One of the greatest seasons of Survivor came to an end with a massive three-hour finale! The second two-time winner has been crowned, and fans couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
Only five players remained, but the Edge of Extinction twist teased one more would join them for a legitimate shot to win and become a two-time Sole Survivor. This is the grand finale Review for Survivor: Winners at War.
Beginning with the Edge of Extinction challenge, Natalie struggles early despite holding three advantages. She quickly manages to catch up to Wendell, who was otherwise in the lead, as Tyson isn’t far behind either of them. On the puzzle section, all three manage to land a ball and have one left. Wendell’s close, but doesn’t sink it. Natalie does however, and despite being the first person voted out and living on the Edge for a month, returns to the final six with an idol in her pocket. We hear emotional stories from some of the departing castaways, about how much Survivor has meant to them. But soon, the 13 challenge losers head to Ponderosa, officially out of the game.
Back at camp, Natalie is ecstatic she’s returned to the game, and tells the tribe the jury loves Tony and think he’s running the show. This bugs Sarah, who thinks she’s had just as much part in the strategy as Tony. But Tony’s more worried Natalie might have an idol, just as Chris did in the original Edge of Extinction season. Sarah, Ben and Denise aren’t so concerned however, and believe they can get Natalie out at the next Tribal Council.
In the Immunity Challenge, despite a rough start, Michele’s former win on the puzzle section proves advantageous as she manages to win her second straight Immunity, guaranteeing herself a spot in the final five. Back at camp, Michele and Natalie bond over their guaranteed safety when Natalie reveals she possesses an idol. Aware of Tony’s idol as well, they are cautious to target him, so instead decide to target Ben (who secretly has an idol). As Tony attempts to split the vote between Natalie and Denise, Ben adamantly denies doing so, not wanting to betray a friend for no reason. Even Sarah theorises Natalie won’t play an idol, because she believes that in the one night she spent with her, she’s built enough of a bond that Natalie would tell her about her idol… right…
At Tribal Council, Sarah openly talks about how a man and woman are perceived in the game differently when using strategy. And when the tribe votes, it comes out as a negated
4– 2 vote, as Natalie plays her idol and Ben plays his. Tony also played his, meaning only Sarah and Denise can be voted for. Per the rules of a tie, a rock draw would take place with the tied players becoming immune, but given everyone would be immune in these circumstances, a fire-making tie breaker would instead decide who between Sarah and Denise would be voted out. Despite this new history being made aware to the tribe, Natalie and Michele don’t force a tie and Denise is unanimously voted out 4-0. And to note, Denise had no confessionals or Tribal Council questions at all. A very sad miss for a great player early in this finale.
After Denise’s elimination and the triple idol play, Tony is on the hunt to find the rehidden idol. He spends all night searching, unable to find it. In the morning, everyone is searching, and just as Ben and Tony comment on how the idol kings can’t find the idol, Natalie manages to find it herself, a massive opportunity with only a few days left.
At the Immunity Challenge, it’s pretty close between all the players (except Michele) up until the end. While trying to land two sandbags, Ben keeps missing the post despite being so close. This eventually leads to Tony prevailing and earning a spot in the final four with his fourth Immunity win.
At camp, Michele and Natalie fear one of them is bound to go home, as Natalie’s idol won’t protect them both. Tony spies in his spy nest by the well, and hears Natalie and Sarah discussing voting for Ben, because he is likely to win the fire-making challenge. During this exchange, Sarah discovers Natalie’s idol (and thus Tony too), creating a problem for their alliance. When Natalie reports this to Michele, Michele now fears they will vote her to avoid Natalie’s play. As Sarah contemplates whether to vote Michele or Natalie with Ben, Ben gives her permission to vote him out if that’s what is necessary. Realising he doesn’t have a chance to win the game after the events of the season and Natalie telling him the jury doesn’t respect him, Ben would rather allow Sarah to move forward with a move over Tony.
When the votes are read at Tribal Council, Natalie plays her idol, but as Michele expected, the alliance targeted her. But, Sarah went against Tony and indeed blindsides Ben in a 3-2 vote, shocking Tony and sending Ben to the jury.
