The all-winners season of Survivor has reached its finale with “It All Boils Down to This.” It feels like Tony Vlachos is the current frontrunner, but there are several hurdles left for him to clear if he’s going to win the $2 million prize.
There are five castaways left: Tony, Ben Driebergen, Denise Stapley, Michele Fitzgerald, and Sarah Lacina, plus whichever eliminated castaway wins the battle-back challenge. Last time the show had Edge of Extinction, the person who came back at the final five won the whole thing, partially because he hadn’t made very many enemies on the jury. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out here.
Follow along here with our live recap but be warned of spoilers. Don’t keep reading if you don’t want to be spoiled — the winner will be revealed here when it is announced on the show. All times Eastern.
8:05 — Here we go, gang. I’m super excited to find out how this all goes down. “Winners at War” has been an excellent season overall and the finale will probably also be pretty great. The virtual reunion is going to be weird, but hey — look at Jeff Probst hosting live from his garage. What a trooper. He promises that the show is so jam-packed that they “don’t have time for a reunion,” which really means they had to re-edit the finale because they can’t host an actual live reunion. So, yeah, buckle up because this is going to be a long roller coaster of a finale.
8:10 — The battle-back challenge is navigating an obstacle course while chained to a rope, building a rope bridge, and then handling a table maze. Several people have advantages — Parvati Shallow, Yul Kwon, and Wendell Holland get to skip the fence obstacle, while Natalie Anderson gets to skip two obstacles and also has one-third of her rope bridge already built for her. That’s a massive advantage. I’m honestly kind of rooting for Natalie. She’s been on Edge of Extinction for over a month! Unfortunately, she kind of squanders her advantages.
8:15 — Wendell gets to the table maze first, followed by Natalie, Boston Rob Mariano, Yul, Jeremy Collins, and Tyson Apostol. Natalie catches Wendell, both getting their first ball, followed quickly by Tyson. Then Natalie pulls it out! Wow. Of course, she’s going to have to keep her head on a swivel because she’s been with the jury for all this time! The other five have to get her out. If she goes to the finals, she’s totally gonna win.
Before Jeff Probst dismisses the other castaways, they all reflect on their journeys and it’s very emotional. Everyone is crying. Boston Rob talking about how much of a champion his wife Amber Brkich is was super sweet.
8:20 — And then, as a time-filler, they make us listen to people’s audio recordings about the game over clips of them from the season. It’s only slightly better than the “fallen idol walk” they used to make the final three do. Good grief.
8:30 — For about five minutes, everything back at Koru camp is all lovey-dovey. But the game talk starts very quickly. If Natalie were smart, she’d try to get Michele and Denise into an all-girl alliance against Tony, Ben, and Sarah. Lo and behold, the first thing she does is tell everyone that the jury thinks Tony is running the game and everyone else is just doing whatever he says. She admits in a private interview that she’s ready to tell lies, but it would not surprise me if that one was true. Also, Sarah thinks that Natalie won’t necessarily win if she gets to the end. Um, yes, she will. She absolutely will.
Sarah does make an excellent point about the assumption that if a man and a woman are working together, the man is the one calling the shots. I think that’s an assumption that gets made in this game all the time. Honestly, Michele, Sarah, Denise, and Ben should all realize that Tony and Natalie are the WORST people to take to the end.
8:40 — Immunity challenge time. The challenge involves a giant waterslide, which is awesome. Basically, the castaways have to navigate some rickety bridges (there are three types and you must do each once), untying some bags of puzzle pieces, and then running the puzzle pieces up a huge set. They then get to take the waterslide down to the bottom and do it again until they have all three bags.
Tony, Natalie, and Ben get to the puzzle first, though Denise and Sarah are not out of it. Michele is… kinda out of it. But she doesn’t quit, good for her. And then, whoa, Michele gets her first tier before anybody else — and everyone starts copying her. Wow, this would be an amazing comeback.
8:45 — And then Michele wins! Wow. That’s back to back immunity wins for Michele and what a comeback! Good for her! She needs to build up her resume, too, because up until these last few episodes, she didn’t have a great resume to win the game. Natalie should be very, very nervous right now.
