It’s finally here, Survivor fans. The season we’ve all been waiting years for — “Winners at War,” which features 20 returning winners all vying for the chance to become a two-time Sole Survivor. Or, in Sandra Diaz-Twine’s case, a three-time winner.
The two-hour premiere kicks off Wednesday, February 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS, so follow along here with our live recap. But be warned of spoilers, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to be spoiled.
All times Eastern
8:05 — You guys, I am so pumped about this season. Watching the footage from season one is wild. Can you believe we all used to watch this show in standard definition? Anyway, the cast is pretty solid. There are a few winners I wish were here — John Cochran, Earl Cole, Bob Crowley, Vecepia Towery — but overall, they did very well. I’m super pumped to see Amber Brkich and Yul Kwon back after all these years, I really enjoyed them on their early seasons. If you need a run-down of the cast, including what season(s) they played and which season they each won, plus what they’re up to now, check out our Season 40 cast guide.
8:12 — After getting a few soundbites about what it means to be on this legendary season, Jeff Probst toasts everyone who is there and then it’s time to get to it. Everyone gets their buffs and the tribes are Dakal (red), made up of Amber, Yul, Tony Vlachos, Wendell Holland, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, Sophie Clarke, Nick Wilson, Sarah Lacina, Sandra Diaz-Twine, and Tyson Apostol, and Sele (blue) is Natalie Anderson, Rob Mariano, Ethan Zohn, Parvati Shallow, Ben Driebergen, Michele Fitzgerald, Danni Boatwright, Denise Stapley, Jeremy Collins, and Adam Klein. The first twist is that each contestant has a fire token. If you are voted out, you must bequeath your token(s) to another player before they head to Edge of Extinction. And the next twist is that they’re playing for $2 million, which is double the usual prize money.
8:15 — We kick things off with a challenge where the prize is flint and rice. The other tribe goes back to camp emptyhanded until the first Tribal Council. But twist! This is also the first immunity challenge. Whoa. The challenge involves wrestling over a ring in the water in pairs, two people from each tribe. The first tribe to have one hand on the ring and one hand on the flag pole wins a point. The first tribe to three points wins.
8:17 — The first matchup is Tyson and Yul vs Ethan and Jeremy. Yul is a total beast and scores the first point for Dakal. The second matchup is Sarah and Kim vs. Parvati and Natalie. You know, I would have put Denise and Natalie in this match up. Denise is a beast, nevermind that she’s the oldest female winner. She’s in incredible shape. But anyway, Kim and Sarah pull it out and that’s two points for Dakal.
8:18 — The third matchup is Wendell and Tony vs. Ben and Rob. Rob actually scores for Sele, which is pretty impressive considering the two very fit guys he was going against. So it’s 2-1 going into Denise and Natalie vs Sarah and Amber. It’s a very close contest, but Sarah and Amber pull it out for Dakal. So Sele is going to Tribal Council, but not until tomorrow night.
8:25 — At Dakal’s camp, the parents bond over being away from their kids. Tyson has said in interviews that becoming a father changed him and it seems like that is obviously the case. He seems so much kinder than he ever did before. Wendell, meanwhile, is kind of dismayed to be tapped to build the shelter since he’s a furniture designer. He knows that if you’re stuck at camp building something, you’re not off in the jungle finding idols or making alliances. Sandra also says that she has a huge target because she’s the only two-time winner. I have to say, I would be shocked if she can three-peat.
8:30 — At Sele, Rob gives an interview where he talks about how much of a target he has on his back. Yeah, he has played a lot, plus he has a built-in ride-or-die ally in his wife. However, Rob is such a good target to have in the game that I would keep him around as a human shield until it became necessary to cut him. But yeah, the Sele tribe also talks about being parents. Parvati’s daughter is 10 months old at this point, so she’s really struggling with being away.