At the Final Immunity Challenge, a classic test of focus and skill sees the players managing various balls rolling through a track. Tony is eliminated first, and Sarah soon after. Leaving it to Michele and Natalie to battle it out for a spot at the Final Tribal Council. Natalie pulls off some massive saves, which became pivotal as Michele drops a ball, granting Natalie, the first person voted out of the game, a ticket to Day 39 and choice to send two players to the fire-making challenge.
At camp, Natalie takes some time out to weigh up the decision and choose between Sarah or Michele to defeat Tony in fire. The girls practice, with Tony helping Sarah, but he grows concerned Michele might battle him after she manages to build a fire fairly quickly. Sarah’s prepared to take on Tony, and wants to beat him to have another move on her resume to win the game.
At Tribal, the decision to not give up Immunity and take on Tony herself is ruled out by Natalie, and she ultimately decides Sarah will battle Tony, hoping she will win. Michele is now apart of the final three, and the emotional battle was on for the Cops R Us alliance, soon coming to an end. Sarah and Tony take turns for the lead, both growing a fire close to burning through the rope. In the end however, Tony is victorious and earns his spot at the end, as Sarah becomes the final member of the jury. She has an emotional sendoff, but the final three is set in stone. Either Natalie, Michele, or Tony will be the next two-time champion.
On the morning of Day 39, the three New Jersey players celebrate making it to the end, and discuss the various journeys they have had to get here. This is a truly iconic final three, but only one can be the ultimate Sole Survivor.
At the Final Tribal, Tony is commended for his strategic gameplay, but his loyalty and social game is questioned by the jury. Natalie’s social game is also criticised, as the jury bring up comments about her isolating some jurors in the final week of the game. Natalie’s decision to not take Tony on at fire is also criticised, as she was ultimately unable to beat the person she wanted to get out upon returning. Michele’s consistent time at playing from the bottom is noted, as she lacked strategic prowess compared to Tony, but her social game is praised as is her double Immunity win when she needed them most, preventing her from going home. The jury votes, and we see Rob voting for Tony (criticising Natalie from not beating him herself), and Parvati voting Natalie (for her efforts upon returning and fight from the Edge).
At the virtual reading of the votes, we see Jeff and the three finalists joining via Zoom. Tony’s family, Michele’s sister, and Natalie’s boyfriend all join them as well, as Jeff begins to read the votes. Natalie and Tony tie at 4-4-0, before Tony sweeps out the rightful victory 12-4-0, becoming the second two-time Sole Survivor, and winning the $2 million prize. Natalie, after a massive journey from being the first person voted out, becomes the Runner-Up. And Michele, despite being the only multiple-time player to survive all 39 days both times she played, comes in as the 2nd Runner-Up. With an uncertain future for Survivor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeff commits to airing the 41st season of the show later in the year.
What a finale. What a season. I’ve taken some time to dissect everything, let my thoughts calm from a gut reaction, and really break down this season as a whole. So let’s get into it.
AN EPIC WIN
Tony’s victory was no doubt amazing after such an impressive showing this season. His ability to cover all corners of the game was incredible, with manipulation key to his success. The jury’s decision to reward him the win 12-4-0 is massive, especially when the Edge had so much to do with the story arc of one of the finalists. But after watching each Jury Speaks video, it was clear Tony was the favourite entirely. Everyone collectively agreed he was running the show, despite what Sarah said, and his gameplay just outsmarted everyone. And even those who should have realised just how good Tony is failed to act on time. The king is now home, he’s taken out the title twice and it’s an incredible feat for truly, one of the most impressive winners this game has ever seen, twice over. I am extremely satisfied with this turnout, and to have a former dominant winner come back in and do it all over again, after so many legends went out early, it’s perfect. It’s what this season needed, it caps of 20 years and 40 seasons so nicely. I was also rooting against Tony, simply because it seemed too good to be true. He was such a big target, but yet never actually got his name onto parchment. I personally love Natalie as a personality more, but even I couldn’t root for her as much as I wanted to. Because Tony’s win was ultimately what was satisfying me most, but I wanted someone to take him down just to prove the best of the best can be beat. But Tony never let it happen. He won when he had to, and just really put on an impressive performance. I’m still so in awe. What a finish.
