Kaiser Island - Ryan Kaiser's Survivor: Winners at War recaps
Cracks up the wazoo
By Ryan Kaiser | Published: March 13, 2020
Survivor: Winners at War Episode 5 recap/ analysis

Cracks up the wazoo


What a week. Everything. Inside of Survivor, outside of Survivor — so much going on, and this episode was right on-brand with that even with culturally relevant examples of “social distancing” and putting quarantines in place to try and keep chaos to a minimum only to create more. Tribes of five once again proved there’s nowhere to hide as each new camp had plenty of compelling story going on — that is, until it came to a crashing halt thanks to the buddy system. Just when I was loving Boston Rob, he had to go and be a buzzkill.


(Actually, I’m really bummed Rob was finally voted out, but don’t spread that around — keep it contained!)



Playing for something bigger


Rather than zipping right into the swap as recent seasons have done, the show started with a very touching scene with Yul as he opened up about what his friend and fellow Survivor has been dealing with over the past (now almost) two years. From social media, I had known a little about the story of Jonathan and his wife Stacy as they battled her diagnosis of ALS, but I thought it was really great for the show to share and draw attention to this devastating disease.


Yul has said in interviews that if he won, he’d donate his winnings to ALS research (link for donations, which Yul will match, up to $50,000) which further proves that Yul is the sweetest, most selfless person to ever play this very selfish game. Yul’s impressed me so much both as a human and as a player, so I’d be 100% in support of his story getting a triumphant ending. It really says something that even while starving on an island in a high-stress environment like Survivor, Yul saw his own struggle as tiny compared to someone else’s far away from the game. Ugh. The show better not be setting up this man to fall, or I’m not going to be stomach it.


Another sweet moment was Sarah following Yul to make sure he was alright after that conversation at camp, offering him a comforting hug. I’ve been guilty of calling Sarah boring and robotic on the show before, so this was great to see a caring, compassionate side of her that we haven’t seen much of outside of the unfortunate Zeke/Varner tribal council. I’m sure many more moments like this had simply been left on the editing room floor, so I’m mostly just glad she’s not getting the gamebot edit anymore. Sarah’s been fun this season, and this episode only would take off for her from this opening.


**One other quick note — Tyson bequeathing his fire token to Nick. Upon the bequeathing, Nick said that under different circumstances, he’d love to work with Tyson and that maybe that set of circumstances could still come one day. After the out-of-nowhere scenes with Sarah last week and now this one with Nick — I can confidently say that Tyson’s coming back.


Tyson lick-in request


Sorry, Tyson. Not in today’s climate.



Swappers at war


Getting right down to business, the new three (shocker) tribes were divided as follows:


Sele – Nick, Wendell, Yul, Parvati, Michele


Yara – Rob, Adam, Ben, Sophie, Sarah


Dakal – Sandra, Tony, Kim, Denise, Jeremy


Rob opened the swap with a confessional about hating swaps as he was a participant in the very first random swap, just like this one, all the way back in Marquesas. He survived that one, barely, but still after going from the top of his old tribe to the bottom of his new one. He wasn’t coming into this swap completely in charge of Sele, but the show wanted to really drive home the narrative of “Robs and swaps don’t mix well.”


In addition to Rob being less than thrilled, Michele couldn’t believe her swap tribe landed her on the same beach as her ex-boyfriend who we learned was Wendell — damn!  I really thought I was right about “Michony” last week. She was situated in an obvious minority with Parvati on the new Sele tribe against three Dakal dudes, and while technically in a Sele-majority on Yara, Rob wasn’t looking solid with that “fractured trio” as Adam called it. As for the new Dakal, Denise and Jeremy would be the obvious ousters, but none of those five felt to me like their time was running short. It would not surprise me to not see Dakal attend a tribal council and instead see Yara and Sele scramble to get to the merge in one piece.


None of my favorites ended up in fantastic positions with these new tribes, so if no other consistent narrative, at least I still had the one of “all of Ryan’s favorites get sent to the Edge before the merge.”



Moving on up


KIM!  At least she’s finally free of being sent to EoE!


But that just means other people I love are doomed. Kim quickly revealed to Jeremy (her fellow Poker Alliance ally) that she wasn’t in the best of spots on the original Dakal, also telling him that she trusted Tony and Sandra the least of all. This was the refreshing news that Jeremy needed and after seeing Kim hit it off with Denise as well, I think the easy assumption here is that Kim will flip on old Dakal.


However, Sandra and Tony aren’t going to go down without a fight. They’re the game’s two biggest masters of secretly gathering intel. Tony, of course, has his spy shacks and spy bunkers, and we learned last season that Sandra’s got her own stealth tactics, first taught as a “lesson” and now seen in practice.


Stealth Sandra


Doesn't look like anything to me


The queen stays unseen.


