Ever since there were enough winners to make it possible, Survivor fans have dreamed of an all-winners season. While most thought it would never happen, Jeff Probst and team have pulled out all the stops for the show's 40th season, bringing us a cast of 20 former Survivor champions ready to battle it for a two-million dollar prize and bragging rights to end all bragging rights.
There’s never been a single clear path to victory for a Survivor winner. Some claimed the prize by dominating strategically, while others credit their exceptional social relationships, challenge prowess, or facility with in-game advantages. Similarly, some had runaway victories, while others clawed their way to a close victory. All of these factors inform their reputations as players, because while each of the 20 contestants in Winners at War is a millionaire thanks to this game, not everyone returns at the same threat level.
In the first of our three-part preview leaading up to Wednesday night's premiere of Survivor: Winners at War, Primetimer's resident Survivor superfans Jessica Liese and Joe Reid will tackle the obvious threats. While these players have earned their reputations for being good at Survivor, being too good may make things difficult for them as they go up against their fellow winners.
Winning Season: Survivor: Cambodia (Season 31)
Other Season(s): Survivor: San Juan Del Sur (Season 29), 10th place
How He Won: Jeremy made no secret of his "meat shield" strategy, i.e. keeping seemingly stronger players than him (Andrew Savage; Joe Anglim) in the game so that any shots at his alliance would hit them first. By time he was the strongest player left, he'd acquired enough immunities to make it to jury, where he swept.
Why He's Too Much of a Threat: My guess is that any Winners at War contestant who won an All-Star season will be seen as ripe to target. Don't expect anyone to align with Jeremy and not worry that they're being used as a meat shield. -- Joe Reid
Winning Seasons: Survivor: Pearl Islands (Season 7); Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (season 20)
Other Season(s): Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34), 15th place; Survivor: Island of the Idols (Season 39), served as a coach
How She Won: Both of Sandra’s paths to victory were unconventional and, generally speaking, more defensive than most. By deflecting blame and making sure there was always a more pressing target than herself, she either outlasted her biggest rivals or ensured that by the end of the game, they'd have more enemies on the jury.
Why She's Too Much of a Threat: There’s absolutely no way any of these ex-winners will allow the game’s only two-time champion to take home a third crown. She may elude their fire for a few rounds, and she may benefit from the uniqueness of her playing style, but at this point nobody’s oblivious to how sneaky she can be. There’s also the fact that production neglected to take down the giant statues of Sandra and Rob from last season’s Island of the Idols, a physical manifestation of their threat levels and a reminder that they spent most of last season hanging out together in Fiji and practicing their survival skills. -- Jessica Liese
Winning Season:Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34)
Other Season(s): Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28), 11th place
How She Won: Nearly every one of Sarah’s Game Changers castmates came away from the game thinking they’d made a BFF for life, and they were each shocked to discover they weren’t the only ones. In addition to dominating strategically and socially, Sarah was also able to leverage a couple of fortuitous key in-game advantages, including a Vote Steal and the Legacy Advantage, to advance in the game.
Why She's Too Much of a Threat: Because Sarah played such an aggressively personal, strategically dominant game in Game Changers, knives are demonstrably out for her already. Prior to the start of Winners at War, Entertainment Weekly’s Dalton Ross polled the players to find out who they’d target first, and Sarah's was the name that came up most often. She was able to downplay her threat level in Game Changers due to her middling placement in Cagayan; she will have no such ability this time around. -- Jessica Liese
Winning Season: Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)
Other Season(s): Survivor: The Australian Outback (Season 2), 6th place
How She Won: While many would answer this with "on Rob's coattails," that would be majorly selling Amber's social game short. Rob is not a sunny personality, and it took Amber's social skills to maintain their alliances, especially the one with Jenna and Rupert that ultimately paved their path to victory.
Why She's Too Much of a Threat: While other Winners at War players enter the game with a natural ally (Jeremy and Natalie come to mind), Amber and Rob are the only ones whose alliance is legally binding. As long as husband and wife are both alive in the game, they're both huge targets. That said … if Rob were to be eliminated early, Amber's profile could suddenly become small enough to slip under the radar. -- Joe Reid
Winning Season: Survivor: Redemption Island (season 22)
Other Season(s): Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4), 10th place; Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8), Runner-up; Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20), 13th Place; Survivor: Island of the Idols (Season 39), served as a coach
How He Won: In Redemption Island, Rob ran roughshod over the competition, using his charm to maintain an ironclad grip on his alliance and quickly voting out anyone who showed the slightest hint of crossing him.
Why He's Too Much of a Threat: Much like classic Star Trek movies, even-numbered Boston Rob seasons tend to be great for him while odd-numbered ones are disappointing. In Rob’s second game, Survivor: All-Stars, he used outside-the-game friendships to maneuver out of an impossible position. On his fourth tour of Survivor duty, in which he was finally able to seal the deal, Rob relied on a little bit of star power to make inroads with a cast of first-time players. Though he has plenty of fans and close friends in this cast, every single one of them has seen him at his Survivor best, and none of them will be likely to give him an inch, especially when you consider that he comes into the game with an iron-clad ally in Amber. Therefore, the pattern is likely to hold, and this season will be Rob’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. -- Jessica Liese
Winning Season: Survivor: Micronesia (Fans vs. Favorites) (Season 16)
Other Season(s): Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13), 6th place; Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, 2nd place
How She Won: Parvait got into the center of a 5-woman alliance and led the charge in snaking out the men they were allied with before it was too late, then made a strong, unapologetic case for herself at jury.
Why She's Too Much of a Threat: Put it this way: Parvati was a Day One target in Heroes vs. Villains, and she STILL made it to the final vote (a vote many say she should have won). Is she the best player ever? Here's betting no one else on Season 40 wants to be having that conversation on finale night. -- Joe Reid
Winning Season: Survivor: One World (Season 24)
Other Season(s): None
How She Won: Kim played as close to a perfect game as possible in Survivor: One World, calling most of the shots while amassing a tight alliance of players and never being afraid to cut their throats when the time came.
Why She's Too Much of a Threat: Kim has topped almost every list of all-time best Survivor players, and she comes into the game with a reputation for having a stone-cold strategic mind. It’s true that she’s up against stiffer competition this time around, but there’s no denying she was running the show her first time out. Her challenge dominance is also not to be ignored: she won individual immunity four times in a single season. (Among her competitors this season, only Rob Mariano has done the same.) -- Jessica Liese
Winning Season: Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28)
Other Season(s): Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34), 19th place
How He Won: When he wasn't taunting his enemies with llama calls, Tony aggressively hopped alliances and used his immunity idols — including the infamous "Tyler Perry Idol" — to make the final three, where Woo stupidly took him to the end over Kass.
Why He's Too Much of a Threat: Tony's saving grace might just be that he got eliminated second in Game Changers, proving that his wild antics aren't some kind of magic spell. Tony has that worst possible combination of traits in an all-star season of Survivor: he can't lay low to save his life (he's too busy trying to build spy bunkers), and his personality grates on people. He's always going to give you a reminder that you haven't gotten rid of him yet. -- Joe Reid
Survivor's 40th season kicks off with the two-hour premiere of Survivor: Winners at War on February 12th at 8:00 PM ET on CBS.
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