A FANTASTIC FINALIST
Credit where credit is due, Natalie really came back swinging. She was voted out first and she managed to take home the title of Runner-Up. That’s amazing and Natalie did so much to fight and earn her spot back in, and did equally a lot to make her few days left count. There were some errors along the way, but some equally impressive moves as well, like exposing her idol to Sarah and not playing it for Michele at the final five, as well as not facing Tony in fire because how good is 4th compared to 2nd. Winning an Immunity Challenge and finding the final idol, these were all great steps to her game. But it’s true, her mission was to take Tony out and Natalie failed to do so. She didn’t have much chance to do it, yes, because others should have done it way earlier. But Natalie couldn’t beat the man that did it all for 39 days. There was an unlikely chance. I’m still so impressed by her, and even in this short span of her game, she remains in my top five personal favourite winners. She’s fun to watch, and was a great player two times out. It’s hard to overlook that Day 2 elimination though, that’s ultimately where it hurt for Natalie. But she did what she had to in the set of circumstances she was given. Natalie was the Queen of the Edge, no doubt, but this season just couldn’t have a representative that went home Day 2. It couldn’t. And I love Natalie, truly. I wish she won as well, but we can’t have two winners. Gotta respect game, and Tony ruled it.
A MAJOR TURN AROUND
What a journey for Michele, all season long, she was on the outs looking for a way in and I really respect her gameplay this time. I think she’s done well, not near enough to beat Tony, but certainly a worthy performance to get to the end. She fought hard, and again, there are errors. But she overcame some of them when she needed to. It was just that her number was never needed in retrospect. She was on the outs because she didn’t have to be included, Michele confirmed this in her Reddit AMA. I think ultimately, it’s incredible watching someone who was so criticised for winning the first time to go from “should have had less jury votes” to “should have had more jury votes”. Public perception has changed and it’s good to walk away with that. I never doubted Michele as a worthy winner, even though I personally was rooting for Aubry back in 32, I still think Michele rightfully claimed the win. She is an incredible player and being the only multiple time player to make it to Day 39 all of the times she’s played, it’s a great achievement to hold on to while it lasts. I would love to see Michele again, and maybe she won’t be as underestimated. She saw that Tony needed to go, something the majority alliance failed to do. And not rallying the numbers to get him out in the final few days is more on those players than her. I loved watching Michele, I think there’s a whole lot more we could have seen that may have opened up the true core to her game. But she played well, again. Hats off to her being so cool about losing and not getting a vote, if things go a little differently maybe it’s a different story. Michele has certainly gone up in my thoughts of her, and I respect her for coming back out again and proving a lot of people why she deserved to win the first time and how she can be a great player altogether. A huge congrats for getting so far this time.
