One of the closest challenge losses in the history of the game may have come down to a moment of showboating and trash-talk -- plus, the first person leaves the game for good.
It was a big night on "Survivor: Winners at War," and the biggest news wasn't even the fact that we finally saw the very first person leave the game ... for good!
It probably should have come as no surprise that Sandra had no interest in playing this game from Edge of Extinction, a land of challenges toward competing in a challenge to get back into the game. Sandra won this game twice based on her cunning and strategy. Challenges were never her strong suit, and so she instead announced her retirement from "Survivor" and raised the flag.
While it was a monumental moment, shared with some of the best to have ever played the game on Edge of Extinction, it paled in comparison to the rest of the hour, which would prove to be the final hurrah of three tribes before next week's big merge. But that also means someone came this close to making the merge, only to fall short.
Even more devastating, it was a matter of seconds or even less between the final two tribes in the Immunity Challenge. That meant the losing tribe found themselves analyzing every little moment of their performance to see what could have cost them those precious seconds.
The answer, though, was quite loud and apparent. For the second week in a row, Wendell was trash-talking and showboating at the Immunity Challenge and for the second week in a row, his tribe lost. We get confidence, but there's a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Wendell appears to have slipped across that line.
In fact, he's quickly emerging as a bit of a villain character this season. He was coolly confident during his season, but having to play with his ex-girlfriend Michele has brought out an arrogant, condescending and nasty side of him that was rubbing his own tribe-mates wrong.
He survived last week's vote, despite already causing tension within his tribe, because Parvati was seen as such a huge threat, even after he tried to publicly make deals with her at Tribal. We get that he's this ruthless new-school player -- one of the freshest winners on the cast -- but it can be hard to watch.
Rob may be hanging out on Edge of Extinction with his wife, but he is playing his own game. He challenged her about having Fire Tokens publicly, and then later revealed that he had actually hustled and managed to snag three of the four available in this week's challenge with the others none the wiser.
They know someone has them, but with this move, the "Godfather" has proven himself capable of adapting at least somewhat to this new style of gameplay. Tyson found the fourth token, but we already knew he was a powerhouse player. That basically means that it's Tyson, Natalie and Rob playing the hardest out there (at least so far as we understand things now). But who will get back into the game ... and when?
Perhaps it was inevitable, when you look at the makeup of Edge of Extinction, that Yul would be the next person voted out. Despite Wendell's abhorrent behavior both privately with Michele and publicly at Tribal and at Challenges, he managed to survive the vote. Not that he had much of anything to do with it.
This one all came down to Michele and Nick weighing their options. And as much as we might like to say it's just another case of the new-schoolers talking out the last remaining old-schooler, we have to throw some of the blame on Yul. He got a little too confident and revealed a little too much of how intricately advanced his thought processes are, and it scared them.
That makes Yul the second legend taken out by overthinking how these Fire Tokens have changed the game, and they don't even fully understand how they work yet. Sandra leveraged for Fire Tokens and gave up Immunity, and now Yul trying to concoct an elaborate scheme to get Wendell's wound up costing him his spot in the game. It also netted Sophie and Sarah one fire token each.
Denise Stapley (Philippines-2012) took down the Queen last week and this week she shored up an alliance with Kim and Jeremy, who still don't quite see her as the huge threat we know she can be. That's good for her game, because she'll let them both be way more flashy than her while protecting her interests. Grade: A+
Sophie Georgina Clarke (South Pacific-2011) is settling into a tight two-person alliance with Sarah, which could expand to three if Sarah and Tony stay true to their earlier bond. She is now the oldest-school player out there, though still within the decade, so we don't think it'll be a factor anymore. She's playing a very savvy and aware game and we think she'll be overlooked for a bit now. Grade: A+
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe (One World-2012) is locked in now with Denise and clearly ready to play her own game. She's a power player when it comes to bold moves and strategic gameplay, and she has a history of strength in challenges. She should be well-positioned for now if her alliance holds true and she can start pointing out other threats. Grade: A
Sarah Lacina (Game Changers-2017) has been playing a brilliantly subtle game this time around, much as she did during her winning season. She's got an alliancewith Shopie and she most likely has Tony in her pocket as well. He's such a volatile target and they've managed to keep their alliance a secret thus far, giving her an edge on multiple fronts. Grade: A
Nick Wilson (David vs. Goliath-2018) is coming in as kind of a free agent and kind of with Michele, unless she oddly decides to work with Wendell because of their history. He's a cleverly quiet player, which is proving effective this season, and keenly aware of who is making more noise than him. Plus, he could easily reconnect with Sophie giving both her and him options. Grade: B+
Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng-2016) is growing in confidence with each move, so we have hope that she'll throw Wendell to the wolves once the merge hits, dooming his game and elevating her own. She has Nick in one pocket and otherwise is open to start courting existing alliances and solo players. How she navigates these next few days will determine her game. Grade: B
Jeremy Collins (Second Chances-2015) is aligned with Kim and Denise, but how strong will that be now that they will be merged? We suspect they might keep working with him, but we're not sure he won't start looking at his options. Regardless, he's a huge visible threat on a season where almost every other big visible threat is gone already. Suddenly, Tony is looking pretty good, huh? Grade: B-
Tony Vlachos (Cagayan-2014) scares the hell out of almost everyone in the game, but he's the threat you can see. That might actually help him in the short term, just as his alliance with Sarah -- if it's still intact -- could help him deeper into the game. While he'll always be on the edge, he might surprise everyone ... if he can keep his paranoia in check. Grade: C+
Adam Klein (Millennials vs. Gen-X-2016) is going to out-think himself right out of this game. He's too all over the place all of the time. Everyone knows he tries to play all sides, explore every angle and has no trust for anyone in the game. He's painted a huge target on his back as an unreliable player, so no one is going to want to genuinely work with him. Grade: C
Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers-2017) wants to be taken seriously as a winner, but no one is really going to do it. And now, he's at the portion of the game where he dominated by sneaking around and finding hidden immunity idols and winning immunity when needed. These players know he can do that when his back's to the wall, so he won't get that chance again. What could help him, though, is he's kind of an obvious and easy vote. Grade: C
Wendell Holland (Ghost Island-2018) is playing a game of voting blocs and no loyalty of any kind. He'll stab you in the front and in the back and do it with arrogance and condescension. It's a very off-putting presentation he's putting on out here and it's rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Each episode he continues it is only going to lower his stock. Grade: C-
Rob Mariano (Redemption Island-2011) really surprised us this week by stepping up and playing this game hard from Edge. We'll see if it pays off. Grade: D+
Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water-2013) has been playing an aggressive game out there as well and it's been paying off. Again, we'll see how much it matters. Grade: D
Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur-2014) started off strong, but has slipped to the background now that Tyson and Rob are there. She needs to step up and compete with these legends, though she's still in a decent spot, all things considered. Grade: D
Everybody else maintains their big fat stinking F for accomplishing mostly nothing on the Edge, though we did like seeing Parvati and Ethan's connection a she helped lift his spirits and keep him motivated to stick around in this game. And Sandra quit, so she's not even a part of this anymore.
"Getting voted out before the merge? That's so lame. I've never done that before." --Parvati
"I screwed myself." --Sandra (lamenting playing emotionally with Denise)
"I'm not very good at the challenges, everybody knows that. So I feel like I would be wasting my time just for an opportunity to go back into the game which I'm not gonna succeed at. I got voted out and now it's time for me to go." --Sandra (old-school to the end)
"Thank you for schooling me about how to interact at Tribal. Do you think I didn't know what I was doing last night?" --Wendell (condescending to Michelle after he jeopardized his game at Tribal by openly trying to deal with Parvati)
"I immediately find a fire token because I am amazing." --Tyson (more peanut butter?)
"All of these people have no idea that I have the fire tokens. They believe that I wasn't the one to the first of any trails, but I was." --Rob (acquiring the other three tokens)
"She dethroned the Queen, she used two Idols. So that makes her a big target, and that's good news for me." --Tony (about Denise)
"Sele loses a lot of water again." --Jeff Probst (during immunity challenge)
"Let's not exaggerate, Jeff." --Wendell (talking smack)
"Don't pay attention to him." --Nick (trying to rein him in)
"Hey yo, Probts! We're almost there." --Wendell (later during the puzzle)
"Focus on the next piece." --Nick (trying to rein Wendell in again)
"I need his attention." -- Wendell (and yet he lost after showboating -- again!)
"Wendell is a little bit of a showboat, a little bit of a trash-talker, and if he had just maintained his focus, that could have made the difference between winning and losing today. So he's basically dug his own grave." --Yul (alas)
"I am so frustrated with Wendell over us losing today. He should be focusing on the puzzle, not showboating, talking trash. We lose this challenge by a second and if it wasn't for Wendell screwing up the challenge, we would have won." --Nick
"You wish you guys never dated?" --Nick (to Michele about Wendell)
"We didn't date that long. But, yes." --Michele
"Yul be on the Edge of Extinction tonight." --Wendell (casting his vote -- groan)