And with that, the last old schooler has been snuffed. With the Edge of Extinction, of course, there’s still a chance for that flame to be reignited — and the odds are 7-in-8 in favor of that happening — but I expect this to still remain a new school-dominated game. That’s a hard pill to swallow as someone who’s been watching since the beginning, but the 40th season should be a celebration of Survivor old and new, and I’m happy to say that it’s been exactly that. Tragically, most of my old-schoolers are gone for good, but that’s probably a good thing for my physical, mental, and emotional health every week. Now it’s time for new school to devour itself which should be a fun feast for everyone.
SITTING THIS ONE OUT
The start of this episode was the biggest blindside of the season for me next to the Ethan vote, but at least with Sandra’s departure, it immediately made sense to me.
Fans will be mixed on this, some saying Sandra ruined her legacy with a “quit” while the better of us defending that she will always keep the crown. Sandra said before the season that she hates the Edge of Extinction. As an old-schooler like many of us, she fell in love with the show that said, “when your fire’s gone, so are you.” Among her final words were, “I got voted out and now it’s time for me to go.” Simple but powerful and speaking to that entire first era of Survivor.
Sandra doesn’t play Survivor for the experience, to be on TV, or to “test” herself and see how long she can last — she plays for one thing and one thing only: the paycheck. Once the (two) million dollars is out of reach, Sandra’s done, and anyone who isn’t delusional should admit that as soon as Sandra was sent to the Edge, she wasn’t winning the game. Our master statistician here at TDT records that Sandra went 0-for-20 in individual challenges during her career — hoped as we might have, she wasn’t winning shit. All she would’ve done by staying on the Edge was waited for a spot on the jury which, again, she gives zero fucks about. She wants the win for herself, not for anyone else.
Even a year ago, I did not consider leaving the Edge of Extinction a “quit.” The Edge is an entirely different game than what Survivor is at its core. Sandra didn’t even attempt to play this new game — with her decision to leave, she made it clear that this was a long-calculated decision with no thought of “this is too hard for me.” The Edge of Extinction experience was something Sandra would have never signed up for, so I don’t think anyone can think less of her for “sitting out.” Most of us hate the Edge, and so do many of the winners, but Sandra’s the first person so far to stare in its stupid face and say, “Fuck you.” I think that’s the courage and authenticity to one’s own character that makes Sandra among the show’s elite.
Sandra didn’t quit Survivor — she got voted out of Survivor, and no amount of wishful thinking was going to will her back into the game. She had nothing to lose by coming out this fourth time, and after her torch was left, she no longer had anything to win, so like she said herself, staying would’ve only been a waste of her time. I respect the hell out of her decision to leave on her own terms rather than drag out her experience until the inevitable happened. Sandra completed her Survivor journey as she saw it, and no additional 23 days of starvation or jury duty was going to add to that, so she decided to sit out this one last time.
The queen stays queen.
FIRE TOKEN FRISK
Rob just straight-up grabbing his junk on national TV.
The “fun” wasn’t over this week on the Edge, a.k.a. Old School Island. Parvati claimed the role as the resident Reem, saying that getting voted out before the merge was “so lame” ahead of getting some small satisfaction back in seeing Sandra also voted out.
The next excitement at the Edge of Extinction involved a search for more fire tokens — this time, it was a straightforward game of finding needles in a haystack. Four fire tokens were scattered around the island, and the race was on to claim them as there was no limit to how many one person could find. We saw Tyson quickly claim one, outrunning the “portly chap” Rob to do so, and then regroup with everyone else where even after a frisk-down, they all thought the other three tokens were still yet to be bequeathened.
In a bit of time-twisted storytelling, Rob actually revealed that he managed to find the other three before the frisking, putting him with just one fire token behind Natalie’s 4. With the re-entry challenge next week, I’m guessing there will be no more fire tokens up for grabs which means that Parvati and Yul are shit out of luck — especially Yul who had no opportunity to find any fire tokens despite lasting longer than everyone else on the Edge (that seems backwards, doesn’t it?)
Knowing this could be their last chance, I imagine everyone else will spend one of — if not their only — tokens on a challenge advantage. That would leave Rob with two more to spend on two additional advantages, and Natalie could either do the same or go with one advantage and spend her other 3 tokens on a hidden immunity idol. All this means is that next week could finally be the return of the Survivor Auction, so maybe Tyson will have the opportunity to purchase something like a big chocolate cake.
He’ll then charge one fire token for anyone who wants to lick his fingers.
