Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor: Winners at War recaps
Wagering on the Winners at War
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: February 3, 2020
Survivor: Winners at War Pre-season analysis

Wagering on the Winners at War


Winners at War is a Survivor season literally 20 years in the making.  This is the Survivor Super Bowl and I couldn’t be more excited for it!  Whether you’ve never missed an episode, are a relatively newer fan, or saw a commercial about some sort of “champions” season of Survivor and decided to tune in, you should be excited too.  I think this is the perfect season for any new or returning fan to watch to witness some of the most elite level of gameplay in reality TV competition history.


Since the news broke of this season — even before the cast was flown out to Fiji — the hype has been building.  I think it’s been nearly 10 months now since we first heard initial rumblings?  Since then, some unfortunate news has come out about both new and old twists muddying up what should’ve been a perfect theme if left alone, and while I’m fully on board with the #EndEdgeOfExtinction Twitter trend, if there’s a cast that can deliver a dynamite season despite all the twists and broken mechanics, then this one is it.


Will we hate seeing these “fire tokens” and winners wasting away on the Edge of Extinction while they wait for their chance to re-enter the game?  Absolutely.  However, I’m trying to stay optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the season.  I hope that watching these 20 titans of Survivor history go to blows will be what some of us who’ve waited for this season since we were kids wished it would be.  Every single person in this cast has what it takes to win – that’s why they’re back in the first place.  I’d try to predict what I think could be the boot order of the season, but the task seems impossible.  Instead, I’m going through all 20 champs and simply placing my bets on who I think is most likely to win this long-awaited war and who may be dead before it starts.


Ethan Zohn


Survivor: Africa (2001)


No one is probably more excited to see Ethan back than my mom, a big Ethan stan, if you will, but the rest of the world — myself included — is ecstatic as well.  Ethan is one of the most likable winners ever and so popular for just being the amazing human that he is.  The charity work that he’s done with the help of his winnings in addition to being a literal “Survivor” from his battle with cancer, you can’t help but admire this man.  He’s been to hell and back yet still has the will in him to play Survivor one more time to collect its biggest prize ever.


If Ethan makes it to Day 39, I think he’s unbeatable.  Everyone will love Ethan as they always do, and as an old school player having to adapt to the much higher pace of the new school game, it’s going to be an impressive accomplishment for Ethan to make it to the end.  For those reasons, no one’s going to want to go the distance with Ethan.  I can see him making it relatively deep because of his social game and while a big athlete in his prime, his age is going to soften his physical threat level which will help extend his stay.  I think it’d be an incredible story for Ethan to win, but he’s someone I’m not expecting to see take it.  That ending would be just too perfect to be real (sorry, mom).


Sandra Diaz-Twine


Survivor: Pearl Islands (2003)

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (2010)


That’s two wins, just to remind everyone.


I am rooting for Sandra the most just because of how giddy it’d make me for her to have 3 wins to her name.  However, there is only one winner in the cast who I think has absolutely 0% chance of winning this game, and that winner is Sandra.  I look at others like Boston Rob or Ethan who, like Sandra, no one will take to the end, but in theory, they could win their way there with challenges.  I do not believe Sandra can — that’s not what she’s known for, at least.  She could potentially win the fire-making challenge at final four, but that’s just another reason for Sandra to be voted out before she has that opportunity.


Sandra’s one smooth motherfucker though, and while she’s notorious for her two-time-winning, cutthroat strategy of “as long as it ain’t me,” Sandra’s good to you if you’re good to her.  If she can find a solid alliance early, especially another “Rice and Beans,” I can see a path for Sandra to make the merge.  She’s a threat to win, sure, but she’s not a huge threat to cause a lot of disruption like some of the other big names in the cast, so while I know Sandra isn’t winning, if there’s one player who can somehow make it through at least half of the game with a massive target on her back, it’s Sandra.  She’s a big fish to fry, but once everyone hits the beach, I can easily see that changing just like it did her last time.  Had it not been for getting swapped into a minority and the tribe throwing a challenge just to get rid of her, Sandra was set up to go deep there and may have even pulled off the perfect 3-0 record (one can dream).


