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Survivor: Winners At War Episode 12 Recap – Risk vs. Reward


Christine Pallon recaps the latest episode!

Photo: CBS

For better or worse, Survivor: Winners At War officially became the Tony Vlachos Show last week. With a whopping 18 confessionals, he was the undisputed main character of every bit of the action leading up to the blindside that sent Sophie to the Edge of Extinction with an idol in her pocket.

The storytelling was more balanced this week, but everything’s still coming up Tony. With his third Immunity win in a row, a major move in taking out Kim (who takes a big risk for a little reward), and an idol still in his possession, the Cagayan champ’s hot streak doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. Sure, he had to put out a couple of fires in the aftermath of the Sophie vote, and he almost certainly would’ve needed to play his idol if he hadn’t won Immunity. But we’re headed into the endgame of an all-winners season of Survivor, and Tony Vlachos is not just still in the game—he’s thriving. 

A dominant deep run from Tony is perhaps one of the more improbable outcomes anyone could have imagined going into this season, especially after his short-lived and chaotic stint on Game Changers. Even though he’s taking out my favorites, I can’t deny how impressive a run he’s having this late in the game.

DAMAGE CONTROL

There’s trouble in Cops R Us paradise in the immediate aftermath of the Sophie blindside. Sarah is pissed, and rightfully so after Tony blindsided one of her closest allies and potentially tanked her game in the process in what she calls a “grimy” move. Tony tells her about his idol, which quells some of Officer Sarah’s fears, but she vows to never speak to him again if his decision to blindside Sophie ends her game.

Sarah’s not the only one upset by the most recent Tribal Council. In a truly incredible social move, Ben refuses to even speak to Jeremy, who calls Ben a “child” in his confessional. Tony meets with Ben on the beach and reassures him that he has no intention of working against him in the future. Tony further courts the season 35 winner by revealing his idol shortly before being pooped on by a bird. Bird poop aside, things look okay for Tony after his post-Tribal conversations, but it doesn’t take long for his name to come up the next morning.

Kim, always a fan of options, clocks the Tony-Sarah duo as an extremely problematic one for her game. As long as Sarah is allied with Tony, she’s much less likely to work with Kim in the future. Taking out Tony at the final 8, then, not only removes a significant power player from the game but also turns Sarah into a free agent. Kim is done being blindsided and left out of plans and pinpoints kingpin Tony as the trophy she needs in order to take control of the game.

Meanwhile, the Cagayan winner is up to his old tricks, this time opting for what he calls a “spy nest” as his preferred undercover operation. And when he says “spy nest,” he means “sitting in a tree above the well.” Sarah encourages her Cops R Us partner in his endeavors, but worries about how his wacky and sometimes unpredictable shenanigans might end up impacting both his and her game moving forward.

THE LONG HAUL 

Ah, it’s time for another overlong EOE segment that has no direct impact on the main game. This week, the Edge inhabitants are tasked with carrying a pile of 20 coconuts, one by one, from one end of the island to the other in order to win two Fire Tokens each. Here’s the catch: only the first six people to finish will get the Fire Tokens, and the rest get nothing.

The second this challenge started, it was clear that CrossFit queen and Fire Token acquiring extraordinaire Natalie Anderson would be one of the six victors. She comes in first, with Sophie holding her own the whole way through and coming in a close second. Yul, Parvati, Tyson, and Wendell also secure the two Fire Tokens, with Danni coming just short in seventh place. Adam was shown as having no chance, and Boston Rob attributes his loss to a fall he took on the rocks mid-way through the challenge. After everyone else has completed the challenge, Rob returns to complete the task because of something about “pride,” and I’m reminded how much it bums me out that 95 percent of Amber’s confessionals always end up being about Rob somehow.

I made a resolution to complain less about EOE in my recaps, but man does this kind of challenge stop being compelling after about the first two minutes. It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes EOE challenges give me the kind of situations I never knew I needed to see on Survivor. This week’s challenge gave me Sophie Clarke and Natalie Anderson competing in a foot race, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

WHY, KIM? 

Back at camp, Nick notices the rising tensions between Tony and Sarah and Ben and Jeremy and spots an opportunity. He gathers Denise and Michele and makes them a final three pitch, with Kim to round out their four. Nick reckons he can’t beat any combination Tony, Sarah, or Jeremy at the end, so he figures his best bet is to form a foursome with more favorable odds. This foursome alliance comes out of nowhere this episode with pretty much zero build-up, which is immediately a bad sign for its efficacy.

Meanwhile, the hunt is on for Sophie’s (tragically unused) re-hidden immunity idol. Tony and Sarah know they need it if only to prevent anyone else from snagging it and using it against them. In the end, it’s idol magnet Ben who finds it, his first of the season. He tries to hide it from Tony, who immediately calls him out on it, and the two bond over their possession of idols before Ben quite literally whisks Tony off his feet.

At the Immunity challenge, another Survivor classic returns in the form of “When It Rains, It Pours.” First won by T-Bird way back in season 3 after a whopping six hours, this modified version of the challenge is designed to go much quicker, as all endurance challenges are now designed in modern Survivor. It physically pained me to see this challenge happen and know that two-time challenge camp Parvati was stuck on EOE, probably doing yoga, completely unaware that she was missing the chance to compete in (and possibly win) this challenge for the third time in her career.