SELE SWEET TALK
After tribal council, the mood at Sele was tense to say the least. Wendell’s behavior there particularly struck a chord with Yul and Michele. This was as close to “pissed off Yul” I think the world will ever see — patting him on the back after politely expressing his concerns — Yul didn’t like Wendell offering his vote to Parvati at tribal, even if it was disingenuous, and this obviously upset Yul, but his approach with Wendell was so soft and sweet. I could tell Yul genuinely wanted to help Wendell mend his reputation, even telling Wendell that he hoped it was okay to even be approaching him like that — what a sweetheart.
Because of their history, Michele didn’t have to approach Wendell so sweetly, and I don’t think she was aggressive at all, but Wendell sarcastically thanked her for “schooling” him over his tribal council behavior which Yul awkwardly overheard from just a few feet away.
Michele revealed that she had given a fire token to Wendell to help patch things up, but then shortly after, said that she wasn’t really interested in moving forward with him. This whole back and forth between them was interesting at first because “exes” isn’t something we’ve seen on Survivor – certainly not on any Blood vs. Water season. (But wouldn’t that be fun?) However, I’m over it, especially seeing as how it hasn’t really impacted the game.
We’re only being shown the worst of it, but clearly both Wendell and Michele see strategic value in sticking together, so a lot of this is just drama for the sake of drama. If “Winchele” turns into some sort of anti-Romber for the entire rest of the season, getting into fights but fixing everything before the vote, that’s going to get repetitive fast — it already has for me — so until Wendell or Michele moves to vote the other one out, give me something else other than this lovers scorned silliness.
Tony was excited because someone had finally made a flashier move than him with Denise “taking out the queen with her own bullet,” as he put it. Tony was trying to talk Denise up like she’s now the biggest target in the game, but Jeremy reminded us that that target is still Tony, and looking at who’s all on the Edge ... Jeremy’s correct.
Denise, however, gave us a reminder of her own that no matter how everyone is playing, they’re all playing. While she made the biggest move of the season, Denise is still incredibly skilled at flying under the radar, so I don’t see that move making her a big merge target. Kim is also going to be play a big role in Denise and Jeremy’s game moving forward as since the swap, Kim has finally found options. This is a threesome that’s going to be one to watch as we go into next week, especially with Denise and Jeremy picking up Adam and Michele, their original Sele allies.
Tony would’ve been toast had Dakal lost this week, so thank the Survivor gods they didn’t, but I’m not sure where his piece fits in this big puzzle. He’s going to stand out but if we see original Dakal and original Sele regroup, Tony wasn’t at the top of Dakal, so he’s going to fall more in the middle between any original alliances, and if that works for him, I think we could be in for a surprise of Tony dictating how the next several votes go as he flip flops between “bunkers.” On the flip side, recent merges have gone after the person who’s least connected as an easy first vote, so being a bit of a floater could indeed make Tony target number one. I hope it’s not that, but seeing as how the season has went so far for me, it probably is.
I sympathized with Adam here because one reason Ben has always bugged me is that he’s so high-energy, and sometimes he can be like that kid who thinks you two are having fun playing together when he’s actually just being really fucking annoying and in-your-face. From the peanut butter-jelly song and dance to the way he was interrogating Adam about the idol, I felt for Adam because that “so annoying” face is basically me 90% of the time when I’m around people (it’s why life in quarantine hasn’t been so terrible).
Adam was also being messed with by Sarah and Sophie who both knew exactly where the idol was — in Sophie’s bag — and Sophie seemed just tickled by Adam having a minor aneurysm over it.
Also same energy ....
I’m not sure why the show has decided to make Adam its punching bag this season (maybe for lack of others even coming close?) but man has this boy taken a beating. He’s been a little more “so annoying” to me too, I’ll admit, but especially this week I understood his frustration even if he felt a little too entitled to someone fessing up about the idol when he thought he had correctly called the bluff.
Adam said that few times in Survivor had he felt as confident as he did about Ben or Sarah having the idol which was immediately followed by this amazing shot:
Adam’s been one of the most prominent players throughout this pre-merge, and since that big hero moment a few challenges ago, I’ve wondered if he’s had more of a shot at the win than the show’s otherwise been giving him credit, but I think this episode finally buried him. When Adam could’ve easily been painted as smart for nearly solving the idol mystery, instead that final glance at Yara served as a reminder that he was dead wrong. Could he be drawing dead at the merge? If I had to pick one, then with all edits considered, I may have to make Adam my guess for the merge boot.
