Twenty years and 40 seasons of Survivor have led to this iconic moment: who is the winner of winners? Survivor: Winners at War was a great experience to see what happens when the iconic winners of the series (in some cases, the best of the best) came together to battle it out for a $2 million prize. They’ve all watched the tapes, they know each other’s strategies and they’ve learned from the mistakes of the past. Survivor: Winners at War was ultimately an enjoyable thrill ride, albeit frustrating at times. But, did the finale end the season on a high note?
For a three-hour finale, the season delivered plenty of strategic moves and emotional moments to tug at the heartstrings. Due to the current health crisis, Survivor removed the traditional reunion in favor of showcasing more footage from the finale. This decision worked to enhance the season finale, but it also hindered it from creating fanfare around the reveal. While we got more scenes of the players strategizing and the jury questioning, we lost out on the anticipation of the crowd cheering on their favorites or having the players themselves shed light on what happened during the season.
Reunions are an essential part of any reality TV show because the players unwind and unload any burning thoughts they had after watching the season play out. There were many plots that would’ve been great to be discussed and get more background on. Like, did Michele and Wendell’s past relationship hinder any chance of them working together? Why did no one vote out Tony? Why did no one vote for Michele at the end? Why did all the old school castaways get voted out first? How did they feel about Sandra leaving Edge of Extinction first? This season was a special case, but Survivor should make sure next year brings back a proper finale and reunion.
Speaking of Edge of Extinction, Natalie was a great choice for being the player who returned. Her story arc captured the feeling of being the unlucky person who got voted out who then hustled and fought their way back into the game. Sure, many of the others shared a similar story, but Natalie won the most EOE challenges, had the most fire tokens, and she affected the in-game more than anyone else due to the twists she unleashed on the island. No one could plan who returned into the game, but Survivor: Winners at War was lucky that their returnees this year were Tyson and Natalie. And that her fight back into the game wasn’t easy, even with all the advantages she bought, the challenge was an extremely tight race. This is the type of heart-pounding challenge that is great about Survivor!
It’s quite surprising that the castaways didn’t think that Natalie had a hidden immunity idol. Both Rick and Chris brought idols with them back from Survivor: Edge of Extinction and Tyson bought an idol too when he returned. That fact should’ve been a given. Here is where Tony showcased his strategic prowess because he wasn’t going to let a risky move eliminate him from the game. Natalie and Michele’s votes landed on Ben, but there was no guessing where it could’ve gone. Turning the vote on Denise was a smart move because she didn’t expect it and ended up being the fodder for this great play.
Ben, on the other hand, made a terrible move when he offered to be voted out at Top 5. While he wanted to make a noble decision by helping Sarah advance in the game, he actually hurt her chances even more. Don’t get me wrong, Ben had no chance to win Survivor: Winners at War. He didn’t have the jury votes and he knew this. The problem, however, is that if he, Tony, and Sarah voted together to eliminate Michele, he would’ve still been in the game to either carry Sarah to the Final 3 or he could’ve volunteered himself to create the fire against Tony. By getting voted out, he put Sarah at a disadvantage and forced her to create fire. Ben cemented his place as the worst Survivor winner ever. He made terrible strategic plays, he spilled secrets that stopped great moves, and he got easily swayed. And worst of all, he gave up a shot to win $2 million! Ben should never be invited back.
Sarah getting eliminated in the fire-making challenge was a shame since she played a great game. If this were the old format, Tony would’ve been voted out when the three women banded together, so we lost out on a great strategic move and the chance of having a female winner since Survivor: Game Changers. There’s nothing that could’ve saved Sarah from competing in the challenge. Natalie wanted to save Michele and it was as simple as that. Ever since the twist was first revealed during Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, I’ve stood my ground that it’s a terrible twist. That stance hasn’t changed after this season. As much as Tony is a great winner, that fire-making challenge is ruining the game and stopping strategic gameplay.
During the final 3 portion, Tony did the best in explaining his strategic plans, his gameplay style, and the moves he made all season. He spoke calmly, deflected any shade thrown his way, and he steered the conversation in the direction he wanted. Plus, he had a light-hearted report with the jury, even getting them to laugh at points. Natalie, on the other hand, fumbled at times and didn’t showcase the true strength of her game. She had a tougher hill to fight in getting votes, especially since she was the first person voted out. While Chris benefited from the twist the first time around on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, Natalie wasn’t working with newbies here and she didn’t have as strong of an endgame as he did. Natalie should have reinforced her gameplay all season and the strategic moves she made back on EOE.
Michele getting no jury votes at the end is a surprising outcome because she did play a great game. Even though she wasn’t the one who steered most of the strategy sessions, she did make strong moves and impact the season. Plus, her social game was one of the best since it brought her to the final yet again – she’s the only Survivor winner in history to ever make the finals in both of her seasons without ever being voted out and it’s a fact she should’ve discussed. Michele had the capabilities to make it far and win Survivor.
Tony being the winner of Survivor: Winners at War was a great outcome because he did outwit, outplay, and outlast the competition. Tony controlled many of the Tribal Council votes, he won many challenges, and he created strong alliances who never wanted to vote him out. If he ever heard someone trying to get him out, he quickly turned the vote against them (looking at you, Kim!). His spy shack was ridiculous, but it worked out in his favor at the end. He found hidden immunity idols and he narrowly avoided the curse of the extortion twist. Tony delivered a great season and he earned his place as one of the legends of Survivor.
Survivor: Winners at War marked an amazing end for this chapter in Survivor’s legacy. Forty seasons reached a thrilling climax to complete a story that started back in 2000. All the past betrayals, challenges, and seasons shaped the narrative in a positive way. While the winners made questionable moves and played like newbies at times in the first half, the second half kicked up the momentum and made each week better than the last. Survivor: Winners at War is somewhere in the high middle of the 40 seasons ranking.