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A Few, Lingering Questions About 'Survivor: Winners At War'

By Lord Castleton and Dan Hamamura (with Dustin Rowles) | TV | May 19, 2020 |

By Lord Castleton and Dan Hamamura (with Dustin Rowles) | TV | May 19, 2020 |


I rewatched the three hour finale of Survivor: Winners at War and I have few questions. So I decided to bring in Survivor scion and amateur gumshoe Dan Hamamura to get some perspective on the subtleties and undercards that I may have missed.

LC: Hey Dan.

DH: Hey.

LC: Pretty good season of Survivor.

DH: One of the best, if you believe the internet.

LC: I have questions. So many questions.

DH: Shoot.

LC: What did they do to Denise’s hair?

DH: What?

LC: I love Denise. But is that like, how Denise wears it? She has such a great face! I liked her hair better when it was pulled back in the game.

DH: I thought this was going to be about the game.

LC: I believe I just talked about the game, and the superiority of Denise’s hair within said game.
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DH: Yeah, I have no opinions on anyone’s hair. What else?

LC: Actually, I have another hair question.


LC: A facial hair question.

DH: …fine.

LC: Did you have the visceral response I did when Ben was voted out and shaved his beard into that Sons of Anarchy handlebar? I was kinda warming on Ben and then with that stache and his backwards cap I was like ‘this guy makes me feel like he covets my wife or my Trans Am. Or possibly both.
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DH: Like I said, I have no useful opinions on anyone’s hair. Can we talk about, like, Ben sacrificing himself or something?

LC: Sure. Is that even allowed? I haven’t watched enough seasons to know whether ‘I’m cool with you assassinating me’ is an acceptable “outwit” strategy. If it’s cool, then it might have been a legitimately memorable and selfless Survivor moment.

DH: How so?

LC: Because in such a packed season, the Ben Sacrifice got kinda lost. A kind of dipshitty redneck dude who seeeeeemed to have a little latent racist vibe with Jeremy makes the ultimate sacrifice for a woman colleague. He was like, ‘to beat Tony (another man) you need to blindside me and build your resume. So I give you permission. Sacrifice me to win this game.’ I feel like so much other mind blowing stuff happened after that that his noble sacrifice was lost. Or maybe he was like ‘I have no legitimate path to victory. Tonight I’m gonna eat Applebees and frame it as generous.”

DH: And Sarah lost anyway, so it was all for naught.

LC: I mean, Sarah still didn’t have to do it. I’m very torn on her. She could have taken Michelle out with that vote instead of Ben. That was particularly Machiavellian of Sarah. You can call her Lacina. I’m pretty sure Lacina means ‘The Cina’ in Italian.

DH: No, Probst can call her Lacina. We call her Officer Lacina.

LC: Is she still even a cop? I thought she said she had been a cop. I’m not going to refer to her by an honorarium if she’s not even a cop anymore. She’s not President Obama.

DH: She still is a Cedar Rapids Police Officer, according to Google.

LC: You see that, by the way? The High School graduation with Obama? He was so good. Goddamn I felt human again. I love that man.

DH: It’s on my DVR. Haven’t seen it yet.

LC: How have you not seen it? Don’t you need joy in your life?

DH: Eh, I’m fine. Did you know Officer Lacina is also a mixed martial arts fighter?

LC: I did not. Huh. Not a big MMA guy but she’s a tough cookie. Still, she couldn’t beat Tony in a firemaking challenge? It’s like, what? We got played in that sequence. They made it look like he was the dumbfuckiest dumbfuck with fire ever. And then he wins. What an underdog that man was who Sarah enabled to win the game!

DH: What are you saying?

LC: You know I like to watch for trends in Survivor, like that amazing episode that I wrote about a couple of years ago, but Sarah was a troubling character. Because on the one hand she gives this legendary gender bias speech, which was fantastic.

DH: Yeah, and it gave Probst an avenue to own his own bias, which was cool.

LC: It was all great! But that particular vote was a weird one. Because it came down to a vote between Sarah and Denise and I still can’t figure out why Natalie and Michelle didn’t take out Sarah and hobble that alliance! It was the obvious choice! Why take out Denise?

DH: According to the interviews they’ve given after the finale, Tony and Sarah worked together to “accidentally” reveal to Natalie that Sarah had an idol, except it was fake, just to try to keep the heat off her. On the Natalie and Michelle side, they’ve said that at that point in the game, their calculation was that they’d have a better shot peeling Sarah away from Tony than Denise from Ben.

LC: You’re telling me they edited out an entire “fake idol” subplot? What in tarnation?

DH: It was a packed season, what can I tell you? There wasn’t even time for a reunion show!