Immunity and two Fire Tokens are up for grabs for the last man and woman standing, and at final 8, those are pretty damn good odds. It pretty quickly comes down to Michele, Kim, and Denise for the women and Nick and Tony for the men. Jeff offers up a platter of cookies, chocolate, and peanut butter. Kim, Michele, and Nick drop, with the latter doing so only under the condition that he gets one of Tony’s Fire Tokens. And just like that, the challenge is over, leaving Denise and Tony immune at the final 8 Tribal Council. With his third immunity win in a row, an idol sitting in his pocket, and direct knowledge of where the other idol is, Tony is coming close to pitching another perfect game this episode.

“Why, Kim?” Parvati would later utter this phrase from the jury bench, but it’s also exactly what I said when I saw Kim drop from this challenge. I don’t think her decision to drop makes her a bad player, but it’s pretty baffling nonetheless. With the way the past two Tribals have gone for her—a misplayed idol the Tribal Tyson went home and a Sophie blindside that she was on the wrong side of—you’d imagine she’d be a little less hesitant to jump down, especially in a challenge with such good odds for her to win. Plus, her target in Tony was still standing when she dropped.

Kim clearly had no idea how much danger she would be in later that night, but even in the moment, it was far from a good judgment call, and this is coming from someone who would do just about anything for some peanut butter under normal circumstances. Stepping down from the challenge was a big risk for a relatively small reward, and in the end, it was a risk Kim couldn’t afford to take.

AN ENDLESS TREADMILL

With Tony immune and Kim’s big move against him foiled, the vote shifts to Jeremy. Michele is conflicted, not wanting to vote out her ally from Sele. Ben, who is about to get exactly what he wants with a Jeremy vote-out, for some reason decides to tell Tony that Kim had been targeting him before he won Immunity. Tony is understandably less than pleased to hear that, even if he’s in no immediate danger. He presses Nick about it, who immediately reveals himself to be the world’s worst liar, which only freaks Tony out even more.

Sarah tries to calm Tony down and emphasizes the importance of taking Jeremy out to keep Ben close, but Tony doesn’t want to miss his shot at Kim. He makes a pitch to Ben—keep Jeremy around so the soldier, two cops, and a fireman can work together—but Ben doesn’t budge. Jeremy approaches Ben in an attempt to build some trust, which goes about as well as every conversation between Ben and Jeremy has ever gone. With things looking bleak for Jeremy, Michele decides to give him her 50/50 coin while also writing his name down as to not go against the majority.

The 50/50 coin is a pretty goofy advantage, and Michele has had a pretty confusing and disjointed post-merge storyline, so it’s only fitting for this bizarre move to occur the way it does. Michele wants to save Jeremy, but from what we see, she doesn’t seem to make an effort to shift the target onto someone else. Instead, she gives Jeremy the advantage she spent a whopping four Fire Tokens on, who may or may not use it and who may or may not give it back if he doesn’t.

At Tribal, the whispering reaches critical mass once again. It’ll be interesting to see if production puts new rules in place to curb the chaos in future seasons, but I have a strong suspicion they won’t. Even if Jeff seems a little annoyed with it from time to time (mostly because the players often just stop answering his questions), the spectacle of whispering fits in line with the show’s increasing focus on “big moves” and chaotic eliminations. But the raw, quiet tension of Sophie’s blindside last week was more compelling than any amount of whispering will ever be, and it’ll be unfortunate if that kind of tension falls by the wayside in favor of the spectacle of whispering.

With that in mind, I understand why Denise might have been frustrated enough with the proceedings to stop it entirely. Still, her decision to so blatantly shut Jeremy down in front of everyone wasn’t a great look, especially since she ended up voting in the minority.

After the votes have been cast, there’s some discussion about whether or not Tony needs to play his idol on Sarah or if Jeremy needs to flip the 50/50 coin, but neither end up being played. If production doesn’t curb the whispering, I hope they’ll at least make an effort to put a stop to strategic conversations taking place after the votes have been read, but again, I have a strong suspicion they won’t.

Kim gets sent to Edge in a 5-3 vote with no idols or advantages being played and bequeaths one Fire Token each to Sarah, Michele, and Denise. Hindsight is 20/20, so I’m sure Kim was kicking herself for stepping down for that peanut butter. That bad judgment call doesn’t mean she’s a bad player. She, for example, had no clue that Ben would rat on her to Tony. Still, season 40 has been a rough one for Kim, between starting on the bottom of old Dakal, misplaying her idol at Final 10, and stepping down from an Immunity challenge for some food.

That said, Kim still demonstrated a consistently solid read on the game, especially with the past few votes. She was one of the only people to see through Tony’s double agent game and correctly clocked the need to break up the Tony/Sarah duo to give herself options and further her own game. She came into the season with one of the bigger targets of anyone on the cast, so for her to make it all the way to the final 8 before being targeted as a power player is impressive in itself.

With Kim, the leader of the anti-Tony vanguard, out of action, the season appears to be Cops R Us’ to lose, unless a serious opposition forms in time to stop them. Anything can happen, especially with EOE in the mix, but with three immunity wins in a row, an immunity idol in his pocket, and these last two eliminations going exactly as he planned, Tony Vlachos is currently batting a thousand in the endgame of Winners At War.

MORE SURVIVOR CONTENT

Martin Holmes’s recap at Vulture.

Inside Survivor Dream Tribe Results.

Christine is a 23-year-old writer, musician, and lifelong Survivor nerd based out of Urbana, Illinois. When she's not playing shows with her bands or working at her day job at a tech company, she spends her free time tweeting about bad horror movies, Kate Bush, and the filmography of Juliette Binoche.