Twenty years in the making has brought us to the landmark season of Survivor: Winners at War. All the blindsides, tribe swaps, Tribal Councils, idol plays, and successful/failed moves have filled the reality TV history books of this game-defining past. For many fans like myself, you’ve watched this series grow through the decades to become the modern season it is today. So, for 20 former Survivor winners to return once again to find out who is the best of the best – and fight it out over $2 million – this is the season of our dreams! But did the two-hour premiere, “Greatest of the Greats,” live up to our expectations?
Much of the season premiere for Survivor: Winners at War emphasized the history of these winning castaways and it was a narrative that was definitely needed since the earliest winner came from Season 3 (Survivor: Africa). Die-hard fans remembered the seasons and strategies. However, casual and newer fans needed the introduction. Not every winner got their flashback moment, but the main characters of the premiere received a narrative that explained how they won and how their past might prevent them from winning this time around. Sure, there are the iconic threats like Parvati, Boston Rob, and Sandra, but there were also the iconic legends who haven’t been seen in a while, like Yul or Kim. These segments helped to ground the legendary status and put everyone on an even playing field.
Returning for Survivor: Winners at War is the controversial (and nearly universally hated) Edge of Extinction twist. That twist broke the Survivor game and created a winner who spent less than 10 days actually playing the season (Chris did not return for this season). This time around, it’s the same concept, but it’s a mechanism to ensure that the winners get their screen time and provide the potential to have the bigger players return after being voted out. We’ll have to see how the twist develops, but the original Edge of Extinction halted momentum and took us away from getting to know the other castaways. The novelty wore off quickly back then and it started to this time around, so let’s hope there’s interesting gameplay on both fronts.
What is new for Survivor: Winners at War is the use of Survivor currency. When used effectively, the coins could make game-changing power moves that will shake things up. Sandra using her coin to buy the hidden immunity idol from Natalie was the best move possible; she’s a huge threat and will play it to cause chaos. The castaways would be foolish to use their coins to buy luxuries or to raise the Edge of Extinction flag once they’ve been voted out. After how Survivor: Edge of Extinction played out, just waiting it out for more power is the most beneficial move than anything else.
Survivor: Winners at War is an interesting concept because, even though these are all winners, we’ll soon find out the difference between who are the great players and who only had a great season. Sure, some castaways might get voted out early since this is a tough season filled with all threats; I don’t consider those instances, like Natalie’s blindside. It’s more like the difference between a Boston Rob/Parvati vs. someone like Ben/Amber.
Boston Rob, Parvati, Yul, Sandra, and many others jumped right into the game mode to make strategic moves that took the targets off them. You would think that the first opportunity would be to get out these legendary players! Instead, they seized control effortlessly to determine the eliminations at Tribal Council and they adapted.
Parvati successfully adapted her flirtatious strategy into being one about personality and being a new mom, Boston Rob instilled authority, Sandra spread information like it was no one’s business to move the target, Yul/Sophie pushed to band together the New School seasons, and so forth. The players have learned from their mistakes, watched the other seasons, and showcased why they’re great players in the first place.
In contrast to this were the other players who made reckless moves. Ben might have won Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, but he’s outmatched and outwitted against more strategic players. Boston Rob played Ben like a fiddle and got every piece of information he needed. Due to Ben’s mistake, he forced a situation that teamed Boston Rob and Dani up, essentially putting Ben on the bottom of the totem pole and making him an easy target for elimination. That’s not a blunder, that’s a mess! Ben should learn how to keep his secrets and not talk so much. If it weren’t for finding hidden immunity idols and the controversial fire-making challenge, Ben wouldn’t have won (but we’re not starting that debate again).
Another messy move was when Adam and Denise left their tribe to find water. Don’t get me wrong, the tribe needs their water and someone has to get it. However, you need to publicly state that you’re going to grab the water for the group and will need help. The others had no clue where they went and deduced they were forming a strong alliance together, which was a half-truth. In the early days of a Survivor season, you should never go off by yourself for any reason whatsoever, unless there is a large group going with you. Stick to the majority so that you can form alliances and not stand out. Adam and Denise nearly got the boot because their absence allowed the others to plot against them. I like Adam and Denise, but this was a rookie mistake.
Over at the Dakal tribe, their chaos came from all the strategizing and scheming. Before Survivor: Winners at War, Kim had legendary status due to her iconic performance during Survivor: One World. But, this new Kim retreated from the strong gameplay and tiptoed around the scheming of the other players. She might be a case of someone who only had a great season – she formed strong bonds and led her group then, but she’s not the strongest personality and leader this time. If Kim can’t wedge her way into a group, she could become expendable in the grand scheme. The same goes for Tyson who found himself on the outskirts of his tribe.
Speaking of Tyson, the premiere of Survivor: Winners at War highlighted the strategy of the arbitrary vote (i.e. voting someone out for a non-serious issue outside of gameplay). For instance, the Denise/Adam water run earlier and now the “poker alliance” that might’ve formed between Jeremy, Boston Rob, Tyson, and Kim. The alliance isn’t a thing, but the players’ narrative made it as such and used it to determine their targets. With everyone at threat status, we might be witnessing more of these arbitrary reasons that see players get the boot.
When it came to Natalie’s elimination, it was sad to see her go because she has the potential to win the season. If she had not been placed on the same tribe as Jeremy, I guarantee that Natalie would still be around. Her strong friendship with Jeremy was too dangerous to keep around, especially when the alliances are still so new. Her elimination, on the other hand, was a terrible move for Boston Rob! He had both Jeremy and Natalie guaranteed in his alliance; they planned to stick by him and the others to create the majority. By breaking them up instead of voting out Adam or Denise, he destroyed his connection to the pair and he united the New School players. Bad move, Boston Rob!
Regarding Amber’s elimination, she needed to stand out as her own player instead of being defined as Rob’s wife. Everyone knew of the danger keeping her around if the merge came, but she could’ve provided value to the others by being another vote to take out bigger threats. Based on the footage, Amber faded into the background to avoid being the target; instead, she needed to take control to form alliances and define her position. She benefitted tremendously by being the more likable one in a power duo on Survivor: All-Stars, but that subtle gameplay doesn’t work in a fast-paced season like this. Amber didn’t adapt her strategy for the New School mentality.
“Greatest of the Greats” brought together 20 strong players to deliver Survivor’s version of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (if you got that reference, kudos to you!). Some castaways thrived in the fast-paced setting while others faded to the background as the game played around them. For anyone who dreamed of seeing the greats compete against each other, the season premiere was a great start to the action that’s sure to come. The twist causes hesitation, but the potential is still strong enough at the moment to want more.