Amber Mariano


Survivor: All-Stars (2004)


Was that picture taken the last time Amber played, 16 years ago, because if you told me yes, I’d believe you.  The woman has not aged a day yet is the most old school player in the cast with her original appearance in season two (2001).  Like Ethan, Amber will face having to adapt to the completely new game Survivor has become since her last time playing, but with her husband Rob being as involved in the history of the show as he has been, I’m sure Amber has picked up a thing or two about how she needs to play in the modern day.


As interesting as it will be to see a husband and wife play against 18 singles, essentially, I wish Amber had come back alone.  Listening to her pre-game interviews, she sounds incredibly calm with a quiet confidence about her that would make her a deadly player in the field with most everyone going for big grabs for the title of “greatest of the greats.”  That’s exactly why Amber won All-Stars, after all.  However, Rob is going to be a huge handicap to Amber, and starting out on separate tribes is going to make her an enormous target, almost too easy of an opportunity to pass up while she’s split up from her husband.  Boston Rob is a big reason why Amber won All-Stars, but I sadly think he’ll be a big reason she loses Winners at War.  Still, I’m excited to see what this old-schooler does in a new school world.  I hope she defies the odds and goes far because I’m rooting for the old school in this.


Danni Boatwright


Survivor: Guatemala (2005)


Danni was the first-ever winner who I had as my pick to win from the day the cast was revealed (only Kim and Tyson would repeat that success for me), so I really want to make her my pick to win for 40 and have a perfect record of picking the winner in seasons that feature Danni.  Danni isn’t a super popular winner because she didn’t make too many noticeable Big Moves™ that fans like to see, especially now, but Danni also intentionally hid her game from the cameras, fearing information would leak to production’s precious Stephenie (and to a lesser extent, Bobby Jon), and honestly, that’s not a crazy thought, so kudos to Danni for being a real GAME CHANGER by breaking the fourth wall in order to win.


Like Amber, Danni struck me as someone who is impressively calm, cool, and collected under all of the hype of the season bringing back all winners.  Despite Judd’s claim, Danni didn’t win her first time by skating, but by building relationships with people and in her 39 days, she only received one vote against her and 6 out of 7 jury votes to win.  The fact that more people don’t talk about Danni is a crime, but she should be able to use that to her advantage against players with more renowned résumés.  I think Danni is someone who is a potential lock for the finals, but my only fear is that the winners on the jury may not see “Danni” as the name they want to give this season’s unprecedented and unmatched title to, so while being the master under-the-radar player that she is should get Danni to the end, she’s going to have to play a little bigger than she did in Guatemala if only to garner more respect from the jury as someone truly worthy and representative of the name “Best of the Best.”  I believe she can, so I’m hoping “Danni Girl” makes my 15-year wait to pick her to win again worth it.


Yul Kwon


Survivor: Cook Islands (2006)


Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul.  This is a man I never thought we’d see again because he didn’t seem to be connected any more to the Survivor community, and he still doesn’t sound like he is, but I figured he was so far removed that he would never even be interested in returning.  The fact that he said “yes” to Winners at War was a huge shock.  He might just be the biggest “wow” to me, even more than Ethan or Amber, because I figured CBS had long since lost his phone number or email address.


You listen to Yul in interviews and you know why he won.  He’s so innocently sweet but at the same time one of the sharpest tools in the shed.  He had the super idol in his pocket when he last played, and it’s true that without that, Yul likely wouldn’t have been able to pull in the numbers he needed, but I still think Yul is someone who would be well-equipped to win any season of Survivor, with or without advantages.  He’s strategic, social, and while he claims to have lost a lot of his physicality with age, dude is still ripped.  Yul is someone that can quickly analyze and adapt to any situation – I haven’t seen many “Yul” winner picks, but he’s definitely someone that can take this if people forget about him just because he’s an old school player or write him off for only having won with his idol.  Yul’s the type of guy that could stab you in the back and you’d say “thank you.”


