Jeff Pitman's S40: Winners at War recaps
Big moves, big food, big episode

A nice day at the beach

 

Episode 6 packed a lot of action (and inaction) into its hour. Fire token exchanges finally leapt into the metagame in a big way, as Tyson, Wendell, and Sandra all struck (or attempted to strike) interesting deals with them. While the post-swap Sele tribe continues to feel awkward and cringey, and generally stuck to the existing numbers, the always-fun Dakals more than made up for that with spy shacks and idol sales and an all-time great, power-flipping idol play, in which Sandra attempted to pull off a blindside while falling victim to "not a threat" Denise hijacking Sandra's plan (and her idol) and turning it against her.

 

In all, this episode capped off a near-complete extinction of the contestants who first played before Heroes vs. Villains, and thematically, that's fairly satisfying. Jeff Probst has long talked about the show and the network needing to create a new generation of Survivor stars, and these contestants are doing just that, with the old-schoolers symbolically passing the torch to the post-Season 20 players. To which the new schoolers have responded by snuffing those torches. As they should.

 

Parvati never seemed to really find her footing this season, and the editors all but ignored her the entire time. Her best episode was the premiere, where she talked about adjusting to playing Survivor at a different place in her life than the one she left it in when she last played: She's a (very new) mom, she's married, she can't be the flirt any more.

 

Since that confessional, though, she pretty much vanished into the background, and was either Boston Rob's mute sidekick or Michele's silent BFF, although she did occasionally have the opportunity to deliver over-the-top soundbites about retaliation. Words that never paid off, such as her plan to "devour [Adam] and spit out his bones." These were always reactive quotes, though, we never heard her long-term plans. For a fan-favorite player, it was a dark, depressing run.

 

Sandra, in contrast, had a bit more content here, but it still felt a bit muted, as if she and the editors both knew she was playing on borrowed time. Her most memorable contribution this season was probably the Sandra Bench, as she claimed the career title for most times for sitting out of challenges. She also had a mini-feud with Tyson, a battle in which she claimed a short-lived victory. Yet despite coming in as the only two-time winner, facing 19 people who would like to also claim that distinction, she miraculously still had a decent shot at hitting the merge, if only she had used her idol on herself. Still, with (apparently) one more episode to go until the merge, she could well have been in hot water next week, anyway.

 

Tyson and the peanut butter

Tyson and the peanut butter

 

Tyson single-handedly made the Edge of Extinction section watchable by (1) pretending to pee as a stealth tactic, (2) selling off a completely useless item to the person he knew had the most fire tokens to burn, and (3) immediately flipping his own fire token for a comically oversized tub of peanut butter. Mmmm, peanut butter.

 

This was a uniquely Tyson thing to do: Big on entertainment value, yet also potentially strategic. Everyone is physically depleted at this point, and having a personal stash of protein-rich food might well give him more of an advantage in the re-entry challenge than would whatever Medallion of Power-like advance the officially purchased 1-fire-token "advantage" would offer.

 

It also has the chance to blow up in his face and look really dumb in retrospect, which is also very Tyson-esque (his Parvati vote in HvsV fell into that category, but his decision to draw rocks late in BvsW paid off nicely).

 

Which of these two outcomes will the Peanut Butter Purchase most resemble in retrospect? There's no way to know at the moment, and that's why if anyone is going to be a "professional Survivor player," Tyson should be on the short list for that roster. He takes big swings, sets up interesting narratives that perpetually teeter on the brink of collapse, and he has a load of fun while doing so, all of which translates nicely to audience enjoyment.

 

Depending on the viewer's perspective, he's either a lovable rogue or an arrogant villain, but he's always interesting. So let's hope he gets back into the regular game, because we hate to see all this potential frittered away on Edge of Extinction.

 

Denise's big idol play

Denise's big idol play

 

Denise co-found the Matsing idol with Malcolm as they abandoned that camp in Philippines, and while it was their collective secret and theoretically "both" of the theirs, she let Malcolm hold on to the actual idol. Denise never ended up needing it, anyway, and the idol itself languished in Malcolm's bag (where Lisa found it), and later expired, unused. So maybe Denise was making up for lost time here.

