Survivor Winners at War: Tony Vlachos is episode 12’s MVP

Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Tony’s masterful game continues, relying on the relationships he built instead of idols or advantages to pull off big move after big move in Survivor: Winners at War.

The one thing we haven’t seen in recent seasons with returning players is a castaway come in with a target and still dominate. Even in this season, we’ve seen Boston Rob, Parvati and Tyson among others, get taken out early due to their Survivor reputation. However, Tony has flipped that trend on its head, not only making it to the Final Seven, but doing so in epic fashion.

After blindsiding Sophie, Tony put himself in a potentially vulnerable situation since he left two key allies out of the loop. His damage control following that vote was well done, getting both Sarah and Ben to come to terms with Tony’s big move. Yes, he did reveal to them that he has a Hidden Immunity Idol, but he did it in a way that brought trust back into these two strained relationships.

Another situation that Tony handled perfectly was the idol search. When Ben found the idol, I could have definitely seen other players in Tony’s position not wanting to confront him about it. That way they could know about the idol, without Ben being aware of this fact. But Tony’s game goes beyond trying to be sneaky.

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By calling out Ben right then and there, Tony really tightened their relationship. Sharing the knowledge of an idol with someone else is a bonding experience. What helped even more was Tony directly questioning Ben’s loyalty to him. That caught Ben off guard, seeking to verify his trust. He came away from the interaction with the feeling that Ben might even be willing to use his idol to save Sarah in order to prove himself to Tony.

The relationship he built with Jeremy last episode continued to come in handy as he was on board to vote with Tony. Jeremy was also willing to tell him about the advantage Michele gave him, which helped Tony to realize that he didn’t have to waste his idol on Jeremy. With those key social bonds in place, Tony now had Sarah, Ben, and Jeremy on his side, but he wasn’t satisfied with stopping there.

Tony is aware that he is the biggest threat in the game, and he can’t always rely on Immunity Necklaces to keep him safe. As a result, he wanted to come out of that Tribal Council with both a successful blindside and an idol still in his holster. He wasn’t about to take any chances with the vote, and started whispering to ensure he could find that fifth deciding vote.

That led Tony back to his old friend Nick who bailed him out in the 4-3-2 vote. Even though the edit showed Nick adamant about not writing Kim’s name down, Tony and Sarah were somehow able to convince him to stick with them. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but Tony saved Jeremy and Sarah another night without even using his idol.

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The trust Tony displayed in Sarah by leaving it up to hear to decide if she wanted to play the idol speaks volumes about his incredible social game. He has clearly adapted his style of play this season, and has even adjusted day to day to ensure the decisions he makes not only keep him in the game for one more vote, but set himself up to survive the next Tribal Council as well. Very rarely do we see a big name, dramatic character play this well of a balanced game so deep into the season.