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Recapping The Survivor: Winners At War Premiere - It Was Awesome

*SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY AHEAD*

Wow.

Expectations were sky-high for Season 40, and the premiere did not disappoint. It was an awesome, thrilling two hours from start to finish. The opening 20 minute sequence was perfect. The only disappointment was there was no opening theme song/intro. I really hope they bring that back at some point. Anyway, the ten men saw the ten women they'd be competing against. We saw Jeff be the most human he's ever been with a toast to start the season. We learned that there would be an Edge of Extinction and a new island currency called "fire tokens." And then the tribes were revealed. Some people are questioning why the tribes weren't random, but I think making them was the right call. They probably put a lot of thought into what tribe divisions would make the most entertaining television, and I trust them. I'd rather have non-random entertaining tribes than random tribes that could lead to lackluster entertainment. 

The tribes are as follows:

Dakal (Red): Tyson, Sophie, Sandra, Wendell, Yul, Sarah, Amber, Kim, Tony, Nick

Sele (Blue): Natalie, Danni, Jeremy, Ben, Michele, Adam, Rob, Parvati, Denise, Ethan

These recaps will go like usual. I'll recap the show from start to finish, highlighting the important parts and providing my analysis along the way. Then we'll finish off with updated rankings. Away we go....

Immunity Challenge

We then got immediately into the first immunity challenge of the season, and it was AWESOME. I often get bored during the challenges because they're all so repetitive, but this is one of my favorites, and I was pumped they brought it back. It was literally a war. Ultimately, the red tribe came out on top and Sele was headed to the first tribal of the season. They had an extra day before tribal, which makes sense. Gave them way more time to feel each other out and strategize.

Dakal Camp

Dakal was safe from the first tribal council, so the vibe was definitely a lot lighter at their camp. They read a scroll about different things fire tokens could be used for - advantages, luxury items, coffee, etc. I think Nick had an interesting quote when he said that he thinks all these twists will help a new-school winner like himself since they know how to play in such a fast-paced, unpredictable game. I think he does have a point. And if he does win, we'll see that quote in his winner montage. Elsewhere, Wendell the Builder was living up to his name by getting a solid shelter together. He's a likable guy and provides value because of his building ability. I was happy with the start for one of my top winner picks. 

Tyson was getting emotional already thinking about how he had to leave his kids for really the first time ever. It's crazy to think how much Tyson has changed since his first appearance. In Season 18, he was a young, cocky, borderline immature guy. Now he's like a full grown adult with emotions, and it's weird to see. 

We could already see different alliances starting to form. You had the "poker alliance" between Tyson, Kim, and Amber. For those that don't know, Tyson, Kim, Boston Rob, and Jeremy once played together in a poker tournament, leading everyone to believe that they'd have a pregame alliance (which would also obviously include Rob's wife Amber). You then had Tony, Sandra, and Sarah who all played together on Survivor: Game Changers, although they didn't have the best relationship. Tony voted out Sarah in Season 28. Sandra voted out Tony in Season 34. And Sarah voted out Sandra that season. But they're all players who have played multiple seasons and have an existing connection, so it's natural to group them together. 

I was impressed with Tony to start the game. Instead of running around like a mad man as he did to start Season 34, he realized he had to play differently this time. He needed to show that he could be more low-key and get people's guards down before he attacks. This is his best move. But we know how much Tony loves chaos. How long can he keep this act up before he reveals his true colors and he's running around making llama noises again? 

Then we had the four, outsider one-time players: Yul, Wendell, Sophie, Nick. Yul and Sophie particularly hit it off to start. Both are smart, mellow players so it was a natural connection. Sophie mentioned the idea of keeping Yul around as a "nerd shield" instead of the prototypical "meat shield." I was impressed with Sophie this episode. She is a forgettable winner, but she showed a lot of promise last night. 

For me though, the star of the episode was Yul. Much like he did in Cook Islands, he formed a core alliance early on. This time it was that foursome of him, Sophie, Nick, and Wendell. It made sense for them to stick together and then pull in one of the other trios. I forgot how good Yul is at this game. He's very cerebral and strategic. But he also is such a likable guy. You want Yul to like you. He's shooting up my power rankings. 

Sele Camp

Over at Sele, they had a day and a half to make a decision on who would have the dishonor of being the first winner booted off Season 40. Adam and Denise pulled such a rookie move by disappearing together for an extended period of time. It was sort of an honest mistake, but they also were strategizing as starstruck Adam fawned over the idea of being Denise's "Malcolm" this season. This put an immediate target on their backs as the other eight realized that they were missing for awhile. Early on in Survivor, you just have to be careful to not do anything to stand out and put a target on your back. Disappearing for an extended period of time does just that. In a season with all-winners, people will look for anything to vote you out. I've often thought that my bladder problem would be a real issue if I ever get on the show. People would think I'm looking for an idol when in reality, I'm just taking my third piss of the hour. 

