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‘Survivor: Winners at War’ Fantasy Draft Preview Special

Our panel of reality TV junkies choose the potential winners of the upcoming milestone season of the long-running competition

Celebrating twenty years of the hit reality competition “Survivor” comes the 40th season entitled “Survivor: Winners at War” (premiering Feb. 12, 2020 at 8/7 central) which pits twenty former Sole Survivors against each other for an even grander prize: $2 million — aside from the short-lived “The X-Factor”, the largest prize in American TV history. The vast array of the past champions for this cast goes as far back in time as Survivor Africa from 2001 (Ethan Zohn) to the most popular winners (“Boston” Rob Mariano, Sandra Diaz-Twine) all thru to the most recent (Ben Driebergen of “Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers”, Wendell Holland of “Ghost Island”, Nick Wilson of “David vs. Goliath”).

Not only are twenty past contestants returning to the show, but also, one recent twist from its 38th season: the Edge of Extinction. Each player voted out gets the choice to either leave the game entirely or travel to a deserted island in the hopes to come back into the game at a later time. TV-wise, it gives the show an opportunity to the twenty former winners — most of whom are familiar to ‘Survivor’ fans — to all be showcased on-screen each and every week.

One new feature to the game will be the use of fire tokens, a system of currency that players can use in exchange for rewards and advantages in challenges.

For our preview of “Survivor: Winners at War”, we decided to set up a fantasy draft of the cast, much in the same vain as fantasy football or baseball. The objective is simple: draft the eventual Sole Survivor of the season. With the task at hand, four participants got involved to construct their roster of five castaways apiece; they are: yours truly Douglas Pucci, Programming Insider editor-in-chief Marc Berman, on-air personality and sports announcer for Northern Iowa’s KUYY (Y100.1 FM) Scott Nolte and reality TV podcaster (for Rob Has A Podcast) Bobby Goodsby. As the head honcho of this very website, Marc set the order of the draft and the following are its results with each of our analyses of our draft strategies and, by our choices, projections on which castaways we think could prevail on “Survivor” yet again. (Of course, only one out of us four will ultimately be correct).

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For our preview of @survivorcbs "Survivor: Winners at War", we decided to set up a fantasy draft of the cast, much in the same vain as fantasy football or baseball. The objective is simple: draft the eventual Sole Survivor of the season. With the task at hand, four participants got involved to construct their roster of five castaways apiece; they are: Programming Insider's Douglas Pucci @sonofthebronx, Programming Insider editor-in-chief Marc Berman @berman594, on-air personality and sports announcer for Northern Iowa's KUYY (Y100.1 FM) of @exploreokoboji Scott Nolte and reality TV podcaster (for Rob Has A Podcast) Bobby Goodsby @bg13sk8. ▶️ Tap the link in bio to read their draft choices and analysis.

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Scott Nolte

Draft choices (overall pick):
1. Rob Mariano
8. Yul Kwon
9. Sophie Georgina Clarke
16. Parvati Shallow
17. Sandra Diaz-Twine

Marc Berman

Draft choices (overall pick):
2. Sarah Lacina
7. Ethan Zohn
10. Kim Spradlin-Wolfe
15. Ben Driebergen
18. Danni Boatwright

My first pick was Sarah Lacina. She was my overall No. 1 pick to win it all because of how she performed on the Game Changers season. She had vastly improved upon her social game from her initial Cagayan season when she had gotten blindsided at the merge. On Game Changers, Sarah was wise being more under-the-radar, yet strategic and bold. She didn’t alienate anybody and contributed overall. At the end, she landed in everyone’s good graces and took home the title of Sole Survivor. I project Sarah may incorporate the same tact for Winners at War. With so many other stand-out personalities involved this season, the understated (in comparison) Sarah looks to be a favorite to prevail again.

I then selected Survivor Africa winner Ethan Zohn in the second round. He was one of the series’ first true heroes. Ethan played an honest and clean game in Africa. Since his win, he married (and divorced) Survivor Amazon winner Jenna Morasca and dealt with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma of which he is free of after two rounds of stem-cell transplants he received from his brother, as of 2013. In interviews, Ethan said he wished he could compete on Survivor again. He now has that chance and with his perspective on life, I don’t think he’ll take anything for granted and he won’t pass up any opportunities to advance far into the season. Ethan is charismatic, competitive and smart — a great combination.