MEN VS WOMEN IN SURVIVOR
It needs to be discussed, does Sarah’s female-male argument have any bearing and can she beat Tony in the end? Yes and no. There is a gender imbalance in this game, we now have six consecutive male winners, the largest streak the show has ever seen. And the last female to win the game was, well, Sarah. Ever since the fire-making twist was introduced at the final four, a male has always won, and equate to four of the six ultimate Sole Survivors. But beyond what’s happened in the last six seasons, women have always been seen unfavourably in the strategic role. Even in a male-female duo, the man can be seen as the guy who did more when the female actually may have. Sarah certainly had a great game, and probably would have won if she beat Tony in the end. But there’s two flaws in her argument of gender bias and how it should have helped her win the game. The gender bias, yes, it exists. Absolutely. But even if Sarah believes she had a better footing in the Cops R Us partnership than Tony, by bringing up this argument, does that denounce Tony’s game? If the two faced off at the Final Tribal Council, Sarah’s plea that women are misrepresented in strategy could never beat Tony, because just a gender bias alone can’t discredit everything Tony did. Even if all their social and strategic moves were weighted equally, Tony was able to pay off an Extortion advantage, Sarah wasted a vote steal (kind of), Tony won three immunities, Sarah won none, Tony found an idol and played it, Sarah didn’t, Tony was right about Natalie holding an idol, Sarah believed she could trust Natalie after one day, Tony pulled off an impressive blindside on Sophie, Sarah reluctantly voted out Ben after getting permission to do so. There are still so many flaws to Sarah’s game that simply can’t overshadow how Tony performed this season. The argument had no bearing in the end. Additionally, I think Sarah’s even bigger mistake is not acting on the argument. Why try and convince 16 jurors that their perception of the Tony/Sarah partnership is wrong and change what they think to make you the winner? JUST TAKE THE ARGUMENT OFF THE TABLE! Don’t even let them have the chance to look at it that way. Vote him out, blindside him, boom, you’ve got one move up against him and now the jury has to vote you or someone else that isn’t Tony. The argument is gone. Change YOUR destiny, don’t change OTHER minds. It seems like such a misguided approach to the game and Sarah’s loyalty to Tony won over what was probably the absolute smarter move of getting rid of the man himself. Gender is an issue, maybe the show needs to do something to address it. Maybe it’s just bad luck for women for three years. But Sarah needed to beat the best by taking down the best. Don’t waste it on a plea on Day 39.
BEN AND DENISE
I just wanted to very quickly touch on these guys. Denise, she deserved more! I don’t think there’s ever been a finale where one of the active members of the episode didn’t receive a confessional. Not even a Tribal Council question. After such a great season for Denise, no content for her boot was a real travesty and big misstep by the editors for a finale what was otherwise decently edited. Now Ben, did he quit? No. He gave permission. Sure, it lessens Sarah’s move a bit. But I love Ben’s awareness to recognise is chances of winning were small and he needed to help a friend try and get there so she could win. It backfired, but Ben certainly is a hero. Great to watch despite all the chaos and times I shook my head. His journey fluctuates with me, but the finale validated Ben as a good player in a game that is only cut out for some aspects of his personality and strategic gameplay.
DID THE EDGE FAIL?
One of the most controversial twists of the game ever, the Edge of Extinction. I’ve openly talked about my appeal for the Edge, in that seeing all of these players, and specifically legends, stick around all season was awesome to watch. But there’s no denying, the Edge’s endgame impact is difficult to speak positively of. I love Natalie, we know this. But her winning this game after going out first would be one of the worst results for the season. There’s a clear fault with the Edge mechanics, being sent there early is more of an advantage than later. The two returnees who came back into the game on Day 35 (Chris Underwood and Natalie) were the third and first boots, respectively. In Chris’ case, he had more time to bond with jurors other than Gavin and Julie, who sat next to him at the Final Tribal Council and lost the game. But Natalie was able to rack up 14 fire tokens compared to Nick, who had none. She used all three of her advantages and her idol well to get her back into the game and make it further than just bowing out as soon as she returned. Nick didn’t have these opportunities at all. But Jeff Probst’s argument debating this is that the physical hardships of the Edge way a lot heavier on those arrive there sooner than later, and that equals out to having the many fire tokens and advantages to get back in. But if Natalie is a case and point, that’s not true. Even though they are so depleted, the person who would seemingly be the MOST depleted was way better off in the returnee challenge than the end-gamers Sophie, Kim, Jeremy and Nick, who were nowhere near being victorious as a returnee. There are design faults in the twist, and the only reason I like it IS to see these players continue with something in the game. I enjoyed watching all 19 last every episode. But once voted out, it really should be final, in my opinion. I appreciate both what Chris and Natalie did in their time back from winning the Re-Entry challenge, but I am so indifferent about how it so strongly impacts the game. The twist is going away for a while (not just because of the coronavirus pandemic), but its return needs to be reworked so it’s fairer for those who arrive earlier and later, and also fairer for those who last 39 days in the game compared to those who might last up to 20. I’m surprised, and curious if it was edited out, that Natalie’s short stay in the main game wasn’t mentioned by the jury at the Final Tribal Council. Did these players weigh up the thought of having a first boot win the season at all, or did they equally pit Natalie and Tony against each other and collectively vote Tony? It’s such a complex twist, and there are so many greater voices for describing how it should adapt, like Stephen Fishbach’s suggestion for the Re-Entry challenge below. But even where there is criticism of the Edge twist, I think we should step back and appreciate the season for what it was, having almost the entire cast play a role in deciding who the ultimate victor was, and enjoy it for what it is. This was a great and successful season of Survivor, and even if the twist isn’t great in hindsight, it’s still an iconic evolution to the game that gave us something really special. But… never again.
