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Handicapping the Survivor: Winners at War Finale

Who will take home the biggest prize in show history?
  • Survivor will crown its first two million dollar winner tonight. (Photos: CBS)
    Survivor will crown its first two million dollar winner tonight. (Photos: CBS)

    Wednesday night marks the finale of the most anticipated season in Survivor history. Winners at War gathered 20 former champions together for the ultimate all-star season, a battle of big personalities and master strategists that saw some of the most notable names in show's history — "Boston" Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, Sandra Diaz-Twine — get bounced early, their significant reputations having preceded them. Now, as the show prepares for a two-hour finale, followed by a virtual reunion episode, five Survivors remain, to be joined by one player who will return from the Edge of Extinction, to play out the endgame.

    If things proceed according to history, the episode will kick off with the EOE competition, followed by an immunity challenge, a tribal council where six will be cut down to five, another immunity challenge, another tribal council where five will be cut to four, another immunity challenge where the winner will choose one player to take to the finals, a fire-making challenge to determine the third finalist, and then the top three will make their case to the jury, and the jury will vote for a winner. A lot to pack into a finale! And with so many moving parts and unpredictable elements, it's gonna be difficult to try to lay odds on who will prevail. Which is why we're taking into account both where the players are situated in the game (who their allies are, how likely they are to win immunity) and how the show has been editing them all season (does it seem like their narrative has been that of a major winner?).

    As ever, these odds are for fun, so, you know, don't blame us if you wager on the outcome and lose.

    Tony Vlachos

    The In-Game Case: After winning a stunning three immunity challenges in a row, Tony should have been everybody's first choice to topple last week; but in TWO tribal councils where he was vulnerable, he didn't get a single vote. That would seem to indicate that either he's got some iron-clad alliances with the likes of Sarah and Ben, or that the players don't see him as a threat to win the game, bananas as that may sound. Tony has an immunity idol in his pocket and a proven ability to win immunity challenges, so he seems like a near-lock for the finals.

    The Edit: Since the merge, Tony has absolutely dominated in terms of screen time, interview bites, and overall narrative. He was shown to be the prime mover behind the Sophie, Kim, and Jeremy votes, and his Cops Are Us alliance with Sarah has been a story all season. This is classic winner's edit material, and at this point, you'd be crazy not to see him as the front-runner going into the finale.

    The Odds: 3-2

    Sarah Lacina

    The In-Game Case: Sarah won the Game Changers season by ruthlessly slicing her way through rivals and allies alike, while remaining likeable enough to win a jury vote. She has been playing a slightly less ruthless game this time around (she's stayed loyal to people like Sophie and Tony), but seems to have turned up the friendliness factor. If she makes it to the end, she will have a good many friendly faces on the jury. She hasn't performed terribly well in challenges thus far, however, and that gets a lot more important in the endgame.

    The Edit: Sarah's enjoyed a fantastic edit this season, disappearing only for the first couple weeks after the merge. Her alliance with Tony has been THE major alliance of the season. The only thing that's missing from her narrative has been major obstacles to overcome.

    The Odds: 5-1

    Denise Stapley

    The In-Game Case: Despite the fact that everybody's been calling her the Queen-Slayer (for playing two idols and knocking out Sandra), not to mention the fact that she's won two immunity challenges, nobody seems to be treating Denise like a threat. Which either means a) she's once again being underestimated and stands a good chance of making it to the end, or b) she's once again being underestimated and won't get the credit from the jury that Tony or Sarah will.

    The Edit: Denise has run hot and cold as a presence this season, disappearing for episodes at a time. But she's made big moves, which makes her a memorable presence.

    The Odds: 12-1

    Ben Driebergen

    The In-Game Case: He's got an idol in his pocket, which should be a big help, and if he has to make fire at final four, he's already shown in his original season that he can win that challenge. Ben's biggest problem is something he highlighted last week: he's not the most popular person on the island. Nobody's sent him any advantages from EOE; people have played disadvantages against him. He's outwardly argued with the likes of Adam and Jeremy, who are now on the jury. Ben might be the one everybody wants to take to the end because he can't win a jury vote.

