This week, Winners at War switched from so many loved ones to ... so much Tony! And despite some online grousing, this was a good thing.
According to Survivor Reddit, Tony set a record for most confessionals in a single episode this week, with 18. As Jeff Probst explained to Dalton Ross, part of the reason for that is that every key piece of action involved Tony in some way: he simply found an idol, then Natalie and Parvati played the extortion advantage against him, then he simply had to rustle up three fire tokens from his allies, then he simply won immunity, then he simply engineered Sophie's blindside. Simple as that!
As Ryan Kaiser reminded us this week, overloading on one contestant can have its downside, as with the repetitive nature of Russell Hantz's confessionals in Samoa. That seemed more like an unforced error of choice, because while Russell found a lot of idols, there were plenty of times where he wasn't really doing much but bragging about himself in confessional, while other people were just shoved to the sidelines to make room for more of it.
A better and more recent parallel would be Rick Devens in Edge of Extinction (who just so happened to be the RHAP recap guest this week): Rick was finding idols, winning challenges, making and hiding fake idols, driving the action, and doing all this while delivering solid confessional entertainment throughout. There was still room for Julia and Gavin's attempted coup, Julie's short-lived flip, the riseand fall of Ron Clark, Wardog's blindside of Wentworth, and so on. Yet people still complained about Too Much Devens, because any time someone gets popular, some portion of the superfandom feel obligated to hate that person because balance, or something.
Tony's confessionals here were all top-notch — particularly his kid-on-Christmas-morning delight, imploding into a questioning pile of disbelief as he reads the Extortion Advantage notice — and relevant to the action. Even in the midst of the Tony Episode, we still had room for Sarah's fashion show (highlighting another Sarah-Tony dispute), and Kim and Denise's attempted betrayal of Jeremy. But again, people still have
Still, Probst was right. Were there really any other options? A lot of Tony is *a lot* to be sure, but the only real negotiable piece here was to maybe shuffle the idol find off to a different episode, since it didn't end up being relevant afterward. But then that would have made the scramble for fire tokens seem artificially perilous, and Tony's tricking Nick into "helping" by looking somewhere he'd already searched also served to demonstrate that Nick and Tony were on decent terms with each other, which sets up Nick later giving him a fire token AND Nick being the first to sign on to Tony's scheme to blindside Sophie.
Of course, the other option would be to *not* deploy the Extortion Advantage this episode. For everyone complaining that the show is rigged, look no further than their following through on this obviously pro-Tony brainstorm.
Tony vs. Ben vs. Kim (and Sarah?) - The story of the game (endgame?)
As pointed out last week, the editors used shot framing to highlight Tony and Ben (and to a lesser degree Kim) during the scene where the contestants and their loved ones returned to camp. This echoed the premiere, where in the opening segment before the division into tribes, Tony had the first confessional, and Ben had the last one. (All the other speakers are currently on EoE.) This season-long contrast and/or competition between Tony and Ben (again with a side of Kim) continued this episode, through the eyes of Jeremy.
Jeremy saw Tony as his best shot at getting back in the numbers. While the audience knew that Tony actually wanted Jeremy out, in Jeremy's eyes Tony was at least an opportunity to keep playing, and hopefully forestall a Pagonging. Tony was "very believable" in his entreaties on the bench, despite Kim's misgivings. In contrast, from the beginning of the episode, Ben was a roadblock: unwilling to tell Jeremy about the Tribal he skipped out on, unwilling to listen to Jeremy's side of the story. Later, Jeremy complained at length about Ben, noting that while he was a good guy back on Day 1, now Ben just constantly annoyed him.
Interestingly, Tony and Ben also stand out in this weeks' statistics: They lead the field by a huge margin in SurvAv, largely because they've both voted a bunch of people out (5 for Tony, 7 for Ben), and neither has been voted against. They're also (surprisingly) #1 and #2 in Mean % finish in individual challenges, although here Jeremy is close behind, with Tony at 76%, Ben at 73%, and Jeremy at a nice 69%.
It's still unclear where all this is going, because while Tony finally broke free of his self-imposed restraints and led the blindside this episode, we've yet to see Ben organize any strategic big moves this season. Still, we've consistently been shown that Tony and Ben are two of the tent poles of this season, representing distinct, opposing playing styles.
Emerging as a third pole this week (in some kind of pyramidal structure, apparently?) was Kim. Throughout this episode she was sharp and observant, never once falling for Tony's double agent charade. Except that of course at the end, she was left out of the plan, because Tony also didn't trust her. For the past two episodes at least, Kim has been staking out a position as Tony's foil. Last week, she tried to rally Jeremy and Tyson to oppose the (Sophie-led) Tony-Sarah majority. This week, Kim alone consistently saw through Tony's attempt to play both sides.
It's possible that Kim's role here is merely as a short-term competitor for Tony. Everyone's aware she's a threat, she's used her idol, and her allies keep getting voting out. If that's the case, maybe Sarah will be his ultimate foe, and the long, slow unraveling of Cops-R-Us will give us our final showdown.
Whatever the case, it's great to have Tony back playing at full strength, and it will be interesting to see how all these opposing forces end up battling it out.
Is Tony the American David?
This week, Survivor took a break to air a fashion show during Episode 11 of Winners at War. It was a fun, light-hearted moment, kicked off by a sarcastic, self-deprecating Sarah, and was a welcome addition to the Survivor lexicon. Coincidentally, Episode 11 of Australian Survivor: All-Stars featured the Mokuta tribe's talent show. Both had announcers speaking into stick microphones (Sophie Clarke here, Lee Carseldine there). It was a remarkable moment of convergent evolution between the two franchises.
(Confusingly, AU: All-Stars actually filmed two months after Winners at War, but their talent show episode aired way back in February, which feels like a lifetime ago.)
