Spoiler Alert: This story contains details, including player eliminations, from Wednesday’s season premiere of “Survivor: Winners at War.”
When you line up famous “Survivor” contestants for the CBS reality competition’s first all-champions edition, you’re going to have some big-name eliminations right off the bat.
And “Survivor: Winners at War” (Wednesdays, 8 EST/PST), featuring 20 previous winners, delivered on that front in the premiere episode of Season 40.
Natalie Anderson, who won 2014’s “San Juan del Sur” after her twin sister was the first eliminated contestant, found herself in that spot Wednesday. Later, Amber Brkich Mariano, half of the show’s most famous real-life alliance with husband and fellow competitor “Boston Rob” Mariano, heard host Jeff Probst’s iconic departure line: “The tribe has spoken. It’s time for you to go.”
However, it’s not as dramatic as it sounds, as neither competitor is necessarily gone for good. Season 40 features Edge of Extinction, a twist introduced last year that sends eliminated players to a separate island where they get a chance to influence the game and possibly return to compete for a record-setting $2 million prize.
The winners edition opened with greetings between friends and past competitors as one boat dropped off 10 men and a second dropped off 10 women to a tiny sand spit near their Fiji island camps. But pleasantries quickly took a back seat to intense game focus, says Probst, who divided the players into two tribes, Dakal and Sele.
Even an opening Champagne toast, meant as an appreciation for the returning competitors, was subject to strategizing.
“I wanted to genuinely say, ‘Thank you for coming back. Thank you for playing the first time. Thanks for baring your soul and letting us watch.’ The toast was genuine, but as I handed out the glasses of Champagne, almost every player started looking at the glass, looking at the tray, looking for a note, trying to figure out what the twist was,” Probst says, noting the episode left in Adam Klein’s (“Millennials vs. Gen-X,” 2016) suspicious double-take. “They go, ‘This can’t just be Champagne.’ And I had the biggest laugh, because that’s their relationship with me: Never trust Probst.”
Probst, an executive producer who has hosted the show since it premiered in 2000, noted the significance of both of Wednesday’s eliminations.
“‘Survivor’ has so many weird coincidences. Remember Natalie’s story, how her sister was the first person voted out the first time she played and she said, ‘I’m going to avenge that vote and win this game’? And she did,” he says. “And then she comes back to play against all winners and she’s the first person out and she goes to the Edge of Extinction and says, ‘Now, I’m going to avenge being voted out and I’m going to get back in.'”
As for Amber (2004’s “All-Stars”), Probst says she and Boston Rob (2011’s “Redemption Island”) were vulnerable in a game that prizes and suspects alliances.
“I know Rob and Amber both understood that they would be the biggest target, if for no other reason than they are two votes. It had to be part of their strategy to know that ‘One of us is going to be out first and maybe it’ll be both of us.’ So, my hunch is that Amber, now on Edge of Extinction, knows her job is to find a way to help her husband,” he says.
Probst is a big advocate for Edge of Extinction, which hasn’t been welcomed by all viewers. Not only does it give eliminated players a chance to return, but they can influence the competition by earning immunity idols that players still in the game can purchase via a new “Survivor” twist: currency in the form of fire tokens. By the end of Wednesday’s episode, two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine (2003’s “Pearl Islands” and 2010’s “Heroes vs. Villains”) had acquired immunity.
Eliminated players also can bequeath their tokens to help those in the game. Natalie left her token to Jeremy Collins (2015’s “Second Chance”), her ally from “San Juan del Sur,” and Amber left hers to Rob.
But existing relationships can create hazard, too. In Wednesday’s episode, Sandra expressed displeasure with Boston Rob for not telling her he would be playing in “Winners at War” when they both served as mentors in last fall’s competition.
“When Sandra got here and saw that both Rob and Amber were here, she was upset,” Probst says. “It’s going to be really fun to watch past relationships coming into play in a way that can help – or harm.”