Survivor Winners at War episode 13 recap: Shifting into place

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

With so many big threats and idols still in the game, the stage is set for an epic final phase to Survivor: Winners at War, beginning with a two-hour penultimate episode.

If you told me that Tony, Sarah, and Jeremy were all going to make it to the Final Seven, I wouldn’t have believed you. Tony and Jeremy surviving Tribal after Tribal has been fun to watch, setting up a strong final push to Day 39. Even the promo for episode 13 teased more of the same craziness, and tonight’s Survivor: Winners at War action lived up to it.

Only two one week left

We pick up the story on Night 29, directly after the Kim blindside. In an open and reflective moment, Michele feels that she miscalculated once again taking a “butter knife to a gunfight.” She pulled Jeremy aside, trying to understand why in the world he didn’t even need to use the coin flip idol. Jeremy then gave it back to Michele, understandably not wanting his game to come down to the flip of a coin.

The morning after, it’s now Denise’s time to reflect on losing a close ally. She clarified that when she said she was done at Tribal Council, she meant that she wants to move on with the way she’s been letting the game upset her. To relieve her frustration, she wrote out a symbolic tattoo of the phrases “endure” and “let go”, with the hope that it will help her continue the fluid game she has been playing so far.

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In a hilarious moment, Jeremy and Tony are playfully arguing over the homemade calendar, debating whether there are one or two weeks until Day 39 (it had to be Wendell that crafted that piece of art right). At this point, Tony still wants to keep Jeremy tight with him to get rid of those hyenas and justifies it to Sarah as they reflect on their infamous Cops’R’Us duo. In Sarah’s point of view, she sees getting Nick out as the best option. The hard part is trying to convince Ben on that plan. As a result, Sarah and Tony got to work and skillfully got Ben to come to the conclusion on his own that Nick is the best person to take out for his game.

Jeremy Tony Survivor Winners at War episode 13
Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Immunity Challenge: Buoy boy

The castaways have to run a mini obstacle course: land two buoys on an overhead track, try to catch it before it lands on the other side, and dig themselves out under a pole. Then, the first person to solve a Survivor slide puzzle wins immunity and two Fire Tokens. The obstacle course played to Jeremy’s strengths, as he was the first one to catch his two buoys and make it to the puzzle. Sarah, Nick, and Tony were next, and after finally finding his rogue buoy, Ben joined in on the fun.

Those five began working hard on the slide puzzle, with Tony actually looking like he was making legitimate progress. Eventually, Denise made it through to the final stage, leaving only Michele. While most of the castaways on the puzzle were making slow progress, Nick came out of nowhere, piecing everything together and winning Individual Immunity, spoiling Tony and Sarah’s plans.

Coin trickery

The seven winners came back to camp with the “easy plan” of taking out Denise, but the easy plan is never the one that actually happens in this type of season. Ben’s close relationship with Denise motivated him to try to throw the vote on Michele instead. His bright idea was for Jeremy to try and swindle the coin flip advantage from Michele again. Doesn’t Ben then have an even brighter idea: telling Michele that Jeremy will be needy and ask her for the advantage again.

Ben’s plan didn’t work out as well as he planned, as Jeremy confronted Michele about it and the two decided to gun for Ben. The web of confusion continued as Tony and Sarah don’t want Ben to go because he’s a core part of their alliance. Tony’s idea was to halt Jeremy’s feud with Ben by splitting the votes between Michele and Jeremy. Whenever there’s a plan to split the votes, there’s always the fear that someone could flip and make a move. In this situation, Nick was that clear man in the middle, with the option of sticking with the split vote to target Jeremy, or flipping his vote onto Ben.

Tribal Council surprisingly didn’t have any whispering this time and was raw and personal. Nick and Ben spoke about how 30 days of fatigue and hunger can make the truth come out easier. Then Ben and Jeremy discussed the difficulty they had of trusting people in the real world after the game was over. Right before the vote, Michele confirmed that her coin flip will be played, but on who?

Once everyone cast their vote and Jeff said the magic words, she got up and debated within herself if she should flip it for herself or Jeremy. In the end, she decided to save herself and correctly tossed on safe. She blocked two votes, Ben received two votes that counted, but it was Jeremy who was sent to the Edge of Extinction with three votes his way. He was visibly pissed, questioning who did it and Tony whispered sorry. On the way out Jeremy gave his two tokens to Michele.

Flipped on its head

This time there were was a little less arguing after Tribal Council, as the rivalry between Jeremy and Ben has finally been put to rest. With Jeremy out of the picture, Ben was relieved that he was quicker on the draw and could focus on his end game now. This final stage of season 40 has felt like a complete role reversal of the past fifteen or so seasons. Typically, at this point, the biggest threats are the ones that are in the minority, while the “goats” are the ones who are more secure. In Survivor: Winners at War, the high profile players are the ones calling the shots, which is exactly what Tony wants to see. With that in mind, the plan was to target Michele and Nick.

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Enter Edge of Extinction interlude. Yul brings back a clue to camp and reads it aloud to everyone. As soon as he finished, everyone was off looking for a potential advantage on a “throne of stone.” Confident that he is the fastest of the group, Wendell sprinted to the top of the mountain where he had a few rocks in mind. Natalie was a close second behind Wendell, but was thrilled when she saw him take a different path. Her head is still in the game and found the advantage right where she expected it to be.

