If playing like a criminal is the key to success, then the progenitor of the strategy, Tony Vlachos, can pull it off again in Survivor: Winners at War.
Tony Vlachos is the kind of entertaining character who drives a season up until Day 38 before they’re inevitably voted out. Survivor: Cagayan was unlike most other seasons before it and after it, as the conniving mastermind running the show while spinning plates managed to keep all of them up in the air until Day 39. It’s a miracle that cannot be overstated and shouldn’t ever be underappreciated heading into Winners at War.
The first iteration of Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn took place in Cagayan, with Brawn being as dominant as the Brains were destructive. Despite the relative peace, Tony brought the chaos across the game’s first twelve days without a Tribal Council, building spy shacks to overhear others in the jungle, scouring the wilderness for (and finding) a Hidden Immunity Idol, lying about being a cop then later admitting to being one, forming a Cops-R-Us alliance with Sarah Lacina.
It was only when the tribes swapped that Tony was tested, as all but Sarah of the Brawn tribe swapped onto the purple Solana alongside Beauty’s Jefra and LJ while ally Sarah joined the remaining Brains and Beauty players on Aparri. Instead of keeping things simple, he maintained his working relationship with Trish by agreeing to keep LJ and target one of the Braun players, former NBA player Cliff, instead.
Not only was he making moves at Tribal Council, but he was also taking advantage of opportunities in ways machinated outside of the box. A Hidden Immunity Idol clue and a challenge reward for raiding the other tribe turned into an opportunity to turn a clue for his tribe into a target on Jeremiah’s back. He took two bonuses and turned it into a third, with a fourth bonus of sharing a lie with Woo to further their bond.
A chaotic merge would define Tony Vlachos’ winning Survivor play, as he was willing to cut out his formerly close ally, Sarah. He did this through his web of connections, with Trish being a point of contact for players like Kass and LJ. He was even willing to throw his idol on LJ (who reciprocated), showing loyalty to his group that would only wane when it worked in his favor.
The rest of Tony’s game would involve spinning plates across the aisle, as he would often bounce between targeting the minority and targeting a threat within his alliance, all while voting out the correct target every voting opportunity that he would in the post-merge. He would feel paranoid about losing control, taking out those like LJ and Trish while also spreading paranoia of his own to get his allies to do his bidding.
He used his influence and his “bag of tricks” to control his numbers, as he had a Tyler Perry Super Idol that allowed him to play it on himself after the votes were read in addition to finding a regular idol after using all of his Survivor Auction money to gamble for the rights to a clue. While Boston Rob won acting like a cult leader, Tony led his troops through to the end in a style that shouts, “they can’t possibly get all of us out at once!”
Bluffing his Super Idol’s effectiveness through to the Final Four, Tony only truly became vulnerable when it was revealed he would be preparing for a Final Two instead of a Final Three. By the grace of all things chaos, despite Woo having the opportunity to take Kass or Tony to the end, he took the player that controlled the votes and had more than Spencer’s designated “zero percent chance to win the game.”
Though the jury gave him hell for lying on his dead relatives, his badge, and his late father (especially in saying he had no regrets), Woo was given no respect for his Taw Kwon Do-style game, with many likening it to that of a follower. Tony Vlachos proved that chaos is a ladder, and he used his 8-1 victory to climb over Woo and earn the title of Sole Survivor.
What Tony needs to do to win Survivor: Winners at War is do as I just did in this passage; pretend that Game Changers didn’t happen. He’ll need to pretend like he didn’t hit the beach running off into the wilderness looking for idols as the first thing he did in a tribe with just one other former winner. He’ll need not to build spy bunkers, eavesdrop on his allies, plot against them, and get voted out second.
Though Tony still has a bag of tricks yet to reveal, his ET Canada video shows his potentially winning strategy for Winners at War; he’s going to take things as they come to him. He remarked about getting caught up in his thoughts about how the game would unfold and how he needs to lay back and adapt to the hand he’s dealt with, and that’s exactly what he needs.
Luckily, as much of a wildcard as he is, he’s on a tribe with his old Cops-R-Us ally and repeated target by the women, Sarah, one of the greatest winners of all time, Kim, the only current two-time winner, Sandra, the game’s newest winner, Nick, and one of the least connected, Yul. There are a ton of threats playing this game, and plenty of strong players like Tyson and Wendell required to skate through the early part of the game.
His Game Changers strategy of bonding with the big threats is the likeliest strategy to work in the early going, barring a ton of pre-merge tribe swaps. If he can work with the Sandras, Kims, Sarahs, and Yuls of the game (or others of that level of power), he’ll be able to target the likes of those who have a low threat level at this point.
The fact that he went out so early for playing so hard might finally be the wakeup call that Tony needs. Having gone through that tough loss might be enough to shake his head and get that lesson rattling early on, and I don’t doubt those kinds of players (especially the “anybody but me” Sandra) would be willing to let him take that leadership position among the threats to let him build his target down the line.
If there’s any player from the 20s who’s best adapted for Winners at War, it has to be Tony Vlachos. He bent every Survivor advantage in the rulebook to the extent that he could, including lying about the limits of his powers. With fire tokens, the Edge of Extinction, and a bunch of new advantages since his first season, Tony might have a whole toolbox (let alone a bag) of tricks.
It’s hard to say that Tony Vlachos is a favorite to win Survivor: Winners at War; there’s too much evidence pointing the other way. However, if he can find the right balance between his winning and losing games, knowing how well he can influence others with power, he could have a shot to make a deep run. All he needs is a bit of time to mellow out at the beginning.