Fans of “Survivor” know that the current season, season 41, is the first new season fans have got to see in almost a year and a half. Given that season 40, “Winners at War,” was shot in the summer of 2019 and released in early to mid-2020, CBS never got a chance to produce another season of “Survivor” until the following summer, due to COVID restrictions both in Fiji, where the show is shot, and in the States.
Nonetheless, production was able to keep the show alive, and both “Survivor 41” and “Survivor 42” were shot in the summer of 2021, albeit with fewer days in the game. “Survivor 41” is an all-newbies season, so fans who have never seen the show before could have tuned in for the first time and been on more or less the same page as the most hardcore fans.
However, incoming fans might wonder what happened last season, and who won the show’s famous all-winners season. Here’s everything you need to know about Tony Vlachos, the winner of “Survivor: Winners at War:”
Tony Was ‘Survivor’s’ Second Two-Time Winner
Tony Vlachos first appeared on the “Survivor” scene in 2014, when he appeared as a contestant on “Survivor: Cagayan — Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty,” where he was placed on the Aparri, aka “Brawn” tribe. Tony, who was 39 at the time, is a New Jersey-born police officer, and played a very dominant game in the season, defined by his possession of that season’s “super idol” (which could be played after the votes were read), and a majority alliance which he had complete control over along with his ally “Woo” Hwang.
The two of them, as well as Kass McQuillen, who flipped on her alliance and was highly disliked by much of the jury, ended up reaching the final 3. However, the season ended up having a surprise final 2 twist, and when Woo won the challenge, he (perhaps foolishly) decided to take Tony with him to the final 2. Then-fan favorite Spencer Bledsoe gave an impassioned speech as a jury member in Tony’s favor, and the jury voted for him to win in a landslide 8-1 vote.
Tony returned three years later in season 34, “Game Changers.” Although he was eliminated second, Tony’s fellow “Cagayan” contestant, close friend, and fellow police officer Sarah Lacina ended up winning. Together, the two returned another three years later for “Survivor’s” first all-winners season, where their friendship turned into a strong alliance. They proceeded to strategically dominate the game and together made it to the final 4. However, they were forced to compete in the relatively new final 4 fire-making challenge, in which Tony barely edged Sarah out to beat in a highly emotional competition.
Tony ended up sweeping the jury once again in a 12-4-0 vote, becoming the series’ second two-time winner, and went on to cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
The only other two-time winner in the show’s history has been fan-favorite Sandra Diaz-Twine, who won season 7, “Pearl Islands” in 2003, and season 20, “Heroes vs. Villains,” in 2010. Sandra also competed in “Game Changers” and “Winners at War” alongside Tony, but was voted out relatively early due to her threat level both times.
Tony Is a ‘Survivor’ Fan Favorite
Upon his first appearance in 2014, Tony Vlachos instantly became a fan favorite due to his character, intelligence, and dominant gameplay. However, his legacy has only grown within the “Survivor” community as the years went on. His “Winners at War” game is widely considered to be one of the greatest winning games ever, with his gameplay in episode 11 being particularly praised. “Tony found an idol…convinced three people on two alliances to give him fire tokens…[and] engineered a 4-3-2 vote to knock out a strong player with an idol in their pocket. Unbelievable,” read a top comment on the show’s subreddit at the time. He is now colloquially referred to as the “Survivor King,” a counterpart to Sandra’s informal honorific of “Queen.”
His tearful goodbye to his close ally Sarah after beating her in the fire-making challenge is also considered by fans to be one of the most emotionally impactful storylines the show has ever seen.
Tony is also well-known and loved for his personality and humor. One of his most famous moments from “Cagayan” was when he decided to “talk llama” to Kass, after he got fed up of her not understanding him. As Vulture said in their 2020 “Winners at War” finale recap, Tony “command[ed] the Final Tribal just as he did the game, with humor, charisma, and heartfelt passion for representing the best of the best.” In his own recap for the season on EW, Dalton Ross explained, “Tony is the most entertaining player in the history of the show because no one else mixes game sense and nonsense more than him.”
Additionally, Tony was widely praised by fans for castigating online hatred and negativity directed toward his fellow players on “Winners at War.” Tony has since shut down his Twitter account, but in April 2020, during the airing of season 40, he tweeted:
Survivor “Players” are just that! We do NOT have a role where we’re reading off a “Flawless player” script! We’re average people, in a jungle being extremely vulnerable, playing a game! STOP the personal criticism! We play OUR game and the edit tells THEIR story! #LlamaMinute
In addition, in June 2020, despite his career as a police officer, he tweeted his support for the social movement Black Lives Matter, exclaiming: “If you have a hatred for people that were born with black skin, go live alone in the mountains! #ONELOVE #BLACKLIVESMATTER #UNITY” This tweet led users in a subreddit completely unrelated to the show calling him “The best cop in [Jersey City].”
Residents of Jersey City, New Jersey might also remember him as the police officer who saved a man’s life. In the winter of 2014, he saved the life of a 69-year-old neighbor of his who had a massive heart attack on his front lawn, according to NJ.com. Tony performed CPR on the man in nine inches of snow, and the man was revived an hour later. He then went to Tony’s house weeks later to personally thank him.
“Survivor” airs 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS. Season 42 will premiere March 9, 2022.