Survivor Winners at War: How Ben Driebergen can win a second time

Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Without a doubt, there will be players and fans questioning Ben Driebergen’s ability to win Survivor: Winners at War. It only fuels his chances of winning again.

If there’s something a vocal majority of Survivor superfans love to do, it’s project negative feelings towards twists, advantages, or storylines as produced by, you know, production, onto the players who benefitted in opposition to their feelings. That’s not to say Ben Driebergen doesn’t have detractors for other reasons, but man, do many people have a hard time separating the character from the reasons he won Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.

Those warped projections of production tomfoolery onto Ben dismiss the strengths of his character as a reality TV contestant, as there was a lot more to the majority of his gameplay outside of being handed an extra (albeit unfairly presented, in my opinion) opportunity to stay safe at the Final Four. In fact, his acting skills may even play into Winners at War if he can catch people unawares.

Ben Driebergen was the prototypical hero on the Heroes tribe, standing up early as the tribe’s leader alongside Chrissy Hofbeck. That came only after Katrina Radke’s Day 3 elimination, as the two recognized each others’ grasps on the game and sought to ally themselves and keep each other informed of the tribe’s actions.

Little would come on the Heroes tribe, as Ben was swapped onto the red Yawa tribe alongside just Lauren as an ally. With both two heroes and two hustlers down each after the first four Tribal Councils, Ben sought to embolden himself alongside Lauren to bring Dr. Mike onto his side, even though the Healers on the tribe outnumbered the others. It was the “showmance” of Cole and Jessica as a duo plus Cole’s greediness with camp food that tipped into his favor.

Ben’s only pre-merge Tribal Council was the first, as the merge came with five original Healers, four Healers, and three Hustlers. With Ben and Chrissy reunited, it only made sense for the duo to lead a majority alliance of the two combined minority tribes, pooling their contacts together. They referred to the group as The Round Table, expertly voting out Jessica at the merge since between her, Cole, and Joe, she was the least likely to have an idol or have one played on her.

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This let Ben and Chrissy lead the alliance to reverse-Pagong the Soko tribe for the following two votes before the Final Nine Reward Challenge, where Ben’s willingness to adapt and make an ingenious social engineering play took over. He joined Lauren, Devon, and Ashley to create a Final Four alliance, targeting JP in an epic blindside and flipping the script on Joe afterward.

To Ben’s credit, as good as his social game was, he couldn’t ever escape the fact he was a war hero openly struggling with PTSD (at times), being a shoo-in to win any season of Survivor even if judging by his charismatic social game alone. He enacted his pseudo spy shack ways to overhear him being targeted by his own alliance members at the Final Seven.

Here’s where Ben’s social and strategic games fell to the wayside, as he found and used a Hidden Immunity Idol found in three-straight rounds to make it to the Final Four. In any season prior, losing the Final Immunity Challenge would have meant Ben being remembered as one of the best Day 38 boots, but an “advantage” gifted to Chrissy at the Final Immunity Challenge meant the tribe couldn’t vote him out.

Chrissy chose Ryan to join her at the Final Tribal Council, Ben made a fire quicker than Devon, and the game of Survivor would change forever. It’s a chip squarely planted on Ben’s shoulder, as he talks about the “haters” in his ET Canada interview. He clearly wants to play a well-rounded game, especially if it means getting more fans to remember he was a good player before the Final Seven forced him down a path he didn’t want to take.

It’s interesting to see if he can massage the bigger egos of the game, as although he doesn’t have the biggest target on his back now, he will later. He even paints himself in the idea of a second in command like a Wendell, which shall be interesting considering Wendell is on this season. He’s in a sea of new-school players who know how to strategize, mitigate threat levels, and socialize well; he kind of sticks out for using the idols.

If anything, I do think that whenever the target comes back to Ben, he will have a harder time with winners trying to mitigate his ability to find those idols or advantages necessary should he have to keep himself safe. It’s not like sleeping on Sandra’s social skills for the second time; he will likely have everyone’s eyes on him.

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If Ben can form an allianced needed to take out the big threats early, become a warrior that shifts alliances while maintaining a core duo or trio throughout the game, there’s a chance Ben Driebergen can church things up in Winners at War. I, for one, would love to see him earn the “redemption” arc he shouldn’t have to necessitate in the first place.