Sandra tries her hand at being a provider for her tribe while a matter of seconds proves the difference between Immunity and Tribal Council in a heartbreaking challenge.
It's all-out war -- well it is in the title -- as "Survivor: Winners at War" feels like a season halfway through rather than one only it's third episode. These past winners are playing so hard right now, it's both exhausting and impressive to watch.
But playing hard doesn't necessarily mean playing well. Especially if you're caught playing very hard very early in this game, which is exactly what happened to one castaway this week as they thought they were pulling all the strings only to find out the only string they were pulling was their own.
There is still a generational and cultural divide between old-school and new-school players, but it's created an interesting divide that goes deeper than when you played or how much the game has evolved in the intervening years. It's about the dynamic of a new-school player communicating with an old-school player and vice-versa.
We've already seen the old-schoolers struggling to keep up with the pace of the game, in the case of Amber, or failing to adapt to the new cut-throat nature of strategizing and alliance building, in the case of Ethan.
This week, we saw the reverse of that when new players were trying to use the social and strategic skills that worked on their seasons with old-school players. The problem is that in their arrogance, they assume the game is the game they played, and while structurally it may share some elements, "Survivor" is the game the players play.
In this case, a good percentage of those players are from earlier seasons that played a different style of game; the biggest difference being long-term loyalty, which is in limited supply. Recent seasons have seen alliances of convenience that may shift from Tribal to Tribal, but old-school players were more likely to be in it for the long haul ... or at least until the merge.
And because they're bringing their "Survivor" mentality and style of play into this season, then that's what this season now includes. Which means some loyalties are ride-or-die and not so easily flipped or swapped. And also, there can be only one Boston Rob and no one can play this game like he does.
This was the closest immunity challenge of the season, with Sele faltering yet again at the finish but only by seconds at most. And considering how far behind they were getting to the concluding puzzle portion, this performance should be seen as the redemption Rob desperately needed after blowing the last one.
He did cost them time in the rope toss portion, having to defer to Ben for that, so he is exposing himself as less of a threat in challenges. With the otherwise huge target on his back, this could actually prove to his benefit as he tries to shy away from the fact that there was a statue of him in the last season ... as Adam loves to bring up at every Tribal Council.
CASTAWAY REPORT CARDS
Alas, it was back to Tribal Council for Sele, their third in as many attempts. This week, though, there was enough action on both beaches that we saw some shifts across the board, so we're back to grading everyone's performance.
Yul Kwon (Cook Island-2006) is clearly in a power position over at Dakal, though we're not sure if the others fully get that yet. He's still powerfully aligned and he's thinking so strategically and rationally that he should be one of their biggest targets, and yet everyone is underestimating him because he's so quiet. And he set off a much bigger potential bomb by telling Sandra who's gunning for her. Grade: A+
Sarah Lacina (Game Changers-2017) bought an advantage from Edge of Extinction and solidified her cop alliance with Tony by enlisting his help. She scored a "steal-a-vote" after infiltrating the Sele tribe, which only strengthens this undercover power pair even more. So far they're doing a good job of keeping eyes off of them, but that could change if they lose. For now, though, Sarah is quietly amassing power. Grade: A+
Denise Stapley (Philippines-2012) is just quietly doing what she does and now finds herself in a great position on Dakal, working tightly with Ben, Michelle, and Jeremy. Battle tested across multiple trips to Tribal Council, their bonds are tightening and Denise is the quiet underdog that everyone will overlook. On top of that, she got the other half of her Idol back before ... well, we'll get to that. Grade: A
Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng-2016) thinks she has something to prove out here, and she made a huge statement about her awareness and willingness to play hard this week. She also didn't take the lead of any of the alpha males in the tribe, instead forging her own path and ultimately leading the decision as to how Dakal would vote this week. Grade: A
Wendell Holland (Ghost Island-2018) remains quietly in a great position on his tribe, not rocking the boat. Nothing major happened with him this week, so no major changes to report. Grade: A
Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands-2003 & Heroes vs. Villains-2010) actually changed her strategy a bit and it's working. This time out, she decided to try and be a provider, and she immediately netted a shark for the tribe to eat for breakfast. Suddenly, Yul isn't as excited about getting rid of her. On top of that, she keeps sitting out challenges, so no one sees her as a threat there. Once again, they're poised to underestimate the real danger of keeping her around to seek out flashier targets. Of course, that won't be tested until Dakal loses, but she's doing the work she needs to do to survive. Grade: B+
Sophie Georgina Clarke (South Pacific-2011) and Nick Wilson (David vs. Goliath-2018) continue to be well-positioned in a winning tribe, so there's nothing new to report and no change in her status. Grade: B+
Jeremy Collins (Second Chances-2015) is working hard in this game, while at the same time letting others take the lead to keep the target off of his back. As one of the biggest and most physically impressive guys out here, not to mention his keen mind, he's one of the biggest threats out here, but so far there are still bigger in there. Meanwhile, he's solidifying a loyal alliance; and seemingly has Natalie in his corner out on Edge. Grade: B+
Tony Vlachos (Cagayan-2014) is doing everything he needs to do change his tribe's perception of him. The longer they avoid Tribal, the better it is for his game as people aren't seeing him as someone untrustworthy right now. On top of that, his cop alliance with Sarah is poised to pay dividends down the road. Grade: B-
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe (One World-2012) was in trouble early on because of a fake "poker alliance," but now Dakal has been winning so much and enough time has passed, they're probably beyond superficial reasons to vote someone out. It's the best thing that could happen for her, because she's otherwise just laying low and doing nothing, which is pretty damned smart. Grade: C+
