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Winners at War – Episode 1: Greatest of the Greats

And here we are, Survivor Season 40 – Winners at War has started!
My episode analyses are back after a three-year hiatus. OK, let’s see if I remember how to do that.

First of all, this first episode was amazing in so many ways, and it seems that the season could end up being the best ever. How can it be different?

If you’re an old reader, my blogging format is basically to write a few lines about each player, and see how they did, what are their chances going on and such.


Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment 


So let’s just do that:

First, that opening with the toasting and all was quite interesting. Pretty low-key for a marooning, but honestly I’d rather the show to spend its budget on the game rather than on a dozen helicopters or so.
I also loved how many players were looking for a twist or a trick when the toasting happened, but there simply was none.

I also loved that opening challenge, it had all we need to set the tone of the season.

Finally, that first tribal was insane in its tension and intensity. Despite not much happening, it really felt like a merge tribal, not a first tribal.




  • Adam Klein: It seems that Adam really dodged a bullet and could have been the first one out. Although, this also could have been a misdirection. I don’t see many players in his team seeing him as a threat. And they’re making a big mistake. It doesn’t seem obvious, but he’s the one who both saved himself and Denise, but also orchestrated Natalie’s ouster. His problem is that I’m not sure many people will give him credit for it. I like him starting an alliance with Denise. They’re both smart people, students of the game, and I could see them really working well together. It also seems that he has something going on with Ben, even if that was not too explicit. Pregame alliance?
    Finally, he’s one of the narrators of his tribe, that’s good for two reasons. First, he’s a great narrator. Second, narrators usually make it until at least the merge.
  • Ben Driebergen: It’s not a secret that I don’t like Ben and that I don’t really think he deserves to be playing. And he showed us why very quickly. He’s got played by Boston Rob like a newbie. I know that’s also because this is how good Rob can be, but also, it shows us that some of the recent winners can still be starstruck by the legends, even though, in theory, they should have a better grasp of the new style of playing the game that has been prevalent in recent years. Now, we need to give credit where credit is due, and Ben played a big part in blindsiding Jeremy and Natalie with this vote. So maybe, he’s a better player than I give him credit for. However, his edit screamed, “goat” that Rob wants to bring to the end.” I don’t think it’s going to happen though, as Rob won’t make it to the end, I just can’t imagine this happening.
  • Danni Boatwright: I’m gladly impressed with Danni. I was not sure how she’d play her first days (nor the other ones), but she did great. Despite not really having connections with anyone else, she was part of every important conversation, it seemed. First leading the charge against Rob, but when it failed thanks to Ben, she managed to turn the table and convince Rob to include her in his group. Well played Danni. She still has what it takes to win I believe, even if her strategy is always quite mysterious.
  • Denise Stapley: I love Denise, I really do. She’s among my top favorites to win, but unfortunately, she didn’t have a great start. She almost became the target of the first vote, and even if she was certainly part of the orchestrators of the plan to vote Natalie out, it wasn’t shown much. I know she can recover from this, but the way she was edited makes me more worried than what actually happened or didn’t happen on the island. Also, let’s note that she’s finally won a team immunity for the first time ever.
    Also, it was brief, but during tribal, while answering a question to Jeff, we got a glimpse of what makes her so awesome, her eloquence and how she understands social situations and herself.
  • Ethan Zohn: I was excited but kind of afraid to see Ethan play again. Could he just catch up? Would he still be likable? Well, the answers are: yes, and yes. I love how he’s amazed how different the game has become, but he was still as likable as before, and he actually got one of the most positive edits. I think he could really go far, and seeing his confessional, I can also imagine that his storyline will be something along the lines of “old school player discovering and learning the new school ways”.
