to either align with him or send them home, it’s truly impressive and reminiscent of a great Survivor player.

DANNI BOATWRIGHT: Certainly a quieter pick, but I was very impressed by Danni’s choices to do what and when. For someone who has been disconnected for so long, it was great to see her stay strong minded and otherwise under the radar.

YUL KWON: He turned everyone against the Poker Alliance, formed a potentially formidable alliance, and did it all in three days. Yul was one of the best, and has proven he deserves to be here again. I’m hoping we see similar success soon.

TYSON APOSTOL: He was in trouble as a huge threat, but survived even getting a vote. He knows how to play when he’s down and out, and he’s still cracking jokes and making me die of laughter too. Tyson’s a gift to this show and season.

Honourable mentions go to Adam, Jeremy, Tony, Ethan, Wendell, Kim, and of course, Amber and Natalie!

This was a monster episode and I can’t wait to watch the season play out! There’s so much I could talk about, but I’ve kept this as short as I can. We’re treated to some fantastic winners making legendary returns! I’m in awe.

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The 40th season of Survivor, Winners at War, returns at 7:30pm on 9Go!, Thursday’s in Australia. Otherwise check your local TV Guide!


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