Parvati Shallow


Survivor: Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites (2008)


There’s a lot to say about Parvati and many debate that she’s the true queen of Survivor — I’m firmly in Sandra’s camp on that, but I can see why arguments for Parvati are made.  Oddly, no one ever talks about her first appearance and instead mostly remember her coming back to win and being a few votes shy her third time, almost wearing that two-time winner crown herself.  Parvati’s Cook Islands game was a good one and thinking about Yul’s super-idol, I wonder if Parvati would’ve won had Jonathan stayed with the Raro tribe.  What’s funny to me is that in my memory, Parvati was the “Amber” of Fans vs. Favorites, cast as one of the “huh?” choices, presumably because Candice couldn’t come, much like Amber was essentially Elisabeth’s replacement, so it’s neat to see how Parvati has really revved up her reputation since her initial run.


Parvati’s up there to me with Rob and Sandra as someone who’s going to have a difficult time winning because of her name and the target she carries with it, but she basically was off to the same start in Heroes vs. Villains and we saw how well that played out for her.  It’s been a decade since Parvati last played, and now being a wife and mother, I doubt we’ll still see her famous flirtatious game but that could soften her as a threat in the eyes of others.  One other “man-eater” that comes to mind is Kim as someone who many may now see as a bigger threat to win again.  If this season were several years ago, I think Parvati would be dead in the water, but while not “lost to the ages” by any means, Parvati’s witchy ways as one of the show’s most iconic femme fatales isn’t the most immediate image in Survivor’s recent history, so players could easily make the mistake of not eliminating Parvati as soon as they can.  I also wouldn’t mind seeing another Black Widow Brigade ....


Rob Mariano


Survivor: Redemption Island (2011)


I mentioned that Sandra’s the only person with a flat 0% chance of winning, but Rob isn’t facing much better with maybe 1-2% tops.  “Boston Rob,” or “Rob from Boston” as one of my old co-workers referred to him, is one of the show’s most popular players, evidenced by that co-worker having not watched Survivor since probably 2004 but still remembering this guy’s name (well, close enough).  In Survivor’s “prime,” Rupert probably still takes the cake over Rob, but certainly if Probst had his way, Rob would be one of the faces on the Survivor’s Mt. Rushmore – maybe all the faces, if we’re being realistic.  You saw the statues last season, right?  I’m sure Jeff just made one for Sandra because he felt like he “had to.”  Sandra’s was probably left on the Island of the Idols, while the 40-foot bust of Boston Rob is definitely sitting in Probst’s back — no — front yard.


This entire cast knows of Jeff’s undying love for Rob, so they’re going to be doing everything in their power to make sure any push by Probst for a Rob victory is halted immediately.  Rob’s still a huge asset and that may save him from being the first boot, but does anyone really need to keep Rob around?  He’ll help build the shelter on Day 1 and that’s where his true usefulness will end in this season.  I can’t reasonably see Rob making it to the merge.  If he is the smart player he is, knowing Edge of Extinction is in play, his best move would be to get himself voted out so Amber can stay alive all while hyping her up to the jurors joining Rob on the Edge.   Rob has no real shot of winning this game, so if the Marianos want that $2 million, their best bet is truly to do anything they can to get Amber to the end, and that means Rob exiting ASAP.


Sophie Clarke


Survivor: South Pacific (2011)


Probst’s proclaimed reason for not previously being on board for an all-winners season was not having enough compelling winners (re: women) to fully fill a cast. Sophie is absolutely someone who was on his mind when he said that, or would have been if she already had won at the time (I forget when Jeff went on record saying something along those lines), so I love that Sophie is back for this season.  She crushed Jeff’s dream of having a Coach win follow up Boston Rob’s, and anyone who crushes Jeff’s dreams is a crush of mine.  Plus, I have much love for Sophie for surviving and ultimately defeating the Christian cult that controlled her season.  Woof.