 

Either way, in idoling out Sandra with her own idol, Denise made one of the biggest Big Moves™ possible. What's more impressive is that Sandra's intended play was also a really clever move: Take someone who's desperate to stay in the game, give her the means to save herself, and then shift the target to someone you yourself want out. This is virtually identical to the move Kellee Kim successfully pulled off with Dean Kowalski right before the merge last season. Except this time, it didn't work, and instead Sandra was taken out by her own idol, caught off-balance one step ahead of the actual play. An excellent, respect-generating move by Denise, and potentially one that put her in a much better position moving forward.

 

There's been a fair amount of debate online over whether Denise overplayed by "wasting" her second idol on Jeremy. That's not at all clear. Denise had to suspect a vote split was at least possible, and by ensuring Jeremy was also safe, she made a very public display of loyalty to the only tribemate she had left from her Day 1 tribe. Jeremy did the exact same thing for Stephen Fishbach in Cambodia, and could reasonably be expected to view this move in the same way. Maybe that's enough to turn Dakal into a 2-2 split between original Dakal and original Sele members, maybe that potential split is enough to convince a rock-avoiding Kim to also join Denise.

 

The Denise-Jeremy relationship is still a bit weird, since through now six full episodes (seven hours, even) with them as tribemates, there still hasn't been a scene in which they scheme and plot together. But we did see each of them separately talking to the Dakals about *not* wanting to vote out the other, and agreeing to do so only because it meant saving themselves. Both were very careful to make this distinction. So maybe there is an actual connection there, and it just hasn't been shown, for some reason?

 

The side-snuff of respect

Ethan

 

An editing flourish that we've been tracking for a while is the "side snuff of respect." Normally, we see the departing contestant's face and Probst's back as he extinguishes their torch, but in the rarely seen "side snuff" (above), the camera shifts to a side view.

 

These editing choices can be a bit tricky to decipher: occasionally this is done because the snuffee ruined the traditional, forward-facing shot by turning around and/or stalking off before Probst had time to snuff their torch. But usually, the side-snuff is used for highly regarded contestants. Ethan had one earlier this season (above), but Natalie, Amber, Rob, and Tyson didn't. (Danni's is unclear, she turned around mid-snuff.)

 

So anyway, this week we had not one, but two side snuffs:

 

Parvati side-snuff
Sandra side-snuff

 

Make of this development what you will.

 

We elect to view it as a show of respect, as a (likely final) parting nod to the two jury-vote-receiving finalists from Heroes vs. Villains.

 

Revisiting the premiere: A chilling vision of things to come

Parvati

 

Let's look back at the very first episode of this season. Not just that, but the very opening minutes, before the 20 winners were divided into two tribes. Do you remember who we heard from? Spoiler alert: One of them is directly above you.

 

Parvati, Winner, Fans vs. Favorites (also known as Micronesia). She was voted out this episode.

 

It was a heady sequence, full of legends we haven't seen in years. Decades, even! Like this guy...

 

Ethan

 

Wait a sec. Did Ethan actually die on Edge of Extinction a couple of weeks ago? We've barely seen him since that infamous log challenge. Just saying. But we're getting off track here.

 

Of course, Ethan's not the only old-school player we haven't heard from since All-Stars. Here's another:

 

Amber

 

Remember Amber? She won All-Stars. She was also gone from the regular game by the end of this season's first episode. We've had a few check-ins since then, mostly just her narrating news events at Edge of Extinction. Perhaps you forgot she's also married to Boston Rob? We heard a lot about that while Rob was in the game, but it was curiously not mentioned this episode when they were reunited at EoE.

 

Okay, though. Two pre-mergers. No biggie. But wait, there's more!

 

Sandra

 

That's right, the Queen was also featured before the tribes were assigned. We saw a fair amount of her during the pre-merge, and also last season, when she taught people to hide behind palm fronds and not to trust Boston Rob when he's giving you advice. Well, after this episode, she's gone, too.