8:50 — Back at camp, we are reminded that Ben, Tony, and Natalie have hidden immunity idols right now. Oh, dear — I forgot all about that. Tony says they should split the votes and it’ll either be Natalie or Denise. But Ben won’t do that to “Mama D,” he says privately. He’s trying to grow as a human being and doesn’t want to cut his friend like that. Aww, Ben! That’s so sweet. But then that means Sarah is in trouble. Natalie starts chatting with Michele and reveals she has an idol and Michele is elated. Yeah, aligning with Natalie is Michele’s only play right now.
8:55 — Sarah is convinced that Natalie doesn’t have an idol. She says Natalie would have told her. Oh, Sarah. This is an “I’m getting blindsided” edit. Sarah is going home tonight.
9:00 — At Tribal Council, Sarah brings up the maddening gender bias in this game and she is 100 percent correct. When women play “dirty,” they are branded as liars and cheats and when men do it, they’re playing a good game. Sarah starts crying about how hard she’s been on herself because of the way she played her last season and she’s not a bad person. I mean, it’s telling that the last female winner is Sarah. Men have won the past five seasons.
Even Jeff admits his own gender bias, but like — put your money where your mouth is, Probst. Stop blatantly rooting for the biggest, strongest dudes every season.
9:05 — Before the votes are read, Natalie plays her hidden immunity idol. So, I’ve said before that I don’t love that Edge of Extinction comes into play at the final five again, but it also seems unfair that that person would get to return to the game with an idol. I love Natalie, she’s a total badass, but this gives the EOE person such an advantage. Anyway, Tony and Ben also play their idols, so the only votes that will count are ones cast for Sarah or Denise.
The votes go four for Natalie and two for Ben, so there’s a revote. They can only vote for Sarah or Denise (and Sarah and Denise won’t vote). If there is a tie, because there is no one not immune to draw rocks, they will compete in a fire-making challenge.
The new votes go Denise, Denise, and Denise. Drat. I really wanted her to win.
9:15 — Back at camp, Tony is pretty mad that he and Ben both used their idols and they lost Denise all because Sarah was convinced that Natalie didn’t have an idol. Yeah, that’s not great. But I feel like they should have assumed Natalie had a trick up her sleeve. Anyway, Tony goes off searching for the idol in the middle of the night and doesn’t find anything. In the morning, everyone starts looking — and then Natalie finds it! Wow. I thought for sure production would put that idol in Tony’s path.
9:20 — Immunity challenge time. This one involves an obstacle course where they collect a key that will unlock sandbags. The first person to land two sandbags on their target wins. Natalie and Ben get off to strong starts, followed closely by Sarah. Tony lags a bit and Michele is quite a bit behind after the balance beam.
9:25 — At the sandbag toss, everybody is in it, though. Michele gets there just as Ben lands his first, so anybody can win. Tony lands his first, and the two of them keep hitting their second sandbag and it keeps falling off, until finally, Tony wins individual immunity.
9:30 — Ben and Tony know they have to figure out if Michele and Natalie have the idol, so Tony dispatches Sarah to talk to them while he spies from the trees. Natalie reveals the idol to Sarah, which is actually kind of a smart move. It’s leverage. However, they know that Natalie won’t play the idol for Michele, so they just plan to put two votes on Michele. So that’ll be a tie between Ben and Michele and then it’ll be a revote and Michele will go home. It would be a miracle if Michele stays at this Tribal Council.
8:35 — But then! Ben tells Sarah to write his name down and use it on her resume for the jury. He says he’s 100 percent serious, she has his permission to vote him out and then she needs to win it. He loves her, he loved her speech, she won’t be able to say she rode a guy’s coattails, etc. It’s kind of incredible. He says walking away from Survivor with friends is worth more than money. Oh wow. I’m crying again.
Now, Sarah says she has to make a move without Tony and she’s right. She has to do that in order to win. But is this really making a move if she has Ben’s permission to do it? It’s an incredibly sweet gesture and maybe if the jury doesn’t know he did that then no biggie, but a gimme isn’t exactly making a huge move in the game.