I totally had forgotten Sophie was only 22 when she won — if a little “bratty” at times, she still came across to me as wise beyond her years.  I don’t think she’s remembered much by the casual fans, but that means her game wasn’t memorable which is going to be a good thing in this game.  I don’t think Sophie is super connected within the Survivor community, and while not having a lot of pre-game alliances could hurt, I think all of the big egos involved in them will explode and less-connected people like Sophie are going to clean up the carnage.  I could see Sophie being someone who gets swap-screwed with said alliances in play, but if she makes the merge, I’d say she then makes the finale.  Much to Probst’s dismay, I’m rooting for a lot of the “Sophies” to run the game so as to speak to the power and deserved respect of a smooth, sly, social-strategic game.


Kim Spradlin Wolfe


Survivor: One World (2012)


I’m not the only one to say so, but “Kim” would be my answer to the question, “Which winner played the best winning game?”  Like with Danni, the minute I saw Kim I said, “she’s the winner.”  I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Kim at a finale a few years ago and it took about 0.01 seconds to understand even further why she won.  When she speaks to you, she captivates you and melts you with her smile and warm, welcoming eyes.  One World’s wasn’t an impressive cast, but I’d argue that if you place Kim as a newbie in any newbie cast, she’d win more than any other person with which you did the same.  She just has that “it” factor that can neither be described nor defeated.


Watching Kim play with now an elite-level cast is going to be interesting, and while I’m scared for her because she’s definitely one of my favorites among them, I think Kim will do okay.  Will she win?  I think she can, but it’ll be tough towards the end.  A lot of people have brought up Kim’s name as a big threat in their pre-game press, but that’s all before they really get to talk to Kim.  Once she can speak to the cast, I think opinions will quickly change and people will want to work with Kim — pre-game perceptions be damned.  I really hope that happens because I’d 100% support Kim being named the best of the best.  The one criticism about her has always been that she beat one of the weakest casts ever assembled, so I’m excited for her to have the potential here to beat undeniably the best.  The idea of Kim being the only multi-time winner to bat one thousand excites the hell out of me.


Denise Stapley


Survivor: Philippines (2012)


Denise (DENISE!) is the only winner to sit at every single tribal council of their season and that’s fucking badass.  She never had a hidden immunity idol and only wore the immunity necklace once, making that feat all the more impressive.  Being a sex therapist, or being a therapist of any kind for that matter, is what makes Denise so deadly.  She’s spent her life studying how the human brain works and how to get through to even the most closed-minded of individuals.  That should send chills down your spine.  She comes across as so sweet and caring that people forget Denise has the ability to seriously mindfuck the shit out of them.


Since the cast left for Fiji and the names were made official, a lot of people have made Denise their winner pick and for good reason.  It’s hard to even imagine Denise A) not attending tribal council and B) getting voted out because those two things just do not happen.  Denise only had one immunity win her season, but she’s also in better shape than most people in the cast despite being this one’s oldest.  Denise is a 5-foot-nothing powerhouse.  I haven’t heard of any players calling out Denise as the woman to beat, but if they’re really not seeing what all the fans see, then I expect many to meet their death at the hands (and mind) of Denise Stapley.


Tyson Apostol


Survivor: Blood vs. Water (2013)


I’d like to just say how satisfying it was to skip from season 25 to 27 just now and not see the winner of 26 in this cast.  Between them and Boston Rob, there literally would have been no screen time given to anyone else.  On that subject, Tyson is someone who I am desperately wishing does not get purple’d by the edit because he’s the funniest fucking person to ever be on this show.  Tyson was a star of Tocantins and obviously a star of the season he won, but the one season in between it’s like the show didn’t even remember why they cast him — because he is confessional gold.  Literally every line out of Tyson’s mouth has me toppled over in tears of laughter, so I’m hoping his humor makes the air and isn’t lost to Ben finding more idols or Boston Rob building a jacuzzi.