If Tony and Sandra find out Kim’s itching to flip, fire will reign on all of Dakal, and if they end up going to tribal council, it’s going to be insane. Sandra, Kim, and Denise all have idols.  If one of them plays theirs, the other two might follow. In that event, Jeremy’s going to get the fuck out of that mess of a tribal council with his own “safety without power” advantage which would just leave ... Tony to be potentially “voted out” of the game with 0 votes.


Tony, the king of finding gadgets and gizmos aplenty in jungle, could be eliminated for being the only person on his tribe not to have an advantage of some kind. How fucked is that?  It’s another reason I don’t want this tribe to vote. There’s too much at stake with a worst-case-scenario elimination such as that one. If it was someone else instead of Tony, like Ben, sure. Why not?  But no. This tribe is too stacked — they all need to make the merge. That’s best-case scenario.





There was an incredible amount of story happening at Sele and while I avoid dating shows like they’re the Coronavirus, this was my favorite segment of the episode. Before getting to the Michele and Wendell drama, I have to call out that I was totally head over heels watching Parvati work her magic on the new guys. She’s something else — her edit has kind of been the beta behind Rob, but finally getting to watch her shine on new Sele had me salivating a little.


First, Parv’s reunion with Yul — you forget these two originally played with each other almost 15 years ago, since Parvati’s reputation sort of took off in Micronesia and beyond. The two evidently had not kept in touch over the years (Parvati asked Yul what his wife’s name was), but Yul admitted that Parvati was his wife’s favorite player. A happy wife means a happy life, and Yul loves his happiness, so I’m hoping these two can reconnect over that — this would be an amazing treat for the lifelong superfans to see two old school legends reuniting and wreaking havoc together.


After Yul, Parvati pounced on to Nick who also made a quick confession that he had announced Parvati as his “high school crush” at the previous tribal council. Parvati smiled and giggled, but later admitted in confessional, “That was awkward.”




I know that expression because I make it all the time. It’s, “Please don’t ever speak to me again.”


I loved that they just let Parvati roll here with her colorful commentary of the entire tribe. It was classic. Even just watching her approach Wendell and adorably ask what his story was just drove home how much of a natural charmer Parvati is. I swear she even flirted Michele a little, bringing us to obviously the Sele story and maybe biggest story of the night ....


Social distancing


Don’t stand

Don’t stand so

Don’t stand so close to me


What a long-reaching relevance that song by The Police has in today’s current state of affairs ....


Yeah, so Wendell and Michele dated, and according to Parvati (paraphrasing, I’m sure, from Michele) it ended badly. Why? Let’s see if we can pick up any clues and solve that mystery, shall we? Michele called Wendell someone as serious as her “ex-boyfriend” while Wendell merely called Michele someone who he “kicked it” with. Yeah, so ... mystery solved on why they didn’t last long. Still, the sexual tension on this tribe was strong. Sele could’ve really used its sex therapist back to ease some of it.


Sex therapist Debbie


I’m not going to speculate so much on the ins and outs of that relationship, as, of course, the show is going to amplify anything that actually happened between them, but “awkward” definitely seemed like the appropriate word. While I’d love for the story to be Parvati fueling the flames of Michele and forming the Black Widow Brigade 2.0 to devour all the men, I think this will end up flaming out.


To pull off anything against Wendell, Parvati and Michele would need one more vote, and their likeliest could be Yul, but even he’s been tightly with Nick and Wendell since Day 1, and so close to a merge, it won’t take a long analysis from Yul to come to the conclusion that it’s best to go with the guys and vote out the girls. With those three “kicking it” for another vote, I can see Michele having to save face by voting out another island bestie of hers.


This, of course, will be tragic as otherwise a Parvati/Michele femme fatale alliance would be Survivor Twitter’s wet dream. “Let’s give them something to drool over” is likely all this dream will amount to and next week, we’ll see Parvati as a tragic pre-merge robbed goddess unless she gets an idol bequeathed to her from the Edge.


Hopeful Parvati


^Me looking up to the Survivor gods to bequeath me such a miracle.



Feel the tension


The new Yara tribe had tension of its own, but it was far less sexual (so far as we know). Information was immediately exchanged between old Dakal and old Sele with all the secrets getting spilled at the water well — who voted for whom including the vote where Adam, Rob, and Ben all voted opposite ways. This was music to Sophie and Sarah’s ears as they realized these guys were not on the same front in the slightest. Once everyone was split off into smaller groups, Ben and Adam painted Rob as the ringleader while Rob sold out Adam’s own dirty deeds. It wasn’t looking good for Rob as we saw Sarah shake hands with Ben and Sophie tell Adam she wasn’t interested in playing with Rob, so Rob’s only way out was to find an idol.