Natalie Anderson Survivor Winners at War episode 13
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It’s another “disadvantage/advantage” twist, but this time, it’s up to the player in the game to decide who to give it to. Natalie shared the news with her fellow Edge residents, and although Kim was pushing for Denise, Natalie gave it to Nick. He was thrilled to see he finally got something and that he was only two Fire Tokens away from coming up with eight to get the advantage. Nick went to his new go-to: Michele, and she agreed to give him the two tokens they needed.

Immunity Challenge: Blocked out

It’s great to see the good old domino challenge back in the game. The Final Six have to stack a series of blocks along a beam while dodging leg barriers. The first person to make a line of dominos that will fall down the entire line wins Individual Immunity and two Fire Tokens. This is the last day Fire Tokens can be used. Jeff revealed that there was a disadvantage played on Ben, which added an extra 30% more beam that he needed to stack blocks on. It cut to a confessional with Nick justifying his reasoning that preventing Ben from winning is Michele and his best option to both survive the night.

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The competition was on, and Ben already seemed flustered as he kept on knocking over his blocks. Then there was a period where almost everyone was making solid progress. Michele, Tony and Sarah appeared to be farthest along, with Ben gradually coming back. One of Michele’s blocks fell, giving an opportunity to the rest of the gang, although she recovered quickly. Then Sarah knocked over a bunch, leaving it up to Tony, Ben and Michele to battle it out. To the shock of the players and probably to many viewers at home, Michele pulled off the victory and clutched it out for a pivotal necklace.

Spy nest diaries: part two

As the six winners were settling back into camp, Denise tinkered with a dangerous strategy. Since this was the last day to use Fire Tokens, and since she had a ton of them, she wanted to find a way to put them to use. She decided to play the dejected Survivor card by openly telling everyone that she knows her name is on the block and she just wants to enjoy one last meal before she might be sent to the Edge. Denise committed her tokens to buy a brand new bag of rice for the tribe so they could have a large meal that day.

At first, nobody considered this as a deliberate ploy to use reverse psychology to survive the vote. Instead, some began to think that it might make sense to simply take her out since she’s the easy vote. However, the power alliance wanted to stick with writing Nick’s name down since Michele foiled their plans of voting her out. Speaking of Michele, she tried the direct approach by straight out saying she had no chance of winning against Tony at the end. Sarah immediately told the group what Michele said, proving how tight this alliance is.

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

The current drama wasn’t satisfying enough for Tony, so to ramp up the level of excitement, the spy nest returned! This time Tony got in position for a legitimate conversation at the water well. Denise was explaining to Sarah and Ben that there’s no way they can get to the end with Tony. That was a newsflash for Tony, who was now considering Denise’s name, but Nick quickly changed his focus. The prospect of blindsiding Ben with an idol interested the Cops’R’Us duo, who found themselves in a swing-vote position.

Token extinction

The second Tribal Council of the night began with still quite a bit of time left in this double episode. Michele was beaming from winning her Immunity Necklace, so far proving just as clutch in challenges as her winning performance in Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Jeff was trying to draw out Denise’s situation, attempting to sniff out a quitting attitude. She was clear that she isn’t giving up, but she’s also not going to go crazy scrambling and let the game get the best of her again. The votes were cast and Jeff returned with the results. Ben wisely held back his idol, as he received two votes, while Nick’s name got the remaining four votes, snuffing his torch for the first time.

Nick joined the Edge of Extinction residents with only one day until the return challenge. With plenty of time left in the two-hour frame, viewers got their last look (hopefully forever) at the Edge of Extinction. Amber talked about the emotional journey and how she valued the simplicity of her time on the Edge. Then we got to see who officially had Fire Tokens and what they were going to do with them. Here’s a list:

  • Wendell – One challenge advantage (two Fire Tokens)
  • Yul – One challenge advantage (two Fire Tokens)
  • Parvati – One challenge advantage (two Fire Tokens)
  • Natalie – Three advantages, one idol for Tyson, one large jar of peanut butter (14 Fire Tokens)

*Boston Rob and Natalie both have a Hidden Immunity Idol left over from the first challenge

The Penultimate Step of the War. B-. The pace cooled down from the chaotic past two episodes, but we still got to enjoy plenty of smart and subtle gameplay from these skilled finalists, without the Edge of Extinction causing too much interference this time.. Survivor: Winners at War.

Stray Observations

  • The editors continue to find creative ways to save time, as the season recap and finalist reviews were tacked on to the end of this episode instead of the finale
  • It was relieving to know the Fire Tokens weren’t going to have game-altering power, but they did feel a little useless
  • What an ironic twist of challenges for Michele. From dead last in the first immunity to clutching it out when it actually counted
  • I continue to be in disbelief every Wednesday when the Cops’R’Us are still in the game
  • Denise is one of the few people who could pull that pity strategy, and she played it perfectly. It was authentic, but not to the point where people were annoyed and just want her to go

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In just seven days, the three-hour finale will feature one castaway coming back from the Edge of Extinction, three critical Immunity Challenges, one fire-making battle, and two Hidden Immunity Idols (with the potential for more). This landmark season is coming to a close, and we will finally be able to begin to understand how Winners at War will fit in with the Survivor legacy.