Tyson sees himself as an underrated player, and I agree.  He’s regarded as a goofball with shades of an asshole, but that masks what I think is a brilliant strategic mind.  We saw that come out more in Blood vs. Water where he had to make his way through the entire game where everyone was paired up with their loved ones and he was without his own.  Tyson is also a physical threat that can come through with clutch immunity wins when he needs to.  While he wants to prove he’s always been one of the best, I think that his name not coming up as much as Rob, Sandra, Parvati, etc. is great for Tyson going into this game.  Knowing myself that Tyson is a big threat makes me question whether he can actually win, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m actually liking his odds.  He’s a very jack-of-all-trades player and being great across the board without being necessarily seen already as the greatest of the greats could end up making him exactly that after this is all said and done.


Tony Vlachos


Survivor: Cagayan (2014)


Tony is the winner of the best season of Survivor in the post-Heroes vs. Villains era and how the way he played was able to end with a win speaks to just how chaotic Cagayan truly was.  Before the fire-making challenge and Edge of Extinction were in play, I called Tony’s win the biggest anomaly in Survivor history and didn’t think we’d ever see a win that wasn’t not supposed to happen as much as his (thanks for changing that, Ben and Chris).  Every single episode past the merge in Tony’s first season, I would say, “okay, this must finally be when Tony goes” and I’d always be wrong.  Even surviving one tribal council when Tony came back for Game Changers seemed like a miracle to me.


With all of Tony’s wild idol hunts, spy shacks, and blowing shit up at tribal council, Tony should have no shot in hell of winning this season, but there’s some small part of me that thinks maybe he does.  Coming back to be voted out early helps Tony in that it helps people not see him as the first person they need to get rid of because it’s already been done once.  A lot of the cast could be thinking, “it’s Tony — he won’t win again” and thus will take him less seriously as a threat.  The premise of this season alone is legendary, and a legendary season deserves a legendary outcome.  Tony winning would arguably accomplish that the most because it would mean that even more chaos would have to ensue than ensued in Cagayan, and that just isn’t imaginable.  Realistically, Tony is probably looking at life on the Edge if not pre-merge then definitely soon after, but I’ll give him a shot.  He blew my mind once before – maybe he’ll do it again.  He wields the greatest Survivor weapon of all — the ability to speak Llama.


Natalie Anderson


Survivor: San Juan del Sur (2014)


Natalie was such a surprise winner of SJdS only because when the season started, the field quickly seemed narrowed down to just two, Josh and Jeremy.  Natalie was seen a little as Jeremy’s right-hand woman, but when both he and Josh got the boot at the early merge, that’s when Natalie took over and dominated her way to her win.  She’s strong, she’s smart, and she knows how to make people like her.  I also think Natalie’s endgame was one of the most exciting and impressive to watch — “Jaclyn, did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” is easily a top Survivor finale moment for me (in fact, I just pulled up YouTube in the middle of this entry to go watch it again).


I think people “rate” Natalie appropriately, being an all-around great winner of the game.  I wouldn’t have expected one of the wild and crazy “Twinnies” from The Amazing Race to do so well on Survivor, but I’m glad this one did because Natalie brings so much fire and energy to this already stacked cast.  Given all of her assets she brings to the table, I see Natalie as another late-game player with honestly great odds at making it to the end and winning.  I think she’ll always be a threat while never being the biggest threat, especially if she plays the meat shield strategy and surrounds herself with targets.  All winners have what it takes to win — duh, because they won — but Natalie has more than most when it comes to having what it takes to win again.  Natalie could play almost the exact same way and get the same successful outcome which isn’t something I think everyone else in this cast can say.


Jeremy Collins


Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance (2015)


With Mike Holloway not making the cut, Natalie and Jeremy end up back-to-back winners in this cast which is kind of cool.  What will be interesting is to see how they play together — surely, they’ll be allies if they can, but I wonder how long it will be until one makes a move on the other.  Both of their winning games, they played with that similar “meat shield” strategy.  Jeremy was Natalie’s originally, but he’s not going to let himself be that again.  He may even think Natalie’s a shield since she’s never lost which could create a fun dynamic between this duo.  I don’t think either will let each other get to the end, but I’d expect them both to go very far as maybe the tightest alliance in the game next to Rob and Amber.


