If you are a fan of reality TV competitions, I urge you to watch Season 40 of Survivor, aka Winners at War. After twenty years and 39 seasons, CBS has brought together 20 of the 38 former winners to compete in the same game they already conquered. They are playing for 2 Million Dollars and for the pride of saying they are the Champion among Champions. What makes this season so special is there truly is no filler. Everyone on the cast deserves to be there and has earned their place in Survivor History. I’m generally a pretty casual Survivor Fan. Usually, I don’t watch live, and I don’t get the names of all players down until the merge. Not for this season. Each person on the cast carries themselves like a Champion. When you watch, you can convince yourself with each players’ confessional that they are poised to go far. Every Tribal instills the fear of God in viewers because one of their favorite players might be going home. For new viewers, anything seems possible, especially when everyone exudes so much charisma.
What is excellent about Survivor is the game is uniquely age-proof. Whereas in most sports, age generally means an athletic decline. On Survivor, it typically yields more wisdom, while lowering your competition threat level. Tyson Apostol has grown from a zany young man with a massive ego and low level of self-awareness into a hilarious self-indulgent Dad who has an enormous ego and high level of self-awareness. Survivor is like riding a bike, you never forget. However, some can jump back into the motion quicker than others. Yul Kwon won the game his first time playing in 2006. He then exited the Survivor world. Now, in 2020 (technically 2019), Yul has jumped right back in with no rust and is using the fact he hasn’t played or been involved with Survivor to his advantage by playing the card that he’s available for alliances since “he doesn’t know anyone.” Then we have Danni Boatwright, talking herself out of the game due to frustration stemming from the fact she did not have a grasp on what was going on.
Survivor Winners at War dropped 20 Blue Whales in a Tiny Pond, and it fucking rocks. Kim Spradlin had what some people called the best win in Survivor history, and she is now dealing with the struggles of not being in control. We as fans are terrified to lose this maestro; yet, we’re also excited to see how she maneuvers out of her current position. To quote Buddy Garrity: “When all the scared rats run away from the sinking market, that’s when the real entrepreneurs step in. The true visionaries.”
Meanwhile, Tyson, Sandra, Rob, and Parvati are consummate Survivor professionals who seem like they are at home while playing the game. There are players like Adam, Nick, and Sarah who want to prove they can hang with the best. Then you have people like Jeremy, Tony, Wendell, and Michelle who are trying to figure out what this game is. When you put 20 winners together, previous conceptions of what is “good” are no longer correct. Scoring a 740 out of 800 on your Math SAT looks impressive, but not when you’re playing with people who score 750–800 consistently.
Tony Vlachos won Survivor Cagayan while playing a speed able to make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs. He then crashed hard on Survivor Game Changers, trying to do the same thing twice. This season, he is reverting to a larval form, where he is re-training his brain on how to play Survivor. Tony learned how to ride a bike while riding down a giant downhill slope. Now he is trying to figure out how to take a stroll through the park. Yet, his need to go fast still pops out at random moments. On the other end of the spectrum, Ethan Zohn is taking lying lessons from Parvati because he feels uncomfortable deceiving people. Ethan is about to get dropped down the same hill Tony traversed, and he needs to figure out how not to crash.
The reason I say this is like the Oscars mixed with the Dunk Contest is that this season is like a collection of Academy Award nominees getting forced to perform Improv or to sing a song to determine who is the true BEST ACTOR. For someone like Parvati, she can easily channel her inner Meryl Streep and play whatever role she needs to in order to woo the crowd. Then you have someone who ill-prepared for this type of environment. Apologies to Danni Boatwright, but she was one of the three voted off, and it was the first where it was solely her fault. She was like if Jesse Eisenberg got forced to go toe to toe with Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Joaquin Phoenix. Yeah, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network was a perfect role and performance for the actor, but when going up against the best, you have to adapt, improvise, and evolve. If you can’t do that, you have to pray you can win playing the same exact role and hope nobody notices.
Similar to the Dunk Contest, despite everyone in the competition being capable of remarkable feats and having accomplished greatness, there is a CHIP on everyone’s shoulder. Nobody on this cast has anything left to prove, but they definitely want to one-up one another. Tony sees Yul create a breadfruit picker out of a bamboo stick and some wire and decides he’ll create a 20-foot bamboo ladder to match him. It is the same mentality as “oh, you dunked the basketball jumping from the free throw? Well, let me try the same thing except add a 360 spin.”
It makes me upset that this season is so good already. We, as fans, are spoiled. The cast, the sound mixing, video editing, and the all-around vibe of this season put it on a pedestal. While I’m not a huge fan of Edge of Extinction or Fire Tokens, I will give them a pass because everything else is perfect. It’s remarkable how in Season 40, Survivor feels as important as it does.
I am excited to watch the rest of this season. Some great players will crumble under the magnified pressure, and some will surprise you with the plays they make. In the end, we will have one Sole Survivor.