Time for the Super Bowl of the Super Bowl of Survivor seasons: the season finale of Survivor: Winners at War. What else needs to be said? Let’s get right to it!
Day 35: The Edge Encore
After Jeff’s introduction from the garage, the Edge of Extinction return challenge begins. Navigating a rope maze, creating a rope bridge to cross, and then finishing a table maze is the mission for 14 players to return to the game. Players with one advantage skip the first portion of the challenge, and Natalie with two additional advantages can skip the dig and has one third of her rope bridge already completed.
Natalie has a huge roadblog struggling on her first section of the challenge, which allows Wendell, Rob, and Sophie to catch up. Parvati and Yul then leap frog Rob and Sophie when they get through the dig, and then Tyson joins those seven as Wendell grabs the lead over a struggling Natalie. She though she was good but messed up again by having one rope down. Wendell is the first person to the table maze. Wendell, Natalie, and Tyson succeed on getting their first ball in the maze. Just as when it looks like Wendell is about to win, he drops his second ball. That opens the door for Natalie to seal the win, ending the game for Amber, Danni, Ethan, Rob, Parvati, Yul, Wendell, Adam, Tyson, Sophie, Kim, Jeremy, and Nick.
Kim, Tyson, Amber, Rob, Parvati, and Ethan open up about their respective Survivor journeys. For many of these players, it feels like the end of the road. But every great story needs a great ending and as much as I am not a fan of the Edge of Extinction, I am a fan of these players and I respect them all so much for what they have accomplished these last 20 years. Even Tony is moved, but it’s just like Tony to shift this finale back into game mode.
Day 36: Casa Koru
Natalie wastes no time making waves in the Koru beach, talking about how Tony is the Jury favorite. That was an interesting decision to mention that to everyone, including Tony. Tony and Sarah try to figure out what Natalie is trying to accomplish, and Sarah tells Tony that she feels Cops R Us in an equal partnership. While Sarah is considering what the Jury perception is of her, she feels confident in her ability to argue her case against Tony. Sarah still seems to be holding on to this idea that there is honor in taking the best to the end. There may be, but there’s even more honor in winning Survivor. Might as well give yourself the best chance to do so. Sarah also wonders if this more favorable perception is because he is a man and she is a woman. A legitimate concern when you’re the most recent woman to win Survivor…six seasons ago.
Day 36 Immunity Challenge
Retrieving bags through an obstacle course and taking them up the stairs to the puzzle station one at a time to then complete a three-tiered puzzle is the challenge today.
As Jeff Probst mentioned, Michele completed this challenge to earn a vital immunity win in Kaoh Rong but everyone else gets to the puzzle first in this grueling test of endurance and stamina that culminates with a three-tiered puzzle. Michele is the first to complete the first tier, followed by Natalie and Sarah. Michele is also the first to finish the second. Everyone else tries to copy her strategy, but it’s all for naught as Michele wins the challenge and echoes her celebration of the last time she won this challenge by kicking the puzzle down.
Fight or Flight
Is it better to address or ignore a problem? Tony prefers the former option. Tony tries to set up a 2–2 split between Natalie and Denise to play it safe, but Ben isn’t willing to let Denise go like that. Natalie and Michele have a discussion and realize they’ve cracked the code: Michele has immunity and Natalie has an idol. But then Michele alerts Tony about Natalie’s intention (possibly to flush Tony’s idol? Otherwise I don’t understand this move). Tony tries to convince Ben and Sarah that Natalie has an idol but neither are willing to fathom the possibility. Sarah believes she has a bond strong enough with Natalie after one whole day where Natalie would’ve told her. I get Sarah is a strong social player, but what would Natalie gain from telling anyone besides Michele she has an idol? If Ben, Natalie, and Tony all play their idols, either Denise or Sarah will be voted out. Not quite the Cirie “Advantage Geddon” of Game Changers, but pretty darn close.