8:35 — The first alliance at Sele! Denise and Adam go off to find water and talk about him becoming her new “Malcolm,” who was her strong ally the last time she played. Denise is great. I am 100 percent rooting for her. I have a few people I would love to see win and Denise is right up there along with Kim, Parvati, and Sophie for the women and Ethan, Wendell, Adam, Jeremy, and Yul for the men. Seeing Sophie and Yul talk about aligning is delightful. They are both more outsiders than some of the others, they don’t really hang out with other Survivor players. Sophie does a little, but none of the people she hangs out with are playing.
8:38 — Back at Dakal, Amber gets emotional talking about how hard it was to root against her husband at the challenge. Awww. She’s great too. You guys, I want almost all of these people to win! This is going to be so hard. But speaking of Boston Rob, he is over at Sele asked Parvati if they want to align. She speaks for all of us longtime viewers when she responds, “That would be a change.” Oooh, I’m salivating at the prospect of a Rob-Amber-Parvati alliance if they make it to the merge. That would be pretty amazing, though Parvati would need to get her partner for a foursome because obviously Rob and Amber wouldn’t take her to the end.
8:42 — Meanwhile, Danni tosses Rob’s name out there as a possible person to vote out and Ben immediately runs to Rob to tell him. Rob then confronts Danni and she owns up to it, saying that he has so many connections out there and she doesn’t have any. So she says she’d love to work with him and suddenly, there might be an alliance of Rob, Parvati, Danni, and Ethan. Oooh, that’s a good alliance. Rob is not wrong when he says the people who played in more recent seasons don’t form the same kinds of connections as the old-school players do. Yes! They’re too busy looking for Idols and jumping through all the twists the show can’t stop throwing at them. I hope this season is more of a throwback because those days were honestly more exciting. Less twists means more scheming.
8:48 — So many names are being tossed out at Sele for the first person booted. Just based on the editing, I suspect Natalie may be in some serious trouble because we have barely seen her so far this episode. And no sooner do I type that but Adam and Denise start targeting Jeremy and Natalie. They go to Ethan, who goes to his alliance, about splitting their votes between the two of them. But then Parvati goes to Danni, Jeremy, Natalie, and Ben and they talk about voting out Adam. This is very confusing.
8:58 — At Tribal Council, Ethan adorably says, “I mean, the pace of this game is SHOCKING.” Do you remember his season? How they couldn’t leave their camp for fear of being literally attacked by wild animals? It is insane the way the early seasons had to play as compared to now. I mean, Survivor is still super hard, but it is not quite as brutal as it used to be.
9:02 — But it isn’t just Ethan who is reeling. Everyone feels the intensity and the breakneck speed, though Parvati very tellingly says, “No one should feel safe and a lot of people do.” It causes Ben and Jeremy to wonder if Rob and Parvati have something going on, which is quite observant of them.
9:03 — Time to vote! We don’t get to see who anyone casts their vote for. But hey, guess what?! There’s another hour of the show tonight!
9:07 — The votes go Denise, Adam, Denise, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, and Natalie, that’s it. Aww, sorry, Natalie. I’m glad one of my favorites didn’t go home, but it still sucks so bad to be the first person voted out. After being voted out, Natalie gives her fire tokens to Jeremy, then heads to the Edge of Extinction. Just by the way, here’s how I feel about EoE. I think it’s a perfectly fine twist IF the only chance a person has to get back in the game is at the merge. Letting Chris Underwood come back in at FINAL FIVE was total BS. That put him in front of a jury that he had hardly any hand in voting out. That gave him a huge advantage at the end.
Now, for the all-winners season, I think EoE is a little different. Here, everybody kind of knows everybody, so it’s not quite the same. I do like that your favorites might not be gone-gone when they get voted out.
9:10 — The next day, Sandra tells Sarah and Yul that during “Island of the Idols,” Boston Rob said he wouldn’t play the game again and then he shows up here. It really hurt her feelings. Now, just as a point of clarification, the way Jeff Probst tells it, Rob and Amber didn’t agree to do “Winners at War” until after “Island of the Idols” wrapped. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s what Jeff says and so Rob might not have been lying to Sandra.
