Survivor: Winners At War Episode 8 Recap - Drop Your Buffs

*SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY AHEAD*

Last night was a milestone episode for this Survivor season. We had the merge, and also someone returned from the Edge Of Extinction. The merge episode is always one of my favorites of the season and last night did not disappoint. Let's get into it. 

Edge Of Extinction

On Edge, the gladiators were preparing for battle. Natalie and Boston Rob (thanks to Amber) had the most fire tokens, so they had an advantage and a hidden immunity idol. Everyone had an advantage except for Parvati, Amber, and Yul. The advantage was that they didn't have to dig up the bag at one part of the obstacle course. Honestly, I thought there would be a bigger advantage. It was a timesaver, but I just thought the fire tokens were going to mean more.

Jeff first called in the three tribes and told them to drop their buffs. They were now one. The 8 competitors from Edge were then brought in for battle. There were some emotional moments. Tyson talked about having to leave his daughters and using humor as a mask. Boston Rob felt guilty for Amber being voted out. The tears were out of the way, and it was time for the challenge. 

It involved an obstacle course, getting a key with a stick, and then a ball maneuver. It was a well-designed challenge. Thought it was fair for all competitors and gave everyone a fighting chance. Rob was getting out to an early lead. Someone asked if he was good at this, to which Wendell replied "He's good at everything." True. 

At the ball maze, it was coming down to Rob, Tyson, Natalie, and Yul. Eventually, it got down to Tyson and Rob in an epic neck-and-neck battle. The editing was perfect. The music was perfect. Everything was perfect. I was on the edge of my seat just like everyone else. 

Ultimately, Tyson just barely pulled it out, and he was back in the game. Epic moment. 

Everyone else was headed back to the Edge as members of the jury. They were told that they will have one more chance to get back in the game. This will likely happen at Final 5 if Season 38 is any indication. 

Merge

As is tradition, we had the merge feast. But before that, they showed a little advantage shop where people could spend their fire tokens. 

The strategic advantages are not really advantages to me. Stealing someone's spot on a reward is just a dick move and will give you an instant enemy. And I'm not sure what the advantage of sending notes to someone on Edge is. Maybe convince them to send you stuff or for jury management? Neither advantage is earth-shattering. All the other things were more tribe-focused: tarp, comfort, and food. As I've been saying, I really think that fire tokens will have a bigger impact in theory than in practice. I think people will overvalue them. We already saw it happen with Sandra. I think the idea of having fire tokens outweighs the reward of actually having fire tokens. I think whoever aggressively negotiates for them is making a mistake. But we'll see if they have a greater impact later in the game. 

At the feast, everyone was sizing each other up and realizing the games are really about to begin. Sarah had a good quote saying, "Everyone here is a lion. But who has the biggest mane?" Denise was the first to flash her mane. She told her tale of slaying the queen. 

However, as Sophie pointed out, this was really just putting a target on her back as someone with a big move on her resume already. I liked the move from Denise at the time, but it's possible she peaked too early. 

Early merge alliances started to form. Wendell, Michele, and Nick had their tight trio. Wendell wanted to pull in Jeremy, as they had a connection from outside the game. Jeremy was down for this, but he was weary of Nick. He was jealous of Nick's relationship and wanted to be Wendell's closest ally. Jeremy's strategy is clearly similar to his one in Cambodia which he later said in a confessional, "I want to be the one driving the bus. But I don't want anyone to know I'm driving." 

It was clear the guys in the game were trying to form an alliance of threats. Ben and Tony especially wanted to break up the "sleepers." Tony mentioned how Nick is a hyena who wants to butt in on conversations and feast on the lions. Overall, things were very up in the air heading to the challenge. 

Before the challenge, they were hit with an awful rainstorm, leading to some tears and what not. 

Immunity Challenge 

The first individual immunity challenge was a classic and one of my favorites. One man and one woman would be immune at tribal, and they'd each get one fire token. When I get on the show, I'll definitely win this one. Sheer will power and I have great core strength nowadays. The rain did add a rather difficult element to this though. Michele fell first and fell hard, and others soon slipped down the pole as well. 