Tribal Council Day 37
The dynamics that change when Natalie comes back into the game is discussed. Natalie reiterates that Tony is the jury’s favorite to win the game, and Sarah brings up gender bias. Because of the backlash she got from Game Changers for winning in a strategic and cutthroat, she felt like she was a bad person but now she realizes she doesn’t have to apologize for that. Ben and Tony acknowledge this as does Jeff Probst, admitting to the gender bias he has somewhat contributed to with his language use as the show’s host. Then the pecking order is re-established according to her perspective:: Natalie and Michele being clearly on the bottom.
Natalie starts things off by playing her idol, then Tony plays his just to be safe, and Ben follows suit. The Denise vs Sarah situation plays out. 4 votes for Natalie and 2 votes for Ben are negated. This is just the second time in history where 0 votes count. This forces a revote, and since only two eligible options remain, the tiebreaker would be a firemaking challenge. This was a scenario fans anticipated the answer for, and even though it doesn’t play out that way, it’s helpful to know for the future.
The revote comes out with all 4 votes to Denise, making it so Denise is voted out for the first time in her Survivor career after 26 Tribal Councils. It was a rather quiet appearance for Denise in this finale with no confessionals. While I enjoyed the finale, that’s not cool to give someone that edit in the finale.
4 votes Natalie (Ben, Denise, Sarah, Tony)
2 votes Ben (Michele, Natalie)
4 votes Denise (Ben, Michele, Natalie, Tony)
Into the Jungle
Tony talks to Ben about his frustrations with Ben and Sarah for not believing him about the Natalie idol situation. Tony tries to get the jump on everyone looking for idols at night, but comes up short. The sun comes up and everyone joins the search. This could literally be someone’s life in the game, and so it appears to be with Natalie finding the idol. This all but confirms that for the second time in two seasons, the second Edge of Extinction returning player will be making it to the Final 4. Natalie is an awesome player, but please…no more Edge of Extinction. Natalie earned that idol, but it appears too easy for someone coming from an Edge/Jury situation to come in at the Final 6, gain momentum, and steamroll their way to a potential win.
Day 37 Immunity Challenge
The challenge is to retrieve a key from a balance beam and navigate an obstacle course, with a sandbag throwing competition serving as the final stage.
Natalie takes the early lead followed by Ben. But when it comes to the sandbag section, Ben is the first to land a sandbag. Ben came close to winning but just missed, with Tony landing his first. Ben and Tony continue to narrowly misfire. It eventually goes Tony’s way as he wins his fourth immunity challenge. Ben’s immunity challenge woes continue, having come very close several times but still having no career immunity wins.
A 50/50 Shot
With Natalie in possession of an idol, the trio of Ben, Sarah, and Tony have to decide which of Michele and Natalie to target and risk an idol play blowing up in their face and sending Ben or Sarah to the jury. Natalie’s plan is to flip Sarah against Ben. Tony suggests to Sarah that he goes up into his spy nest. Perched in that nest, Tony sees Natalie reveal her idol to Sarah as they discuss voting out Ben. Tony is considering flipping the vote to Michele, while Michele asks Natalie to consider playing the idol on Michele. Then Ben shocks Sarah, and likely everyone watching, by offering himself up as a split vote. Ben and Sarah both get emotional and Ben feels this will help Sarah have a better chance of winning since she won’t have to worry about protecting Ben this vote. Sarah knows she needs to make a move without Tony, but is this the move? I feel like that ship might’ve already sailed. As for Ben, just…why?! You are in the final 5 of Winners at War! Why would you throw away your shot at $2 million? And no, friendship is not an acceptable answer (it sounds more heartless than I intend to be, hopefully).
Tribal Council Day 37
Rather than open with a question, Jeff Probst drives the discussion for a few moments (being corrected to call Sarah “Lacina” once again in the process, and from now on I’ll sprinkle Lacina into the places I use Sarah) which leads to the topic of personal growth this season. Tony mentions how the audience focuses on the blindsides and strategies and forgets how hard it is to vote someone out. Michele feels this situation is hard for a different reason having been an outsider for the last few votes.