    More generally speaking, it’s amazing to see how they’ve grown, especially the players from the first 20 seasons obviously. Even more interesting, as I’ve grown and changed with them. I especially loved seeing them talking about their kids and all. Someone (Stephen Fishbach?) mentioned that those kinds of conversation always happen, but are rarely shown. It was really great that we got to see them this time because it really shows us how different some of these players are from the first time we saw them play.
  • Jeremy Collins (two fire tokens): He got on a bad start. His closest friend out there blindsided, he has no other real ally. He’s in a very unstable position right now. However, now that Natalie is off the picture, he may not be targeted again for a while, and as a free agent, il could make certain things happen. We’ll see. On a side note, I think it’s quite unfair that Jeremy and Natalie were on the same tribe. As Natalie said, Jeremy is not “blood” but he’s pretty close to it. That is the only reason why Natalie got voted out really. But back to Jeremy, the fact that Natalie and not him was voted out means that some people want to work with him (he may be closer to Rob than what we saw – Poker Alliance and all that – and it could be the reason Natalie and not him got the boot).
  • Michele Fitzgerald: She’s already under the radar. The good is that she seems to have been part of many conversations. The bad is that she was left out of the vote. While she didn’t seem aligned with anyone in particular (except maybe the “new school alliance” if there is such a thing in Sele), she’s very good friends with Parvati, and I was suspecting some sort of secret alliance between them. I will always remember something Tina said, way back in season two: always pay attention to where people are, next to whom they are standing, who is sleeping next to who at night and so on… And if you pay close attention, you’ll see that Michele is often close to Parvati during this first episode. So why did she vote Adam? We can imagine that there was a (fake?) plan to split the vote, but she didn’t seem close to Jeremy and Natalie. Or maybe she was? This is a bit confusing. It doesn’t look good for her, though.
  • Natalie Anderson voted out first: Oh no, she didn’t do anything wrong. There was no way she should have been the first one voted out. How did this happen? Well, as I mentioned with Jeremy, production did them a dirty one by putting them on the same tribe. And that’s pretty much it. Well, they also trusted Ben when they shouldn’t have, and maybe Natalie and Jeremy got a little too confident too early in the game? Cue to what Parvati said at tribal council, that rang many bells at least with Jeremy and yet, he didn’t do anything much about it that we saw. Now, on the Edge of Extinction, I believe that Natalie is strong enough to do well, and as we’ve seen she’s continuing playing the game in her own way. It’s interesting to see that she sent that hidden immunity necklace to Sandra of all people. I assume that Natalie just really wanted to get a fire token back, and guessed that Sandra would be the one who’s the most likely to need a hidden immunity this early into the game.
  • Parvati Shallow: She has changed; she’s married, she’s a mom, she won’t be (too) flirtatious (or in an innocent way, like during her conversation with Rob). Yet, she’s still the “black widow” of Survivor. Aligning herself with Rob, despite their past history was the right move for both of them and their only way to survive long term, and I’m just amazed that no one is targeting them at all. I think the “new winners” are a little afraid to go against them, to simply throw Parvati’s or Rob’s names in the mix when talking strategy. And that’s a big mistake, one that they will use to their advantage. I loved how Parvati and Rob themselves were dumbfounded not to be targeted, to the point they almost thought that a big blindside against them was coming.
  • Rob Mariano (two fire tokens): Believe it or not, it was the first time I was genuinely impressed with Rob’s game. Sure, when he starts to be the “Robfather” and has a borderline bully behavior, it doesn’t make me like him much, but the way he played Ben was a sight to behold. Same when, just right after, instead of instigating trouble that he wouldn’t be able to control, he decided to invite Danni in his alliance instead of targeting her. Finally, making an alliance with Parvati was also not the first thing you’d think he’d do, but it was the smart thing to do. He still has a huge target on his back, and he’s doing all he can to make it smaller and stay longer in the game. Will it work? So far, it has. I just said it in Parvati’s paragraph, but it’s just insane that neither of them was targeted for this first vote.



