Can Survivor: Winners at War be as good as Heroes vs. Villains?

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Survivor: Winners at War is under two weeks away and is giving fans similar vibes to the spectacular all-returnee season 10 years earlier. How will season 40 compare to Heroes vs. Villains?

Survivor seasons featuring returning players have been a hit or miss over the years, but there has been one season that stands above the rest. Viewed by many as the greatest season in Survivor history, Heroes vs. Villains gave the series the 10th year anniversary special that everyone needed to see.

There hasn’t been a returning players season quite like it since, but that could change as the 20th year anniversary special is on its way in the form of an all-winners season. On paper, Winners at War is shaping up to be an unforgettable masterpiece, but could it actually deliver as a top three outing after two shaky seasons in a row? Here’s a breakdown of what worked well in Heroes vs. Villains and how we think Winners at War will compare.

Unique and dynamic personalities

One area that old school Survivor excelled at was presenting viewers with larger than life characters. Heroes vs. Villains felt like the culmination of all these icons from the first twenty seasons. Not only did the Final Three include Russell, Parvati and Sandra, but this group of players were filled with other big personalities including Rupert, J.T., Coach, Amanda, Courtney, Boston Rob, Tyson and more. This loaded cast made every second enjoyable to watch, even pre-merge.

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Can season 40 match these characters? It does help that four of those names mentioned above are returning. However, besides Tony, it’s hard for me to say at this point that any of the other winners are going to match up with the Heroes vs. Villains cast personality-wise. There are several castaways that could potentially step into that role, but times have changed as most players are focused on lowering their profile and playing a more strategic game. I’m sure the winners’ personalities will shine through, but don’t expect the epic clashes we saw in Heroes vs. Villains.

Thrilling rivalry between tribes

Every Immunity Challenge in season 20 was exciting to watch because we got the chance to see these colorful cast of characters physically compete with each other, especially with all of the duel challenges. The original tribal dynamics were so fun to watch that there wasn’t even a tribe swap. There didn’t need to be! That intense rivalry built up to one of the best merge episodes ever, and it set the stage for the rest of the season.

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Can season 40 create similar tribal dynamics? Twists have become far more prevalent in the past ten years, and we can expect that to continue in Winners at War. I would be surprised if there would be anything less than two swaps. That doesn’t negate the potential of having competitive tribal rivalries but it does reduce the intensity. With allegiances constantly shifting, the focus will be on strategy and less on the dynamics between the two or three tribes.

Big moves and revolutionary gameplay

Beyond the big personalities and rivalry between the two tribes, Heroes vs. Villains showcased some of the most shocking blindsides and innovative gameplay. Thanks to Russell and Parvati, we got to see the Hidden Immunity Idol used in a whole new light. From playing idols for close allies, to using two idols at the same Tribal Council in order to keep an alliance in the majority, to even using an idol to lull someone into a false sense of security. Heroes vs. Villains changed the strategy behind Survivor forever.

Can Season 40 produce just as revolutionary gameplay? This is the one area where I think Winners at War has the potential to match. This all-winners cast consists of several players who have already evolved the game in the past, including Parvati, Jeremy, Yul and Boston Rob. We have never seen a season with this many strategic and social masterminds. There are no stereotypical goats in this group as well, which will elevate the overall level of gameplay.

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It just might be that no new season will ever be able to hold a candle to Heroes vs. Villains. We have to keep in mind that the game of Survivor has evolved immeasurably since season 20. As tempting as it is to compare, we have to come into Winners at War acknowledging that the pace and style of the game will be drastically different from Heroes vs. Villains. That said, with a full cast of winners that includes several Survivor legends, we’re still in for a special treat.