Survivor Winners at War finale recap: A champion’s throne

With intense challenges, moving Tribal Councils, and memorable moments, Survivor: Winners at War ended in an epic fashion worthy of an all-winners season.

Survivor’s landmark fortieth season came to a close this week, capping two decades of the show’s history. Whether you think Winners at War is the best season of all time or not, it’s hard to resist the fact that the season finale might just be the greatest final episode ever. There was so much great content that it’s easy to forget how awesome the first Tribal Council of the night was. Let’s start where it all began… in Jeff’s garage.

Peanut butter power

Probst began his typical finale intro, although it felt weird with no audience. Before getting to the action, Jeff had to say for the hundredth time that this is the greatest season of Survivor. We also got to see a quick glimpse of all twenty contestants who were tied in via teleconference. And I mean quick glimpse and that was it for the night.

The real action kicked off at the Edge of Extinction battle back. The Edge residents had to maneuver through a rope obstacle course, dig for more rope to make a bridge, and then land two balls on a horizontal table maze. Natalie, Parvati, Yul, and Wendell got to skip the first phase of ropes because of their advantages. Natalie also didn’t need to dig for her rope, plus she already had a third of her rope bridge assembled.

Must Read: Survivor: 7 reasons why Edge of Extinction twist is an institutional failure

Wendell was the first one to the rope bridge. Natalie lost her lead but was still in second. Yul, Parvati, Tyson, and Rob were next. Wendell was also the first one to the maze and landed a ball fairly quickly. Boston Rob and Yul were right there with him. Once most of the players began on the final maze, Natalie got her first ball to go. Then it looked like Wendell could seal the deal but weaved his ball into a pit. Moments later, Natalie landed her final ball, giving her a spot in the Final Six!

Following the heartbreaking loss, the jury members reflected on what this experience has meant to them and how Survivor has impacted their lives. Kim spoke about not regretting her decision to return, Parvati and Tyson made everyone cry talking about their family again, and Boston Rob got so emotional that his voice went 10 decibels higher.

Survivor: Winners at War Natalie Anderson

“It All Boils Down to This” – Natalie Anderson on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, May 13th (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Party crasher

When Natalie walked back into the game, she decided to use the info from the Edge to her advantage. She went directly for Tony’s throat by claiming that the jury is in love with his game. This sent alarm bells ringing in his head, so he was determined to find a way to outsmart her.
Unlike Ben and Sarah, Tony had a strong feeling that she could win if she made it to the end.

He wasn’t the only one affected by Natalie’s message. Sarah felt annoyed that the jury could be thinking that Tony is in complete control because he’s the man of the alliance. She was eager to prove how her gameplay was unique and essential for both of them to survive.

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The Final Six Immunity Challenge was a truly epic set-up. The castaways have to make their way through mini obstacle courses to get three bags of puzzle pieces. For each bag, they have to run up a flight of stairs, lay their bag in their station and get back down on a water slide. Once all three bags are collected, they will then assemble a three-tiered puzzle.

Ben and Tony were the first to get their three bags. Natalie was a close third, while Sarah and Denise joined a little later. Michele was in dead last, with the other castaways busy working on the puzzle even before she got to her third bag. In spite of the lead, there was very little progress once Michele finally made it to the puzzle. That’s when Michele took over.

As Jeff pointed out, Michele killed this puzzle back in Kaoh Rong, and it looked like no time past since that victory. Michele ripped through it, building the three tiers before anyone was even close to completing their second one! Another clutch win by Michele kept her immune for a Tribal Council that could have been her last.

Survivor: Winners at War

“It All Boils Down to This” – Jeff Probst awards Michele Fitzgerald with the Immunity Necklace on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, May 13th (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Idols-R-Us

For Ben and Sarah, the plan was simple: put four votes on Natalie. However, Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that Natalie got an idol or an advantage from the Edge of Extinction. No matter what Tony said, Sarah and Ben were adamant about just sticking with Natalie instead of placing two votes on Denise. If they did split their votes, there would be no need for them to use their idols until the Final Five.

More: These Sole Survivors were snubbed from Winners at War

Meanwhile, Natalie and Michele bonded immediately, and she told Michele about her idol. That gave them the opportunity to take out someone from Tony’s tight alliance. At Tribal Council, Natalie again explained who the jury felt was the biggest target. That got Sarah stirred for a powerful speech centered around gender bias. How men can get away with playing aggressive, while if a woman plays the same way, they’re seen as vicious people.

The conversation even got Jeff admitting his own gender bias flaws. As a result, Sarah urged Jeff to give her the last name treatment that mostly happens with male contestants, by calling her Lacina. Following the votes, Jeff asked if anyone wanted to play an idol, which triggered the fireworks!