Jeremy’s Second Chance showing was masterclass.  While his competition wasn’t as strong as it will be this time given that he’s never played with winners before (at least at the onset of the game), season 31’s cast was no set of pushovers and included several of the “best to never win,” and also Spencer Bledsoe.  Somehow, I think Jeremy is going in with this group not labeled as one of best – certainly well-regarded, but he’s not been given any sort of god-status even though he’s already won in a returning player season.  I could see Jeremy pulling the same wool over everyone’s eyes with everyone asking “how did we let this clear powerhouse player get to the end?” again.  He has the mind and body for this game, but he’s also someone everyone just loves.  Jeremy at the end is a win against most people, I think, but will the cast recognize that before it’s too late and he’s just an idol play or immunity win away from making it there?  I don’t know.


Michele Fitzgerald


Survivor: Kaoh Rong (2016)


Michele Fitzgerald – the biggest “bad bitch”/slayer of fan favorites this game has ever seen.  I have always been and will always be a champion of Michele winning Kaoh Rong.  I love Aubry and I’d have loved her winning, but I don’t hate Michele winning like many fans do — in fact, I loved that too.  The show did Michele a disservice by making the latter half of her season the Aubry story when it should’ve been the Aubry and Michele story if the final tribal council was going to be as contentious as it was.  We saw the game mostly through Aubry’s perspective, so of course, your average fan isn’t going to like Michele making it to the end and winning because it didn’t make any obvious sense.  It’s a shame that Michele has to come back with a vengeance even though she already won just to shut up the fanbase, but I am so here for her doing exactly that.


Michele is like several other winners before her, some also in this cast, that prove Survivor is, at its core, about social skills and jury management.  Even if you dictate who ends up on the jury and when, if you lose their votes in the process, that’s a failure on the part of your social game.  It’s as simple as that.  From Day 1, Michele stuck to what she knew best and played a stellar social game, so in the end, she won.  I know Jeff hates that so much that he changed numerous components of the game just to ensure it didn’t happen again, so how epic would it be if Michele won again after playing 3 hidden immunity idols she bought with fire tokens, winning her way back from the Edge of Extinction, winning the final four fire-making challenge, and monopolizing 95% of the talk time at the open-forum final tribal council?


As a lifelong fan, I’d be horrified at anyone else doing that, but if it was Michele, it’d be the biggest “fuck you” to Jeff and to anyone who still protests her win, so that would make me happy.  Now, if Michele wins, it won’t be because of any of that shit because she doesn’t need it.  She’s going into this game as widely underestimated while being just as sharp and savvy as she was her first time, so I’m placing Michele toward the top of my list of contenders anyway, but you know I’m all for a “fuck you” type of ending, so I’d be quite content if all that other stuff actually happens and Michele just stands up and starts playing her world’s smallest violin at the reunion show as Jeff reads the unanimous vote tally.


Adam Klein


Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X (2016)


Adam is another winner who I feel like the show was not as kind to as it should have been — luckily his season’s “main character” (David) was instead voted out before the final tribal council, so Adam’s win couldn’t be so contentious, but Adam still gets flack for not playing a super clean game.  He was definitely messy at times, but overall, he knew what he was doing and didn’t fall ass-backwards into his 10-0-0 win.  Adam is another winner who took advantage of the meat shield strategy, always making sure there was at least one other bigger threat than him for everyone to target, and when Adam’s not talking down to people about their position on the bottom, he’s a gifted speaker — in his time after the show, Adam not only went on to do some motivational speaking but also currently hosts his own reality show (inspired by the success of his The Mole: Lake Tahoe from his youth, I’m sure).