  • Amber Mariano voted out second: Well, it’s not exactly a surprise, and that was the thing to do. I almost screamed at my TV when neither Parvati nor Rob was targeted for the first vote, so voting Amber out was the good move for Dakal. Kim and Tyson can be turned around, Amber can’t. Also, Kim and Tyson are valuable in challenges, Amber wasn’t. Honestly, she probably the weakest winners of all time, her entire strategy is to follow someone stronger than her until they fall; Jerri, then Rob, and now Kim and Tyson. She literally said it. I quote her “I put my trust into people hoping for the best”. In theory, she wouldn’t be a threat this early in the game, but her connection to Rob was everything. I’m not too sure how well she’ll mentally fare on the Edge of Extinction, missing her kids and all, but we can be sure she’ll help Rob in every possible way.
  • Kim Spradlin-Wolfe: I could be wrong but it seems that Kim made a major mistake, it was to be a bit too cliquy with Tyson and Amber. She really dodged a bullet there. Now, while it was unusual to not only see her out of the loop, but also out of the conversations, she did vote for Amber, which means that she knew Amber was the target, so some people did talk to her eventually.
  • Nick Wilson: Did Nick get fat? Is it for the game? As I expected, he’s having a pretty good start, with a nice group, and no target on his back at the moment and probably not for a while. One interesting confessional he had was about the fire tokens. He suspects that they will have an influence on who wins the game. Is this foreshadowing? Overall, we didn’t see too much of him, but he always seemed to be in the right discussion at the right time.
  • Sandra Diaz-Twine (one hidden immunity idol): Another player that you would expect to be an early target and wasn’t is Sandra. We got to see her social game all throughout the episode: Sandra knows how to listen to you, she knows how to speak to you in a way that makes you want to tell her more or hear more from her… so you don’t want to see her go, just yet… And just like that she is in the center of conversations and advancing through the game. I was surprised by how really hurt she seemed that Boston Rob didn’t tell her about Amber and him playing. Thinking about it, I’m not even sure he has actually lied to her. If I remember the pregame interviews correctly, Rob didn’t want to return while he was on the Island of the Idols, he only changed his mind once back to the US and Amber accepted (and Richard Hatch and Tina Wesson got cut to make room for Rob and Amber). This will probably be interesting, and it will probably go beyond just Amber being voted out. I can’t wait to see what will happen next. In any case, it’s amazing to see that it doesn’t seem that she’ll be targeted in the near future, and if she does, Natalie just sold her a hidden immunity idol.
    It’s interesting she seems to be forming an alliance with Tony of all people, but I think it’s the right move for both.
  • Sarah Lacina: There wasn’t much about her, was there? She seems to be cool with Tony and Sandra, but I’m not sure if we can call this an alliance. I can imagine going after each other on the first occasion. I guess Sarah is just floating in the middle at the moment, and this is where she can be dangerous. Her best bet right now is to just go with the flow of the tribe, though.
  • Sophie Clarke: I wasn’t sure if Sophie would manage to make connections easily, but she did, and what connections! Form an alliance with Yul! Who doesn’t dream of that? With the help of Nick and Wendell, they can really take control of the game, and I think that they have just started.
  • Tony Vlachos: He was hilarious, being on “house arrest”, you could see him having a harder and harder time resisting running around all over the island looking for idols. I’m wondering though, are there any hidden immunity idols at the moment? Will getting them from people on the Edge of Extinction be the only way to get them? I may like that. As I mentioned before (about Ben and Dean last season), having hidden immunity idols is not a strategy, it’s finding stuff. Tony understood that if he doesn’t want to be targeted early like in Game Changers, he really needs to make connections first and cut down the running around, spy shacks and whatnot a little. It’s working so far. I also liked the conversation with Sandra about whether they were going to target each other or not and acted like they were not sure if there was some bad blood between them or not, while in reality, they left on a trip together, with the other Game Changers pre-merge losers and they became very good friends then. Way to play it for the cameras, people.
  • Tyson Apostol: Oh no! Tyson almost got voted out. He seems to have made the mistake of being too cliquy with Amber and Kim, I’m not sure. In any case, he bounced back pretty well. He knew that he had to kill this alliance quickly or else, he’d be on the chopping block. Not sure what he’s going to do from there, but I can seem him working with whoever as long as he’s not being targeted. Also, it should be noted that he had a very positive edit: talking about his kids with Amber and Sarah and sounding like he had prepared his kids for his leaving much better than they did, followed by the “dad confessional” as well as the “I’m in survival mode” confessional. 
  • Wendell Holland also had a very positive edit, although he wasn’t shown too much in the strategizing part of the show if I remember correctly. Still, we see him bonding with a bunch of people, getting brought in the dominant alliance, and there is no way he’s seen as a threat before long. All is well for Wendell at the moment. Interestingly he doesn’t want to “build things”, but him building things is actually helping him make friends at the moment. 
  • Yul Kwon: I wasn’t sure if Yul was going to “adapt” to the current way of playing Survivor. I was just forgetting that he’s probably the most intelligent and analytic person to ever play this game. And he showed that to us quickly. He doesn’t know many people and doesn’t have pregame connections with other players, so instead, he studied those connections and saw how he could use them to his advantage, and soon enough, he’s at the head of the dominant alliance in his tribe, and calling the shots for the first vote. Also, a very positive edit, but how could he not have a very positive edit. Is there anything negative about this man?