The final nail in Rob’s coffin for me was when he delivered the confessional about having to adapt to the new school game and how he’d underestimated some of the new school players — in that moment is when Sophie found Yara’s hidden immunity idol. That seemed hugely symbolic of Rob finally getting out-maneuvered and the game getting fully taken over by the new school players.


All the idols this season have once again been found by women, so hopefully these already proven winning women can put them to better use than we’ve seen the past two seasons. With Sophie’s idol, Sarah’s steal-a-vote, and the guys just generally being a disaster, Yara was definitely being led by the ladies — a very Yara thing indeed.


Asha/Yara Greysophie


I’ll wait for Jeff to roast me for not reading the books…





Here’s a challenge — spot Sandra in that picture.


This episode was so packed with other stories that the immunity challenge was a quick blur — as easy to miss as Sandra in this challenge. My favorite shot was the above where everyone else is clearly visible while only Sandra’s legs can barely be seen, blocked by Yara’s blocks. I had to rewind to make sure she actually climbed up and over that net obstacle or if they let her simply walk around it because she’s the queen. Seriously, how did she get so far ahead???


Next week, Sandra will likely sit out once more, officially stealing Courtney’s crown for Sandra and Sandra alone with the most career sit-outs of any Survivor. To Courtney’s credit, she achieved the #1 ranking in only two seasons while it took Sandra four, but a win’s a win. Adiós, Courtney.


Another adios was soon to be said to Rob as he somehow walked out of that challenge foolishly thinking the loss wasn’t so bad. I’m not sure why the show decided to paint Boston Rob as such a buffoon on his way out after giving him God status for almost two decades, but it felt like that’s what they were doing. I can’t imagine anyone believing he was safe — setting a career record himself, I think he may have had the most “famous last words” confessionals ever in one episode. There was zero doubt in my mind at this point that Rob would be reunited with Amber by the end of the night, making the rest of the episode boring compared to the blast I was having up until this moment.



Buddy system on steroids


After immediately establishing a Sarah vote with Adam and Ben, Rob essentially put his Sele soldiers in what looked like his own kind of quarantine, keeping them at camp as to avoid having Sophie and Sarah poison their minds. Rob is going to face a lot of criticism for trying this stunt on seasoned players, but I really don’t know what else he could have done to change his fate. To his credit, the camp shutdown sort of worked in that everyone stayed put, but obviously Ben and Adam were able to still signal to Sarah and Sophie what they were going to do — at one point, we saw Ben wave to Sophie and mouth “Rob”. While that’s not the most reassuring thing for Sophie, it’s what she had to trust.


It was one of the most uneventful pre-tribal council segments ever, but at least there was some humor on the editors’ part in showing just how boring the buddy system truly made the day:


Fun camp day


More fun


Even more fun


Nap time for Sophie


Nap time for Adam


Nap time for Ben


Nap time continues


Should someone check their pulse?


To me, this all felt like a joke. We were honestly expected to believe this was going to work and that Rob wasn’t going to go the Edge of Extinction?  Come on. The episode was almost trying so hard to make us think Rob had a shot that they made the outcome all the more obvious. What I’d like to know is if Rob believed the buddy system was working, or if he was just playing it up for the camera when he knew like the rest of us that he was Boston boned.



No such thing as a simple vote


^Probst’s words to the wise as Yara left tribal council. Really, Jeff?  This vote was the simplest, most straightforward vote of the season. Stop trying to pretend like Boston Rob went down in a blaze of glory. This boot was a blip.


As with a lot of strategy talk this episode, Sophie owned the stage at tribal council. While she was the first to use the word “cracks” earlier in the night, she spun Jeff’s negative connotation of the word into a positive, making it a point that she wasn’t trying to “find the cracks” but rather form new relationships entirely — ones hopefully as strong as those she made in the beginning of the game. Also, Probst performing charades to visualize “finding and opening a crack” is something I never needed to see nor need to see again in my life:


Ew, Probst




He's in


A little off to the side


Too close


“Is the crack big enough that you could wedge you fingers in there and pull it apart to take a look inside?”


Big fucking YIKES to that. You know whose crack I bet he’d love to wedge his way into ....


Snuffed Rob


Like I said, I don’t think Rob had many options. Was the buddy system too much?  Sure. Would anything else have worked?  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing “no.”  He could’ve trusted Adam and Ben to go about their business and talk to Sarah and Sophie, but if the guys voted for Rob supposedly without walking off with the girls at any point, then they’d have done the same if given any real chance to talk. Rob’s only other option would have maybe been to try to sell Adam out, but Sophie and Sarah weren’t interested in working with Rob anyway, so that would have only made Adam’s vote easier to steal (without Sarah’s advantage). TL;DR — Rob was fucked up the wazoo.


