We’ve been following the idea of a two-horse race in Survivor: Winners at War. What does it mean if a third horse surprises us at the finish line?
The Survivor: Winners at War editors have been given a daunting task after the season was filmed. They know who wins, who loses, who comes up just short and who provides entertainment value with a little mix of everything. Most importantly, with the Edge of Extinction twist in play, they have to tell a compelling overarching narrative while also not giving away who comes back.
Tyson was a middling surprise coming back at the merge, but so was Rick Devens in Edge of Extinction. That matters little; what many will remember from season 38 is who took over the finale, as Chris Underwood picked up the pace after just eight days in the regular game and steamrolled over players he never had the chance to introduce himself to until Day 35.
It was a delicate balance that didn’t quite work then, but Chris Underwood’s win dethroning the other EoE returnee (and a player who helped originally blindside him) gave us a narrative closure. Heading into the Survivor: Winners at War finale, we don’t have anything close to that. In fact, our winner heir apparent is someone who started out slow and exploded into absolute dominance in the mid-endgame.
This presents us at Surviving Tribal with a daunting question we cannot ignore; what if the Edge of Extinction returnee makes it to the end of the game again for Winners at War? Worse yet; what happens if they become the Ultimate Sole Survivor, second two-time winner, and recipient of the show’s greatest prize after being voted out?
We have no concrete evidence about who returns from the Edge of Extinction in the Survivor: Winners at War finale, especially since the one time we’ve gone through this, it was a complete surprise to all in a season with returning players and newbies. However, based on this week’s two-hour episode (and the season recap within), there are some clear cut favorites.
Natalie Anderson is a fire token billionaire, and ultimately proved her worth in the ability to buy multiple advantages in the Edge of Extinction Challenge, a jar of peanut butter, and an idol for Tyson in case she doesn’t get back in since she already has an idol purchased from before the merge challenge.
She had to earn her ability to sell advantages or extort other players for fire tokens over the field, but her overwhelming number of opportunities reinforces a piece we wrote earlier in the season; it becomes an advantage to be voted out in the game as early as possible if you’re the 75% of the field that falls short of the finale night.
Even if it’s not Natalie coming back from the Edge, let’s presume it’s someone like Tyson with an idol gifted to him or Boston Rob with powers pooled between Amber and himself. The returning player has an extraordinary leg up returning to the game with either powers to boot or the favor of the jury backing them up.
We’ve seen the extraordinary moves players like Sarah has pulled off in maneuvering pieces like Ben into doing her bidding, just as we’ve seen Tony mastermind brilliant 4-3-2 votes. However, let’s say that both are taken out at the last second, with Tony falling short at the fire-making challenge.
What does it say about the Edge of Extinction if it produces winners both times? What does it mean if we even get a finalist from the Edge? Based on the notion that it’s more advantageous to be voted out early, as well as providing more opportunities to bond with the jury, it means that the Edge of Extinction is broken.
Just like with the Extortion Advantage, it’s hard not to think about these things without having a results-oriented mindset. It’s entirely possible that the Edge of Extinction returnee is someone who finishes in sixth place, just as it is for them to run the table.
However much the show wants you to feel for players like Amber who have struggled on the Edge for a month-plus, you also have to remember that they are also players who were voted out to hang with the people who influenced the flow of the game with (dis)advantages. All players have been given at least $25,000 just to appear (no matter the finishing placement) and $10,000 to attend a Zoom reunion.
Whenever you think fondly about the Edge of Extinction, just remember that the first boot from Day 2 has the best chances of returning at a one-in-six shot at $2 million, filled to the brim with advantages in getting there and an idol guaranteeing it to be a one in five shot. It’s a stark reminder of why Jeff Probst had to back down from keeping the twist going in the future, as an Edge of Extinction winner, no matter who it is, represents a black mark on an otherwise great season.