'Survivor' Alum Rob Cesternino Guest Blogs the 'Winners at War' Premiere for ET (Exclusive)
By Rob Cesternino
CBS / Getty Images
Throughout the season, Survivoralum and Rob Has a Podcasthost Rob Cesternino will be guest blogging for ET about the biggest Winners at War moments. This week, he recaps the action-packed season premiere, and shares how these early alliances and votes set up the rest of the season.
Welcome to Season 40!
It is amazing and exciting to finally have these 20 winners on our screens again in last night's stellar premiere. On the sand spit immediately after the marooning, Jeff Probst gazed out at the likes of Boston Rob, Parvati, Tony, Kim, Ethan, Sandra, Jeremy, and 13 other legendary winners, and remarked: "Wow! Let ME take this in!" If Jeff can hardly contain his joy, what chance do the rest of us have to contain ours? So raise your sandy champagne flute and toast to the upcoming 39 days, which promise scheming, backstabbing, blindsiding and, thanks to the Fire Tokens, no shortage of bequeathing. Let’s recap!
On the aforementioned sand spit, the winners disembark from their boats while flashing their most intimidating scowls. After they gather, Jeff proposes a toast and spouts off a coach-like aphorism of unclear origin ("A drink before war is always a good idea!"). He then immediately starts ragging on the Survivors for how long ago some of them played. First, he points out that Yul’s victory is older than the iPhone. Second, he one-ups this by pointing out that Amber’s victory is older than iTunes. He mercifully does not compare anyone else's victory to now-ubiquitous Apple products.
After dividing the tribes into Red (Dakal) and Blue (Sele), Jeff explains what many of us already know: this season features all winners, Fire Tokens will be used as an in-game currency, Edge of Extinction is back in play and, of course, this season’s prize will be a record-setting $2 million.
(Somewhere at home, Jeff Kent scoffs to his weekly viewing party attendees that it’s only $1.2 mil post-taxes.) And another thing, says Jeff ("Stop! Enough things!" begs Sophie): the upcoming challenge is for reward AND immunity. With the castaways likely still uncertain about who is even on their tribes, the challenge begins. Several violent inner tube tug-of-war rounds later, Dakal is victorious. Sele learns they’ll have an extra day before attending tribal, which was Jeff's generous way of making sure everyone had plenty of time to overthink their decisions.
After the challenge, we go to Dakal for their initial thoughts and game approaches. Wendell is trying to make "Build Relationships, Not Shelters" happen -- until everyone forces him to build the shelter anyway. He smartly rolls with it. Sarah, Amber and Tyson bond over the hardship of leaving their kids behind, and everyone at home who picked Tyson in the prop bet for "First Tearful Confessional Over Sweeping Heroic Music of the Season" pumps their fists. Sandra knows she needs to reduce her threat level, so she makes peace with Tony ("Water under the bridge?" she asks; "Spittle under the bridge," he replies, which is a little gross) and shuts down Wendell's attempt to pay homage to The Queen. Tony similarly knows he needs to reduce his own threat level ("I'm on probation! I got a bracelet on. House arrest!"), but in his case this just means stifling the urge to run into the jungle screaming or bury himself in the sand. Sophie forms an alliance with Yul, coining a new phrase by saying she plans to use Yul as a "Nerd Shield," which Yul would probably resent because he explicitly promised to use less game theory this time around. The Yulphie alliance becomes a thing and scoops up Nick and Wendell as well.
Back at Sele with tribal looming, Adam tries to get Denise excited about striking up a partnership similar to her partnership with Malcolm in Season 25. He excitedly tells Denise, "If I could be your Malcolm…" to which Denise counters with enthusiasm, "My jungle boy No. 2!" But while those two are cementing their alliance with phrases that sound like the opening repartee in a romantic karaoke power ballad duet, most of the others are back at camp, ready to pounce on Adam and Denise's "rookie moves" (per Jeremy) of being away from the group for too long.