IMMUNITY – LESS THAN A SECOND
While I’d rather one of the last boots have been Wendell, at least this new side we’re seeing of him provides some laughs. I felt a little alone during Ghost Island thinking that Wendell had an arrogant edge to him, but now we’ve seen how Wendell sometimes “thinks he’s the shit” as Michele once put to Parvati. I don’t think he’s really a “villain” like a lot of people are saying — he’s just cocky (I’m sure a Survivor win will do that to some people). I also enjoyed the juxtaposition between him trying to toss the immunity idol to Jeff last week and Sophie making Jeff walk all the way over to get it this time:
That’s also what Sophie slaying Coach at the end of South Pacific looked like.
The challenge couldn’t have ended closer, so the biggest beating anyone took in this one was poor Michele on that balance beam. Ever since Game Changers, I pay close attention to balancing acts as to award the Kaiser Island blog’s most prestigious award, the Debbie Donato Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam.
Now, normally, I wait until the finale to name the DDWABPBB title to allow for a full season’s worth of entries, but Island of the Idols sadly gave us no performances worthy of this win, so I guess I’m eager to call it early in Winners at War. I simply cannot imagine anyone taking a bigger fall than this one at any point in the future, and it’s also fitting for this season’s title to go to someone from Debbie’s original season, so without further ado ...
Congratulations Michele Fitzgerald on your fabulous fall! We stan your failure to stay standing!
Fun fact: this is the second time the DDWABPBB has been handed out for this challenge, the last time being awarded to the entire Jabeni tribe for just being the absolute worst ever. Maybe this challenge should be saved for the next Ghost Island because it’s clearly cursed.
With that out of the way, Wendell’s failure is the only other item worth mentioning in this challenge. Sele lost to Dakal by less than a second, and we know that Wendell spent more than a few trying to get Jeff’s attention, so that was pretty embarrassing. Yul said that Wendell had dug his own grave with that blow of another win, but in Survivor, those words meant Wendell was completely safe, and so began me preparing a Yulogy the rest of the episode.
THEY’RE COMING FOR YOU
What was with that theme music for Michele though???
The typical misdirect confessionals were given back at camp where everyone was pissed at Wendell, but I think I said this last week: no one is taking a poor challenge performance into consideration this season. Especially this late in the game, it’s all eyes on the merge.
Yul checked with Nick to set their votes for Wendell — planning to tell Wendell they were voting for Michele — and meanwhile, Wendell walked away with Michele to say they needed to vote for Yul. Yep, there it was. At one point, Nick and Michele did seem up in the air about the vote, but the story we were sold about why it ultimately could be Yul leads me to believe it was just that — a story.
Yul shared his “dark” plan to vote Wendell out while trying to be bequeathed his fire tokens — the same exact plan Michele pulled off last week with Parvati. Yul even admitted the tokens would go to Michele, so all he was asking for was one in helping with the hand-off. We’re supposed to buy that between the two tribal councils, leveraging fire tokens shifted from smart to something sinister as Michele told Nick that Yul was trying to do “all this crazy shit.” With this being identical to Michele’s move last week, I don’t believe that this is only reason Yul became a target.
I feel like well before this, Michele had already made inroads with Nick and Wendell and that Yul’s grave may have already been dug – the fire tokens fiasco was just the last push needed to get Yul to fall in. Wendell warned Michele not to let Yul work any magic on her because it was already known that Yul is a Survivor social-strategic wizard. Much like Wendell last week, Yul didn’t do anything obscenely aggressive here. The show just needed some narrative to distract us from two very clean-cut, unanimous votes for Sele. That, I believe, is precisely what really happened with Michele only voting oppositely for Parvati’s few fire tokens.
I don’t know what I’d prefer. On one hand, I’d hate an obvious vote with no suspense, but sometimes the fake-out ruins it even more, and then I’m just left wishing I’d have been shown the actual reason for why a vote went the way it did. The misdirection can also misrepresent the players — Yul looked a little foolish for wanting the fire tokens so desperately, and with Wendell being the “bad” guy, Michele and Nick looked negative for wanting to work with him. There’s a chance Yul really was safe until he spooked everyone on his last day, or Wendell, Nick, and Michele were already together since before the game even began. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle but leaning more toward the latter — Yul’s just another tragic case of being outnumbered by new school.
Wendell went into tribal council with a mood, and that’s something you know Jeff’s going to address immediately, so Wendell went into why it was a frustrating day but that nothing significant had happened with changing the vote. With that, we turned to Yul who Jeff pointed out as the last remaining old school player in the game — THANKS, JEFFREY — asking him if old-schoolers have a tougher time in the new school game.
