Jeff Pitman's S40: Winners at War recaps
End Survivor whispers
By Jeff Pitman | Published: April 13, 2020
Survivor: Winners at War Episode 9 recap/ analysis

End Survivor whispers


Dear Survivor: Please stop with the whispering at Tribal Council. Nobody is fooled about the "live Tribal" fairy tale, especially this week. This was always a planned split vote, with Adam taking the hit, and Nick as the back-up. Sure, Nick could have forced a tie by voting for Sarah, if Adam's idol idea had paid off. But neither of those things happened, and even if they had, one of them was still dead to rights on the revote. The whispering changed zero votes. So please, stop it. Stop pretending this is good. It was amusing at first, but it's long since run its course.


The whispering is annoying to watch, because the audience has no idea what's going on. Worse yet, in this case it was almost 100% theater. It changed nothing, it was all for show. Maybe just there to keep people on edge (but not The Edge). At best, this stage-aware scheming is a convenient shortcut for the editors, alleviating them of the need to build a compelling counter-narrative to an obvious boot. Let's be clear, though: this was one of those. One of either Nick or Adam was almost certainly heading to Extinction this episode. And one indeed did.


To be fair, Stephen Fishbach's take on Know-It-Alls was a solid counterpoint: Showing Ben and Adam's high-volume argument against this backdrop of incessant muttering was perfection, in the most trainwrecky rom-com sense. Their oblivious bickering while the game (allegedly!) continued behind them was high comedy. So if this is the last, best edition of the Tribal whisperfest, then great. At least it ended on a high note. But otherwise, please ... no more.


There are two ways to cut the whispering to a minimum. Jeff Probst could nip it in the bud in real time, and simply yell at everyone to stop it. Seize control of the narrative once again. That seems to run counter to his current moderator style of just letting everything play out, though. So the alternative is to edit it out after the fact. It was clearly not important to the story. It changed nothing. Just cut it in post, and replace it with some bland non-commital statements about threats or currents or tides, or whatever.


As for Adam's gambit of hoping for an idol at Tribal: As he made clear on twitter, this was an even more logical supposition than was apparent on TV, because this exact thing has been done before in international Survivor seasons. Palesa Tau found an idol in this exact spot on the host's podium in season 6 of South African Survivor (SurvivorSA: Philippines). Not only that, but idols have been hidden in the lid of the voting urn, both in 2019's Australian Survivor: Champions v. Contenders, and in the next SurvivorSA season (Island of Secrets) - Adam was seen checking the urn lid in this season's premiere. The most recent SurvivorAU season (All Stars) had an idol in a tree at Tribal. Those idols all had clues directing the players to them, but if you're desperate, you have to take big swings. Adam did.


Reversal of challenge fortunes - or not

Reversal of challenge fortune


With only two individual challenges so far (three for Tyson), it's still early, and any look at challenge performance will be prone to overinterpreting small sample sizes. After all, we've had just two challenges so far: one where half-frozen Survivors had to cling to a rain-slicked pole, and another where they had to balance on floating doghouses while contending with uncharacteristically choppy ocean swells.


And yet, there are at least a few people whose performances this season have departed dramatically from their prior challenge record. Let's start with Tyson, because he's his own control group: Tyson won the merge return challenge that brought him back from Edge of Extinction. That was obviously a high-stakes, must-win event. He , then promptly finished near the bottom the next two times - second man out in "Get a Grip," and third out overall this week. Hmmm.


Tyson is a smart player, and this is his fourth season playing. He at least embellished (if not faked) an injury his last time playing in Blood vs. Water, to keep his name out of the physical threat discussion. But he clearly is a legitimate physical threat, who entered this season among the elite all-time challenge performers. He was a collegiate swimmer at BYU, then briefly a professional cyclist, before becoming a professional Survivor player. Maybe he was just unlucky with these two particular challenges, but there's a good chance Tyson has been intentionally underperforming.


Another possible underachiever (on purpose) is Michele. Tanking here would make a lot of strategic sense for Michele: She was left out of the last vote, so she has reason to believe she's in danger. There are certainly other threats around, so if she can just glide through a few challenges without raising anyone's attention, that would be in her best interest. Winning would guarantee her safety for now, but if she doesn't think she can win these challenges, her best bet is to avoid appearing even remotely like a threat. It's possible this is all just bad luck, since she hasn't done these particular challenges before. But Michele did win four challenges in Kaoh Rong. This season: two consecutive last-place finishes.