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Danni, Ethan, Adam, and Ben began talking, and Danni threw out Boston Rob's name since he's such an obvious threat. We then saw what an unbelievable player Boston Rob is. You forget how damn good he is. He was talking to Ben and asked if his name came up. Ben was being very wishy-washy and Rob saw right through it. "If you're not honest with me, I'm not sure I can trust you, Ben." It was hypnotic. Before you know it, Ben was saying how Danni mentioned Rob's name. It's like he gave him a truth serum, and Ben just couldn't resist. He couldn't even believe what happened and admitted to being starstruck and in awe of Rob. It was surreal to watch. As I predicted in my preview blog, Ben might be in a little over his head. 

Boston Rob then continued to put on a clinic. He confronted Danni, and she admitted that she did throw out his name. This somehow turned into an alliance and them trusting each other. An old-school alliance was forming with those two, Ethan, and Parvati. 

Ben told Adam that his name was on the block, although I'm not totally sure why. Adam was shocked and threw out Jeremy and Natalie as targets, claiming their existing relationship from Season 29 is much stronger than a 20 minute conversation between Adam and Denise. It was a valid point. And oh yeah, Boston Rob is literally married to another player in the game. So all of a sudden, Jeremy and Natalie were also targets. 

It was one of the craziest pre-tribals I can remember. Paranoia was running rampant, and nobody knew what to believe. Everyone was basically playing with an "anybody but me" mindset. I think we'll see that a lot this season, especially early on. Everyone is such a good player that there's no easy targets. As long as you're not on the chopping block, you should be happy. This is basically how Sandra won both her seasons. 

Somehow, the only players that really felt safe were Boston Rob and Parvati despite being the two biggest threats on the tribe. A lot of the newer players lost focus of this and started targeting each other, as opposed to what was happening over on the red tribe. This is also a testament to how good Rob and Parvati are. They were even shocked and wondered if they were being punk'd. It'll be fun to watch them work together this season. Them and Ethan formed an early Final 3 deal. Speaking of Ethan, he was really a pleasant player to watch. It was cool seeing an old-school player try to keep up with the fast-pace of this new season, but he did a good job. He's a likable guy and I can see him sticking around for a real long time. 

So going into tribal, everything seemed very much up in the air. Either the duo of Adam or Denise would be targeted, or the Jeremy-Natalie pair would get votes. It was probably the most frantic, unpredictable first vote in show history. Nobody knew what to expect.

Tribal Council

At tribal, everyone talked about how unique the situation was and how everyone should be nervous. Parvati gave an answer that raised some alarms for Jeremy, causing him to whisper and ask Ben if he thought that Parvati and Rob had set some secret plan up. Ben just said "Seems like it." Well, they did. Natalie went out by a 7-2-1 vote. Jeremy, Natalie, and Michele were the outsider trio that split their votes between Denise and Adam. 

Jeremy was clearly peeved to lose his closest ally and asked Ben who set this up. Natalie talked about how in Season 29, she went out and "won for Jeremy" once he got voted out. Will Jeremy be on a similar mission this time around? I actually think this now helps him. He has Natalie helping him from the Edge of Extinction, and doesn't have to worry about being targeted for being a tight duo with her. He's my winner pick so let's see. It's also clear that the "poker alliance" was not as real as people thought since Boston Rob voted against Jeremy in the first vote of the season. As much as pregame alliances seem to matter, they can easily fall apart once the game actually starts. 

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Edge Of Extinction 

Natalie suffered the same fate of her twin Nadiya by being a first boot. She got sent to the Edge Of Extinction and had to give up her fire token to a player still in the game. Unsurprisingly, she chose her guy Jeremy. She then got set up at edge and was told more about the fire token twist. She could still earn fire tokens while outside of the game and have a big influence on the game. As she gained fire tokens, she could use them on luxury items like food, for a hidden immunity idol (which doesn't totally make sense because that doesn't help her unless she's back in the game), or on advantage in a return challenge - which seems like the best investment. 

She was able to use a clue to find a hidden immunity idol that she could send to someone from the tribe that lost the next challenge. The player would just have to give up one fire token. It's a little complicated, but I'm starting to understand it. I hope that there are no advantages actually in the game. No idols hidden on the island. Maybe the only way to gain idols and advantages will be through fire tokens and players on the Edge. I am typically old-school and dislike all this stuff, but I'll try to have an open mind. It could be interesting to see voted out players still have a heavy influence on the game. It's not like there's any schlubs out there, and it does add an interesting layer of strategy. Does it behoove you to have allies voted out so they can help you? Or, does it actually put a bigger target on the back of people who have allies voted out? In past seasons, when someone with a close ally gets voted out, it sort of helps them because it lessens the target. But if players realize that voted out people are actually still influencing the game, then it may make sense to vote out, say Jeremy, since Natalie is also out. Lot of layers. 

