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Survivor's Old School Winners Are Losing the War

They may as well have called it "Survivor: No Country for Old Men."
  • Rob Mariano and Ethan Zohn in Survivor: Winners at War. (CBS)
    Rob Mariano and Ethan Zohn in Survivor: Winners at War. (CBS)

    SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.

    Survivor: Winners at War is only halfway through, and already it's seen some of the more memorable and — in the case of last week's idol-fu by Denise — spectacular moments in the history of the show. But if there's been one nagging disappointment over the first seven episodes, it's one that came into striking focus this week: the classic old-school veterans have been decimated by the younger, more recent winners. And it's really turning into quite a bummer.

    This week's elimination of Cook Islands champion Yul Kwon means that eight of the first nine players voted out this season made their Survivor debuts before 2010. Seven of the first nine out debuted on season 13 or earlier. Nobody left in the main draw of the game played any earlier than season 23. It is a young person's game here in "Winners at War." And while there are plenty of exciting, fascinating, and likeable contestants left (Sophie! Denise! Kim! Michele! Maybe a man of some kind!), there's no denying that a lot of the reason why the concept of an all-winners season was so exciting was to see players like Parvati, Sandra, Boston Rob, Amber, Ethan, and Yul mix it up with the more recent players. And mix it up they did … as they were being picked off systematically one by one. It is undeniably a huge bummer.

    It's tough to know who to blame for this turn of events. It's hard to blame the younger players. They've watched previous seasons where scores of past Survivors failed to do the smart thing and get rid of the likes of Rob and Parvati and Sandra when they had the chance. They don't want to make those mistakes again and look like chumps. Maybe we can blame the production for overloading the game with twists, playing into the new-schoolers more fast-paced gameplay. But it's not like Rob, Parvati, and Yul were the victims of idols or advantages; plain and simple vote-wrangling was enough to get them out.

    Of course, one twist — the Edge of Extinction — could be enough to get one of the old-schoolers back in the game. If, as many expect, the first EOE competition to earn a spot back in the game is next week, the odds are heavy that the returnee will be one of the classic players. (Unless Natalie Anderson bests them all, a distinct possibility given how much we'd heard about her physical prowess in the early weeks of the season, plus she has four fire tokens.) Could an old-schooler then defy the odds and go all the way to the end, bamboozling these young kids and winning over a jury of their peers? Perhaps! But the thrill of watching this clash of the champions come down to the best-loved Survivor winners of all time feels like it has, like two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, raised its sail and headed for home.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Winner of the Week: Wendell. After it looked like his rotten 'tude towards ex-fling Michele, his open courting of a deal with Parvati at last week's tribal, and his last-second defeat at the immunity challenge (where Nick thought he was showboating, even though it was more likely that Wendell — having lost a challenge in his season by not alerting Jeff Probst to his finishing it — was just trying to make sure he didn't get snakebit again) had alienated every member of his tribe and spelled certain doom, he ends up on the winning side of the vote and how heads into the merge, where anything could happen.

    Sub-Winner(s) of the Week: Tony and Adam, who were both looking like logical next boots on the Dakal and Yara tribes, respectively, but now have made the merge and can find their fortunes changed very quickly.

    War of the Week: The tortoise versus the hare. The immunity challenge was a repeat of the one in Nick's original season, "David vs. Goliath," where the teams had to fill these massive disks with water (think a doggy's water bowl, but the diameter of a person) and then carry them over and past a series of obstacles before filling up a container with however much water hasn't spilled out. The Sele and Dakal tribes both tried to get past the obstacles quickly, suffering decent water loss, then rush back for a second trip, while the Yara tribe moved incredibly slowly, losing very little water, in the hopes that they'd be able to fill their container in one trip. The gamble paid off, giving Yara a head start on the puzzle, which Ben and puzzle queen Sophie dashed through and finished in first place. You don't always see smarts triumph over athleticism in these challenges, so when it does, it's very satisfying.

    Alliance Report: Michele and Wendell's exes bond seems stronger than we were led to believe. Yes, he snipes at her, and yes she gives interviews that allude to wanting to exact some revenge on him for dumping her, but they are definitely working together. Meanwhile, Kim seems to have all but cast her lot in with Jeremy and Denise.

    Dispatches from the Edge of Extinction: With four fire tokens up for grabs at the top of the mountain, the balance of power was liable to shift dramatically, and old man Rob Mariano was able to hustle his "portly" (Tyson's word) ass up the mountain quickly enough that he snatched three tokens before anyone else was the wiser. Tyson nabbed the fourth and resisted the urge to immediately spend it on a jar of peanut butter.

    Advantage Report: Okay, let's see …

    • Sophie has the Yara idol, despite Adam's near certainty that Sarah (or perhaps Ben) has it.
    • Kim has an idol.
    • Jeremy still holds an advantage that will allow him to leave tribal council and return to camp before a vote is held (essentially immunity but you don't get to vote).
    • Sarah holds a Steal-a-Vote advantage.

    Fire Token Report: Since this seems like it's gonna be important real soon …

    • Natalie leads the field with 4 tokens.
    • Rob won three tokens up on EOE mountain.
    • Michele inherited three tokens from Parvati, bringing her total to four, then gave one to Wendell as a show of good faith, bringing his total to two.
    • Yul inherited Sandra's remaining token, bringing his total to two, and then when he was voted out, he gave one to Sophie (who now has two) and one to Sarah.
    • Nick has two tokens, one of which he inherited from Tyson.
    • Everybody else left in the game or on EOE has one token, except Parvati, who has zero.

    War of the Weeks Ahead: It's the merge, and as you might expect on an all-winners season, the scrum to determine who gets the boot looks like it will be epic.

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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, CBS, Boston Rob Mariano, Ethan Zohn, Michele Fitzgerald, Parvati Shallow, Tyson Apostol, Wendell Holland, Yul Kwon