The Survivor: Winners at War Players in the Best Position to Win

Neither too strong nor too weak, these are the returning Survivor champs who could take the middle path to victory.
  • Tyson Apostol, Denise Stapley and Ethan Zohn are among the Survivor: Winners at War players who we think could go all the way against the game's greatest winners. (Photos: CBS)
    Tyson Apostol, Denise Stapley and Ethan Zohn are among the Survivor: Winners at War players who we think could go all the way against the game's greatest winners. (Photos: CBS)

    Survivor premieres its 40th season on tonight, gathering 20 former winners to battle it out for the biggest prize in show history ($2 million). All week, we've been previewing the cast in three parts: We've looked at the players with the biggest targets on their backs, and those who might not be bringing enough to the table. The remaining contestants are in that sweet spot right in the middle: not enough of a threat to be on everyone’s radar, but bringing enough to the table in terms of strategic chops, social connections, and challenge prowess that they might just win the whole thing.

    Natalie Anderson

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Season 29)
    Other Season(s): none
    How She Won: After her strongest ally, Jeremy, was blindsided, Natalie formed a coalition to take her enemies down, while always keeping an eye on her next move. She pulled in players like Keith and Jaclyn when they were most isolated and used them to get to the end, where her big moves and vocal style made her look like a leader rather than a follower.
    Why She Could Win Again: Weirdly enough, Natalie might need Jeremy to get eliminated early again in order to have a chance. As it stands, the two of them are a big target. But it she can turn that corner, Natalie is a superb social player. The only problem might be the fact that she's too readily vocal, in a way that could clash with a cast this heavy with alpha personalities. -- Joe Reid

    Tyson Apostol

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)
    Other Season(s): Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18), 8th place; Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20), 15th place
    How He Won: After flaming out spectacularly due to his own hubris in Heroes vs. Villains, Tyson studied the game carefully and returned having run nearly every possible scenario in his mind. Early on in Blood vs. Water, he milked a shoulder injury in order to downplay his status as a physical threat, and he downplayed his status as a strategic threat by being easygoing and entertaining, even as he engineered the ouster of many of his fellow competitors.
    Why He Could Win Again: Tyson is not just a physical powerhouse — he’s a social one as well. He has, bar none, the most outside-the-game connections to his fellow competitors: between his lengthy Survivor resume, his regular gig as a Rob Has a Podcast host, and his constant presence at fan events, everyone is friends with this guy, but with legends like Rob, Sandra, and Parvati on the island with him, he won’t necessarily be anyone’s first target, and he’s charming enough that even if his threat level is obvious, people won’t want him to go. -- Jessica Liese

    Sophie Clarke

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: South Pacific (Season 23)
    Other Season(s): none
    How She Won: Sophie formed strong bonds with two teammates (Coach Wade and Albert Destrade) whose physical strength and leadership skills balanced her own strategic acumen. At the final Tribal Council, the fact that she was the least deceptive of the three, coupled with her ability to articulate specific moves she’d made, resulted in a decisive win.
    Why She Could Win Again: In addition to her sharp strategic mind, Sophie is endlessly adaptable. Throughout South Pacific she was able to successfully relate to and integrate with a broad spectrum of personalities and backgrounds. She’s also stayed relatively up to date with the show’s new twists, strategic evolution, and alumni social circles since her season, and she has likely relied on mutual outside-the-game friendships to forge pre-game connections. -- Jessica Liese

    Wendell Holland

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: Ghost Island (Season 36)
    Other Season(s): none
    How He Won: Wendell teamed up with Domenick and absolutely dominated Ghost Island, steamrolling to the end without ever needing to turn on each other, mostly because they'd acquired Lauren and Donathan as unwavering allies.
    Why He Could Win Again: Wendell's going to have to look out and make sure his allies aren't waiting to snake him, since nobody's going to want to be his new Domenick. But Wendell is a popular guy, athletically capable, and, again, known for his loyalty above all. -- Joe Reid

    Denise Stapley

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: Philippines (Season 25)
    Other Season(s): none
    How She Won: The only Survivor player to ever have attended every single Tribal Council on her season, Denise endured a disastrous early tribe, a swap that left her all alone, and Abi-Maria. She built a strong post-merge alliance with meat shields to spare but was always part of inner-circle decisions.
    Why She Could Win Again: Denise is likable, a strong competitor, loyal, and seems like somebody you could beat in a final tribal. She could easily pair up with a stronger guy and run the table like she and Malcolm almost did. -- Joe Reid

    Nick Wilson

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: David vs. Goliath (Season 37)
    Other Season(s): none
    How He Won: If you hear Jeff Probst tell it, it's because Nick named all his little micro-alliances. Which sounds silly, though Jeff might have a point: the way Nick cultivated the micro-alliances within his greater Davids group — while also cultivating a micro-alliance with people like Mike White and Angelina — is what got him to the end.
    Why He Could Win Again: More recent players have a better handle on the advantage-heavy game play of the last ten seasons or so. The other thing about Nick is he had a great social game, but unlike many of the people about whom that is true, his reputation emerged as one of a very loyal player. And loyal players are a rarity among winners.-- Joe Reid

    Ethan Zohn

    Winning Seasons: Survivor: Africa (Season 3)
    Other Season(s): Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8), 11th place
    How He Won: Early in the game, Ethan forged a strong alliance that survived the game mostly intact until the final stages. Once he reached the endgame, his innate likability was one of the main deciding factors leading to his win.
    Why He Could Win Again: When Ethan won the game the first time, he was a 27-year-old kid. Now in his 40s, he’s still in great physical shape, but he’s also bringing maturity and experience to the game, not to mention a deep understanding of how the game has evolved. In the nearly two decades since Survivor: Africa, he’s seemingly rarely missed an episode. He’s never fully fallen off the radar, either, appearing at dozens of charity events, fan meet-and-greets, and other reality shows (including a season of The Amazing Race). Therefore, he’s maintained relationships with many of his fellow alumni (and I’m not even talking about the three former contestants he dated over the years). And he’s beaten cancer, to boot (twice!), giving him a great sob story to melt hearts at the Final Tribal Council. -- Jessica Liese

    Survivor's 40th season kicks off with the two-hour premiere of Survivor: Winners at War tonight at 8:00 PM ET on CBS.

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    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Denise Stapley, Ethan Zohn, Natalie Anderson, Nick Wilson, Sophie Clarke, Tyson Apostol, Wendell Holland, Reality TV