Survivor: Winners At War

Hot or Not – Finale Edition

Who is Hot or Not heading into the finale?

Photo: CBS

Gus and Ali, a real-life couple and fans of Survivor, will be individually ranking the Survivor Season 40 castaways into two categories, Hot or Not, based on who they think has potential longevity in the game. Hots are indicative of castaways who we think played well this week or who are setting themselves up for success; Nots are indicative of castaways who we think didn’t and aren’t. In order to avoid what Gus likes to call “hedging bets,” Nots cannot be given to more than half plus one of the castaways. For example, with twelve people remaining in the game, the maximum number of Nots that can be given out is seven.

Go ahead, hit us with your best shot. We’re probably wrong anyway, but that’s why it’s fun!

WARNING: This segment uses content from the “Next Time On” preview. If you are someone who doesn’t like watching those segments prior to the show, do not read further. You’ve been warned.

Ali and Gus both ranked Jeremy as a Hot. They should have seen that coming—cops and firefighters can’t work together. However, they did both Nick as a Not—nailed it!

For the finale, Gus and Ali rank the contestants in order from most likely to win ( or “Hotter”) and least likely to win (or “Notter”).



To me, the only winners that make sense are Sarah and Tony, unless it’s someone completely random from the Edge. In that case, I could see Natalie, Parvati, or Tyson potentially taking this thing. But I have to think on a season with all winners that they would be more discerning in their winner selection than with a group of majority newbies. Frankly, I don’t think any of the people on the Edge deserve to win either, which brings me again to Sarah and Tony.

Tony absolutely ran this season. There’s no reason he should get to the end. However, week after week, I’ve declared Tony would go, and he just kept a firm hold on the game. He’s given us golden moments, such as The Spy Nest and The Ladder. The jury openly discusses Tony’s prowess in the game, leading me to believe he has their respect. In addition, he’s played the clearest winner game. I have a difficult time picturing how he will get to the end, but as he’s proven me wrong so many times before, I’m reluctant to bet against Tony.


There’s no other way to put it than to say that Tony is dominating the game. Every time in the past month that he’s not won immunity, I’ve turned to Ali and said: “That’s it, Tony’s toast, I can’t imagine they won’t vote him out this time.” And, every time, Tony’s name hasn’t even come up. The only person in the game right now who seems to think Tony is a threat at all is Michele, and her constant attempts to get the rest of the players to wise up to this and take the guy out have fallen entirely on deaf (and hostile) ears. The last person before her who wanted to get Tony out was Kim, and we saw how well that worked out for her. Oh, I guess Denise is thinking about it. OK. Well, two people are into getting rid of Tony.

Regardless, Tony’s got enough people in the game right now who would be willing to take him to the end. Sarah certainly seems like she would, and I think Ben would as well. His resume is impressive; the jury’s even gone so far as to comment on it during Tribal Council. Even more than that, he’s still got an idol. He’s one immunity challenge and a fire-making competition from the Final Three, and that’s assuming that he’s a target throughout the rest of the game. As far as we can tell… he’s not being targeted by anyone with any sway.

I’m curious about Tony’s plan for the endgame. His choice to bring only strong competitors to the end reminds me a little too much of a certain someone from Cagayan, but, of course, the difference between Woo and Tony is that Woo didn’t play a winning game, and Tony, so far, has. I do think he beats anyone left in the game right now and would beat most anyone coming back from the Edge. The reason I don’t see this devolving into a Gavin vs. Chris Underwood scenario is that Gavin lacked a list of moves he could throw at the jury, whereas Tony can basically give himself credit for everything that happened in the game.

In the event that Tony loses to an EOE returnee, you will hear my despondent screams from wherever you may be… but insofar as those listed below, I think Tony wins hands down against any of them.



If Tony doesn’t win this thing, then Sarah should have it in the bag. She’s been Tony’s number two this entire season. Sarah never misses a beat and has perfectly executed maneuver after maneuver. I think Tony will either go to fire against her or will betray her right before then.

To me, Sarah and Tony will go down in history as one of the most iconic Survivor duos of all time. I’m sad that Sarah’s social prowess doesn’t play quite as well on camera. However, I’m glad we got to see so much more of her abilities this season than in Game Changers. While I think we’re going to see Tony take the win this time around, I hope everyone has gained a better appreciation for Sarah. 


Sarah has played Tony’s game as Tony’s number one ally from the beginning, and in the event that she gets rid of Tony, I think she deserves the win. If she can punt her partner to the curb—the player who specifically said that he would be willing to lose the game for her—and take sole credit for all of the moves they made, I think she’d have a solid case for a jury. This also makes sense for me considering that the game she played in Game Changers—one that was shot through with betrayal and backstabbing—is the opposite of the levelheaded, alliance-based game she’s played this time. The jury won’t see her as a one-trick pony, either.