We bring all this up because AU: All-Stars may also have one of the best comparisons to Tony's current game: David Genat (shown above). It's an interesting comp because (spoiler for AU: All-Stars) David won. And supermodel Dave is obviously Tony's physical twin.
Both David and Tony entered their most recent seasons with a reputation for Big Moves, for bombastic, enthusiastic confessionals, and for high-intensity/ -entertainment value idol finds. David didn't win his first time out in AU: Champions v. Contenders 2, but he returned with an appetite for showmanship, made some innovative changes to his game (the secret alliance with Mat Rogers at the start, the secret alliance with Moana and Sharn that took him to the finals), and came away with a win, despite seemingly having a massive target on his back the entire time. In another parallel, David also found an idol in Episode 11, just like Tony. Seriously, he even misdirected an ally, telling that ally to go search in an area where he'd already looked! (Albeit using poor Phoebe's clue.)
Tony appears poised to match David's ultimate outcome as well. As was the case with David for most of the season, there's a huge degree of difficulty to that, especially now that Tony is back to playing with a Cagayan-like intensity. At any point, Tony's tribemates could just collectively decide they've had enough, and vote him out. He still has to survive five more votes, and his idol can only save him once. Can he do that against a cast of fellow winners?
Winning and all-star season while being an obvious threat is definitely not an impossible task, as David's win demonstrates. We'll see if Tony can make it two for two this year.
Surprise vulnerable record alert
Despite being assets in tribal challenges, Ben and Sarah have now appeared in 30 individual challenges between them (15 each) and have won a grand total of zero. Thanks to Tony's (extremely recent) prowess, they're the only players left who haven't won at least two challenges, even. This is somewhat surprising, since Ben has the second-highest mean % finish in individual challenges so far this season. So in theory, this status seems unlikely to survive the season, but with up to five ICs left (and maybe an RC?), both Ben and Sarah have an outside chance to catch up to and/or pass all-time leader Sandra, who currently holds the record for most winless individual challenges, with 20. Here are the top seven:
|Rank||Contestant||Winless individual challenges|
|2||Tina Wesson||16 (not counting duels or the family RC in S2: The Australian Outback)|
|3 (tie)||Ben Driebergen||15|
|3 (tie)||Sarah Lacina||15|
|3 (tie)||Sierra Dawn Thomas||15|
Not a lower-tier winner
The Swing of Death claims another victim. (Previous casualties: Parvati, Wendell.) We joke, of course, but in each case, the "pair on the swing" shot has highlighted a perceived power couple that needed to be split up.
Sophie had been playing one of the best games this season: perceptive, adaptive, low-profile, sharp. She found an idol! She was hyper-aware of everyone else's threat-level radars, as she articulated after Denise came clean about the Sandra blindside during the merge feast. Everyone seemed to get along with her. And yet in a flash, it was gone. Still, she made an impressive run despite having to fight for screen time. As Andy Baker noted this week, we were never even shown any reaction after her alleged original Dakal allies Nick and Wendell voting out her "nerd shield," Yul. So what happened?
Maybe it was simply a matter of her perceived threat level rising too high, too fast. The edit showed she had raised Tony's hackles by appearing too close to his erstwhile Cops-R-Us partner, Sarah. Last week, Sophie audibly called the huddle at Tribal after Jeremy's departure. That may also have brought her more attention than she wanted, and made it seem like she was seizing control of the majority alliance.
Either way, it's a bit surprising that Sophie wasn't more on high alert this week, especially after receiving the second-most votes last week. That's a frequent occurrence in Survivor over its history, and her boot marks the third time in just the last four weeks that the runner-up at Tribal gets booted the next week: Wendell, then Adam, (skipping Tyson), and now Sophie.
If nothing else, maybe receiving votes suggests to other people they should give you more? And she had an idol!
- Extortion Advantage, ugh: Giving the Edge players the freedom to name their fire token price, including potentially forcing someone to "borrow" fire tokens from allies, is a great development. The rest of this is far less palatable. Allowing players who have been voted out to help a former ally with an advantage or idol is not great, but at least it still requires the active player to properly execute the play. Giving eliminated players the power to actively penalize an active player, however, is something quite different. That punishment — blocking someone from both having a chance to win immunity *and* voting at Tribal — is ridiculously overpowered. Tony miraculously played through it and acquired the arm-and-a-leg fire token fee, but what on earth was production thinking here? (Also: Sticking the advantage under the shelter when the Edge people have no valid reason to ever leave it? Dumb.)
- Missed century mark alert: Given that people on the Edge can still affect the regular game to this degree, we therefore have no qualms announcing a new member of the Survivor Century Club: Amber's appearance at Tribal Council this episode took place on her 100th day on Survivor. That makes her the 11th person to log at least 100 days. Since she could still return to the game, and can still mess with it from afar, that should count, right? (If not, does Ozzy's time on RI count? Does Aubry's time on EoE count? Should Tyson's EoE time between being voted out and returning count? So many variables, which is why we just count everything while tracking "exile" days as well.)
- The token black box: If fire tokens are going to play such a huge role in the show, it would be nice if the edit could actually follow through and reveal how they are spent or have changed hands. We saw Tyson buy peanut butter. Great! But then Danni and Parvati vaguely contemplated splitting their four token profit and maybe buying food. According to Parvati, she actually did this, but it was never shown. Did Danni do the same? We may never know. Similarly this week, Natalie and Parvati *probably* split six tokens. Did they keep them? Buy a tarp? Splurge on six six-packs of beer? Who knows? And for everyone who thought there was too much Tony this episode: Did he ever pay anyone back? If so, which two of the three people he borrowed from received their token back?
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other Winners at War Episode 11 recaps and analysis