You could arguably label my next selection as one of the most dominant winners in series history: Kim Spradlin-Wolfe. She headed the greatest female alliance ever in Survivor, leading herself and her four allies to the Final 5 on Survivor One World. That season, the tribes were split among gender lines and both of them lived at the same camp. Kim had the type of personality where even the men approached her in kind. She’s a strong player because she led without being seen as controlling or a threat. She’s not a loud person so the potential to be lethal for her competition this season is very high.

Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers champion Ben Driebergen was my fourth round pick. He’s a good guy we can all relate to. Of course, he had the knack of finding those hidden idols that led him to win. Perhaps recalling this method of his victory might make Ben go unnoticed this time around. Also, he wants to prove his win wasn’t just about hidden idols.

For the final round of draft picks, I was left with three choices: Danni Boatwright, Amber Mariano and Tony Vlachos. The clear best choice of those three is Danni. The former pageant winner didn’t just rely on her looks to win Guatemala 15 years ago. She was seen as trustworthy and won her fair share of challenges then, especially the season’s final immunity challenge. Aside from these aspects, an important reason of selecting Danni was that she’s not any of the other two remaining options. The immediate obstacle Amber has is that she’s automatically paired with her husband Boston Rob. If the tribe can’t get rid of him, she’ll be the next target. Tony from Cagayan is a smarmy player. We all knew him for his “spy shack” and his aggressive game style but I still can’t believe he won that season. He was like the next coming of Russell Hantz. You cannot believe anything that comes out of his mouth. This is why he was voted out early on in his second season Game Changers and why he’s also not long for Winners at War.

Douglas Pucci

Draft choices (overall pick):
3. Adam Klein
6. Wendell Holland
11. Natalie Anderson
14. Nick Wilson
19. Amber Mariano

My theory for who wins this particular season is one who can strike the right balance of being under-the-radar but not too hidden when enacting big moves in the game. After all, with a jury of up to 17 members (thanks to another go-around of Edge of Extinction) constructed of entirely former winners, it’ll take a lot more than a mere tug of the heartstrings to grant someone this season’s grand prize.

Entering into this draft, it was much easier to determine who not to select: the outright, bold and outspoken types. Boston Rob and Sandra just had their extra day in the Fiji sun for the most recent Island of the Idols edition. Boston Rob, one of the most popular Survivor contestants ever, played flawlessly for his Redemption Island victory. Yet, it took him four tries to finally reach that mountain top. But even vulnerable is Sandra. Could you envision a jury of THESE hungry castaways granting Sandra ANOTHER million dollars… let alone an addition TWO million? I certainly don’t. Then, there are the smart alecks or whipper-snappers. The ones whose charms or actions worked with earlier casts but tough to get by again. (Sorry, Parvati Shallow and Tony Vlachos!)

Because of this theme, the average age of the castaways is the oldest in “Survivor” history but I suspect not all the older winners will band together, especially when that includes each of the aforementioned least favorites among the group. Therefore, I concentrated on more of the younger players. They’d have better potential to succeed at challenges. And obviously, my focus was on the winners that possessed strong social games. The player that seemed to meet that pivotal criteria was Adam Klein, my first round pick. He was also as my overall No. 1 selection in my pre-ranking during draft preparation. He had previously won with a unanimous jury vote on a season that was centered around two distinct generations, Millennials and Generation X.

Similar in physical stature to Adam is the winner of my favorite non-All Stars season of the past decade David vs. Goliath, Nick Wilson, my fourth round pick. Nick emerged victorious after a wild 39 days chock full of twists, idols, the newly-introduced idol nullifier, and ever-changing voting blocs. Again, aiming for the possibly overlooked but actually lethal threat to win overall.