9:45 — At Tribal Council, Sarah says she is done ascribing her best moments to other people and her worst moments to herself and that’s what she will take away from the show. Ben also says this time he wanted to grow and be a more positive person, to walk away with friends this time and that is worth more than anything. It’s a really lovely tribal, so it’ll be interesting to see how the votes go. But before Jeff reads them, Natalie plays her idol for herself, and Tony looks pretty jazzed. Ruh roh, Michele.
The votes go Ben, Michele, Ben, Michele, and Ben. Whoa. Sarah did it. That is a little surprising, even if he told her to do it.
8:55 — The final immunity challenge is an endurance competition where they put balls through a spiral set of wires, adding increasingly more balls that they have to keep catching at the bottom and reinserting at the top. They will have one hand tied to their side and if you drop a ball, you’re out. I love this challenge. The concentration level is insane.
At the start, everyone is doing fine with three balls going at once — until Tony drops a ball and is out. Then on the addition of ball No. 4, Sarah drops a ball and is out. Interestingly, Jeff informs us that five balls are the most anyone has had going in this challenge. Michele and Natalie deftly handle four, but then on ball No. 5, things start to get really dicey. Michele has her balls spaced out really nicely, while Natalie is frantically trying to keep her balls in the mix. And then Michele drops and Natalie wins. Wow. Natalie is in the final three. If she doesn’t win, I will be shocked. The only way she doesn’t win is if Tony gets to the final three and he sways the jury in his favor.
9:07 — Back at camp, Michele, Sarah, and Tony immediately start practicing their fire-making skills while Natalie contemplates who she is going to take with her to the finals. It turns out that Michele is pretty great at making fire. Well, good for her. You know who is not good at making fire? Tony. Yikes, man. I have to say, he has played a really good game and watching him go out because he can’t make fire would be kind of sad.
9:10 — At Tribal, in what is absolutely no surprise, Natalie takes Michele with her to the finals. Yeah, Michele is not going to win the game. So it’s Sarah versus Tony in the fire-making challenge.
9:20 — In the challenge, they both ignite their husks early and then start trying to build up a pyramid quickly enough to sustain the fire. Then Sarah’s flame gets super high and it looks like she’s going to win, but her flame goes down and Tony has been building up a huge structure, so he gets a lead. Sarah catches up, it’s neck and neck… and then Tony pulls it out. Wow. Well, I think Tony is the only person who can beat Natalie, so this should be interesting.
Before she leaves, Tony and Sarah cry quite a bit about not getting to the finals together. Awww.
9:40 — During the jury interrogation, some of them quickly show that they’re a little bitter toward Tony voting them out. They don’t like that he acted like he was their friend and then voted them out. Well, that’s the game. Wow, I expected more from a group of winners. Meanwhile, the jury is irritated that Natalie wasn’t friendlier on Edge of Extinction. Huh. This is interesting.
9:45 — What’s also interesting is that everyone is focusing on Natalie and Tony. Wendell finally lobs a question to Michele, but she obviously is not going to win. Will she even get a single vote? I personally think she has a decent argument, but you can tell the jury has totally dismissed her.
Also, as much as I want to see a woman win because it’s been so long, I gotta admit — Tony deserves this win over the people he’s sitting next with at the end.
9:50 — Sooooo… is there even going to be a reunion or is Jeff going to announce the winner and that’s it? Because it’s 10 minutes to 10 p.m. ET and the jury hasn’t even voted yet!
9:55</b< — Time to vote. The only votes we see cast are Boston Rob voting for Tony (WOW), Parvati voting for Natalie, Tyson voting for Natalie, and Ben voting for Tony.
9:58 — In Jeff Probst’s garage, we hear the votes, which go… Tony, Natalie, Natalie, Tony, Natalie, Tony, Natalie, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, and Tony. He wins.
Congratulations to Tony Vlachos. He really did play a good game this season. I was not a huge fan of his coming into “Winners at War,” but he kind of won me over this year. Congrats to him. Thanks for reading, see you guys when ever season 41 premieres!
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.