Top Five, Baby! - Brent Sullivan's Survivor: Winners at War analysis
Nerds, rookies, and blowing up the pre-game
By Brent Sullivan | Published: February 16, 2020
Survivor: Winners at War Episode 1 recap/ analysis

Nerds, rookies, and blowing up the pre-game


Welcome to “Top Five Baby!” where after each episode of Survivor Brent Sullivan will try to break apart and find the top five moments that made a lasting impact on the season or moments that could at least affect the next few episodes. Sometimes the moments are obvious and other times ... not so much, but after years of watching and analyzing this show to myself, I like to share the ones that I think stand out the most.


Well, the first episode of Winners at War is officially over, and I think that it definitely lived up to its hype. There might have been a few minor “misses”, like how much screen time Edge of Extinction got (hopefully it’s less on a normal one-hour episode) but overall, I think everything else was a “hit.” I am even on board for the fire tokens right now and I am curious to see how it goes this season.  


Before I begin though, I want to mention a few of my favorite moments that I won’t be discussing below. How funny was it when Ben was so star-struck, he just out right told Rob everything that he knew and to make it even better, Rob really wasn’t putting that much pressure on him. I also really enjoyed Ethan this week. It is so good to see him back playing Survivor again. I would absolutely love to see him make it far, but with his heartwarming story of overcoming cancer, I doubt that any of these calibers of players will allow him to make it to the end. Finally, I want to give props to Tony for dialing down his game when he needed to this time around. He really did learn from his Game Changers mistakes and stayed around camp to help with the shelter. We even saw him sort of working with Sandra and Sarah which may be an interesting group to watch ... but that could be a later edition of “Top Five Baby”. Enough of my stalling, on to the first official list of my things I think we need to keep an eye on.


The nerd alliance


1: The nerd alliance


How fantastic was it to watch this alliance form? It started out with a sort of awkward conversation between Sophie and Yul. These are both great, smart players that haven’t been in the game for quite some time and they have less connections outside of the game as well. It was a real treat to see them working together so quickly. In their previous seasons, they both played relatively quiet games, but still had control of what was going on. In the second half of the episode they were able to pull in both Wendell and Nick, who as the two most recent winners, also don’t have a lot of connections outside of the game. This was an easy addition for Yul and Sophie who now have this four-person alliance all made up of sort of “outcasts”.


I know that in the first few days of Survivor, there are always multiple groups of people coming together in various forms (whether we want to call them alliances or not), but I think that this one really has the potential to stay together and do some real damage in the game. We obviously don’t know how many tribe swaps there are going to be, those sorts of things can always throw a monkey wrench into any good plan. At least for the time being, this nerd/outcast/non-connected alliance seems to be in a good spot for the short-term.


Rookie mistake


2: Rookie mistake


Every season has one of these moments. Whether it be speaking your mind too soon, being too bossy, or volunteering yourself for a big role on the first challenge and then flubbing it. But the “rookie mistake” that seems to get made more than any other is someone or a couple of people will walk away from the camp on the first day. While the rest of the tribe is working together building a shelter or collecting items for a fire, some brave soul thinks that they can sneak away and get an idol before anyone knows they are gone. Sometimes, they may actually be trying to help the tribe by collecting palm leaves or (in this case) finding the water well.


This season’s victims were poor Adam and Denise. It appeared that they were in fact just trying to help out by taking the map and finding the water well. Somehow they got “lost”, in fact they probably just got lost in strategic conversation and back at camp their absence was noticed immediately. Within a few moments of them being noticeably missing, their names were brought up as possible targets. When tribal council came around, it was not a surprise that they both got votes, even though Natalie got voted out. Even though they survived that first vote, I can almost guarantee that if they lose the next immunity challenge and have to go back to tribal, they might be easy targets again. Players can get past these sorts of mistakes, but this is an All-Star season of winners, so it may be harder for them to overcome that sort of a start on this level of a season.


The Queen is mad


3: The Queen is mad


So, apparently Sandra had just spent 36 days with Rob on another season of Survivor before this one started. I’m not sure what she is talking about, but some of you may understand. Also, apparently during their time together, he never mentioned that he was going to be on this season. In fact, he had told her that he would never play again. You can imagine Sandra’s surprise then when she shows up to play in season 40 and not only is Amber there, but so is Rob. Sandra being Sandra, she didn’t keep her feelings a secret. She confesses at the water well to Sarah and Yul how she feels about him being there and how he lied to her.


