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Survivor: Winners at War Somehow Failed to Fill Its Penultimate Episode

In a season where there's often been too MUCH happening, this week's show resorted to a super-sized in-episode promo?
  • Tony Vlachos, Nick Wilson, Jeremy Collins (CBS)
    Tony Vlachos, Nick Wilson, Jeremy Collins (CBS)

    With production shut down everywhere, and uncertainty abound over how the networks will be able to populate their airwaves with over the coming months, it sure seems like CBS could have gotten a lot more mileage out of Survivor's 40th season. With a cast of 20 former winners, each with compelling narratives, a game (over-)stuffed with advantages and twists, and eliminated players lingering on the Edge of Extinction, there had to have been more enough material to stretch the season out and help CBS fill some of those precious programming hours.

    With the season having already begun airing before the COVID-related shutdowns, perhaps it wouldn't have been feasible to re-edit the remaining episodes in the season (the way that, for example, RuPaul's Drag Race has clearly re-edited its episodes to de-emphasize scandal-plagued ousted queen Sherry Pie), but honestly, this should have been the plan from the start for this once-in-a-lifetime season. Given how overstuffed most of these episodes have been, one could easily imagine a season of 90-minute episodes, Edge of Extinction episodes made exclusively for CBS All Access, and extending the season past its traditional mid-May finale. Certainly we didn't need an accelerated season that, counting tonight, has featured three double-elimination episodes.

    And yet somehow, inexplicably, tonight's two-hour, double-tribal-council episode, where the final seven became the final five and strategy was swirling in all directions, and TWELVE former winners were hanging out on the Edge of Extinction, this episode managed to feel flabby, empty, and subject to some truly odd pacing that threw commercial breaks in strange places and left the whole enterprise feeling off. And then to top it off, the second vote-out ended with 15 minutes of show left... which the show filled with five minutes of EOE footage and then a ten-minute season-wrap/finale promo, the kind which often runs at the top of finale episodes. Maybe this happened because next week's finale was too stuffed with content to waste on table setting, but why was this super-promo part of the episode at all? Just a truly bizarre decision in all directions.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Winner of the Week: Michele Fitzgerald, who rebounded from the episode's first tribal council — where her one ally, Nick, helped vote out her other ally, Jeremy — to win immunity and find herself two tribal councils and a fire-making challenge away from getting to the end. She's going to need to pull off some tricks next week. But this week, she was probably the only one with a proper perspective on who the true power on the island is (Tony/Sarah/Ben) and wanted to begin dismantling it, but as she interviewed, when you are an alliance to yourself, there's only so much you can do. Alas.

    Sub-Winner(s) of the Week: Cops R Us. Neither Tony nor Sarah won immunity this week, and since they are a clear alliance in a game where the numbers are clearly dwindling, you'd assume they'd be big targets at tonight's TWO tribal councils. You'd be wrong. Tony and Sarah managed to keep a hold on their allies Ben, Denise, and Nick (and even Jeremy!) so firmly that neither one of their names was written down tonight at all.

    War of the Week: Nick versus Common Sense. After he returned to camp after having voted out Jeremy, Nick approached his old alliance-mate Michele, and she damn near bit his head off. (And with good reason!) Nick's rationale was that nobody could beat Jeremy in the final three, and he had no interest in working with him, but it's hard to imagine who he thinks will win in a final three scenario of him, Tony, and Ben, which he seemed to be moving towards.

    Alliance Report: Tony ascended up into his Spy Nest to observe Denise making a final-three proposal to Ben and Sarah, an interaction Sarah was probably going to tell him all about anyway, but the Spy Nest makes the producers of the show happy. Still, with Sarah, Denise, and Ben all still in the game headed into the finale, they might be the only threesome who could keep Tony out of the final.

    Dispatches from the Edge of Extinction: Natalie has been making mincemeat (or, more appropriately, crunchy peanut butter) out of the Edge of Extinction these past few weeks. This week, she found another game advantage, which she was able to sell to Nick for a whopping eight fire tokens, swelling her war chest to 14 tokens, which she then used to buy three advantages for next week's EOE battle-back competition, plus a giant jar of peanut butter, and still had enough left over to buy Tyson an immunity idol, as a treat.

    Advantage Report: Okay, let's see …

    • Ben still has his immunity idol.
    • Tony still has an immunity idol.
    • Natalie, Rob, and Tyson each have an immunity idol in pocket in case they win the EOE challenge next week.

    Fire Token Report: As Jeff Probst announced at the episode's second immunity challenge, the fire token trade has ended, with Denise purchasing a big bag of rice just under the gun. The show made sure to include a clip of Yul expressing his approval of the Fire Tokens twist, which more than anything else felt like Jeff Probst trying to convince the home audience that his latest twist was a good one.

    War of the Week Ahead: It's a two-hour finale, followed by a virtual reunion that ought to be an interesting undertaking.

    People are talking about this week's Survivor in our forums. Join the conversation.

    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, Jeff Probst, Michele Fitzgerald, Reality TV