LC: So it was a fake idol? But then why did Sarah say “thank you” to Natalie right after the vote? I mean, I kind of thought the narrative was GIRL POWER! But then the girl power ringleader is a total Aunt Lydia, luring other women to the water well so Tony could spy on them! WTF was that all about? But hey, maybe that’s a blessing. Maybe that’s a glimpse at a post-gender-issues world or something.

DH: I would contend that Sarah’s argument was less about whether she should stick with the other women in the game (vs. her original alliance), and more that she should be getting credit for moves in a duo the same way a man would. And speaking of credit for moves, we gave Tony so much credit for the spy nest, but like you said, it was Sarah who got people there and got them talking. All he had to do was not fall out of the tree. So who had the harder job?

LC: True. I’m sure my binary thinking is the problem, honestly. Like either she’s Michelle Obama or she’s Aunt Lydia. That’s on me. I just wish the alliances she built didn’t give Tony a fucking cakewalk to the title. I absolutely was not prepared for how much everyone liked Tony and how much that mattered. Usually those final tribals are a flame fest where the remaining three get roasted over a pit by the people they fucked over, but Tony’s final tribal was like a rehearsal dinner. Everyone was laughing. It was bananas.

DH: Not Dustin.

LC: Really?

DH: Oh yeah, Dustin’s not a Tony fan.

LC: I’m gonna call him.

[Phone ringing. Dustin answers. Children can occasionally be heard in the background, causing chaos.]Dustin: Castleton. I told you to never call me here.

LC: But…it’s the only number I have for you.

Dustin: Exactly.

LC: How’d you feel about Tony winning Survivor?

Dustin: Tony, like everyone else in this season’s finale, was a mediocre player. He was comic relief. He’s always been comic relief. He’s basically a slightly better Phillip. Or Coach. That’s not a “strategy” so much as it is a “personality trait.” Tony won because “comic relief” isn’t a threat, and by the time he got to the end, he was surrounded by other mediocre players, and he sort of won by default, because he had the better narrative. If almost anyone else aside from Natalie had won extinction, Tony loses. I will give Tony credit for one thing: He sniffed out Kim’s attempt to take him out. If Kim had managed to do so, she’d have won in a runaway. But after Kim was gone, there weren’t any particularly compelling players left, so Tony won. Anyway guys I gotta go.[CRASHING IN THE BACKGROUND]

LC: Where were we?

DH: Final tribal.

LC: Right. I wish Natalie did a better job of outlining how she was basically the prime mover in every significant twist of the season. It was her toiling in obscurity that made the whole season possible. Yes, she listed every idol she found, but a cagier player would have framed it like “I engineered this whole fucking season from Hades.”

DH: Her social game, or maybe lack of one, really came into play.

LC: I was surprised to hear that she had distanced herself from people on the edge prior to the final challenge, but then I thought, if I were stuck on an island with Rowb and Ambah I’d light my face on fire.

DH: Why don’t you like Boston Rob? He’s such a fun character. And America got to watch him and Amber fall in love on All-Stars!

LC: It’s just…listen, he’s good for the game. That’s all I’m gonna say.

DH: Okay.

LC: I don’t want to sit here and say bad things about them.

DH: Cool. 3…2…1…

LC: But they’re both so up their own asses! When they lost the final challenge and they both got choked up I was rolling my eyes. Her narrative was “I came here for my husband (to give him an unfair numbers advantage). I didn’t want to come. I have four kids. I should be home with them. But NO ONE respects this game more than my husband.” Rob Mariano is a great reader of people, granted, but not as brilliant of a player as everyone makes him out to be. He’s like a J.V. fascist and his outdated playing style got him voted out of the game. Tony was likeable and bonded through emotion. Boston Rob used his only mechanism, fear, and it blew up in his face. But Amber, in her personal delusion, thinks her husband is a genius. It’s like when the cheerleader marries the quarterback. He wants his every day to be a replay of the night he scored the big touchdown in the big game. So much so that he marries it. It’s such a weird dynamic. I’m sure they’re nice people irl. But on the show she thinks no one respects the game more than Rob and Rob thinks his wife is “the toughest woman in the world.” I’m sure it’s just hyperbole for affect, but they rub me the wrong way.

DH: I think they were just emotional at losing the game.

LC: I just…why was she even there?

DH: To give him an unfair numbers advantage. That’s why.

LC: You know Boston Rob was 100% sure he was going to win this thing. That he was the best ever. And then he got outhunk by some halfwit. Tony was like a child.

DH: You don’t like Tony, either?