With some doubt, Natalie ultimately plays her idol for herself. The votes come out and it appears Lacina took Ben up on his offer and voted him out. That leaves Michele, Natalie, Sarah, and Tony in the final 4. Just one round short of the firemaking challenge which Ben won en route to his victory in Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers.
3 votes Ben (Michele, Natalie, Sarah)
2 votes Michele (Ben, Tony)
Day 38 Immunity Challenge
The final immunity challenge is a Survivor classic: with one hand tied behind your back, putting balls into a chute which will eventually release the ball. The players must keep putting the ball back and catching it, eventually adding more into the mix.
Jeff Probst offers some interesting statistics: Michele is the only person in this final four to win the final immunity challenge on their winning season (Jaclyn won in Natalie’s case, Woo in Tony’s, and Brad in Sarah’s) but every player who won this challenge when it occurred as the final immunity challenge has won their season (JT, Jeremy, and Nick)
Tony is the first person out with 3 balls in play. Lacina drops in the transition from 3 to 4 balls. This leads to a showdown between Michele and Natalie as a good save by Natalie keeps this challenge going to 5 balls in play. Natalie continues to barely stay in the challenge, but despite controlling the ball spacing for most of the challenge, Michele drops and Natalie wins her way into the final 3 with this crucial immunity. Two of Lacina, Michele, and Tony will face off in a firemaking challenge, and surely this leads to a Cops R Us showdown.
Trial By Fire
Tony and Sarah go off together to practice fire while Michele is practicing alone. Tony appears to be struggling the most with Michele having some success. Natalie contemplates two options: Tony vs Sarah or Tony vs Michele. With Sarah and Michele confident in their abilities, Tony simply has confidence that he can find a way to get to the end no matter what.
Sophie’s absence at Tribal is noted by Jeff Probst, reporting she isn’t feeling well. Tony doesn’t have a preference to who he faces, while both Sarah and Michele prefer to go up against Tony: Sarah because of her friendship with Tony and Michele in order to eliminate her biggest threat.
Natalie brings Michele to the final 3 which leaves one spot for Sarah and Tony. Having played 3 seasons together in Cagayan, Game Changers, and now Winners at War, this is the end of the line for this Cop Buddy Trilogy as active players in the game.
Tony is the first to get a flame, but Sarah is right behind. Both steadily build their flames with husk and sticks. Sarah’s flame reaches the rope first, with Tony’s diminishing, but Sarah’s dies down. Michele and Natalie continue to coach Sarah, but now Tony gains momentum. Sarah starts to catch up again. Tony’s rope breaks first, sending Sarah to the jury and creating an all New Jersey Final 3 of Michele, Natalie, and Tony. Sarah and Tony have an emotional hug goodbye before Lacina’s torch is snuffed. She offers some final words of encouragement to her ally on the way out.
Day 39: Mission Accomplished
The goal of every player is to win and making it to Day 39 is essential to that goal. Michele, Natalie (albeit in a roundabout path), and Tony have now each accomplished this twice. Michele feels ready to move on from the backlash she got from her win in Kaoh Rong, Natalie feels that she made the best out of the hand that was dealt to her, and Tony relishes the opportunity to prove he’s one of the best players.
Yul shakes off his stage fright to offer his congratulations to Natalie, Tony, and Michele. Denise asks about their missteps. Natalie talks about not reaching out to people more, Michele mentioned the success of one on one alliances but not building that up into stronger alliances, and Tony talked about becoming more vulnerable. Nick talks about Tony’s willingness to make bonds just to cut them loose, and Jeremy echoes that. Tony assures them both his friendships were real but he couldn’t take them much further. Ben tries to defend Tony while Natalie feels like Tony’s statement is false. Adam wonders what else Natalie did besides win her way back in. Rob also questions why Natalie isolated herself from others in the days leading up to the return challenge. Natalie explains she painted Tony as a target to shift the focus away from her, and that she tried to get to know people and be herself. Parvati commended Natalie for being unapologetic in her pursuit for success. Rob and Parvati ask Tony how he succeeded in playing so well and not getting targeted this season, and Adam correctly guesses he used a Spy Nest. Wendell commends Natalie and Tony for their games and then asks Michele about her “outwit” game. Michele said that she fought from the bottom and did everything she could to stay in. Ben commends Michele on a good job from one controversial winner to another.
