Thirty-nine days brought us to the closing arguments for who the greatest of the great truly is, as Survivor: Winners at War has crowned the Ultimate Sole Survivor.
From the very beginning of the game, Tony Vlachos put himself into self-imposed probation in Survivor: Winners at War. By not running off into the jungle immediately and searching for Hidden Immunity Idols or making spy shacks, he was purposefully lowering the guards of the players around him. For weeks, players were convinced that Tony Vlachos was not the king of chaos he once was to the point where even Kim Spradlin said he was totally different.
However, he wasn’t just sitting at camp and making everyone laugh by climbing homemade ladders and catching (and singing about) baby sharks; he was putting in the time to build his relationships so that when it was time to pounce, he would be in a position where he could make moves and be protected by allies and bigger threats.
It was a pivotal strategy to allow such a hard-fought, entertaining player with his renown be crowned the Ultimate Sole Survivor of Winners at War, as Tony Vlachos is your season 40 winner and recipient of $2 million. He won in a vote of 12-4-0 over Natalie Anderson in second place and Michele Fitzgerald in third place.
Starting out on Dakal, Tony was a potential early boot due to his threat level but was saved by the idea presented by Yul of a poker player’s alliance. That put Kim Spradlin on the outs early while the familial bonds of Boston Rob being a reason why Amber was targeted first. From there, Dakal continued to be a dominant tribe in the early challenges, keeping Tony’s name from coming up.
After a while of laying low and helping his Cops-R-Us, Sarah, establish a comfortable position on Dakal 1.0 and with a majority group on Dakal 2.0, Tony was in a position where he had plenty of shields in front of him. He had a piece of the strategic puzzle from start to finish of the pre-merge while seeing players like Sandra (who previously considered targeting him) voted out, and resumes grow around him.
Tony knew to keep his friends close and potential minions closer, as he worked quickly to bring in big threats at the merge to work in unison. Even though Sophie was the one actively calling the shots, the players taken out would weaken relationships of players who would need to rely on Tony later, such as Jeremy Collins, or players smart enough to see through Tony’s control like Adam.
Once the Final 10 arrived, the time had finally arrived for Tony to start picking up the pace. It began with a tense situation where the players like Kim, Jeremy, and Tyson on the bottom tried to rally a majority to take out Tony’s leadership group, but with push come to shove and potential idols in play, Jeremy using the Safety Without Power shifted the dynamics to a 5-4 majority, allowing Tyson to be targeted and voted out.
From there, Tony had mighty two days ahead of him. In the span of one cycle, he played double agent to curry favor with both working alliances, gained three fire tokens to avoid being extorted of both an immunity chance and his next vote, won immunity, knowing controlled a 3-2 vote split to take the minority and create a controlling four-person voting bloc to take out Sophie in a 4-3-2 vote he controlled.
Over the next 24 hours, he went on to find the Hidden Immunity Idol after Sophie was voted out, earned back Sarah’s trust, won individual immunity again, had Ben leak the plan to get him out, and wrestled control back from Kim to vote her out of the game. It put him in dominant control of a tribe where he had won individual immunity three times in a row and wasn’t targeted once, knocking out big targets like Jeremy and a potential Michele ally in Nick.
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This led to Day 35, where Tony got to sit out and enjoy the Edge of Extinction Challenge from afar as Natalie Anderson won her shot back into the game. He didn’t take the pedal off the metal, however, rationalizing the hardships of the members of the jury and what it means for them for one of their own to take down the crown.
Tony’s positioning took a big hit when Natalie returned, as she spread the idea that Tony was giving everyone else instructions in the eyes of the jury. That gave Tony pause, as he seemed concerned Natalie could win while Sarah seemed not too concerned.
The Final Six Immunity Challenge was a tight race, with players going across three different sets of obstacles to collect pieces to compose a three-tier puzzle, securing immunity for the victor. While Tony, Natalie, and Ben had a back-and-forth movement in the standings heading into the puzzle, Michele’s experience with the puzzle allowed her to win her second-straight individual Immunity Challenge.
For much of the early parts of the finale, it seemed like only Tony had a total awareness of the game as it shifted around him. He seemed to be the only one willing to acknowledge that Natalie could both have an idol and win the game at large, and that came into play when he, Natalie, and Ben played their idols to negate Natalie’s four votes and Ben’s two votes against. With only Denise and Sarah eligible, everyone else voted for Denise to send her to the jury in sixth place.
Even the fact that Natalie and Michele didn’t force Sarah to go to a forced fire-making challenge illustrates just how much control Tony had through to the end. However, Final Five might have been the moment that gave him the most concern, as both he and Ben lost to Natalie Anderson in a Hidden Immunity Idol hunt.
This made the Final Five Immunity Challenge a do-or-die moment for Tony, as the players needed to swim to shore after overcoming a series of obstacles, grabbing a key on a high beam en route to the shore. After crawling underneath a net towards a platform, it was the first player to throw two sandbags onto a platform at the far end of the beach that won immunity.
Tony was the fourth of five to make it to shore, putting him behind the 8-ball. Both Ben and Tony landed their first bags, but couldn’t stick the second after them falling off at the last second. Finally, Tony sealed his shot at his eventual coronation with his fourth immunity win of the season, ensuring he’d at least have a shot to make fire at the Final Four.
He had a feeling that Natalie found a Hidden Immunity Idol, and got Sarah to extract that information out of Natalie as he watched over the water well from his spy nest. That’s where he found himself angling to take out Michele instead, although he could not foresee Ben Driebergen going full Colby Donaldson from Heroes vs. Villains in allowing himself to be voted out to help
Sarah Lacina advance.
He couldn’t outright challenge beast, nor idol his way to the end, as Tony Vlachos was the first to drop out of the Final Immunity Challenge; Simmotion. However, unlike Edge of Extinction, when Natalie won immunity, she didn’t give it up. Instead, she let Michele come to the end with her and let the Cops-R-Us duo fight each other in fire-making.
In what was easily the most amazing fire-making challenge in the show’s history, both Tony and Sarah looked like they were seconds away from snatching an eventual victory. Sarah jumped out early with a quick burst of fire aided by coconut husk, while Tony had an approach with magnesium and husk for a more layered, controlled burn. Tony eventually beat Sarah by mere seconds, tearfully defeating his Cops-R-Us ally and securing his second trip to the Final Tribal Council.
On a very rainy Night 39, Tony answered the outwit, outplay, and outlast portions with the jury eating out of his hands. In Outwit, he talked about how he earnestly didn’t have any flaws or mistakes, with Boston Rob even going so far to ask how he made it, so he wasn’t targeted. He talked about his gameplay and overcoming disadvantages in the Outplay portion, and waxed poetic about his two different types of gameplay (one at day, one at night) in the Outlast portion.
It wasn’t unanimous, but with Jeff Probst announcing the results live from his garage in California, Tony Vlachos became your Survivor: Winners at War champion by a vote of 12-4-0.