“Survivor: Winners at War” Is the Peak of Reality TV Forever


"Survivor: Winners at War" is a reality television spectacle. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Kieran Press-Reynolds, Culture Editor

“Survivor” is by far the greatest reality television show of all time.

It’s the ultimate mix of comforting, fascinating and gratifying. You get to watch 20 strangers marooned on an island vie for a million dollars. You watch them make alliances, devise ridiculously complex strategies and jaw-droppingly manipulate each other. Each round, someone is voted out until only three remain. Then, the last nine eliminated contestants vote for a winner of the three.

My mother and I have watched “Survivor” for 10 years. Every Wednesday night at 8 p.m., we sit on opposite ends of the sofa and indulge in the madness. It’s our ritual. 

Maybe 10 years seems like a long time, but it’s only a glimpse of the show, which has been on for double that. It feels crazy to be watching the show’s best season 20 years in although it makes sense because everything has been leading up to this point.

“Survivor: Winners at War,” the show’s 40th season, is its greatest one yet, and will probably remain that way forever. It’s exactly as it sounds: the winners of past seasons have been brought back to fight each other in a best-of-all-time scenario. It’s the “Avengers: Endgame” of “Survivor,” but a thousand times better. 

Season 40 includes some of the show’s most iconic legends: Rob Mariano, Sandra Diaz-Twine (the only two-time winner!), Parvati Shallow, Amber Mariano (who married Rob after they met on the show), Tony Vlachos, Tyson Apostol, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe and more.

The season quickly turned into a deathmatch of old versus new winners of the old ages versus the more recent winners and the ancients were wiped clean. It was brutal. Rob Mariano, Diaz-Twine and Shallow were slashed before the merge, which is the stage when the original tribes combine to form one group together, usually when around 13 or 12 people are left.

Diaz-Twine’s blindside was especially grisly: we watched as she gave her immunity idol to Denise Stapley, who later used it to negate all the votes against her while casting her sole vote against Diaz-Twine. It was one of the show’s greatest tribal councils of all time. I screamed at my television for the first time in years. It’s worth a watch, even if you’ve never seen “Survivor.” The looks on faces!

Right now, there are only 10 winners left. The old guard has been decimated sans Apostol, who was voted out but returned in a twist called the edge of extinction, where voted-out contestants had a chance to re-enter the game. (A crap twist, but it’s been sort of vindicated because all the legendary players were voted out so fast.) 

With the “old-schoolers” gone, the strategy has shifted towards threat-level: bigger threats versus under-the-radar players. The former includes Vlachos, Spradlin-Wolfe, Apostol, Jeremy Collins and Ben Driebergen. On the quieter side, you have Stapley, Sophie Clarke, Michele Fitzgerald, Sarah Lacina and Nick Wilson. The bigger threats are banding together, knowing that if one of them goes, the others would be in peril. (It’s a bit of a paradox: how can anyone be a bigger threat than another? They’re all winners.)

One of my personal favorites is Vlachos, who won his season, “Survivor: Cagayan,” through goofy stunts like building spy shacks out of palm fronds and talking like a llama. However, he has little chance of winning. Many players see him as a “meat shield,” or someone to keep around because he is always the biggest threat; an easy vote-out when the time comes.

I think Collins, Clarke and Fitzgerald have the best chances of winning. Collins is replicating the exact strategy he used to win “Survivor: Second Chances,” letting others absorb the heat while he bides his time in the background. He’s also charismatic, which helps. Clarke is more calculated, belonging to a certain ilk of “Game-Botters” who come across as mechanical and unemotional. She’s exceptionally intelligent, perceptive and knows when to talk and who to scheme with. Fitzgerald, who became one of the most controversial winners when she eked out a surprise victory in “Survivor: Kaoh Rong,” is enjoying a renaissance this season. She’s been a domineering force even against some of the show’s greatest strategists.

Honestly, anyone could win. I’m just excited to continue watching it with my mom every week. Even if you’ve never seen “Survivor,” I urge you to tune in for the latter half of this season.