Rob Mariano (Redemption Island-2011) has his back against the wall already, but it may not be as dire as he thinks. He went head-to-head with Adam this week, and in the end, neither of them worked. But Rob's problem is largely his legacy and not the game he's playing right now. He still has his right-hand ally and his mind, so it's not the end of the road for him, but he's definitely having to adapt to a game he can't control and he remains in a precarious position, but never count him out. Grade: C+
Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers-2017) has settled down a lot in his gameplay, but he's still seen as such a wild card that right now, he's more tied to an alliance as a number. He needs to work to build genuine trust with them, which he started doing this week. If he plays this right, he could be well-positioned moving forward because he is in the power group right now on Cele, but it would also help if they'd stop losing. Grade: C
Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water-2013) knows he's a huge target, and so he tried to shift that focus onto two-time winner Sandra. But she'll never be seen as a threat bigger than him. What's worse, Sandra started providing for the camp, which immediately raised her value in Yul's eyes to the point he told her Tyson was gunning for him. And even when she's outnumbered, outgunned and in the crosshairs, Sandra is amazing at turning the tables to get out the one targeting her. And when you're already a target, you're making it easy for her. Grade: C
Parvati Shallow (Fans vs. Favorites-2008) is in huge trouble on Sele because she is seen as an even bigger threat in the game than Rob because of her charm offensive. That said, her alliance with Rob has kept her safe because the new-school players don't want to rock the boat and piss off either her or Rob (and one would have to be left if they voted out the other). She needs them to continue turning on one another, which started this week, and then she needs Sele to stop losing so she can hang in there. Grade: C
Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur-2014) may be on Edge of Extinction and the first one voted out of this game, but she keeps creeping up this chart because she is working out there. She now has four fire tokens and has bequeathed advantages to multiple people in the game. In other words, she's giving herself an advantage on her trek to get in the game, and creating possible allies among those still there along the way. Honestly, watching her play we're just disappointed that she's not in there. Once again, she figured out the clues, cracked the code and Amber and Danni barely have any idea what's even going on. Grade: C-
Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen-X-2016) forgot that this was Days 7-9 on this island and was playing such an aggressive and hard game with everyone he ultimately turned everyone against him. Telling Rob about the plan to boot out Parvati sent Rob to tell everyone he knows the plan and who told him. Adam got outplayed by the "Godfather" out here because he assumed Rob would flip on his allies the way Adam would. And now, the other new-schoolers see him as playing both sides and even doing Edge/Jury management already. He's playing too hard, too fast and just made himself a huge target as absolutely no one voted with him. Plus, he gave Denise the other half of her Idol back before all hell broke loose, so he doesn't even have that leverage anymore Grade: D+
Amber Mariano (All-Stars-2004) and Danni Boatwright (Guatemala-2005) are being so outplayed by Natalie, they're on Edge of Extinction, but they're complete ineffective in the game. Grade: F
Ethan Zohn (Africa-2001) becomes the third old-schooler in a row to hit the Edge, which means Natalie may just continue to run away with this island's opportunities. He fell victim to being aligned to Rob and Parvati, but considered less of a boat rock in his elimination. Like Amber, he never really caught up to the speed of the game and, like Amber, his elimination was more about hurting Rob than having anything to do with him. Grade: F
For a guy who technically has no power, Rob is certainly influencing a lot of what happens in this game. That's the power of legacy.
"Boston Rob ... won this game because he was in control from start to finish. But this is not 'Survivor: Redemption Island.'" This is 'Winners at War' and he needs to adapt. Maybe play a little bit more like I am.--Adam (confident or overconfident?)
"Why would I ever tell Ethan I'm voting out Parvati? Because if Parvati is going to go home, I need Ethan in my corner." --Adam (so confident in his strategy)
"This season I'm going to switch gears, so I want to prove myself to my tribe and catch a couple of fish." --Sandra (saying this is her fifth and last time out there)
"Sandra has two million in the bank from 'Survivor' so toppling the queen would please everyone here." --Tyson (trying to shift target off of his back)
"We want to keep the momentum going and I think one of the components of keeping that momentum going is keeping morale high and being well fed, and Sandra is a big part of that. So, I know Tyson is targeting Sandra, but I don't want to lose Sandra." --Yul (Sandra's strategy working, Tyson's not)
"There is no way that Tyson is going to come after me and not pay the price for it. Don't come after me. If you f--king come after me, I better not find out about it" --Sandra (after Yul fills her in on Tyson's plan)
"I have three fire tokens so I'm actually a billionaire on Extinction, but I'm pretending that I'm a complete peasant and completely poor like the rest of them." --Natalie (on the cusp of earning her fourth)
"I have an impossible task. It is impossible to vote somebody out in this group and not piss somebody else off. Or is it?" --Adam (no it is not)
"Strategically telling people truths at important times can be very helpful. I did it in 'Millennials vs. Gen X.' It has backfired on a lot of people who've played this game, but I think it will work." --Adam (deciding to tell Rob his plan to vote out Parvati)
"Adam is gonna blindside Parvati and I'm supposed to be okay with that? And I'm thinking, is this kid crazy? I know he's seen me play on TV; he's seen every episode, he knows everything. I don't play like that." --Rob (Adam's plan backfires spectacularly)
"We're just talking through like the Adam versus Denise versus Ben scenario." --Michelle (to Rob when he approaches her and Jeremy)
"Never mind that, we know that's fake. I know what's up. I for real know what's up. Adam told me. I'm in on it. I know the plan to blindside Parv ... let's blindside Adam." --Rob (but Michelle doesn't take either plan, leaving the alpha males outfoxed by a foxy alpha female)