“Warrior” of the Week

I started this little thing during Blood Vs Water, with the “don’t let that fool you” award. Every week, I give an award to the “impact player” of the week, the player who made the biggest difference, the biggest move, who affected the game the most that week. Note that it can be a positive or a negative (orchestrate a blindside or on the other hand royally screw up his game or his alliance’s). As there were two votes this week, I’m going to award two Warrior awards!

  • The first one goes to Adam. He went from being the possible first boot of the season to not only managing to stop being targeted but more important orchestrating that first boot. It’s a shame that the edit didn’t give him enough credit, and seemed to imply that Rob and Parvati had more to do with that boot than they actually did. Make no mistakes, they were followers on that vote, not leaders.
  • The second “warrior award” this week goes to Yul. He could easily have been isolated in his tribe, or take the backseat and let the big ego dictate the game, but no, he took the bull by the horns, and created his own alliance and decided how things are going in his tribe for the time being.


Winner Pick

It’s always a difficult one, especially this early in the game. My pregame picks were Tyson and Denise. I may not be totally objective concerning Tyson because I’m a big fan, but he’s a much bigger threat than most people think. I thought Denise could easily manage to stay in the middle and navigate her way to the end. However, Denise’s earlier blunder makes me less sure. She did recover nicely though.
Tyson seems in a hot spot right now, but his very positive edit makes me think he will stick around a while. He’s still near the top for me.
Edit-wise, Wendell also had a very positive edit, more than he “needed” to. Danni and Ethan too could be contenders, just from the edit.


Next Person Voted Out

Hard to tell right now.

  • If Sele goes to tribal council, it seems that trouble could happen between Adam, Denise, and Ben (“see next time on Survivor”) and that could be related to the upcoming vote. I’m also interested to know why Michele was left out of the previous vote, but she’s not really a threat right now.
  • If Dakal goes to tribal it’s also a bit muddy at the moment, but a feud between Tony and Tyson could be starting, and one of them could be out.


Next Time on Survivor

Something strange is brewing. Adam and Denise are worried that Ben knows something. What is it? That Ben is the target for the vote? That Adam and Denise found an advantage? Hard to guess, as it seems to be a completely new storyline, not something that started episode one.

Of course, Rob is mad that Amber got voted out. He rightly suspects Sandra. It will be war. But this will not play out until at least a swap.

In Dakal not strategy talk, just Tony slowly escaping his “house arrest”.

This preview could imply that Sele will go to tribal, as this is where the strategy talk is happening, but come on, we all know how deceptive these previews are, and not enough has happened on the islands yet to have a clear guess of what will happen next week.


More reading

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