9:18 — Back at Sele, Michele feels very left out of the vote the night before. She feels like she has something to prove because people generally didn’t think she was a great winner, so she, Ben, and Jeremy think one of the “old-schoolers” needs to go home next.
9:20 — Meanwhile, out on Edge of Extinction, Natalie gets the price list for the fire tokens. One token buys you an advantage in the return challenge. Three tokens give you an idol with full power. But then for one token each, you can get luxury items like a bottle of wine, a jar of peanut butter, a pizza, etc etc. Natalie then gets an opportunity to get a fire token right away. She finds an immunity idol that she can sell to the losing tribe for a fire token. The fire token will then give her an advantage in the return challenge, whereas this idol is worthless to her on Edge of Extinction. Interesting.
9:28 — Immunity challenge time. This one involves paddling a large canoe out to a buoy, retrieving number tiles, using the tiles to release three rings and then tossing the rings onto paddle handles. Sandra sits out for Dakal, but it hardly matters because Dakal is a well-oiled machine and Sele really struggles, at least for the first part of the challenge.
9:32 — But Sele makes up some serious ground at the barrel roll where Rob starts putting the women on his shoulders and launching them over the barrel. It’s pretty impressive. Still, once they’re down to just men, Sele falls behind again because they can’t get Rob and Jeremy over. Jeremy is too heavy for Rob to launch. They finally do it, but they are pretty far behind at this point, especially when you have a genius like Yul on the combination lock for Dakal.
9:35 — But then! In the ring-tossing final stage, Jeremy lands his three rings when Dakal can only land one. Wow! That was a crazy come-from-behind win. Also, it’s nice not to see the same tribe go every time. This is a hard season to watch, you guys! I love too many of these players!
9:40 — Back at Dakal, the main names being tossed out are Amber, Nick, and Sandra. I get Sandra because right now, you need strong people for group challenges, but man, I would keep her around for a while for the same reason I would keep Boston Rob — human shield. She will always be a bigger target than me.
9:42 — But THEN! Natalie sent the idol to Sandra in exchange for her fire token and you guys, I screamed right out loud when Sandra found that in her bag. That is SO GREAT. Also, suddenly, Tony starts making a ton of sense when he talks about getting Tyson out. He says keep Rob and Amber there as human shields and get Tyson out now because he is an incredibly strong, likable player. But then Yul and Nick go to Tyson and they start talking about Kim and Amber. Nooooo! Not Kim!
9:45 — I feel like Kim is definitely going home. She keeps getting frozen out every time she walks up to a conversation and she thinks it’s too late to change anything. Ughhhh, no! You really let your guard down, Spradlin. Your winning season was a sight to behold and this is such a terrible way to go out. I hope it’s someone else.
9:52 — At Tribal, the Dakal tribe echoes Sele’s sentiments that the game is moving at a breakneck pace. Sophie sums it up really well when she says that the day was crazy but then “it kind of dropped off and it was scary because you didn’t know — did I have the right last conversation? Somebody here did not.”
9:54 — Jeff zeroes in on this and the “poker player alliance” comes out, referencing a possible alliance between people who played poker together — Tyson, Rob, Kim. Kim insists that the poker player alliance is not a thing and she’s not in it. That may or may not be true, but the good point she does make is that there are other relationships in the game that should be way more worrisome than the people who played poker this one time.
9:57 — Interestingly, Sandra holds on to her immunity idol. She must not have felt threatened after all. Or else she let it be known she has an idol to keep herself safe. Anyway, the votes go Nick, Kim, Kim, Kim, Amber, Amber, Amber, Amber and Amber. Wow! That stinks. I was looking forward to watching her play longer, but it feels like A) she was a bit rusty, and B) of course you target the married couple. If you’re going to come into the game married, you have to be SO on top of your game. Rob was at his camp. Amber was not at her camp.
9:59 — Obviously, Amber gives her fire token to Rob. You know what is bothersome about having to watch everyone arrive at Edge of Extinction? We don’t get to see who voted for whom.
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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