I thought this was a stupid question. The game is different today, sure, but these winners won for a reason. This goes back to one of the first things said in those old school seasons: they must learn to adapt or be voted out of the tribe. Any winner understands that core concept of the game, so whether it’s 2000 or 2020, they’re going to be able to do the same. Except now, especially for old-schoolers, their names are just too big not to target. Probst needs to put this “old school is too old” narrative to bed immediately — even considering that the game has evolved beyond the capabilities of its original legends proves just how out of touch Probst remains.
One thing that also stayed the same is that the more something is talked about at tribal, the less likely it is to be the real plan. Everyone still holds their cards extremely close just before the vote, so while the Michele/Wendell drama was exactly the kind Jeff likes dwell on, it made it only clearer to me that they were functioning just fine together and that Yul was the one getting the wool pulled over his eyes. The couple’s charade was nothing more than yet another layer of duplicity.
Sigh ... no side snuff of respect for Yul ....
Yul was the biggest surprise in the cast for me, because of how off-the-radar he was, and he delivered ten-fold this season, solidifying him as one of Survivor’s best. I expected Yul to play a relatively quiet game, but he came packing a punch in the premiere, and with that I hoped we’d be in for an entire season of this new Yulfather. Sadly, when he started talking about how he was having “happy times,” I knew they wouldn’t last very long. Yul showed he’s one of the best social players of the game and one of the most pure-hearted people to every play. Mix that with being a strategic mastermind and a physical threat, it’s less of a surprise to see Yul struck down before the merge.
Like all the other old-schoolers, Yul had an uphill battle being outnumbered by new school from the very beginning. Some of the old-schoolers made more mistakes than others (Danni girl T_T) but I think it’s silly of Probst or anyone else to speculate that these icons can’t keep up in the new school game. It’s because they’re icons that they were targeted so fast. New school Survivor couldn’t exist without old school, so I think we should all say, “thank you for schooling me” to some of the game’s pioneers. It’s been sad to see the torch passed on, so to speak, from the OGs to the newbies, but these historic names had nothing to prove, and many had already had moved on from Survivor, so I can’t appreciate enough their willingness to go for one more win anyway. In the end, they’re all royalty to me no matter who we call the king or the queen.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR...
That’s me trying to predict anything ahead of next week. I’m still pretty confident that Tyson’s at least making a return, but what that will do to the game, who knows. There are a lot of connections coming back together: Denise and Adam, Wendell and Nick with Sophie and Sarah, Michele and Jeremy — and all of them have picked up new companions. I’d look at Michele, Jeremy, Denise, Adam, and maybe Ben as a unit from Sele with Wendell, Nick, Sophie, and Sarah being a rival group from Dakal. Kim would likely go with the former while Tony could be a big wild card with the EoE returnee – maybe pulling from Tony’s old bag of tricks and flip flopping back and forth. This is Winners at War, and if it’s been bloody so far, I think it’s only going to get bloodier with everyone now living on one beach.
Michele – Slaychele Fitzmillionaire with another #winning episode! What a rockstar — the show literally gave her theme music! I’ve been a Michele truther since 2016 and I’m glad to see her this season get the credit she’s been long overdue. Some haters will never die, and this week we’ll see them shout about how she’s weak for letting Wendell walk all over her or how she’s suffering from Stockholm syndrome, but make no mistake — Michele has been winning this game. As I’ve already called out, this fiery feud between her and Wendell I think is “awkward” at best. He’s not manipulating her, nor is she too timid to turn on him. If Michele didn’t feel like Wendell was better for her game than Yul, she’d have voted out Wendell. They have their moments, but overall, they’re managing just fine.
It’s nothing new for the show to blow up a story for ratings, and they especially love anything to do with a showmance — or in this case, an ex-lovers’ quarrel — a Survivor first. Michele knows what she’s doing and isn’t letting emotion get in her way of another win — keeping Wendell I think is the strongest evidence of that. Wendell has already dug himself a hole, and he’s going to need Michele way more than Yul ever would have, so while a loss for the fans, this vote was another win for Michele.
Michele had a shaky start being left out of the first vote, but since then she’s been in on every single plan, some of which she can even call her own. I’ve loved the story Michele’s been given and while it’s still disappointing that there’s any reason for her to feel she has to prove she deserved her first win, I’m glad she’s simultaneously showing everyone why she’d deserve a second. If you’re still sleeping on Michele, you’re making a grande mistake.
Ryan 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