In the chaos that ensued during the second hour of the premiere, we learned that both Kim and Amber were the two possible boots at the upcoming tribal council. Other than some normal Sandra pot stirring, we didn’t see her persuade people vote a certain way, but we can probably assume that the votes went the way that Sandra wanted them to go. This could be real interesting moving forward. Rob is going to see that Amber is gone at the beginning of the next episode. This will affect how he acts and plays the game. He may even blame Sandra for it, whether he knows for sure yet. At the same time, Sandra can continue working with the people that she is with now to keep voting off all of Rob’s friends. How will Rob react to all of this? A tribe swap with both of them together would certainly be fun to watch.


Pre-game alliances?


4: Pre-game alliances


I am torn about how I feel about this one. I know that pre-game alliances are a thing and I know that almost everyone on an all-star season makes them. However, it seems like in the past they didn’t really amount to much once the game started and the sand starting flying. I also understand that after a show has been around for 20 years, the cast are going to become real-life friends and have true real-world bonds. Survivor knows this too, and isn’t afraid to even show cut scenes of some of those moments. So, part of me is glad that they are embracing it, but the other part of me just wishes they would play the game and target someone for old fashioned reasons, like getting lost on the way to find water.


Natalie clearly got voted off because of her relationship with Jeremy. Tyson, Kim, and Amber were supposedly all targets because of a poker tournament that they played in together. Tyson was able to wiggle out of trouble here, but Kim felt on the outs the whole time because of this pre-game relationship that wasn’t even an actual alliance. This may end up being just a by-product of needing a reason to vote out the first person, but I have a feeling that some of these relationships will be around for the entire 39 days.


This season's twists


5: This season’s twists


This is an obvious one, but I wouldn’t be good at doing this if I didn’t point out the obvious as well as everything else. Every season in modern Survivor has some sort of twist or theme that the game revolves around. This one has quite a few, so for this last point, I am just going to mention how some of these twists may impact the game.


The first one is that the Edge of Extinction is back. This has already made an impact in the game since Natalie found an idol and then “sold” it to Sandra for one fire token. Her idol is only good for two more tribal councils since she didn’t use it this episode and you know that she will play it for sure. That is likely to make an early big impact if she plays it correctly. Plus, how many other advantages will be coming from the Edge of Extinction this season? I don’t even want to try to guess, but surely it won’t be one per episode ... right ... right?


Secondly, speaking of fire tokens, they are also already making an impact. Jeremy and Rob both have two of them now after Natalie and Amber bequeathed theirs to them. Plus, Natalie has one of them on the Edge of Extinction from her trade with Sandra. We don’t know exactly how they will be used to help the castaways get back into the game, but we sort of got a glimpse of how they are going to work.


Finally, as if the bragging rights and title of The Winner of all Winners wasn’t enough, this season will have a winning payout of $2 million dollars. As if these players weren’t going to play hard enough this season, now they have double the money as a reward for their hard work. That will definitely make people play differently down the stretch. If you are getting close to the end and you know that you have a possible $2 million waiting on you at the finish line, you will do whatever it takes to get there.


I for one am not against any of these twists so far this season. Let’s keep the Edge of Extinction around until the merge so that we get to see our favorites players for a bit longer this season. As far as the other twists go, let’s give them a chance to see how they work and I will be looking to see if they make an impact in the game.



So there you have it for this double episode (or single double-length episode) premiere week. With two hours of content, I without a doubt had plenty to talk about, plus there was a lot more that I didn’t talk about. There was lots going on for sure.


But I want to hear from you as well, let me know if I missed any moments or if you think I’m way off base, the interaction is part of what makes this fun!


Please catch more of me here next week where I will try to bring you more fun top five thoughts as we continue the 20th year of Survivor!




Brent Sullivan - Top Five, Baby!Brent Sullivan is a long-time fanatic of Survivor and has been writing about it for years. When he is not writing, talking about, or applying to be on the show, he spends his time with family, doing nerdy IT stuff, and watching movies. Follow him on twitter: @BSully_13