Wendell asks Natalie to list everything she found on the Edge of Extinction: the idol to Sandra, safety without power to Jeremy, vote steal to Sarah, extortion to Tony, and the challenge disadvantage Nick. Ben talks about immunity challenges, and with Tony and Michele’s successes. Tony wanted to give it his all, while Michele knew that staying around one more day could be the difference. Rob asks Natalie why she didn’t face Tony in firemaking. Natalie wanted to finish off the alliance rather than put her fate in their hand. Ethan asks Tony and Michele about the edge’s role in their game. Tony joked about the extortion and Natalie return, while Michele commended the edge for pushing her forward such as through fire tokens and Natalie’s return.
Natalie’s main points: adapting and moving on even when given a bad hand. She knows she had to play a perfect game to echo Chris’s accomplishments in Edge of Extinction but she’s proud of her game.
Michele’s main points: from 6 tribal council visits to 15 this season, she played to her strengths and she fought as hard as possible.
Tony’s main points: He played Survivor twice: once at day, once at night. Looking for idols at night to keep his target low. He escaped many challenges and obstacles.
The jury then congratulates all three finalists on their respective games and journeys. I hope fans remember that because Survivor is not black and white. Even though only one person can be crowned the winner, getting to the end remains a respected accomplishment.
Note: Tyson, Sophie, Kim, Sarah did not speak during this Final Tribal Council segment
The jury must now vote: Boston Rob says Natalie played nearly perfectly, but because of that nearly, he gives it to Tony. Parvati is proud of Natalie’s accomplishments and gives her a vote, and Tyson is seen writing Natalie’s name down. Nick talks about how hard it is to be on the outs (possibly a vote for Michele?), and Ben votes for his close ally Tony.
The scene shifts to Jeff Probst’s garage and his internet feed with Natalie, Michele, and Tony also on screen from their respective homes. Tony signals his wife and kids, Michele and her sister, and Natalie and her boyfriend join the screen. Then Jeff utters a phrase we won’t easily forget:
“For the first time ever, I’ll read the votes, from my garage”
By a 12–4–0 vote, Tony defeats Natalie and Michele to win Survivor: Winners at War.
Tony talks briefly about how much this money means to his family to help them be financially secure during this uncertain time. Jeff Probst addresses the uncertainty surrounding season 41 while encouraging applicants and bids on the Survivor Auction for charity.
It wasn’t quite the ending I or anyone imagined when this season began, but it was a battle and one with a deserving victory. Congratulations, Tony!
12 votes Tony (Adam, Amber, Ben, Danni, Denise, Kim, Nick, Rob, Sarah, Sophie, Wendell, Yul)
4 votes Natalie (Ethan, Jeremy, Parvati, Tyson)
Michele is the only winner in this cast to have never been voted out by making it to the end twice without needing a detour through Edge of Extinction. Tony was voted out for the only time in his Survivor career on Survivor: Game Changers.
Jeremy and Sarah became the second and third players to vote for the same player (Natalie and Tony respectively) to win twice. The first to do so was Rupert voting for Sandra to win in both Pearl Islands and Heroes vs Villains. The inverse of this stat first occurred in Australian Survivor: All Stars where Shonee Fairfax did not vote for Sharn Coombes to win on either of the two opportunities she had.
Parvati and Ethan became the fourth and fifth players to vote for someone to win who they had previously successfully voted out. The first was Tijuana Bradley who voted for Lillian Morris in Pearl Islands, and the second and third were David Wright and Dan “Wardog” DaSilva who voted for Chris Underwood in Edge of Extinction.
