Over the coming months, Inside Survivor is undertaking its biggest list ranking yet, as we count down the 100 best episodes of Survivor ever. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season: Winners At War
Episode: “Greatest of the Greats” (Episode 1)
Original Air Date: February 12, 2020
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The year 2020 is one that we will never, ever forget. The coronavirus pandemic shook the world and changed the way we live our day-to-day lives, and continues to as of writing. But through all the stresses and struggles, there remains at least one bright spot in 2020 for Survivor fans, and that is one of the most epic seasons in the show’s history: Winners At War.
For years, Jeff Probst stated that an “all-winners season” wasn’t possible as there weren’t enough compelling winners to make-up a full cast. These comments kept looming over us, and as the years went by and new seasons came and went, the possibility of seeing this highly-anticipated theme kept getting slimmer and slimmer. A winners season was just going to have to be something that lived in the realm of Survivor fan-fiction.
Then, Survivor‘s 20th anniversary comes along, and fans are rewarded with the dream season we never thought we’d see. Twenty past winners hit the beach once again, some of them greeting Jeff as if it had been only yesterday that they had won the game. The thrill of seeing all these champions from different eras of the show is absolutely incredible—even Jeff has to pause to drink in the moment, as he toasts to 20 years of Survivor and the fantastic season ahead.
The action kicks off right away in a grueling water challenge for Immunity. Every player is ready to prove their worth as they battle it out. It’s the Dakal tribe that comes out on top, though, sending Sele to the first Tribal Council of the season—but they have another day to think about it and get their plans in order. That is when the game really shifts into a higher gear as these veteran players begin to plot and scheme.
There are blatant targets from the start. Adam Klein and Denise Stapley get themselves into trouble when they get lost on the way to collect water and spend the rest of the episode trying to wash the target off their backs. Boston Rob Mariano is a big topic of discussion based on reputation alone—and Ben Driebergen starts a finger-pointing situation when he blabs about Danni Boatwright throwing Rob’s name out. However, props to Danni for digging herself out of that hole when Rob confronts her about it.
The gameplay is fun, but what’s most exciting is seeing these characters interact. For example, who would have thought that Boston Rob and Parvati Shallow were going to play together after their unforgettable rivalry back in Heroes vs. Villains? But they both know they need each other as meat shields to stay in the game. They quickly put together an old-school alliance with Danni and Ethan Zohn and are astonished that neither of their names seems to be on the chopping block.
As the first Tribal draws nearer, the target seems to be swinging between the sneaky pair of Adam & Denise and real-life friends Jeremy Collins and Natalie Anderson, who played together in San Juan Del Sur. Adam does a good job at Tribal of highlighting the importance of past relationships. He points out how his first-time interaction with Denise is not as threatening as an outside-the-game friendship or, say, a husband and wife duo, pointing the finger at Rob and his wife Amber Mariano, who is on the other tribe.
Ultimately, Natalie is the first victim of a Winners At War torch-snuffing, as she heads to Edge of Extinction, where she spends the rest of the game until the Final 6. Everyone has their opinions regarding the Edge, but there is no denying it plays a massive part in the game, particularly in who gets advantages and idols, and Natalie is at the center of that, starting in this episode as she sends an idol to Sandra Diaz-Twine in exchange for one Fire Token.
After the second Immunity challenge, it’s now the turn of the Dakal tribe members to scramble, after they had spent the first couple of days generally relaxing and having fun. Tony Vlachos had put himself on “house arrest” while also patching things up with Sandra after their beef in Game Changers. Meanwhile, Sophie Clarke nerded out with Yul Kwon as the pair of them established an early alliance. But with a Tribal now looming, the gameplay starts to heat up.
Once again, outside-the-game relationships are the determining factor at the vote. Not only is Amber in trouble because her husband is in the game, but Yul brings up talk of a pre-game “Poker Alliance.” In a really interesting touch and a Survivor-first, we see footage from a televised poker game featuring Rob, Jeremy, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, and Tyson Apostol, where the four joke about being in an alliance should they ever play Survivor together.
Whether the Poker Alliance is a legitimate thing or not, it doesn’t really matter, as all eyes are set on Kim, Tyson, and Amber. It’s fascinating seeing someone as calm and in-control as Kim essentially breaking down and begging for her life in the game. Tyson, too, basically waves the white flag, promising to ditch Kim and Amber after he is unable to flip the vote towards Nick Wilson. Ultimately, Amber takes the hit, with Sandra, in particular, pushing the vote that way because of how betrayed she feels about Rob not telling her he or Amber were playing.
Sometimes double-episodes, especially in the premiere, can feel overcrowded and confusing. But the “Greatest of the Greats” manages to succeed with all its up and downs, twists, and comebacks. It’s obviously helped by the fact we know these players and their backstories. There is an extra thrill in seeing these characters back on our screens, playing Survivor again, some of them likely for the last time.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 23. You can check out the previous entries here.