A couple summers ago, there was a two-day Survivor: Maryland game held in celebration of its retiring host, Austin Trupp, which both Adam and I participated in along with his pal Sunday Burquest who would go on to win that game (sorry, spoilers — that’s a whole other fun story).  Even though it was a limited time, I got to experience Adam’s playstyle firsthand and it was a lot more aggressive and calculated than I think people would assume from only watching him on TV.  Honestly, I was a little afraid — I thought, “this guy’s intense!”  I mentioned Kim had that natural charisma about her that draws people in and I think Adam has the same.  You want to trust Adam and you want to work with him because you believe what he’s telling you with how well he sells it.  He’d make a great salesman, in my opinion, and his reputation from the show is going to hide that a little as he goes up against some of his Survivor idols.


Now, had this season taken place right after Adam won, I’d have easily put him at the top of my contender list, but with him being in the Survivor community for a few years now and meeting a lot of these former winners, I think they’re all going to be on to Adam’s game a lot more than they would’ve been had they not met him before this season.  I don’t anticipate Adam being an early boot, but I don’t think this cast is going to let him get away with what he did his first season and get to the end with a “Ken” or “Hannah” — frankly, because there isn’t one.  However, I’d still put Adam relatively high on my list.  If he can play up his naiveté or “newness” to the winners circle a bit in the beginning, I think he could end up overlooked as the serious killer that he is.


Sarah Lacina


Survivor: Game Changers (2017)


Like when I initially went into Game Changers, I thought Sarah stood a great chance of potentially winning this season because she still to me wasn’t a “big name” winner even though she won a returning player season.  She played an absolutely killer and cutthroat game, but she also had the huge advantage of going in as being one of the smallest threats.  She wasn’t going in with targets like Sandra and Tony when she later proved to be just as capable at creating chaos as them.  If Sarah started that season with even a small portion of the reputation as a player as she had when it ended, she would’ve been out fast.


I say all that because I still thought Sarah would be overlooked in this cast because she was the winner of Game Changers of all seasons, a season a lot of people try and forget, but from some of the press that’s been published ... Sarah is fucked.  I even think she stands a chance to go before Amber and Sandra who are both on her initial tribe.  People saw her go from cop to criminal, and no one wants to find out the hard way what comes after that.  Sarah got away with murder last time she played, but it’s just not looking like this cast will turn the other eye on her this time.  “LOCK HER UP” they’ll say as she serves her sentence on the Edge of Extinction.


Ben Driebergen


Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers (2017)


Survivor superfans are mostly still split on Michele’s win over Aubry or even Sandra’s win over Parvati, but what we all unanimously agree on is that Ben shouldn’t have been in the final three at all.  I’ll say that I actually like Ben — I don’t want that to be lost here.  He’s a great guy that brought a lot of fun energy to his season until about the final seven where it all went to shit because of him — well, mostly because of Jeff, but to the benefit of Ben.  Replanting idols after idols for Ben to find wasn’t so shocking even if it was frustrating, but the straw — or in this case, the anvil — that broke the camel’s back was the introduction of the final four fire-making challenge, seemingly designed to give Ben an additional chance to survive the final four on top of the final immunity challenge.


I hate Ben’s win — not as much as Chris Underwood’s, but it still sucked for the show and especially as a Chrissy fan, it was gut-wrenching to watch.  I don’t care what people say on the Chrissy vs. Devon vs. Ryan debate — Chrissy would’ve talked circles around those boys at final tribal council and secured her spot on this season (imagine how epic her black and white shot could’ve been *cries*).  Ben as a player himself has potential to win again, and he was positioned relatively well until he just became too big of a threat like many losers before him, but given how he won the first time, he’s going to have to really do a lot to impress this cast and earn that title of the greatest among them.  As a player, I’d be nervous about Ben finding idols, so he’d honestly be one of my first targets.  Ben is still a really likable guy though and I think it’ll be tough for people to vote him out early.  With his win having an asterisk next to it, I also think he won’t be viewed as a serious threat which could create some longevity for him in the game.  I hope Ben doesn’t win because he shouldn’t have made the cut in the first place, but I won’t rule him out as someone on my radar.


