Survivor Winners at War: How Michele Fitzgerald 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. /

Entering Survivor: Winners at War knowing the doubters exist in the discourse, Michele Fitzgerald will use being underestimated to fuel a potential second win.

If you are a modern Survivor fan or have generally been watching the show for the past five years, you will have an opinion or take (cold or hot) about Kaoh Rong. Here and there, we’ve discussed the events that took place, the problems the editors have with showcasing social winners, and just how certain immovable members of the jury were no matter what.

The person who has to find it the most grating is Michele Fitzgerald, the actual winner, forever and ever, of Survivor: Kaoh Rong, as so much of the show has changed forever thanks to certain members of production being completely dumbfounded by the fact that players in the modern era can win without making big movez. Without a shred of irony, Michele is one of the biggest game-changers in Survivor history.

She entered the game as a member of the Beauty tribe, as this was the second of two seasons divided by Brains, Beauty, and Brawn. What separates her from most of the other winners (and certainly the female winners) is that she was a pivotal member of strong tribes, staying out of voting eligibility more than any other female winner by having just four Tribal Councils vulnerable.

Without having to go to Tribal Council until Day 22, she spent the early portions of the game establishing deep bonds with members of her tribe, including those from opposing tribes. Michele’s social game is so impeccable that in the heat of one of the harshest seasons ever played, with three medical evacuations by the end, she was able to make friends easily (despite the harsh living environments).

It’s not like she snuck into the endgame as a winner candidate; second-place Aubry Bracco noted as much that Michele was well-liked by the jury several eliminations before it was too late. Before then, Michele had ingratiated herself with two sides, working with the Brawn members until Scot’s elimination and, later, regrettably voting out her closest ally, Julia, to get better in with the remaining women.

That move proved to be crucial to Michele’s game, as Tai had burned a bridge with what would be a majority of the jury. It allowed Michele to focus on maintaining relationships with those who would eventually crown the winner while earning two individual immunities (including the Final Immunity Challenge) and a Day 38 power to remove a member of the jury, kicking Aubry vote Neal Gottlieb from voting duties.

Though Aubry had shown to have a roller coaster of a character-developing journey in Survivor: Kaoh Rong, Michele had the hearts and minds of the jury in her favor. She had managed to purposefully avoid getting blood on her hands while those who made it to the end of the game made unforced errors one after another. Michele’s 5-2 win over Aubry, and Tai came in a season defined by medical evacuations, cartoonish villains, and unforgiving terrain.

The problem with just how well Michele was liked by the jury is that we rarely saw the game through Michele’s perspective. We more than heard from Michele in the pre-merge despite never going to Tribal Council until Day 22, but she wasn’t the narrator of the story. She served as a friend, mentor, confidant, and ally to others; the perfect kind of makeup for winning a jury composed of by friends.

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In all honesty, it is keeping it simple within that frame of mind that I find Michele one of the strongest candidates to take down the crown of Ultimate Sole Survivor in Winners at War. As noted in her ET Canada video, she has firsthand experience boiling down how there is no definitive winner game, and that the ultimate focus is to be liked and respected more than others by the people who you help vote out.

Michele’s season heaped super powerful advantages such as the two-idol-forming Super Idol, yet nobody played a Hidden Immunity Idol all season. She also has the least amount of Tribal Council experience heading into the game, as well as no experience of heading there in the tribal phase. Though she knows how to align herself with great people and charm the pants off of anybody, she does have some blind spots to her social game.

To her credit, Michele has a small target heading into the game. All-star seasons typically see the big players and more impressive castaways targeted early, while those who play the middle or both sides thrive thanks to their social game and general levels of trust, and Michele has no qualms about advancing her own game with shields in front of her.

On here Sele tribe, I can imagine the duos of Boston Rob vs. Ethan, Jeremy plus Natalie as a San Juan del Sur duo, and the general threat level of Parvati Shallow setting in as means for Michele to pick and choose her side and ride it strong. She’s the kind of player you can count on to prove loyal, and as the game goes on, prepare to make a series of small moves that pile up into a winning resume.

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To paraphrase The Office, the kind of winner a fan should look for heading into an all-star season like Winners at War is someone who you’d medium expect to win. Despite the Edge of Extinction in play, fire tokens making life easier for all, and a bunch of gameplay twists that turn the show into a lottery, Michele’s game would come by making the fewest enemies in a season rushing through as many eliminations as possible with some of the game’s biggest egos.