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Hour 2

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Sele Camp 

After tribal, Michele was upset from being left out of the vote. She talked about that "chip on her shoulder" I mentioned in my season preview blog. I still like her chances. Her and Ben talked about the importance of getting an old-school player out and not letting Boston Rob and Parvati just sneak by. 

Immunity Challenge

The challenge involved rowing a boat, doing some swimming, getting over a wheely thing, unlocking a combination, and then doing a ring toss. The Red tribe got out to a huge lead, but Boston Rob put on a heroic performance by just throwing people over the wheely thing. (I don't know what else to call it). I don't know how the editing worked, but all of a sudden, Jeremy was at the ring toss and knocking them all down easily, winning them immunity and sending Dakal to their first tribal. 

Dakal Camp Pre-Tribal

The first question was who would be gifted the idol from Natalie. She chose Sandra, who made the obvious decision of giving up her fire token for the idol, good at one of her next three tribal councils. I wonder why Natalie chose Sandra; we didn't get to see her reasoning. She probably figured that Sandra would be the biggest target since she's the only two-time winner, sure. But still why help her? Wouldn't it almost help Natalie to have weaker players get sent to the Edge of Extinction so that she could beat them in a challenge to get back in the game? Just more strategy to consider. 

Sandra was talking about she wanted to target Amber. She felt betrayed that Boston Rob wouldn't tell her he was playing this season after spending all of Season 39 together. I do think Sandra overreacted a little, but she admits that she does play with her emotions. The bigger thing to me is that, as I said yesterday, this was just such a dumb move by Boston Rob. Why not tell Sandra and perhaps form a pregame alliance to work together? Instead, he made an enemy for both him and his wife. A questionable move. 

The targets were clearly becoming the "poker alliance" of Tyson, Kim, and Amber. Even though this was somewhat dead to the previous Boston Rob-Jeremy vote, there was no way for them to know that. And once again, people were looking for anything to put someone else on the chopping block as long as it wasn't them. Kim, particularly, seemed to be in trouble. It was surreal to watch her squirm and have people walk away from her whenever she joined a conversation. She absolutely dominated Season 24 from start to finish. People were begging her to give them the time of day. Now, the roles were completely reversed. It was very humanizing. It wasn't just Kim though. Seeing these winners who come from a past of heroic, strong edits, actually start to squirm was really unique. 

We also saw Tyson in survival mode. He did mention Tony's name, but realized he needed to ditch any connection to the supposed poker alliance and just save himself. Sandra then told Tony that Tyson mentioned his name, causing Tony to lose his cool a bit and want to vote Tyson. It was all-around chaos. But going into tribal, it was pretty clear that Tyson, Amber, or Kim would be voted out. 

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Tribal Council 

The players all talked about the speed of the game and how everything was happening so fast. People are basically playing like there's 6 people left when there's actually 19. I can't imagine how stressful it will be for whoever ends up lasting all 39 days. Anyway, we get to the vote and Amber gets eliminated by a 6-3-1 count. Three votes went on Kim. One vote went on Nick. It's clear the poker alliance realized they needed to eat each other alive. 

Now, was voting out Amber the right move? Sure she's got Rob on the other tribe, but I think she showed that she couldn't keep up with the new pace of the game and probably wouldn't be much of a threat to win. But I guess her being around as a goat would just clog up a spot in the game. It could be smart to kill the goats before they clog up spots in the end. So I get the move. It's also not like she was much help in challenges, although people seem to not care about that at all this season. 

She had to "bequeath her fire token" to someone still in the game, and obviously chose Rob. I think that Rob will last awhile. We might see a man on an absolute mission. His target should also be a little less now since Amber is out. Unless, as I said, people realize that Amber is actually helping him from outside the game. We'll have to wait and see.

Overall, it was an epic, gut-wrenching two hour premiere. Drama has never been so high to start a season. We should be in for an all-time great season. I'll be glued to my TV at 8 PM every Wednesday. Also shoutout to the Survivor community for getting #Survivor40 as the number one trend on Twitter last night. This show's still got it, baby!

Winner Rankings

This is a running ranking I'll keep all season long of who I think is most likely to win the game. The person ranked last isn't necessarily my prediction to go home next, but I just think they have the least chance of winning the game. Now that we're one episode in, we can get a little bit of a better feel since we've seen some early gameplay and more importantly, edits. 

1. Jeremy

2. Yul 

3. Wendell

4. Michele

5. Nick

6. Sophie

7. Ethan

8. Kim

9.. Boston Rob

10. Tony

11. Tyson

12. Denise

13. Sandra

14. Sarah

15. Parvati

16. Ben

17. Danni

18. Adam

On Edge

19. Natalie

20. Amber

See you next week