Sadly, I think that the only way for Sarah to win is for Tony to go out ahead of her, and I worry that due to Tony’s idol, Sarah might be targeted before him. She still has certainly played the second-best game out of anyone remaining in the final 5, and for that, she earns this Hot; however, I worry that she’ll come up short in the very last stretch. That being said, I think Sarah beats all of the players listed below, except maybe Denise, but I think Sarah has more of a shot to get to the end than does Denise.



I’m never lukewarm on Denise. I absolutely adore her, and I think she played an excellent game this time around. Unfortunately, Tony won’t forget her conversation with Sarah at the well. If she’s not the next one to go, I’ll be positively shocked.

Denise cemented herself as a legend this season with Sandra’s elimination. Similarly to Tony and Sarah, her legacy has grown. Has she had some bumps in the roads and some misplays? Without a doubt. But viewers will always remember how she got Sandra out of the game with Sandra’s own idol. Were I Denise, I’d be proud of how I played this season. That being said, she’s one of the next two boots. If I were to predict the boot order of how this will go, I think it’ll be…

Denise next.

Then The Edge person (probably Natalie).

Then Sarah in the heartbreaking fire-making challenge.

Leaving Ben, Tony, and Michele in the final three. Tony will win in a landslide.


Michele and Denise I’ve waffled on. They’ve played comparable games. They’ve both been out of the loop a lot, and they’ve both been targeted their fair share of times. But Denise has more she can put her name to than does Michele, and for that Denise is ranking in the higher spot.

All in all, Denise has played a decent enough game. Her post-merge strategic performance has been lacking, it’s true; she’s mostly floated between alliances and coasted through on her pre-merge accolades. But she’s got those pre-merge accolades where Michele does not. Denise took out Sandra. Michele got blindsided by the Wendell boot. Denise had a double-idol play. Michele flipped a coin. Denise pulled off a successful Zane Knight strategy. Michele hasn’t really done much in the way of strategy.

I don’t think Denise is going to win, but she’s played better and better the past few weeks, where Michele has continued to flounder. That said, I think Denise would undoubtedly beat Michele and Ben, and for that, she ranks as my Lukewarm.



It’s not that Michele has played poorly this season, far from it. However, I don’t see her path to victory as clearly as I can see the three I put before her. Could Tony be the next person to go? Absolutely. It doesn’t negate the fact that this particular jury will reward his gameplay over hers. 

This is a season of all winners, and the jury is going to feel particularly pressured to deliver an epic winner for this season of seasons. While it would be rather cathartic to see Michele win again, she doesn’t have it. She’s been on the bottom too many times and hasn’t made moves substantial enough to eclipse the three people I placed above her. Other players discuss Tony’s threat level, or Sarah’s, or Denise’s, but they’re silent when it comes to Michele. 

With a different group of finalists, Michele would definitely have an argument to win. Sadly, this combination of folks is not in her favor. My fear is Michele will be viewed as a goat during Final Tribal. I’m hoping she can at least pull in a vote or two.


Michele has managed to stay alive time and again despite being a cockroach to the rest of the players. I say this with all the love in my heart for Michele, mind you—she was one of our draft picks.

Michele’s game has revolved entirely around not really knowing what’s going on and not being part of the plan—and voting for the wrong person at tribal. A lot of voting for the wrong person at tribal. Repeatedly, she’s despaired over what her path to the end might be. And she’s made no secret of her feeling like an outsider when compared with the rest of the players. Because of all this, I don’t see much of an argument for her as the winner at the end: is scurrying away from stamping feet enough?

 The only people I could really see Michele beating right now are Ben and whoever the Edge returnee is, and there are plenty of Edge returnees I think she’d lose to. If the final 3 were Michele, Ben, and, say, Adam, I think she’d have a shot. If Tony or Sarah or Denise is there alongside her, I don’t think she stands a chance. Because of how few permutations will result in this, and because I don’t reliably see her winning against anyone other than Ben, Michele drops just below Lukewarm to the position of Not.



Oh, Ben. I just don’t think the jury respects him. He’s played an erratic game, just like last time, but didn’t have the flashy moves to back it up. Plus, he’s made some enemies on that jury. I can guarantee Rob, Adam, and Jeremy won’t vote for Ben. Meanwhile, Rob has voiced respect for Tony. Tony actively worked with Jeremy, and they had a great relationship. And superfan Adam won’t be able to resist voting for Tony. 