    The Edit: Ben's been a constant presence since week 1, getting a ton of confessionals and cast as the protagonist in most of his story arcs. The problem is that he hasn't always been shown in a positive light, looking on occasion like a buffoon or a bully. He got the bully edit in his original season, too, but that was offset by a heavy personal narrative about his time in the army and his PTSD.

    The Odds: 15-1

    Michele Fitzgerald

    The In-Game Case: Michele has her back against the wall and will need to either drive a wedge into the Tony/Sarah/Ben/Denise alliance or win a bunch of immunity to make it through. That said, the EOE returnee will be another target that isn't her AND a potential ally; not to mention the fact that this is the stage of the game when you're most likely to be successful at driving a wedge between the majority alliance. Michele is popular among the jury, but she could still be underestimated by the remaining players who don't think she can make a compelling case for her win.

    The Edit: Michele has enjoyed one of the best edits this season, for someone who has never really been in a position of power. She almost always gets a confessional after a vote doesn't go her way, positioning her as a plucky underdog; she was put in an incredibly sympathetic light in her conflicts with Wendell; and she has more than once mentioned that she was stung by the negative fan reaction to her winning Survivor: Koh Rong, giving her a compelling narrative to take to the jury. If there's an underdog who could upend the Tony Story, it's Michele.

    The Odds: 7-1

    Natalie Anderson

    The In-Game Case: With three advantages bought last week with her Scrooge McDuck-esque hoard of fire tokens, plus the nourishment of peanut butter bought with same, plus an immunity idol that she bought before the last EOE competition, Natalie holds the strongest case to not only win next week's EOE competition but do some real damage if she gets back in the game. But after Chris Underwood won two seasons ago as an EOE returnee, this season's students of the game would be insane to once again allow someone who's spent this entire season cultivating good vibes with the jury to make it to the final three.

    The Edit: As the first person voted out this season, a returning Natalie winning the game would be an incredibly narrative. She's gotten some glowing edits on EOE — especially recently — and has been portrayed as a physical force to be reckoned with and a resilient personality. She disappeared for a huge chunk of the middle of the season, but using Chris Underwood as an EOE template, that's what happened to him too.

    The Odds: 14-1

    Rob Mariano

    The In-Game Case: As with everybody who's starting next week's finale on the Edge of Extinction, he's going to have to get back into the game first, which will be a tall order against Natalie. If the race to retrieve coconuts on EOE from a couple weeks ago is any indication, Rob doesn't look like he has a ton of gas left in the tank. And even if he does make it back, while he does hold an immunity idol, he'll be everybody's prime target before the finale.

    The Edit: Obviously, Boston Rob has enjoyed a fantastic edit, as he has on every one of his now five seasons on the show (six if you count last year's stint as a mentor). He's been shown as the persistent warrior, struggling against long odds and the ravages of Father Time and the Edge of Extinction. There is always going to be room for a Boston Rob triumph in the Survivor edit.

    The Odds: 25-1

    Tyson Apostol

    The In-Game Case: He's the only player, besides Rob and Natalie, to hold an immunity idol, so if he gets back in the game, he could do some damage. He won the first EOE competition, so obviously he could do it again.

    The Edit: Tyson's a huge personality, which goes a long way. He got a ton of mileage out of letting his softer side emerge at times, as he did during the family visit.

    The Odds: 22-1

    The Field

    The In-Game Case: Until that EOE competition has passed, everybody (save for Sandra) has a mathematical chance to win the game. But with 14 players competing for one chance to get back into the game, those odds start looking mighty long.

    The Edit: Besides Natalie, Rob, and Tyson, it seems very unlikely that anyone else has the narrative thrust to triumph. Certainly, Amber, Danni, Ethan, Yul, Wendell, and Adam look like the book has closed on their story. Parvati's gotten a bunch of screen time in the last few weeks, and recent vote-outs like Sophie, Kim, Jeremy, and Nick still might have some residual heat from their time in the main part of the game. But I wouldn't put my money on any of them.

    The Odds: 50-1

    The three-hour season finale of Survivor: Winners at War airs tonight at 8:00 PM ET on CBS.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, Ben Driebergen, Boston Rob Mariano, Denise Stapley, Michele Fitzgerald, Natalie Anderson, Sarah Lacina, Tony Vlachos, Tyson Apostol