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Survivor becomes The Tony Vlachos show, for better and worse

A record was set on the Survivor: Winners at War episode 11: Tony Vlachos had 18 confessionals in a single episode, a Survivor record, according to the amazing Survivor Reddit person who counts these things. That’s the same number as every other player combined.

No one in 20 years and 40 seasons of Survivor has been featured that much in a single episode—even in two-hour episodes.

Of course, there was a good reason for that focus: Tony nearly had his ability to vote and play for immunity taken away by a ludicrous twist, saved himself, and then turned on his closest ally, Sarah, by orchestrating a blindside of someone she was close to. Oh, and he found an idol along the way and won immunity.

I don’t go rooting around for winner’s edits very often, but Jeff Probst could have chartered a skywriting plane and written, Tony has changed and just may win this whole thing! in the sky over the Edge of Extinction and that would have been less subtle than this episode.

The focus on Tony delivered multitudes, including his range of emotions—later duplicated in one of those 18 confessional interviews—in which he got really excited (“Extortion!” “This is great!”) until he realized that it said it was being played against him (“This is illegal, man”).

About the only potential misstep Tony made was his weird refusal to participate in fun around the camp—in this case, a fashion show put on by Sarah, complete with a beach runway and some impressive model moves by Kim and Michele especially. (That could easily have been in an episode of Making the Cut, with its ever-changing runway locations.)

This episode was a roller-coaster of Tony, from his hidden immunity idol hunt to his immunity challenge win. And he was at the center of almost everything.

Sophie Clarke on episode 9 of Survivor: Winners at War
Sophie Clarke on episode 9 of Survivor: Winners at War (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

What’s disappointing is how little room this left for other things, like the person who was actually voted out: Sophie.

This episode was a flat end to Sophie’s game this season, and she’s all but been dropped from the show recently—despite being the one who, last week, called for her alliance of five to get together and decide who to vote out at Tribal Council.

But she did have a strong moment when she actually exited. “Idol in my pocket,” she said as she picked up her torch, and then delivered the most humble of brags by fumbling with the torch and saying, “Clumsy at this.” (She has never been voted out, unlike some of her fellow winners.)

In the credits scene on the Edge of Extinction, she said, “I probably came into this game feeling like I was a bottom-tier winner and it’s been fun realizing I can hold my own.” I hope she also realizes that she is not at all bottom-tier. Not even close!

Survivor’s newest twist: extortion

Natalie Anderson and Parvati Shallow waiting for their fellow Edge of Extinction residents to leave the damn shelter so they can find the extortion advantage on Survivor: Winners at War episode 11
Natalie Anderson and Parvati Shallow waiting for their fellow Edge of Extinction residents to leave the damn shelter so they can find the extortion advantage on Survivor: Winners at War episode 11. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

In his quest to turn Survivor into Big Brother, with its heavy producer’s hand constantly meddling, Jeff Probst’s production introduced yet another advantage: the ability of people on the Edge of Extinction to extort any player they chose.

Why are so many twists so intently focused on preventing the cast members from actually playing the game? It’s so far beyond out of control that we’re on a different planet than original Survivor. (There was a throwback tonight: Tree Mail! Wow.)

Natalie (mostly) and Parvati (kind of maybe) found a clue to that advantage, which was under the Edge shelter. The actual advantage allowed them to 1) steal anyone’s ability to vote and play for immunity, 2) unless that person payed whatever fire token price the advantage holder set.

They decided on six fire tokens. Six! A fucking immunity idol costs three, and a significant advantage in the battle-back challenge cost just one.

Imagine for a moment that Tony didn’t cobble together the six tokens, and had his vote and ability to earn immunity stolen from him. Of course, since that didn’t happen, it’s easy to write off and excuse this garbage idea. That’s how these garbage ideas stick around: if they give you what you want, you pretend you can’t smell its fetid rot.

Anyway, Tony only had three fire tokens, so he talked to people and even showed them how he was being extorted. He got fire tokens (loans?) from Nick, Ben, and Jeremy. Michele had zero to give because of the advantage she bought.

Meanwhile, Tony got up early and found a hidden immunity idol, and then won individual immunity for the second week in a row.

Tony delivered a brief monologue about how “everything’s working out wonderfully”—and it sure is.

He finished his sentence by saying it’s “because I’ve been patient and I haven’t been causing any paranoia at camp by looking for idols.” That could be the sort of line that precedes a downfall, but in Tony’s case, it’s actually just a repetition of something we’ve seen hammered home all season: Tony has changed.

He showed impatience by deciding to split with his alliance, who planned to split their votes between Jeremy and Michele. Tony realized he could use that split to attempt a blindside.

Why were Denise and Kim suddenly on board with voting out Jeremy and participating in a vote split? Perhaps because they realized that Jeremy’s exit was inevitable, but we didn’t get to see that. It’s especially curious because Kim saw right through Tony’s duplicity, calling it “this whole psychotic double-agent act.”

Tony convinced Nick, and then Jeremy and Michele, to vote for Sophie with him, giving them 4 to the other group’s 3-2 split.m

Why Sophie? The argument Tony made was that Sophie was too close to Sarah, his ally. Tony decided to wait to pitch this to Jeremy until minutes before they left for Tribal Council, and Jeremy was skeptical, but ultimately, obviously, went with Tony.

While there were some unanswered questions, and disproportionate screen time, it was mostly a clear path from strategizing to the vote, which is quite the contrast from last week’s confusing mess.

What’s odd is how deflating this episode ultimately left me feeling, despite being wildly entertaining, and also giving us some growth and change from a player who’s previously been very predictable.

It just didn’t leave me super-jazzed for next week, because that intense focus on Tony, and a lopsided edit doesn’t leave room for other players or possibilities.

Perhaps he’s voted out next week, and I will be thrilled to admit having been played. But I’m worried Survivor: Winners at War—which has just three weeks and episodes left—is just getting started with The Tony Show. How many fire tokens to stop that?

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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