Ghost Island winner Wendell Holland was my second round selection. Despite his win, there was some doubt to his style then. His social game was described as relaxed and the jury had questioned his actions (or lack thereof) during the game. It led to an unprecedented tie jury vote at Final Tribal Council between him and ally Dom, leaving the remaining member of the Final 3 — Laurel — to cast the deciding vote. Luckily for Wendell, he connected with her moreso than Dom had done. As for his second time playing here, I’ll guess he steps up a bit (or more) in game maneuvers.

My third round selection was one of my favorite winners in recent memory, Natalie Anderson from the San Juan del Sur season. That edition featured pairs of loved ones with Natalie and her twin sister Nadiya; both first gaining notoriety as the self-named “Twinnies” from “The Amazing Race”. Nadiya was the first player of San Juan del Sur to get voted out which put Natalie at an immediate disadvantage at the time, not having a confirmed ally for the rest of the game. But playing alone gradually became more of a benefit, she worked and bonded well with others and correctly observed the biggest obstacles in her way. Natalie won some key challenges and took out the season’s biggest threats. She wound up in one of the rare all-female Final 3’s (only four other seasons accomplished that) — a Final 3 of which was Natalie’s making. Natalie is my most sentimental pick of my five-castaway roster. I also enjoyed her and sister on their entertaining two “Amazing Race” stints, both having stood out for their outspoken selves. The risk this time for Natalie’s personality is it could be somewhat off-putting with this crew but I’m hoping otherwise.

For my fifth and final round pick, I was left with two options: Boston Rob’s wife Amber Mariano (winner of All Stars in 2004) and the intense Russell Hantz-esque Cagayan champion Tony Vlachos. Both come with some hefty pitfalls but considering Tony had a short stay in his second season, Game Changers, I envision the same will occur with him here. As for Amber, the cast will prioritize targeting her husband Boston Rob first over her.

Bobby Goodsby

Draft choices (overall pick):
4. Jeremy Collins
5. Michele Fitzgerald
12. Denise Stapley
13. Tyson Apostol
20. Anthony “Tony” Vlachos

I was absolutely thrilled with my luck in drafting my near perfect draft. I had the last pick overall and felt like it would be a long shot to land the people I really wanted at the top of the draft.

But to my surprise, most of them were there!

With my first pick in the first round (4th overall), I selected Jeremy Collins. I thought, for certain, he would be swiped up before it got to me but I’m guessing others drafted with their hearts much more than their heads.

Jeremy is a solid player who really came into his stride with a well-polished game in Survivor: Second Chance against arguably one of the most difficult casts to beat in Survivor history. He formed relationships and alliances with several people in his tribe and at the merge. Jeremy was able to use those bonds to make people feel close to him and make them feel like they can trust him as an ally in the game.

When he got to the end, he was able to pull on his fellow players’ heartstrings by telling them that he left his pregnant wife Val at home to win the game for his growing family. He won unanimously and impressively.

This season, he will have much bigger targets in front of him and he can use his relationship-building expertise to last very long. I don’t see people coming for him early in this game which only bodes well for his chances to get to the end. Jeremy has beaten savvy players before and he definitely has the potential to do so again against the best of the best. I am thrilled to get him at #4.

With the very next pick in the draft, I was able to select Michele Fitzgerald #5 overall. Let me start by saying I am, by no means, a Michele truther! On her first season, I was definitely in the camp that believed Aubry Bracco should have won. Having stated that, I do believe that based on Michele’s winning formula from before, she has what it takes to win again in an all-winners season. By that, I mean… who’s coming for her?!?! Seriously, WHO?!? Is anyone really going to waste a vote in the beginning to take out Michele when there are so many threats in this game? I believe she can easily sit back and let these other winners duke it out while she socializes and uses her inherent likability to float all the way to the end again and win.

Similar to Jeremy, I think Michele can play an amazing social game and won’t be an immediate target. She is my dark horse pick to win it all and was a great value acquisition at the No. 5 spot. I don’t think I could have waited much longer to snag her.

The 3rd and 4th round of my draft is the real “meat and potatoes” of my draft. The fact that both Denise Stapley and Tyson Apostol fell to me here made my jaw drop.