SURVIVOR LEGENDS BOW OUT
It’s a goodbye to some of the biggest faces the game has ever seen after this season. Before we explore how these legends are leaving their Survivor careers, let’s not forget that several of them have said they would never return again, but did. Nevertheless, it’s worth discussing how it looks for each player this season and their chances of returning.
Sandra – She said this season was her retirement season, and I think it’s a worthy season to go out on. Winners at War was massive, and Sandra leaving the Edge was a decent goodbye (whether you like it or not). But now that Sandra has played four times, with a 50% success rate as opposed to her previous 100% only five years ago, I think never seeing Sandra play again isn’t a bad thing. She’s no doubt a legend. But we’ve had her win twice, come back and be ambitious and lose a third, be an idol and mentor new players, then leave the winners season where her two-time crown would have to be shared. Her legacy isn’t as great as it once was, still very impressive, but it’s not perfect. If she did return, I don’t think the hype would be there as much as it has been this season or in Game Changers. I guess it depends on the theme? But it’s not a must for me.
Amber – Done. This was a fantastic season for her to return on, but a fourth time just doesn’t seem favourable or likely. I love Amber, I think she’s a great winner even if she doesn’t believe so, and she rightfully made a big impact on this season by returning despite everyone always thinking she never would. That’s why this season is perfect for her to end her career on. That chapter could only end on a winners season, and it’s another reason why I loved the Edge twist to see her this entire time.
Danni – It’s been so long since Danni has returned and now that she has, yeah it wasn’t a great result, but I’d love another stint from her and I know she’s keen on it too. Danni has been in the casting pool often, and winners was perfect for her to come back. Now that she’s tasted defeat, perhaps a third time is what she needs to see if the mighty Winners at War was a fluke. Hey, Cirie flopped on Heroes vs Villains and that season was great. Danni can do the same.
Ethan – He’s openly admitted this is it for him. And he had a tough time this season on the Edge, so it’s understandable. It’s been so long since Ethan played, but we’ve had two pre-merge entries now and a win. I think Ethan’s legacy remains intact with a phenomenal return to the game for Season 40, and that finishing up his Survivor career.
Rob – Welllllllllll. There’s gotta be another one in him. Maybe not. But legends would just call Rob from afar. What hurts Rob is his success rate and huge target will never leave. He’s been out pre-merge twice, pre-jury twice, and has made it to the end twice otherwise. He’s a huge player in the game and I think he’s fulfilled with how he’s played. The theme has really got to call on Rob coming back and he’s gotta be amongst truly 19 other legends. He probably should come back, but I don’t think he ever will. Not for a while, at least.
Parvati – God dammit Parvati should have lasted longer. Watching her Survivor career conclude with this finish isn’t favourable, so I wanna say a fifth time should seal it in a legends season. But to make it count, she needs to make the merge. I put her in the same case as Rob. I think she’s fulfilled and the finish on the season doesn’t help the case to return again. But it’s certainly necessary because Parvati is such a fantastic player and her time was cut short this season. Let’s hope she’ll reconsider and at least give it one more go when the theme fits. It would be such a great get from production if they can convince her to try a fifth run.