Wendell Holland


Survivor: Ghost Island (2018)


Wendell played a much better winning game than Ben, but he was the second winner to benefit from the “twist” to the final four, robbing Domenick of what would’ve likely been a unanimous victory over Laurel and Angela when he beat Wendell in the final immunity challenge.   Wendell won by the closest margin of any winner — a tie vote followed by a sole vote to break the tie — but put into any cast, he’d probably have done just as well if not won by a larger margin.  Wendell’s a smart, social, and strong guy with all the makings to do well in Survivor.  For some reason, I’ve just never been a huge fan.  It’s probably mostly because I was cheering for Domenick all the way (what would’ve been my first appearance and first win in the TDT pre-season draft), but Wendell technically not beating Domenick in the jury vote didn’t help.


Wendell is another winner who didn’t have the steepest of competition in his winning season.  Ghost Island was another one that wasn’t lit with the brightest of bulbs post-merge (especially after Chris “The Noble One” was voted out), so Wendell may not be ready exactly for what’s about to hit him.  However, I think Wendell will go far — he brings a lot to an alliance and a tribe and isn’t someone who needs to be dealt with until later in the game.  He’s potentially finale-bound, sizing up the rest of the cast, but I think he’ll go this time before he’s let to win his way to the end with making fire again.


Nick Wilson


Survivor: David vs. Goliath (2018)


Nick is the newest member of this elite club, and that’s either going to work for him or against him in this cast (there really is so much “could go either way” talk with this cast).  Either Nick will be quickly targeted for having the least number of ties to everyone, or for that same reason, he’ll be scooped up by whichever alliance gets to him first — the one most eager to get a catchy nickname, of course.


David vs. Goliath was such a stellar season that I wished we’d have gotten a more epic winner — asking for another “Tony” would’ve been a lot, but it kills me how close we were to an Angelina win.  I don’t think that jury clearly understood her game and what exactly it was that she sacrificed so her tribe wouldn’t literally starve to death.  Disgusting.  Nick had an extremely rough start to the game, and had it not been for an unfortunate medevac, he may have even been its first boot (I think it’s come out since that he probably wouldn’t have been, but it’s a better story to tell if the winner was one unfortunate wave — for Pat — away from being the first one out).  Nick isn’t stupid, but I wonder if he’s going to be a little starstruck by his competition — not in the sense of letting them walk all over him, but not knowing how to walk over them.  I could see Nick lying low for a bit and later push for a Big Move™ to impress everyone and build his résumé, but have it blow up in his face.  If he can instead keep his cool, I could see him being close to the end, but if that’s the case, he may end up more of a “passenger” in the eyes of the jury, so basically I feel like Nick is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.


The winners


So, how do I line up all these winners?  Honestly, with Edge of Extinction, it’s next to impossible to do so.  Everyone has the quality of a winner because they’re all winners.  That’s the point.  For almost everyone standing in that photo, I can imagine anywhere from another win to a first (or second, or third, or — if you’re Boston Rob — a fourth) loss.  A boot order prediction is entirely out the window with EoE, so here’s just my best guess at who has the best chances to win:


0% chance of winning this game: Kass Sandra


Outlook is not so good: Rob, Amber, Tony, Sarah, Ethan, Ben, Parvati


Maybe it’s Maybelline: Adam, Nick, Wendell, Sophie, Yul, Kim


Coming for Sandra’s crown: Danni, Tyson, Jeremy, Denise, Natalie, Michele


I’m pretty confident on the first two groups.  Parvati is the only likely of those to surprise me with a win.  Of the “Maybe” group, I may be a little too optimistic about Kim, but also, she’s Kim.  The others are ones that I think have the best odds at escaping being an early target with potential to sit at the end.  As for my top contenders, I think I’m in line with a lot the fanbase.  My outlier there is probably Danni, but dammit, I believeGuatemala is a season often forgotten by the show with Danni being its first returnee (excluding Stephenie since she was already a returnee there), but I’m all here for Danni Girl putting it back on the fucking map.  She’s going to follow in the footsteps of her Kansas City Chiefs and win this Survivor Super Bowl.


Let the battle begin!


Ryan KaiserRyan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth.  Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser