The fire tokens take a sinister turn with the introduction of truly nasty extortion against an active player from the Edge of Extinction.
Once again, we witnessed the power of one player in a mind-blowing hour of "Survivor: Winners at War." These are elite players, all of them. Each of them has earned their spot among the best of the best and they continue to prove it.
Just as Denise took the reins of the game on the week she she earned her Queenslayer title in taking out the game's only two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, another player absolutely wrested control of the game this week. And it was perhaps the most unlikely player of them all.
What's also remarkable is that after pure and utter chaos at last week's Tribal Council, this week saw all nine of the remaining castaways calm and collected, each of them feeling confident and secure in their plan. And yet there was only one person whose plan came to fruition, and it resulted in yet another epic blindside.
You talk about resume building, Denise had better get to work if she wants to keep up. At the same time, the target is getting bigger and bigger and with so many people still left in the game, it can be dangerous to paint such a big target. In comparison, everyone seems to have forgotten the genius of Denise's move.
BURNED BY FIRE TOKENS
This week also saw a twist in the fire tokens of the game, with the new extortion power coming into play. Suddenly, there's a danger to these being a part of the game. When Natalie uncovered a clue to an advantage on the Edge of Extinction, it was Parvati who helped her uncover a ridiculously powerful Extortion Advantage.
Playing it from the Edge, it allowed them to strip any one player of playing in the next immunity challenge and voting at the next tribal council. Even worse, they could ask for any amount of fire tokens they wanted. Predicting that it would take an unpredictable and chaotic player to embrace the madness of such a thing, Parvati smartly considered Tony.
They then hit him with the distinct disadvantage and demanded he pay six fire tokens to avoid this punishment. Tony only had three, so he had to use all of his charm and work both sides to try and secure three more before the immunity challenge. Luckily, Tony was already working hard.
After laying low for much of the season, the Tony of old emerged this week and he started working harder than any other player out there, and that was before he found out he had to hustle to score three more fire tokens to avoid the extortion punishment.
After last week's Tyson elimination, Tony found himself in a power alliance with Sarah, Sophie, Nick and Ben. Jeremy had been their target going in, but when he used his advantage to leave tribal council they had to shift to Tyson. And so, they simply decided to take Jeremy out this time.
Tony, though, decided for almost no reason at all -- except it was probably just so he knew everything that was going on -- to play double agent and convince Jeremy he was working with him. Kim wasn't buying it at all, proving once again that she is the most astute and observant and possibly the most dangerous player out there, even when she's on the bottom of the numbers.
Nevertheless, Tony had Jeremy full convinced of his loyalty to the point Jeremy was willing to go all in. Without Tyson, Jeremy needs meat shields in front of him, so he's more than happy to side with Tony. Aside from Ben, Tony's the biggest other target out there.
They don't even realize what a target he is, because he also smartly jumped up early the morning after tribal council to go idol hunting, sending Nick on an intentional misdirect to an area he had already checked before scoring his first idol of the season.
After scoring extra fire tokens from both sides of the tribe thanks to his double agency (Jeremy, Nick and Ben), Tony was able to compete in the immunity challenge. In the end, it came down to those same three big physical threats balancing a statue on the end of a long pole.
But then Ben dropped, followed almost immediately by Jeremy and suddenly Tony won his second back-to-back immunity challenge (and second ever in his "Survivor" career). Suddenly, he's building a major resume for himself as a challenge beast, which is dangerous at this stage of the game.
But that just meant the work wasn't done.
HARDEST WORKING MAN, PART III
There was a plan in place to get Jeremy eliminated from the game, but Tony suddenly decided he wasn't happy with it. Primarily, he was growing more concerned that Sophie was getting a little too close to his supposed number one in the game, Sarah. Now, Sarah had admitted in confessionals that she was getting annoyed with Tony, so it's hard to say how loyal she remains with him.
We think they're still a solid twosome, but Tony decided he wanted to solidify that. At the same time, he would be turning his back on his original alliance, while gaining an absolutely rock solid level of trust with Jeremy and Michele. After convincing Nick to make a big move with him, he got a skeptical Jeremy on board.
Jeremy had no idea that Kim and Denise had turned on him, but they'd decided that his was a sinking ship and they were ready to be on the bottom of a larger alliance in order to save their game a few more days. But Tony knew that the strategy was a split vote with two coming to Michele (Kim and Sarah) and three to Jeremy (Ben, Denise and Sophie).
His counter-plan was quite simple. He, Nick, Jeremy and Michele all march in there and quietly vote for Sophie. The power alliance is torn apart and it's a huge win for Tony, if he can massage it right afterward.