Yul – I think he’s one of those players that was never going to return unless it was a winners season. I don’t think Yul has any interest in trying again for a third time, and again, the early elimination this time probably doesn’t help the case to do it again. I think this is the least we’ve seen of Yul. And I’m content with that. He was a great pre-merge character, maybe we can be surprised and see that again? I doubt it though.
Wendell – Yeah, I’d lock him into come back except for the fact his edit was done so dirty this season. Maybe there’s no interest on either side to come back now. I’m not sure. I’d like to see him again put it that way.
Adam – The first person so far I’d say YES to coming back again. Adam is locked in, there’s no doubt about it. Production loves Adam, Adam wants another turn, let’s do it. A Blood vs Water season please. We need Adam back and we need his podium idol too.
Tyson – Oh yeah, let’s go for another turn, why not? Tyson is perfect for this game and I really enjoyed him. I was a little worried after he went out pre-merge, but I think the merge return helps a fifth run case. Once again, if the theme permits it. But I also think Tyson’s down for it, so let’s make it happen. If it can’t be Rob or Parvati, yeah, Tyson it is.
Sophie – I’m really glad Sophie came back because she proved she was capable of keeping up with great players and she was a huge strategic threat. Like a huge threat if she got to the end. I loved watching Sophie this time, hopefully a loss is what we needed to get her back out again for a third time. I’ve enjoyed Sophie a lot this season, and I think she’s hungry enough for another bout.
Kim – See above. Kim took a while to return, and now that she has, and lost at it, she’s got to be wanting more after feeling both sides of the Survivor coin. And from what I’ve read, she’s down for it as well. Come on Kim. Parvati vs Kim please!
Jeremy – Yeah, I think Jeremy’s done. And it’s one of the newer winners who’ve called it quits too. It’s a great arc for Jeremy too, a win in the middle and losses on either side. What more does Jeremy need from a fourth try? A pre-merge boot? I’d rather not see it. I’m satisfied with a Jeremy retirement after this season. But thank god he came back this time.
Nick – I don’t know. Probably? Nick’s hard to read with such a strange edit this time. I’d lean toward yes since both his season were so close together, but a third run might take a few years to get around to.
Denise – I’m thinking Denise might be done. But I also think she’d be easier to convince than some others to try a third time. She pulled off some amazing moments this season, and her analytical strategy is one of the best we’ve ever seen in the game. I personally really need a Denise return, so let’s hope it can happen.
Ben – I’m unsure. If anyone copped social media hate this season, it’s Ben. He really has had to endure it all twice now. I don’t know if he’d want to go through it all again. I wouldn’t be opposed to a third season for Ben, but I’m not going to advocate for it either. It’s hit and miss for me.
Sarah – Like Jeremy, I think Sarah is done. But I also think this would be a good finish for her – first juror, winner, final juror. What an arc. Sarah is a three-time kind of player, I don’t think we need another try. She had some flaws in strategy and I still think she’s a great player, so I’d like to think her legacy can stay intact with how it is after this season.
Michele – This season was a great turnaround for Michele. I would love to see her try again and either come in, again, underestimated, or even better so, seen as a threat for her social game and really fight among the big leagues. A third season I’m not opposed to, but it’s not as high on my list compared to some others.
Natalie – She’s coming back. No question. Two incredible adventures in her Survivor career, I think Natalie’s third run can be just as iconic. She’s got a real knack for this game, if she can navigate the first few days a bit better, maybe Natalie will be a two-time winner after all. I’d love that!
Tony – I kind of don’t want it… I just don’t want him to go out early again! He’s expressed somewhat of a desire to return, but let’s give it time. I think Tony’s journey is quite fulfilling over three seasons, I don’t know if we quite need a return despite how good it might seem. I’ll leave it up for debate.
20 YEARS, 40 SEASONS
That was Survivor: Winners at War. One of the most legendary seasons, with an iconic cast and memorable theme and winner. What a great sendoff to this chapter of the Survivor era. I’d love to know your thoughts on the season as a whole, and what did you think of the finale now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to take it all in? Let me know all of your thoughts on the socials or in the comments below!
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