“Survivor: Winners at War” Doesn’t Quite Outplay Expectations

A Retrospective on Survivor’s 40th Season

Few TV series have the ability to stay on the air for 20 or more years, yet one show that has managed to outlast its competition is Survivor. First hitting TV screens back in the year 2000, Survivor captivated audiences with memorable castaways and various layers of social strategy. Fast forward to December 2019, Survivor announced that, to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary, the 40th season would consist entirely of previous winners. Expectations were understandably sky-high, as an all-winners edition of Survivor was something that has been discussed by fans for years. Now that all episodes of the season have aired, it must be said however, that “Winners at War” just didn’t live up to the hype.


*Some Spoilers Ahead*


The first issue to be had with “Winners at War” is that it doesn’t quite feel like it celebrates all forty seasons of the show. For one, the imbalanced chosen cast of 12 “new-schoolers” to eight “old-schoolers.” To be clear, “old-school” Survivor refers to the first 20 seasons of the show (from “Survivor: Borneo” to “Survivor: Heroes vs Villains”) and “new-school” Survivor refers to the later 20 (“Survivor: Nicaragua” to this season). The two categories have differing aesthetics and types of twists. The two are also different in how they choose to highlights players, and to an extent in the strategy (though there’s overlap). So, when the show casts more newer winners than older—there’s only three winners from the first 10 seasons, butseven winners from the last 10—with two old-schoolers winning in more modern seasons, it just gives off the sentiment that the show is more so celebrating the latter half of its history. The second reason for this sentiment comes from the challenges. Even though host Jeff Probst in pre-game press described the challenges hailing from all past seasons, a majority either originate from the latter 10 seasons or are the most recent variation of the challenge. This is an issue, as many of the newer challenges lack variety: the pre-merge challenges are typically all obstacle courses followed by a puzzle, and the post-merge challenges are mostly individual endurance tests. This ends up making the challenge segments really repetitive and boring.


The second major knock against this season is the editing. There’s no real coherency between episodes and as a result you don’t feel like you’re getting the full picture of what transpired in the game. Alliances are created seemingly out of the blue, alliances fall apart without any real indicator as to why, and massive in-game threats fail to bet targeted without any reason. The presentation of the social strategy feels sloppily stitched together, instead favoring to highlight less interesting aspects like the advantages.


Speaking of which, there are way too many twists and advantages within the game. This article isn’t going to explain what each one does as that would take a while, but some of the many twists included: 9 immunity idols, a lot of Fire Tokens (the new in-game currency), the Safety Without Power Advantage, the Steal-A-Vote Advantage, an Extortion Disadvantage, a Challenge Disadvantage, and the Edge of Extinction. A vast majority of these twists aren’t interesting, and instead soak up time from what the viewers want to see: the players! We wanted to see these all-stars from different periods—like Boston Rob and Jeremy, Kim and Tony, Yul and Sophie, etc.—interact and play with each other, not what they thought of all these advantages.


In fairness to this season, there were some positive aspects to it. Watching the gameplay of Tony Vlachos, Kim Spradlin, and Michele Fitzgerald was a treat. Seeing them navigate their way through the various game scenarios, especially as the former two overcame big targets on their backs, solidified their status as great players. The premiere episode was great, the confessionals were amazing, and the winner was satisfying. However, as a whole, “Survivor: Winners at War” was a letdown, especially considering the hype preceding it.