LC: I mean, he seems fine to me. After the show I found out he was Greek and that his last name is basically a similar version of my mom’s last name, so it made a lot more sense. He’s basically my cousin. Greeks are the world champions at mind-games and building unity through faux camaraderie. We have thousands of years of experience. You want to know how no one cast a vote for Tony? Greek mind games. Baiting people with an emotional lure and then guilting in them into doing what you want. It’s how Helen went to Troy. It’s how Alexander annexed half his territory. It’s how Cleopatra — a descendant of Ptolemy, took over the Roman world in the forms of Caesar and later Marc Antony. It’s what we do. Why do you think Dustin still hasn’t fired me after I keep calling him on his emergency line? Greek mind games.

DH: You think Tony deserved to win?

LC: During the show I would have liked to have seen like eight other people win it, but in fairness, Tony was utterly dominant. Masterful. Not even a single vote cast against him? That’s like legend status. And you know this won’t be his last Survivor. They’ll bring back he and Sandra and they’ll play kill the king & queen. But Boston Rob was 100% right about one thing: Natalie needed to take out Tony herself. That would have won her the game.

DH: I still think of Boston Rob as the King of Survivor.


DH: I’m just messing with you. I want to see your head explode. Who else did you want to win?

LC: Parvati. I really love her. Watching her do warrior pose on the Edge was memorable. I think she went from villain to good guy this season.

DH: Having kids will do that to you. Or so I hear.

LC: Yeah, look at Tyson.

DH: Who else?

LC: Denise. Sophie. For a stretch there, Sophie was really working it.

DH: I was so bummed when Sophie got blindsided. I mean, it was the smart time to do it, because she could see everyone’s moves on the board up to that point, except that one.

LC: Voted out with an idol in her pocket. The horror. Jeremy grew on me but part of that was I love Cambridge, MA. Michelle really impressed me by winning some clutch challenges. Kim grew on me. She reminds me of a lot of the people in the personal growth world that Lady C works in. I actually really like Adam.

DH: Adam?

LC: Yeah he loves the game. He’s a true student of the game. Is he a little irritating? Yeah.

DH: A little?

LC: But that’s youth more than anything. But if we’re talking about people who respect the game? I’d say Adam is up near the top. More than some fucking lunkhead. People like Boston Rob and Sandra are my least favorite type of player because they know one or two things and they think they know EVERYTHING. It’s infuriating. It’s Trump. Give me Adam any day, who owns his own shit and is good natured about it. I love that he tried to play the decoration on the podium. Fortune favors the bold!

DH: But not the stupid, as in this case. So you mostly liked the women. And Adam. And Jeremy because of where he works.

LC: And Yul.

DH: Right, Yul.

LC: Actually Yul reminds me of you a lot, Hammer.

DH: Why, because we’re both Asian?

LC: I was gonna say because you both have great six-packs, but sheesh.

DH: Oh.

LC: And because you’re both mild mannered.

DH: I still think it’s because we’re both Asian.

LC: I don’t see color unless it’s a buff.

DH: [Gags in Koru]

LC: You know you can buy those buffs?

DH: Game-worn? Like a Peyton Manning jersey?

LC: Yeah, no. They’re really missing a huge opportunity not marketing that. Like “this is the official buff Denise wore when she blindsided Sandra.” Maybe they’re putting it into the Survivor Hall of Fame.

DH: Those buffs are $24.95! For a piece of fabric. That’s a better markup than meth.

LC: There’d be a whole buff economy during the show if they retired buffs after big events. ‘Holy shit, Maria just won her sixth immunity challenge! That’s a new record! Maria you’re gonna have to give me that buff!’

DH: They do auction off some of the props and set dressing for charity every year. No fire tokens, though.

LC: They should auction off that Probst garage set. It was sweet. Probst doesn’t get enough credit for being the beige golem who keeps this shit chugging along. And for having a name that ends in -bst. Forty seasons on his sleeve! That’s impressive and his enthusiasm never wanes. Can you imagine Survivor with a different host? I can’t.

DH: I’m normally opposed to those hologram celebrities, but we may need to make a holo-Probst just in case something ever happens to the real one.

Also, while I know we’re in the era of the skip intro button (which I hate, but that’s a different rant), and the episodes were too short as it is, but it’s really a bummer that the show never found the time to use the official intro they cut together:

Watching that makes me want to start the season all over again. Is it too soon?

LC: Yeah, probably. Maybe just wait for Survivor Detroit next season. The contestants will just be everyone from Detroit and they just have to try to stay alive until election day. The long national goal of turning the country into Running Man is almost here, Dan! Dream come true!

DH: Now that’s a buff I’ll pay full price for. Guarantee its got a Red Wings logo on it.

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Lord Castleton is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Header Image Source: CBS