He automatically gets Jeremy and Michele in his pocket, for at least a little while. If he can work Sarah right, he might be able to salvage that relationship. Nick seems a bit more of a wild card, but he's going along for now. The people in trouble at this point would be Kim, Denise and Ben and they're not tight by any means (well, Kim and Denise rather are ... Ben is more a free agent).
Most importantly, he still has a hidden immunity idol in his pocket that no one knows about, so if he does see himself in trouble, he can always play that.
No one has played harder this season than Tony did in this one episode. He played hard, but his hardest day is yet to come after that blindside. How he maneuvers out of this could determine how much longer he stays in the game. But it was masterful to watch.
Sarah Lacina (Game Changers-2017) is actually in a power position despite being blindsided simply because she is technically in a tight twosome with Tony. That gives her leverage and flexibility coming out of this blindside to save herself, even if it means shifting alliances in the game. She's savvy enough to make the right moves if she can keep a cool head. Grade: A-
Nick Wilson (David vs. Goliath-2018) suddenly finds himself in a power position as well. Despite voting with Tony, we get no sense that he is desperately loyal to him. He's willing to play the game and play it hard, but he's also playing a very flexible game, which is smart at this stage. So long as he slides on the right side of the numbers, he can wait a bit longer to make his own move. Grade: B+
Tony Vlachos (Cagayan-2014) is playing a very dangerous game, but it was too impressive this week not to reward. It's a big flashy game which just painted a huge target on his back, but also solidified some loyalty by his side. How he navigates the fallout of this week's moves will determine what happens next, but he's impressed a lot so far this season in adapting. Grade: B
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe (One World-2012) has now been blindsided at tribal council two votes in a row, but none of them have cost her her game. She is still the most keenly observant player out there and someone we still think is incredibly dangerous. The only reason she ranks this high at this stage is because we firmly believe she can find a way to navigate out of this tough spot, or at least slide through it. Grade: B-
Jeremy Collins (Second Chances-2015) took a gamble in trusting Tony and it paid off. He suddenly finds himself in a stronger position in the game with a group of people who seem willing to work with him. We're not sure how long it will last, but Jeremy has proven pretty capable of staying alive longer than we expected. His back may be against the wall the rest of this season, but we still can't count him out. Grade: B-
Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng-2016) is on the right side of the numbers right now, but it's been a while since she's made any kind of a big move. She's already a target to at least half of the people on the island and we don't see that changing any time soon. Jeremy is a better strategic scrambler than her, too, so she'll likely go down in his place (she was the backup this week had Tony not changed everything). Grade: C+
Denise Stapley (Philippines-2012) is suddenly on the wrong side of the numbers, or at least that's how it appears right now, and she's one of the biggest threats out there. Her resume is already stacked and we don't think they've forgotten completely. In the absence of bigger targets, we think they might remember her right away. Grade: C
Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers-2017) is the biggest target on the wrong side of the numbers that just made a big move. Now there appears to be a bit of an even split, but if Tony can convince Sarah to flip as well, Ben would be in big trouble. He doesn't have any really strong bonds out there, so we think even those who just voted with him would turn on him to save themselves. Grade: C-
Edge of Extinction saw a little bit of action this week, but it only involved two people. Natalie Anderson (San Juan del Sur-2014) found a clue and then with a distraction assist from Parvati Shallow (Fans vs. Favorites-2008), she secured the extortion advantage. Parvati then helped her concoct who to target and how much to demand. We've no idea who got the tokens at this point, but for their efforts we've raised Natalie to a D+ and Parvati to a D.
"Why'd you get up and leave, man?" --Tony (to Jeremy)
"What happened?" --Jeremy
"I thought we had a plan." --Tony
"You're on the chopping block now, 'cause guess who's the biggest, baddest dude here?" --Jeremy (to Ben)
"I really didn't think I was gonna find an idol this season because of the way I was playing. But, say hello to my little friend." --Tony (after finding an idol)
"While I've been out here, I started my own clothing line." --Sarah
"I definitely want to work with Tony. We had a really good talk, and he was extremely believable." --Jeremy (to Michele)
"I think Tony is trying to play double agent and play you, me and Jeremy into thinking that we're going to have something. Like, that's my best guess of what he's trying -- to, like, pull us in." --Kim (to Denise)
"I'm thinking we could really disrupt the game if we give it to someone that no one expects and someone that we know is totally chaotic already. And someone that I think would stop at nothing to get those tokens and not sit out of a challenge, and we'll get paid whatever price we want." --Parvati (considering Tony for extortion)
"Tony winning two in a row back-to-back is not bad. It puts a target on Tony's back. So, yay for Tony." --Kim (after Tony wins second individual immunity in a row)
"I can't believe it. Jeremy's reluctant. I'm begging him to save him." --Tony (Jeremy not believing he wants to flip on Sophie)