Survivor: Winners at War Ben

“It All Boils Down to This” – Ben Driebergen and Jeff Probst at Tribal Council on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, May 13th (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

First Natalie pulled hers out, flooring Ben and Sarah with Tony muttering “I told you guys!” Tony then decided to use his own idol, still feeling distraught. Right when Jeff was about to read the votes, Ben stopped him and played his idol for himself.

In a Survivor: Cambodia-like Tribal Council, zero votes ended up counting as the four for Natalie and the two on Ben were blocked by idols. That led to a revote, with Denise and Sarah being the only people who could receive votes. Nat and Michele decided to write Denise’s name down and she left the game with a warm smile on her face.

Burn the jungle down

As the Final Five returned to camp, Tony was still dejected and let his alliance know about it. He did lay off of them, shifting his focus to his next crazy plan. Instead of going to sleep, Tony lit his own fire and went off in the jungle searching for another idol.

It looked like Tony was nearly going to start a forest fire in order to help him look. Unfortunately for him, his efforts didn’t produce results, which allowed everyone to get in on the hunt. Early that morning, Natalie discovered the prized possession between two tree trunks, while Ben and Tony were getting stir crazy from their lack of success.

Must Read: 5 old school Survivor twists that need to return!

At the Final Five Immunity Challenge, the winners had to make their way through a water and land-based obstacle course that led to the final stage of landing two sandbags on a small table. The first player to toss their bags flat on the table wins the necklace.

It was a fairly tight race, with Ben in the lead and Michele bringing up the rear. It got to the point where everyone was struggling to land one. Eventually, Ben nailed his first bag, and then Tony matched his mark after a few more tosses.

It went back and forth between the two men, as their sandbags kept on hitting the table and casually falling off. Finally, Tony landed his bag winning an important necklace that put his fate in his own hands. It felt like his frustration with not finding the idol gave him an extra boost to win Individual Immunity.

Too good for the game

Tony’s spidey senses started to tingle again, and there was no way he was going to ignore them this time. Based on the way Natalie and Michele were acting, he thought one of them found the idol. He decided to re-open the spy nest for another mission and got Sarah to have a heart to heart with Natalie at the water well.

He ran to get into position and it worked like a charm. Sarah showcased her brilliant social game by getting Natalie to confide in her. In a firm but casual way, Sarah called out Natalie’s idol and got her to show it to her. She pretended to be committed to Natalie’s plan, allowing Tony to see everything play out. Once they returned to camp, Tony came down, soaked in sweat, but was thrilled that his efforts yielded meaningful results.

Tony Vlachos Spy Nest Survivor: Winners at War

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

Michele was a little disappointed that Sarah found out about the idol since now she believes they will put her name down instead of Natalie’s. What seemed like Michele’s doom changed dramatically when Ben decided to fall on his own sword for Sarah. He was so moved by her speech that he wanted Sarah to add a big play to her resume that couldn’t be tied to Tony. In a Rafe-like move (Survivor: Guatemala), Ben gave her permission to write his name down.

Jeff Probst began the Final Five Tribal Council with another attempt at an effective analogy. It felt like Jeff was trying too hard to squeeze the teaching lessons out of the castaways this time, and it didn’t come as naturally as the previous Tribal Council. As the night progressed, it became evident that Ben’s focus was on becoming a better person as opposed to making the moves he needs to make it to the end.

More: 5 Survivor themes we want to see in future seasons

When it came time for Jeff to read the votes, Natalie anxiously chose to save herself. To Tony’s surprise, instead of seeing three votes thrown Michele’s way, Ben’s name came up three times. The jury also looked impressed by the big move, but I have to say, it probably ended up helping Tony the most. Now he doesn’t have to worry about facing him in fire, plus he stayed loyal to him and would earn his jury vote.

Slimmotion is back!

The Final Immunity Challenge brought back one of the greatest ideas ever. The Final Four have to drop a ball in a metal shute and catch it before it hits the ground. Having to do this with only one hand and adding in multiple balls makes this challenge exponentially more difficult as it goes on.

It took only three balls before Tony miscalculated and unknowingly dropped one of them. The same thing happened with Sarah once she had to introduce the fourth ball. Natalie and Michele were left to battle it out, and boy was is it a battle! They went all the way to a record-tieing five balls, with plenty of remarkable saves along the way. Michele had two balls coming out at the same time and wasn’t able to catch them both. That gave Natalie the victory, guaranteeing her spot at Final Tribal.

Fireproof

Typically the winner of immunity informs the other three castaways who will be competing in the fire-making competition. Natalie took a different approach by apparently not deciding until Jeff asked her the question. Michele was practicing and made fire like a certified pro. Sarah wasn’t too bad either, while Tony was struggling. It didn’t seem like Natalie was even considering offering up her necklace to duke it out with Tony.