If Adam and Denise looked like rookies, Boston Rob and Parvati looked like pros. "Do you wanna work together this season?" Rob asks. Parvati replies dryly, "That would be a change." The business-like discussion of their "checkered past," as Parvati puts it, is fascinating, and seems to pay off; they are soon marveling over the fact that despite being the most obvious threats on Sele, they miraculously seem safe. That safety was partially achieved by Boston Rob's preternatural ability to root out and shut down any dissent. One-timers Danni and Ben, in one of the most outright fun scenes from the episode, admit to being overmatched by and unprepared for the man with over 100 on-island days.
With Boston Rob no longer in any danger, the group turns to the decision of whether to split the outside-the-game duo of Natalie and Jeremy, or the inside-the-game duo of Adam and Denise. At tribal, paranoia and exhaustion at the speed of the game seems to rattle some of the players; the most old-school contestant, Ethan, confides that "the pace of this game is shocking to me," while Ben, Danni and especially Michele speak of paranoia levels so high that they Just Can't Even. Adam proceeds to call out a host of other threatening pairs in the game, while Jeremy intuits that Boston Rob and Parvati may have "set something up."
Ultimately, Nat is voted out by everyone other than Jeremy and Michele, and is immediately sent to the Edge of Extinction. It is hard to argue that she could have done much differently, other than perhaps ignoring Jeremy in real life for the last several years. While her visibility in the first hour was criminally low for that of a first boot, we do get to see her at her boldest in the Edge segments that follow. On the Edge, Natalie's attitude is unflappable -- she arrives very determined and, in her words, "very zen" and "embracing my mental strength." The next day, she peruses the Prix Fixe menu on the Edge -- maybe it's Restaurant Week there -- where luxury and advantage items will at some point be available for purchase. One high-intensity quad workout later, she finds an Immunity Idol, which she will ultimately send to Sandra.
Speaking of Sandra, back at Dakal, she notes, "It's very rare for me to take something so personal," but she is irate at the sting of what she calls Boston Rob's betrayal. She says that while she and Boston Rob were filming Season 39, living next to statues of their own heads, he never told her he was going to play on Season 40. As she relates this to Sarah, the cop and/or criminal is quick to twist the knife a bit, noting that Boston Rob "lied to you for 36 days." Ominously, Sandra remarks, "Every time I see Amber, which is all day, I think about it."
After Dakal loses the next immunity challenge -- and after Tony canvasses the group to confirm that no one wants to be voted out -- Sandra's wrath toward Boston Rob heats to a boil. Unfortunately for Amber, this development also coincides with Yul's desire to break up "the poker thing," which also involves Boston Rob. Yul explains that a Poker Alliance between Tyson, Kim and Amber may exist. The evidence: one time, Tyson, Kim and Amber's husband played poker together on TV. (Note to future players: playing Solitaire, untelevised, is an underappreciated hobby.) The Poker Alliance is a bit of a flimsy premise, but we have seen that any premise can provide enough rationale to fuel a tribe's critical first vote. Everyone becomes comically tongue-tied around Kim because their plans do not include her, and Tyson laments that everyone ditched him mid-conversation; it is jarringly unusual to see them playing from the bottom. At Tribal, after Jeff gets in one last age-related jab about how teenaged drivers weren’t even born yet when Amber won All-Stars, Amber is voted off, bearing the brunt of her husband’s dishonesty with Sandra and his participation in an ill-fated poker game. Like Natalie, it was primarily the threat of a relationship, rather than subpar gameplay, that sent Amber to the Edge.
After this excellent premiere, we're left with so many great questions. Will Tyson and Kim rebound and find their footing? Will Parvati and Boston Rob continue to be a functional pair? Will "Yulphie" catch on as a portmanteau? I'm looking forward to watching it all unfold! And, of course, I will be covering it on Rob Has a Podcast every step of the way.