As has been pointed out across numerous layers of the Survivor fandom, Winners at War has the potential to see another advantagegeddon.
Though Second Chances introduced what many Survivor fans regard as the “Advantage Era” of the show, perhaps the most concentrated personification of the modern game came in the Game Changers finale episode. At the Final Six, before the votes were read, Tai played an idol for himself and Aubry, which caused Sarah to play her Legacy Advantage and Troyzan to play his idol. Brad Culpepper won immunity, so by virtue of everyone else being immune, Cirie was eliminated by default.
It’s a moment where social dynamics, strategy, and general game awareness that make Survivor legends great players fell away, as one of the greatest players of all time was defeated in a season where she never received a vote from anybody else. More frustratingly, Jeff Probst et al. loved it as the defining moment of Game Changers in stark contrast to the fans’ reaction at large.
The “social experiment of tribal dynamics” became a facade, as the producers valued a scavenger hunt over the soul of what makes this show special. “Advantagegeddon” was a mistake to even be allowed to happen from a structural standpoint, yet we’re now looking down the barrel of a double-elimination episode of Survivor: Winners at War this week where that exact thing can happen once more.
Worse yet, it can happen to someone who’s proven capable of winning Survivor.
Right now, the Dakal tribe has five players; Tony Vlachos, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Denise Stapley, Kim Spradlin, and Jeremy Collins. Though it seems as though that a 3-2 vote would be in the cards based on tribe dynamics (whether there’s a vote flip between tribal lines or not), there’s a very real possibility that all of those players but Tony could find a way to use a power to protect themselves.
Should Dakal go to Tribal Council, it’s conceivable to see Jeremy Collins use his Safety Without Power advantage to send himself back to camp, forcing a four-person vote in his place. That would certainly put Denise in a tough spot where she has to use her Hidden Immunity Idol, to which that would likely cause both Kim and Sandra to use their idols (Sandra’s idol would expire at that tribal anyways).
In effect, there is a Survivor: Winners at War scenario where Tony Vlachos could suffer the same fate his fellow Game Changers alum faced: being eliminated by default.
What makes this scenario worse than in Game Changers is that by Tony’s nature, he hasn’t had as much of an opportunity to build his bag of tricks. The reason he was voted out his second time playing was that he was running around being Tony the rabid mastermind, whereas, in this season, he’s deliberately changing his social game to downplay his threat level to avoid being voted out.
By even allowing the opportunity to force an advantagegeddon in a smaller tribe on Survivor, it tells the players that there is no time in the game that they shouldn’t be prioritizing advantage hunting over socializing and building relationships. Idols become the most important thing in the game, and these winners have proven that’s not the case.
We’re at the Final 14, meaning just six players have been voted out. Though the players know that idols are important in the modern game, to even entertain the possibility of being a “failure” because you didn’t find an advantage to guarantee your safety before the merge demonstrably fails the understanding of Survivor.
Even worse, there’s no winner in the game that has needed to play idols or win challenges from so early on. Mike Holloway arguably challenge beasted his way from Day 27 (and used one idol), while the idol master Ben Driebergen used his first idol only on Day 33. Tony could have been disqualified as early as Day 14, which is twice as fast. It sends a wrong message to new players and puts returning players in a box.
Tony’s playing as best a game he can by not hunting for idols, as his name has not come up once for elimination. He’s the guy undergoing construction projects while being in the middle of a bunch of different groups, offering strategy suggestions and taking his long-term game into account when thinking about short-term moves.
It’s a drastically different look for a player who was so predictable his second time playing Survivor for being unpredictable. He’s not running through the jungle hunting for idols and staying up all night thinking about how to use a bag of tricks; he’s elevated his abilities and has transcended his reputation. He’s evolved as a player.
This isn’t to say that idols and advantages don’t have their place in Survivor, but I don’t think we’ve had so many in the game so early to force this kind of scenario. I don’t foresee all these players giving up an idol in such a way (especially since Jeremy would leave his Sele ally, Denise, in the dark to do so [unless she mentions her idol]) to force it to happen, but the possibility exists.
With fire tokens set to become a staple of the “new era” of Survivor, the continued reliance on trinkets, powers, and game mechanics over character-driven narrative pushes the show to extreme ends, making it more about forced drama than about the people themselves. Tony Vlachos has been one of the strongest characters this season, and to even have the potential to lose him by default before the merge represents an institutional failure of the game.