Survivor’s 40th season has come to a close. Now it’s time to look back and review Winners at War. Is it the greatest season of all time, as Jeff Probst claims? Well … no. But the first all-winners season is certainly one to remember.
First of all, it’s impossible to overlook Winners at War‘s premise: 20 winners of past seasons returning to compete for another win? I mean, come on! There was so much hype about this season when it was announced at the Island of the Idols finale in December. Throughout the season, this hype was alive and well.
I can’t say this with certainty, as there are so many competition-based reality TV shows in the world that I can’t possibly watch them all, but I believe Winners at War is the first of its kind.
The all-winners theme is an obvious plus for Survivor‘s 40th season. It’s not just good, but legendary. It’s like the Quarter Quell from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, just without the murder.
From Parvati and Boston Rob to Sarah and Nick, there is a little of everything for Survivor fans this season. While old-school players would end up having a hard time competing with more recent winners, it was shocking that some of the winners were returning at all.
Ethan is a great example, as is Amber. These are winners who first played Survivor when I was in elementary school. Seeing such a wide range of winners cast this season was a reminder of how long this show has been around, and how influential it has been in the world of television.
I know some folks who tuned in to Survivor for the first time in 15 years because they remember watching Rob and Amber on All-Stars and wanted to see how they would do this season. I know people who loved Jeremy in Cambodia and Adam in Millennials vs Gen X, and have just started watching the show in the last few years.
Overall, this cast is S-tier. One of the absolute best in Survivor history, because it can’t help it: it’s made of some of the best the show has ever seen.
The strategy and gameplay of Winners at War might not be the best ever (we’ll get to that), but there were enough moments of uncertainty and suspense to bring it above average.
Denise’s one-vote execution of Queen Sandra is a definite highlight of the season, as is Jeremy and Sarah “No, you got first”-ing with their advantages and Tyson getting blindsided by a five-person voting block.
A moment with epic potential: Adam reaching for a fleur-de-lis lifeline at Tribal Council, only for fate to shut him down. Oh, how we wish it were true. RIP Adam.
On another note: Edge of Extinction might be an unpopular twist among fans, but Natalie’s domination there was truly inspiring. Her return to the game felt earned, and you could easily root for her by the time Final Tribal Council rolled around.
It is absolutely shocking (in the best sort of way) when this season’s winner is crowned. We never would have predicted this outcome, but it is incredibly satisfying that the seemingly impossible came true.
I totally understand anyone who claims this winner the greatest of all time. I mean, come on!
Edge of Extinction:
Again, Edge of Extinction is very unpopular with fans, and there is plenty written about that on the internet already. In its defense, it played out about as well as it could have this time. It gave us an exciting late-game returnee (who, importantly, didn’t win the season). And, it let us spend more time with some beloved winners.
Unfortunately, there were so many times when the Edge felt tiresome. We missed so much in each 10-minute EoE segment that it’s hard to quantify how different the season’s narrative would have been without it.
Was it inspiring to see people persevering through will-crushing challenges? Sure. Do I wish we would have seen more insight into the relationships of those still in the game, instead? Definitely.
Edge of Extinction wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But in taking up so much airtime, it somewhat hindered the main narrative of the show.
A suggestion? Longer episodes each week. This would have given us the best of both worlds: time with our winners on the Edge, and more time with those on the main island.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
This is nothing new, really, but if you don’t like the ubiquity of advantages in modern Survivor, Winners at War isn’t going to do anything to change your mind.
In fairness, there isn’t anything particularly loathsome about most of the advantages this year. In fact, some of them are fairer than ever (how about the 50/50 idol?). It’s just about personal preference.
However, one disadvantage this season really made me wonder if the production team had lost its marbles.
When Tony opened up the Extortion Disadvantage, he was giddy, imagining all the ways he could play it against his competitors. Then, at the bottom of the parchment, came the ugly truth: it was being played against him.
This was a stupid twist, plain and simple.
Advantages are one thing. Disadvantages with no purpose other than leeching fire tokens off another player? Not fun.
Gameplay (other times):
Winners at War had above-average gameplay levels overall.
The problem? When you’re given twenty winners competing for another win, you expect the best gameplay ever, and nothing less. Survivor 40 has its moments, but it fails to live up to expectations in this category.
It’s not a bad or boring season. It’s just that it’s not the best, which we all expected it to be.
Survivor: Winners at War may not have lived up to all its hype, but it did a perfectly acceptable job at delivering the goods. There were some iconic moments (“Can I play it? I want to play that.”), and also some missed opportunities from the best cast ever.
The finale certainly boosted the show a bit. Our winner this season is more than satisfying. By the end, you look back on the season warmly, despite its flaws.
On a list of the 40 Survivor seasons, I would put Winners at War somewhere between 7th and 15th place. Let’s say 10th place. Yeah, that’s about right.