Everyone left in this finale will be able to beat Ben in the end. I think at this point, even the person who comes back from the Edge would have more of a shot (which I don’t think is necessarily true in Michele’s case). As entertaining as Ben has been this season, he’s totally screwed.


I still love Ben as a character—always have, always will—but his gameplay the past few weeks has been a bit of a dumpster fire. He’s been led around by the nose by Tony and Sarah; he’s made no real decisions of his own (even when he thought he was). He’s made no efforts to connect with jurors and earn their votes—he has, in fact, actively avoided working with those he didn’t think he would be sitting at the end with… for some reason. All of this leaves him looking like the ideal person to bring to final tribal council: someone who the jury will just rip and tear.

I don’t see Ben beating anybody in a Final Tribal Council vote. Maybe if Adam comes back and there’s a surprise Final 2 he could beat Adam. That’s really about it.


ALI: This trash talk section has been too friendly for my liking.

GUS: You know, in the stressful world we’re living in right now, I’m super OK with us having agreed on Survivor week after week. Although I did think you might flip Denise or Michele. Or put Michele above Sarah. I considered all of those scenarios.

ALI: I just feel like this is the right ranking. To me, it’s based on who I think is most likely to win. I just don’t see how Tony doesn’t win this season if he gets to the end. If he doesn’t get to the end, I think it’s Sarah or Denise’s game to lose. I wouldn’t put Denise under Michele because Denise has more people in her corner on the jury and has made at least one flashy move the jury can respect. Sarah absolutely deserves to win because she’s not only played Tony’s game, but she’s also put up with Tony. 

To me, the most telling thing in terms of Sarah not winning is that they didn’t include that great scene with her and Kim discussing the toll of winning. If she was the winner, that would have been in there for sure. 

GUS: Sure, from an edit perspective, I’d absolutely agree with you. I think she’s also gonna lose to Tony because, as was pointed out this week, Tony’s getting all the credit for all of the moves and plays. Sarah’s been an important part of them, but when the rubber hits the road, we’ve seen Tony shift the plan in ways that don’t benefit her or that she wasn’t keen on. For instance, the Sophie vote. And that tells me that he’s got much more evidence to back up his being the showrunner even should they make it to the end together (which I don’t think they will). I do think, though, that Tony will try to take her to the end. I think somebody else will win the Final 4 Immunity and force them to do a fire duel. That duel will likely determine the winner.

ALI: If I may make a bold prediction, I think Michele wins final immunity and takes Ben. I think, if Ben won, he’d try to do that face-off thing Chris pulled in Edge of Extinction. Michele would go with a sure thing. 

GUS: Oh, Ben would FOR SURE go for the face-off thing. And what better conclusion for him than to prove that he owns the fire-making challenge?

Then again, if he did that and LOST the fire-making challenge, I’d laugh my ass off as much as I love Ben. But you’re right: Michele would absolutely take the sure thing.

ALI: So, I’m going to assume that our winner pick, collectively, is Tony?

GUS: Oh, for sure.

ALI: Is there anything else we should discuss?

GUS: The Edge returnee. I think we both said it was probably Natalie, right? Does she stand a chance at winning?

ALI: I could see her winning against Michele and Ben. That’s it. But I think the other players have learned from the Chris Underwood experience and are not going to let her near the end. She might be able to save herself for a vote with her idol, but she won’t make it far past that. My second choice for making it back from the edge is Parvati, but I’m pretty confident that it’s Natalie.

GUS: Funny, my second choice is also Parvati. That’s it. This concordance goes too far. 

ALI: Agreed. It’s unsettling, and I don’t like it. I think it’s a byproduct of having seen only one another for the past two months.

GUS: Welp, not much more to say here. It’s been a great season, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

ALI: I’m looking forward to seeing how Jeff pulls off the reading of the votes from his garage.

GUS: I really hope the whole thing is as low budget as possible. Give us that authentic Borneo style unrehearsed, unpracticed reveal.

ALI: See you someday, everyone!

GUS: Later!



Written by

Ali & Gus

Alexandra "Ali" Shields is a sketch writer and playwright from Chicago and a graduate from Northwestern University. Alexandra has published humor articles with The Second City Network and Alexandra’s play, Twelve, won first place in the Jackie White National Memorial Playwriting Contest in 2018. Gus Schlanbusch is a Chicago-based playwright, theatre director and Survivor fan. His plays have been produced in Chicago, Detroit and Boston. He is a relatively new survivor superfan, his first live season having been Season 33, but Ali has caught him up pretty thoroughly on what he missed before then.

One response to “Hot or Not – Finale Edition”

  1. Love your blogs. Will miss you after this. Stay healthy and well, hope to see you back Season 41!

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