Let’s start with Denise, at #12 overall. This was absolutely the steal of the draft! Michele is my dark horse pick to win but my top pick for Sole Survivor of Winners at War is Denise. She played a masterful game in Philippines, her first season. She formed a tight alliance with Malcolm from day one on a tribe that got constantly decimated week after week. Even when she was outnumbered, Denise was able to use her therapist skills to maneuver relationships with people and find the cracks she needed to stay alive.

At the end, Denise knew she had to cut ties with Malcolm in order to win the game and she did so without hesitation. That is truly the strategy of an amazing winner. Her game had it all! She was a fantastic player and someone I cannot believe fell to me in this spot. Her competition on Philippines wasn’t top-notch but that’s something out of her control — she played (and won) with the hand she was dealt. I can’t wait to see her against this season’s competition. I beyond stoked to have my pre-draft winner pick on my team!

Next, at 13th overall, I selected Tyson. He is one of my favorite castaways of all-time. Tyson is witty, charming, extremely bright and a schemer. We have seen him learn from his mistakes and use those experiences to better himself and his game.

His winning season was a master stroke in how to win Survivor. Tyson was able to build an alliance early and use his numbers to advance his agenda. He just seemed more adept to winning on Survivor: Blood vs. Water than the others did. He too won’t be an immediate threat this season but will need to lean on his likability after the merge. I don’t think he will win but I will certainly be thrilled if he does. Regardless, getting him at #13 was an absolute steal!

My last pick was not chosen for me but as luck would have it, I received one of my favorite players of all time, Tony Vlachos. I love everything about Tony. He is, by far, the most chaotic player to ever win the game. He is the king of finding idols and using his “spy shack” to disrupt other players games. It’s hard to see Tony winning this game and that’s why I think I got him with the last overall pick. But if he does win, we are about to witness one of the craziest seasons of Survivor ever created! I really hope that happens!

In my opinion, the steal of the draft has to be Natalie Anderson at #11 by Douglas. I was hoping there was some way she would fall to me but it wasn’t meant to be. I can see her making a deep run in this game and quite possibly a win.

Natalie has such a close bond with Jeremy that I think can only benefit her and she may go overlooked by many this season. I wouldn’t be surprised by a Natalie win. She will have a similar game like Denise’s and Michele’s — floating her way to the finale where her strong ties and challenge prowess can win her the game. The survivors need to be worried about her and the fact that she fell that far in our draft is nothing short of insane.

To recap, the draft went as follows:

  1. Scott — Rob Mariano, 43, winner of Redemption Island (2011)
  2. Marc — Sarah Lacina, 34, winner of Game Changers (2017)
  3. Douglas — Adam Klein, 28, winner of Millennials vs. Gen-X (2016)
  4. Bobby — Jeremy Collins, 41, winner of Second Chance (2015)
  5. Bobby — Michele Fitzgerald, 29, winner of Kaôh Rōng (2016)
  6. Douglas — Wendell Holland, 35, winner of Ghost Island (2018)
  7. Marc — Ethan Zohn, 45, winner of Africa (2001)
  8. Scott — Yul Kwon, 44, winner of Cook Islands (2006)
  9. Scott — Sophie Georgina Clarke, 29, winner of South Pacific (2011)
  10. Marc — Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, 36, winner of One World (2012)
  11. Douglas — Natalie Anderson, 33, winner of San Juan del Sur (2014)
  12. Bobby — Denise Stapley, 48, winner of Philippines (2012)
  13. Bobby — Tyson Apostol, 39, winner of Blood vs. Water (2013)
  14. Douglas — Nick Wilson, 28, winner of David vs. Goliath (2018)
  15. Marc — Ben Driebergen, 36, winner of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers (2017)
  16. Scott — Parvati Shallow, 36, winner of Fans vs. Favorites (2008)
  17. Scott — Sandra Diaz-Twine, 44, winner of Pearl Islands (2003) and Heroes vs. Villains (2010)
  18. Marc — Danni Boatwright, 43, winner of Guatemala (2005)
  19. Douglas — Amber Mariano, 40, winner of All-Stars (2004)
  20. Bobby — Anthony “Tony” Vlachos, 45, winner of Cagayan (2014)