Final Selected Stats
20th place Sandra: 1 vote received, 2 targets taken out, 1 idol obtained. 2 wins in 4 seasons, made merge 2/4 seasons
19th place Amber: 6 votes received, 0 targets taken out, made merge 2/3 seasons
18th place Danni: 8 votes received, 1 target taken out, made merge 1/2 seasons
17th place Ethan: 4 votes received, 2 targets taken out, made merge 1/3 seasons
16th place Rob: 3 votes received, 2 targets taken out, made merge 3/5 seasons
15th place Parvati: 5 votes received, 2 targets taken out, 1 advantage obtained, made merge 3/4 seasons
14th place Yul: 3 votes received, 3 targets taken out, made merge 1/2 seasons
13th place Wendell: 12 votes received, 4 targets taken out
12th place Adam: 14 votes received, 4 targets taken out
11th place Tyson: 12 votes received, 3 targets taken out, 1 major challenge win, made merge 3/4 seasons
10th place Sophie: 6 votes received, 6 targets taken out, 1 idol found
9th place Kim: 9 votes received, 4 targets taken out, 1 idol found, 1 major challenge win
8th place Jeremy: 9 votes received, 6 targets taken out, 1 advantage received and played, 1 major challenge win, made merge 3/3 seasons
7th place Nick: 8 votes received, 10 targets taken out, 1 major challenge win, 1 advantage obtained and played
6th place Denise: 14 votes received, 8 targets taken out, 2 idols obtained, 2 played, 2 major challenge wins
5th place Ben: 7 votes received, 11 targets taken out, 1 idol found and played
4th place Sarah: 2 votes received, 11 targets taken out, 1 advantage obtained and played, made merge 3/3 times
3rd place Michele: 6 votes received, 8 targets taken out, 2 major challenge wins, 1 advantage obtained and played, made it to the end 2/2 times
Natalie: 11 votes against, 2 targets taken out, 1 idol purchased and found, 2 major challenge wins, 4 jury votes, made it to the end 2/2 times
Tony: 0 votes against, 10 targets taken out, 1 idol found and played, 4 major challenge wins, 1 firemaking win, won 2/3 times
Tony played one of, if not the most complete games of Survivor the show has ever seen. Not only did he fulfill the primary objectives of outwit, outplay, and outlast, but mastered other strategies too such as threat level management, voting blocs, and well-timed blindsides.
While Natalie and Michele could not muster the jury votes to defeat Tony, there is no shame in their defeats because this was a tumultuous season with many twists and turns. They navigated them well enough and they showed some doubters why they are capable players.
The saga of Cops-R-Us comes to an end as an incredible 3 season arc (albeit they hardly interacted in their second season since Tony was out early tha season). From allies to enemies to best friends, Survivor tests and creates powerful relationships like the one Sarah and Tony had.
The cast delivered. Maybe not strategically but entertainment wise they gave it their all. While there are some winners like Richard, Tina, Vecepia, Todd, Earl, and hot take: Fabio I would’ve loved to see again, I am content with the 20 winners we got. This cast carried the season. This season didn’t need Edge of Extinction or Fire Tokens and that gave the editors a challenge that could’ve sunk this season. But for me it stayed afloat. It’s not the best season ever, but it’s in the top half. Maybe top 10.
As the chapter closes for many of these players who likely will never play again, it feels like we as Survivor fans grew up along with them. I am such a different person now than I was when I started watching this show over a decade ago. These players changed and grew up as well. But just like any sport, the career can only last so long. Especially for those that have kids now, I think they are ready to look Survivor in the rear view mirror. Infinity War signaled the end of an era for those heroes, and while Winners at War could mark the end of an era for this generation of great players, surely there will be new players waiting to receive the torch they’ve passed.
What did you think of the reunion and finale? Did you like the outcome? Let me know your thoughts here, on Twitter @IvanOrnelas2, or on Instagram @ivanthewriter95. Thank you for reading.