The three best words in Survivor: Drop your buffs.
Tonight is the merge on Survivor: Winners At War, a seminal moment each season. Nobody wants the stench of being a "pre-merge boot." We're down to 11 players left, with 8 still on the Edge waiting for their chance to come back. We know from the previews that there will definitely be a merge this week and that someone will be returning from Edge.
With Survivor being our main "sport" right now, I've decided to ramp up the coverage and give us a merge preview. I'll look at some of the season's top storylines thus far and give an updated outlook on each player's chances. If you missed it, here is my preseason preview blog.
The Top Storylines
New School Dominates Old School: All 11 players remaining played their first season after Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20). Everyone voted out, with the exception of first boot Natalie (Season 29) is an old-school player who debuted before Season 20. While there hasn't really been a clear "new-school alliance," it's clear that they recognized what threats some of these legends are and wanted to get them out early. Boston Rob, Parvati, and Sandra had humongous targets on their backs from Day 1 that they just couldn't shake. It does suck from an entertainment point of view though. A lot of the players on Edge are fan favorites: Tyson, Ethan, and Yul to name a few. Having all these legends be out of the game definitely sucks, but at least we still get to follow them on Edge and can expect a couple of them to get back in the game. I'm sure this is why they included the Edge on this season.
In the actual game, the "meat shields" are running low. Tony and Jeremy are probably the two biggest threats left. They can't hide for much longer. It does suck that we have a lot of, in my opinion, underwhelming players left: Ben, Adam, and Sophie to name a few. But this is a chance for some of these new school players to become legends, and that'll be fun to watch happen.
Pregame Relationships (aka Michele and Wendell): For the first time in show history, Survivor has chosen to embrace the fact that pregame alliances do in fact exist. In past returnee seasons, they were ignored as taboo, but they are very much real. I'm glad the show chose to showcase them this season. It started with the supposed "poker alliance" of Boston Rob, Tyson, Jeremy, and Kim. They even showed footage from the tournament.
The main pregame relationship (literally) that has dominated this season is Michele and Wendell. They dated (or something?) before this season aired, but things clearly didn't end on the best terms. It has been awkward to watch their interactions thus far. While at first it seemed like they were going to be at each other's necks, they have shown the ability to work together and seem like they plan to stay that way going forward. They could be a weird, broken power couple? The relationship is certainly getting a lot of attention. A big part of it I'm sure is that it's just good television. But I also have a feeling that it will have a major impact on the game going forward. Do they betray each other? Do they sit together at the end? Michele is clearly getting the better edit of the two players. Wendell is getting the villain edit for sure. Maybe down the road Michele blindsides Wendell for the ultimate revenge? We'll have to wait and see, but I expect something big is coming down the stretch.
Fire Tokens/Advantages: Survivor introduced "fire tokens" for the first time in show history. It's an island currency that can be used for advantages and bartering. Every player started the game with one. When you're voted off, you have to give it to someone still in the game. The players on Edge can find advantages and sell them to players in the game for fire tokens which can then be used on food, challenge advantages, idols, and more. We've seen them used more in theory than practice thus far. I think they will come more into play at merge. But in recent episodes, they've been used way more as a negotiating tactic. It's basically what sent Sandra home. And we had the Wendell-Parvati moment at tribal council. I expect Natalie and Boston Rob to use theirs for a challenge advantage this week. Overall, I've been pleased with the twist so far. I was skeptical, but it's added another layer of strategy to the game.
Updated Player Assessment
These are my winner rankings from last week, but I'll give an in-depth look on where I think each player stands instead of just listing them out.
PRESEASON rank in ()
1. Michele (2) - She is my clear favorite to win right now. She was my winner pick when the cast was first announced last year, got bumped to second in my preseason blog, but she's back at the top now. She's definitely had the biggest winner's edit of any player thus far. It's been overwhelmingly positive, especially in regards to the Wendell relationship. There's also growth as a player, and a redemption story. We've seen her speak multiple times about how she felt disrespected after her last win. Can she come back, slay her ex-boyfriend, and win the most epic season to date? The story is definitely there. Let's see if she pulls it off.
2. Jeremy (1) - Jeremy would probably be lower in the rankings if he wasn't my preseason winner pick. He hasn't really done anything to give off winner vibes, but he also doesn't anything that suggests he can't win either. He's clearly trying to use a similar strategy to the one he successfully employed in Cambodia, laying low and hiding behind bigger targets. The problem is he doesn't have many people left to hide behind. He could be in trouble early in the merge unless he finds a solid alliance. But he's such a good player that I can't count him out and will leave him high in the rankings, even if the winner edit isn't evident yet.
3. Sophie (13) - She's in a really good position. She has some solid allies and an idol. She's not viewed as a threat. I can see her making a deep run. She's also had a positive edit. Add all that up and she has to be viewed as one of the favorites right now.
4. Nick (5) - Like Sophie, Nick is in a good position with a fairly positive edit and can fly under-the-radar for awhile. It reminds me of how he won Season 37. He's a smart player that shouldn't have a target on his back for awhile. I like his chances.