Maybe had Rob swapped with Parvati and someone like Tony or Kim, he’d have been alright, but those may have been the extent of people actually willing to work with him, if that. It was a big enough miracle for Rob to survive Sele, so surviving the swap just was too much even for him. It’s a shame he’s finally out because this may honestly have been my favorite featuring of Rob. Watching him work was wild and his commentary was consistently comedic gold. I have always been resistant to name Rob one of Survivor’s greatest of the greats (mostly due to Probst’s overhyping of him) but I think I’m ready to admit him into that group after this season which should be his last. While Rob has a shot to still return before Day 39, I don’t think it’s going to be him, and if it is, he’ll be kicked right back out the door so for that reason, I hope it’s not. I’d rather see someone like Tyson or Natalie come back and cause chaos for more than just one episode.


I know it took major convincing to bring Boston Rob back, but I’m glad he agreed because this season was better for it, and that’s something I didn’t expect to be saying several weeks ago. He actually did it. The Robfather finally made me a fan.




Dear god, what has happened to me?  I’m really ending this section with that?  Somehow, I blame the world’s toilet paper shortage for causing me to think like this.



Next time...


Everyone’s celebrating that the “wicked witch” is dead. That’s really the best name you could come up with for Boston Rob, Adam? I’m disappointed. With Adam’s story being all about going after the big dogs and Rob finally being put down, could Adam’s story be over next? Yara is especially looking like they could go back to tribal council with not one but two tribes voting people out. Did I understand that right? Jeff said, “Both of the losing tribes will vote somebody out of this game.” Does “somebody” mean the two tribes will vote out one person together, or will they cast separate votes with two players leaving? Logistically, it has to be the latter, but the last few times we’ve been teased with a double pre-merge tribal council, still only one person has gone home. We’ll see what kind of convoluted twist comes up this time ....


On Yara, I can’t see the vote not being Adam because he’s a much bigger social and strategic threat than Ben. On Sele, the vote will be between Parvati and Wendell, but ultimately, I think Yul will side with Wendell, and Michele will be forced to fall in line. As for Dakal ... is Tony really going to get Advantagegeddon’d? Denise, Sandra, and Kim all have idols to play and Jeremy can ghost out after that. Parvati and Tony leaving in the same episode would be terrible, so naturally, that’s probably what will happen for me.


Description: Players of the week



Sophie – With no nerd shield to hide behind, Sophie went after the big mob boss and may have become the new one herself. Granted, a lot of the cracks we saw (I’m still using the term since she’s the one who used it initially) were blown up by Sele itself, but Sophie had a big episode and showed what she’s capable of on her own. This entire game has been going great for Sophie, and even in a bad situation, she made the best of it and with Sarah, she now holds the Yara boys by the balls (another shout-out to Sophie and her balls of steel for holding onto her idol). She should make the merge easily, and from there, I can’t imagine anyone going after Sophie soon, so prepare to see a lot more this season from Sophie-so-fierce.


Sarah – Another great showing like Sophie. I’m not sure who’s the “shield” between this new team, if there even is one, but Sarah also made key connections this week to secure her safety. It was easy to rally against Rob, but those bonds will be important going forward. Next week if Yara loses, Sarah and Sophie will be debating who to keep. We saw Sarah shake hands with Ben and Sophie tell Adam she wanted to pull him in with her and Sarah, so there may be a power struggle there. I don’t know what Sarah will look like at the merge, though, as I see her solid with everyone but not the most solid with anyone. That’ll either be good or bad for her depending on where the other 12(?) votes go. Still, so far, Sarah 3.0 is my favorite Sarah.


Yul – We could not love this man more. He is so pure. So good. So incredible. I was worried when the show opened with him talking about his pal Penner because it felt like the editors wanted to get that in before he left. I said last week that I saw Yul getting swap-screwed, but with the way it ended up for him, he may be okay. Sele should stay Wendell vs. Parvati, but should anything weird happen, I could still see Yul being the one to go based solely on ~the vibe~. I hope not. He’d make an amazing winner, but if he makes the merge, he could quickly become target #1 because of his multi-million-dollar motivation. That on top of how well he’s already played is going to make him very hard to beat in the end, thus making it hard for Yul to reach the end.


Parvati – I’m glad she was separated from Rob only because Parvati got to star herself a little more than she has so far in Boston Rob’s big shadow (not a weight joke). All her confessionals have been as captivating as they are killer and watching her work her charm in even just ordinary conversation is truly watching a pro at work. Her smile, her laugh — it’s no wonder why Nick had(/has) that crush on her. My gut says Parvati’s still in trouble and that the Michele/Wendell conflict was a misdirect, but I hope Parvati can press on to the merge. With one “wicked witch” dead according to Adam, I hope with Rob’s fire tokens, his powers have been bequeathed to Parvati so that her cute, charismatic cackling is able to continue. I need my old schoolers to stop getting burned and start seeing them burn others themselves.


Witch Parvati


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