Another eye-raising result with the opposite trendline is Ben. Despite a desperate need for immunity at the end of Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers, Ben never won a single challenge. His mean % finish in individual challenges that season (45%) in fact, was the second-lowest among anyone who appeared in two or more challenges, barely ahead of just Ryan Ulrich. Somehow, though, this season Ben has kicked it into turbo mode, with a 3rd place and a 2nd place finish, for a sky-high 81% MPF. How did this happen? And also, why? Ben is safely ensconced in the numbers, and is in no obvious need of immunity. This one is the most confusing. Perhaps it's just a fluke. Maybe he's more in danger than the edit is leading us to believe. Either way, it's interesting.


The obvious exception to this shifting challenge fortunes trend is the queen of consistency, Kim Spradlin. She was already an elite performer her first season, putting up five individual challenge wins and logging the 9th-best season ever by Mean % finish during One World. Despite an eight-year layoff, she hit the merge this season still cranking out the wins - a second-place finish last week, and a win this week. She currently has the third-highest MPF career mark at 83.3%, and with another couple of challenge wins, she'll tie Ozzy for #2 all-time in that, as well.


The coin flip advantage: when can it be used?

Coin flip advantage


Close inspection of the rules for the 50/50 coin (above) reveal the only restrictions for Michele using it are:


(1) "...flip it one time at any Tribal Council" and,

(2) "Last time this can be used when there are seven players left in the game."


(Thumbs up to avoiding another Advantagegeddon by shifting everything to the F7 Tribal Council. Also probably to avoid confusion, since there are two F6 Tribal Councils in an EoE season.)


So that means the instructions specify absolutely nothing about when *during* Tribal Council Michele has to play it. She could flip the coin when she first arrives, or before everyone votes, or before the votes are read, or even AFTER the votes are read. A Tyler Perry 50-50 coin, if you will. That would elevate the coin's value from being "meh, possibly useful if you're desperate" to "Holy Shit 50% Bulletproof!"


Is that the interpretation production intended? Almost certainly not. Most likely, they thought it would be used before the vote, or at the very least, before the votes are read. If these are really* the only instructions Michele received, she should absolutely push for the maximally useful interpretation, though - Tyler Perry coin. And let CBS's legal department hear about it if she's told otherwise.


*As a note of caution, a lot of times, advantages come with another full sheet of instructions that gave more explicit detail about rules for usage. There's no evidence that Michele's did, though. Scanning the confessional above where she reads it, just the sheet she's reading, the coin, and the wrapper were visible.


Shorter takes

Shorter takes


- Kicking this off with the most important issue: "War Is Not Pretty" was this episode's title. Usually those are contestant quotes. This was a quote from Jeff Probst himself, a throwaway comment defending his own, completely arbitrary, decision to deny someone (which ended up being Denise) any chance at reward. As titles go, that's pretty lazy, it's canonizing something that was already scripted, and it's pandering to the showrunner's ego. "Worth a Shot" would have been a much better title. "Don't be afraid to take a big leap," or whatever Michele's fortune cookie said, would also work. Heck, why not Denise's "Most chaotic day ever"? Instead this lame mumble from Probst, to ... celebrate screwing over a woman? Oh well, at least we've been conditioned not to expect anything better.


- In defense of Adam and Michele, both did things that they had to do because they were on the bottom. Four fire tokens was a ridiculous price for a 50-50 shot at immunity (although it's cool the show finally gave the EoE people the chance to name their own price), but what other option did Michele have? She was out of the numbers, didn't have an idol, and this was at least close to one. Likewise, when Adam was met with unbroken csilence when he asked who everyone was voting for, that proved he was the target, so he had no choice but to hope the fleur-de-lis on the podium was a real idol. No harm in trying.


- This does not exuse Adam for pronouncing the terminal S in fleur-de-lis, though.


- In his Q&A with Dalton Ross, Probst pooh-poohed the idea of US Survivor *ever* putting an idol at Tribal Council, because he is deeply worried about contestants ripping apart his precious set. Mm hmm. This would be exactly the sort of thing the show would say right before hiding an idol at Tribal, just to throw future contestants off the scent, right?


Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes

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