She decided on bringing Michele to the Final Three, forcing the Cops-R-Us to duel it out in the greatest fire-making challenge of all time. Tony was the first to get a flame, but Sarah built a legit fire that got all the way to the rope. However, since she primarily used the corn husk, it burnt out quickly and wasn’t able to cut the rope.

Survivor: Winners at War

“It All Boils Down to This” – Sarah Lacina and Tony Vlachos at Tribal Council on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, May 13th (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tony’s methodical way of building a fire worked better in the long run, creating a strong flame that wasn’t going to go out. Sarah got her fire back up towards the rope, but it was too late. Tony’s fire blazed through the rope, securing his spot in the Final Three.

What made this moment even more incredible was the raw emotion behind this fire-making challenge. Tony was torn to pieces, trying to stomach the idea that he eliminated his close friend from the game. Watching the final interchange between Sarah and Tony is priceless, defining how great this dynamic duo turned out to be.

The new crown

Following the usual protocol of eating the lavish Day 39 breakfast, the three finalists reflected on their gameplay and why they believe they deserved to win. It was fitting that Final Tribal Council took part in a major rainstorm. Every final battle scene should end in a rainy setting!

Must Read: Survivor: Ranking the best Survivor seasons ever

Here’s a breakdown of the events from Final Tribal Council:

Outwit

  • Denise kicked off the outwit portion by asking about missed opportunities:
    Natalie: Not building relationships with people on Day 1
    Michele: Lack of a bigger alliance
    Tony: No missed opportunities this season, only improving on his social game from his previous two outings. Jeremy still sounded bitter over Tony blindsiding him.
  • Adam and Boston Rob ask about Natalie’s social game:
    Natalie: Her goal was to shift the spotlight off of her and onto Tony. She isolated people on the Edge the last week she was there to focus on her token count and prepare mentally for the challenge
  • Parvati and Boston Rob wondered how Tony made it without any votes against him:
    Tony: used that opportunity to bring up his spy nest and play to the jury
  • Wendell gave Michele the chance to explain her game:
    Michele: Mentioned how she didn’t have a long term alliance and was forced to adapt and fight from the bottom

Outplay

  • Wendell kicked off the outplay category:
    Natalie: Thoroughly detailed her enormous list of advantages sold from the Edge
    Tony and Michele: Went through the impact of winning their clutch immunities
  • Then there was the big question. Boston Rob begged Natalie to explain why she didn’t try to take Tony out at fire:
    Natalie: Her goal was to break up the four-person alliance, so she thought that the last two members going at it in fire was good enough
  • Ethan asked about how they dealt with the Edge of Extinction and Fire Token twists:
    Tony: Everything that came from the Edge was a disadvantage for him. However, Tony talked about being able to overcome it and make it to Day 39.
    Michele: How she used Fire Tokens, advantages and Natalie’s return to better her game

Outlast

  • Then it came to the final outlast segment:
    Natalie: Proud of how she was able to match Chris Underwood’s bar of returning from the Edge and making the end. She pushed the fact that she worked hard, playing idols and winning immunity to fulfill her dream of reaching the Final Three
    Michele: How she survived 15 Tribal Councils, won immunities and used her social game to survive. She eloquently explained that although Tony and Natalie played amazing games, Michele played the best game she could and is satisfied with her performance.
    Tony: Went into detail about how much he worked to dominate this season. From sneaking out at night to look for idols, from building spy nests, to controlling votes without people even knowing. It was a mic drop final speech from Tony.

It All Boils Down to This

Survivor: Winners at War

A

The conclusion of Winners at War was one of the greatest finale episodes in the history of Survivor. The lack of a reunion turned out to be a positive twist as it allowed the events to play out at a reasonable pace. The combination of smart gameplay, dynamic characters, and emotionally powerful moments put an exclamation mark on this special Survivor season!
Survivor: Winners at War

“It All Boils Down to This” – Natalie Anderson, Michele Fitzgerald, Tony Vlachos and Jeff Probst at the SURVIVOR: Winners at War Finale airing Wednesday, May 13 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Screen Grab/CBS 2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Back at Jeff’s garage, the final votes were sitting there, ready to be revealed with the three finalists tied in. Natalie received votes from Ethan, Parvati, Tyson, and Jeremy, while the rest of the jury wrote down Tony’s name. Tony Vlahcos joins Sandra as the only two-time champion!

Next: Survivor winners: Ranking the best Sole Survivors by season

Jeff didn’t reveal a theme or any specific dates for season 41, but he did say that they are committed to bringing it back this fall. He also mentioned the controversial idea of allowing teens as young as 16 to compete on the show. We’ll have to wait and see how the producers try to follow up this legendary season because it will not be an easy act to follow!

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