5. Adam (18) - Adam's edit is the most interesting of the season to me. He's definitely gotten a ton of airtime. Some if it has been positive (the teacher saying he can do anything he sets his mind to), some of it has been negative (trying to pull one over on Boston Rob and getting blindsided in the Ethan vote), and some of it has just been funny (the torch, the voting urn). There's been times where you see what a smart player he is. There's been times where he looks like a minor leaguer who just got called up to the majors and is in way over his head. Add all that up, and you have a complex, layered character. That's usually a good sign for a winner's edit. BUT I still just don't really see it happening. I think sometimes the awkward/unlikable outweighs the endearing/likable and can see him being an FTC goat instead of a winner, but it's really tough to tell. I'm fascinated by his edit though and expect he'll be around for awhile.
6. Denise (8) - Denise cemented herself as part of Survivor history with the huge move to blindside Sandra with her own idol. But did this just put a huge target on her back and make her peak too early? She's still a great social player which helps her. She's got a chance to win, but I would put her in a tier below those listed above her.
7. Sarah (14) - She's been right in the middle of the pack for me. Nothing that makes me think "She's got a great shot to win" and nothing to make me think "She's got no shot to win." She's a smart player with some solid allies. But I can see her getting targeted soon once people realize how dangerous she really is.
8. Tony (11) - I'm rooting for Tony to win. He's my favorite left. Some people out there are predicting him to win and see a winner's edit. Fun moments around camp, growth as a player, people talking about what a good person he is, etc. It's possible this is a winner's edit recipe for sure. But I just can't help but fear the target on his back is too big. I don't know how he can survive all the way to the end with no meat shields left besides Jeremy. I feel like we're seeing Tony play a game with his hands tied behind his back. He can't use his typical antics this season and he does know that. Credit to him for adjusting his game.
9. Kim (6) - An unbelievably dominating player in One World, Kim has been very blah this season. Maybe she's just getting overshadowed by some bigger personalities. I think she's definitely seen as less of a threat than she was to start the game, but I also don't know if I see her being capable of winning this season.
10. Ben (20) - Ben has had some character development that his edit has focused on. He's not just out there searching for idols and is instead focusing on building relationships, as evidenced with Sarah and Sophie. Yet I still just don't see him winning this season. I don't think he's on the same level as some of the players left and can't see him convincing the jury that he played the best game in a season with the best players.
11. Wendell (3) - In Ghost Island, Wendell was likable as a cool, calm, and collected player. This season, he's been painted as the obnoxious, cocky villain. A lot of that is just editing, I'm sure. I think in reality Wendell is somewhere in between the person he was in Season 36 and the person he is this season. But I can't see the show giving the winner of this season such a negative edit. I also think he's hurt his chances in the game with some of his behavior. I'm just intrigued to see how the Michele-Wendell story ends.
12. Boston Rob (12) - After the epic heist he pulled off last week, Boston Rob now has three fire tokens. He's already a solid challenge competitor, and those will only help him. Natalie is my current pick to come back from Edge, but these are my winner rankings. Of all the people on Edge, I see Rob as having the best chance of coming back and winning.
13. Tyson (9) - Probably the best overall challenge competitor on Edge, he has to be high in these rankings just based on his likelihood to get back in the game. I don't see him coming back and winning though. I'm just enjoying funny, snarky Tyson moments whenever we get them.
14. Natalie (4) - Natalie would be my pick to return from Edge tonight. She's got the fire tokens to use for an advantage and is a strong competitor. She seems determined and has gotten a good amount of screen time while on Edge. If she does get back in the game, I can see her lasting for awhile. But it would be tough to convince a jury of legends that you deserve to win when you got voted out first. We'll see what happens.
15. Yul (10) - If we're breaking the people on Edge into tiers, I'd have Yul in Tier 1 with the three listed above him. He's a good challenge competitor and should be in better shape than everyone else on Edge, since he's the most recent person to get there. If he does get back in the game, he would immediately have a big target on his back.
16. Parvati (16) - Parvati is obviously a legend, but she has a couple things working against her. First of all, she's not the best in challenges. She also will be at a disadvantage to those with more fire tokens like Boston Rob and Natalie. Additionally, if she does somehow win, she'd probably be voted out immediately anyway.
17. Amber (7) - I got suckered in by the pregame promos hyping her up and listed her at #7 in my preseason rankings. That was a mistake. Her winning a challenge to get back in the game is extremely unlikely. If she somehow does, it'd be a great story and I can see her lasting for awhile. But it's not happening.
18. Ethan (17) - Ethan's had an inspiring story. The cancer survivor was an early boot, but he had the uplifting journey collecting the logs and is sticking it out on Edge to prove that he can. That being said, I can't see him winning a challenge to get back in the game. I wouldn't be totally shocked if he waves the white flag should he lose tomorrow. But I hope he sticks around.
19. Danni (19) - I have as good a chance at winning this season as Danni does. It's just not happening. I don't think we've heard from her since she's been voted out. And I don't see her winning any challenges to get back into the game.
And that's an update of where we are. It's been an awesome start to the season. I hope it only gets better from here.
Counting down the seconds until tonight at 8.