 

These opening sequence confessionals are the show's opportunity to make a big first impression, to put their best foot forward. These slots are therefore often reserved for big colorful characters, like your Christian Hubickis or your Natalie Coles, or for people who play big roles, either in the season as a whole, or the immediate (pre-merge) future. Frequently, we hear from a finalist, a key and/or colorful juror, and few of the early boots. For a returnee season-specific example, here's the opening sequence confessional lineup from Game Changers: Tony, Malcolm, Sandra (all pre-merge), Cirie, Debbie, Brad (finale, mid-jury, and final three, respectively).

 

This season is a little different from your standard all-returnee season (where the show would obviously also want to flash some fan-favorite star power early), because these people are all former winners, and many haven't played Survivor again since that win, whereas most returnee seasons pull from a very recent group of players. So this season's group didn't really raise any eyebrows, because as an audience, of course we're impatient and excited to hear from Ethan again, or from someone like Amber who hasn't played in so long.

 

But where are the late-gamers in this season's opening sequence cohort? Well, two things. For one, this is an Edge of Extinction season. In theory, any one of the above four could still end up being a post-merge player, or even a finalist. The other thing? We haven't finished yet, there are still two other players we haven't mentioned:

 

Tony

 

Tony was the first player we heard from, actually. He's still here, although he's not in the best position at this point in the game. Sandra just tried to have Denise idol him out. He also annoyed everyone in his tribe by making a spy shack, which everyone immediately realized was probably what he was doing, and as a result, decided against holding strategic discussions near the water well. Could Tony be our late-gamer? This would be a spectacular development, and the best possible news for the entertainment value of the season, if true.

 

But again, Tony's in non-zero danger with (most likely) one more episode to go until the merge. It wouldn't be shocking to see him as the final pre-merge boot id Dakal loses again. That leaves...

 

Ben

 

Who was the last person the audience heard from, before the toast and the handing out of buffs? That would be Ben.

 

In contrast to Tony, Ben seems to be in a relatively comfortable position at the moment. Is he one of our late-gamers? Maybe! He's a solid choice for this season's growth narrative, as we've heard him talk repeatedly about trying to play a more social, less idol-dependent type of game. He seemed overmatched at first, star-struckedly spilling info to Boston Rob, but has since found his footing and slain that very dragon. It's not clear that he's our leading winner candidate at the moment, but he should at least be in the conversation.

 

Or, you know. Maybe one of the Edge people above comes back. Sigh. (Unless it's Ethan. But even then, probably sigh.)

 

Shorter takes

Shorter takes

 

  • On the other hand... - Despite Ben's favorable treatment so far, during the Yara tribe's party to celebrate their liberation from living under the Boston Rob Rules, there was a shot of several Yaras relaxing in the water ... as a big wave hit them. As flagged up a few episodes back with Yul, that's never a good sign. Those three: Ben, Adam, and Sarah. Sophie, as seen above, was safely watching from the shore. Might as well write Sophie the check now.

 

  • Leveling the spy shack - Everyone playing clearly knows about Tony's spy shack. So instead of just walking away from the water well to talk, why didn't the Dakals toy with him at least, by conducting some fanciful story to trick him. Like whisper, a bit too loudly, "When we were heading over here, I swear I saw a producer stick an idol inside Tony's ladder" or something. They didn't really *need* Tony's vote. Have some fun!

 

  • The delayed merge - With no sign of the merge in the previews, and the Episode 8 title now revealed as "This Is Where the Battle Begins," it seems likely that there's still one more episode left of the tribal game. While this is initially a bit surprising, since every season since MvGX (except HvHvH) has merged at 13 players left, once again, this is probably Edge of Extinction rearing its ugly head. Since the jury phase started in Episode 1 in all likelihood, there's no real pressure to merge at any particular time. And with this episode's optimal outcome of three evenly matched tribes at 4-4-4, why not play it out for one more cycle?

 

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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

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