Denise won amongst the women without really being threatened. It then came down to Jeremy or Nick, a battle of Wendell's best buddies. Ultimately Jeremy prevailed. Now it's fair to wonder if Jeremy winning just painted a bigger target on his back. But I think the target was there already. And the first merge immunity is one of the most important of the season. The vote is usually chaos. You want that necklace around your neck for protection. 

Pre-Tribal

As is the case with most first merge tribals, nobody really knew what was going to happen. With Denise safe, Nick and Adam were the initial names getting thrown out there. The higher profile players wanted to target them for being sleepers and hyenas. Mostly everyone else was fine with it because, hey, "As long as it's not me." Tony, Ben, Jeremy, and Tyson were working together to keep their names off the block. Tony and Tyson did a phenomenal job of this. Tony is somehow still flying under the radar despite probably being the biggest threat left. He's been marvelous at adapting his game. Tyson could have been an easy target since he just came back from Edge, but he sort of floated in the background and stayed off the chopping block. 

Sophie saw what was happening. She didn't like this alliance forming between between all the big guys in the game. She wanted to target Wendell. I'd have to give her the MVP of the episode for her performance. She was the first one to really buck the "as long as it's not me" way of thinking and try to make a move that would help her game.  

Meanwhile, Adam was crying worried that he was the target. 

His edit continues to fascinate me. I hopped on the Russell Hantz show after the episode (more on that later), and Russell thinks he definitely has a winner's edit. Others, like Stephen Fiscbach on Twitter, thinks he has the class clown edit. 

I think I'm leaning more towards Russell, but I go back and forth every single week. 

So heading into tribal, we had Adam, Nick, and Wendell all on the chopping block. It seemed like it would come down to Adam and Wendell, and I had really no idea what was going to happen. 

Tribal Council

There was some really cerebral talk about gameplay at tribal. Basically everyone was afraid to throw out names heading into tribal. Tony said everyone wanted to just go with the current, but you just don't know where the current is heading. He also mentioned how just because Tyson was seen as a threat at one point and voted out earlier, doesn't mean he's a threat for the same reasons right now. It was time to vote. 

No idols were played. Wendell got sent home with a 9-3 vote. The other 3 votes went to Adam. Judging by reactions and scenes for next week, it's clear the 3 who voted for Adam were Wendell, Nick, and Michele. And thus the Michele-Wendell saga comes to an end, barring something with the Edge of Extinction. For me, this was a disappointing finish to their story arc. I thought that with all its hype, we were setting up to see a big moment between the two. Maybe Michele would be the one to slay Wendell and get her revenge. But nope. She wasn't even in on the plan to vote him out and seemed genuinely upset to see him go. This hurts her winner chances for sure. Wendell gave one fire token each to Michele and Nick.

I was also surprised that Jeremy decided to vote for Wendell given how close they seemed. But I guess he didn't want to rock the boat. Not a great episode for Jeremy. Lost a close ally and increased the target on his back with a challenge win. I still trust him to make the necessary moves to survive though. 

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. It's based on "edgic" which is a mix of "logic" and "edit."

Previous Week Rank in ( )

1. Sophie (3)

2. Michele (1)

3. Adam (5)

4. Jeremy (2)

5. Tony (8)

6. Denise (6)

7. Sarah (7)

8. Nick (4)

9. Tyson (13)

10. Ben (10)

11. Kim (9)

On Edge

12. Boston Rob (12)

13. Natalie (14)

14. Wendell (11)

15. Yul (15)

16. Parvati (16)

17. Ethan (18)

18. Amber (17)

19. Danni (19)

Eliminated 

20. Sandra (20)

As I mentioned, I went on the Russell Hantz Show after the episode last night. Pretty surreal for me. Russell was my favorite player ever as a kid. If you told me 10 years ago that he'd be inviting me as a guest on his podcast, I'd think you were crazy. But it was a fun time, and we had some really good game discussion. Unfortunately, my phone was messing up the audio. Hope it doesn't hurt my pre-game alliance with Russell for a future legends season. 

See you next week.