Survivor: Winners At War’s Opening Challenge Was Originally Way More Brutal

Adam in Winners at War

Spoilers ahead for the premiere of Survivor: Winners At War!

It is currently a very exciting time to be a Survivor. The groundbreaking reality competition show started its whopping 40th season last night, with perhaps the most thrilling theme yet: Winners at War. 20 legendary Survivor winners have returned, with the two-hour premiere sending two different castaways to The Edge of Extinction. The game started immediately with a brutal physical challenge for immunity and reward. But it turns out that the first challenge could have been even more grueling.

After arriving on the beach for the first time, Survivor host/producer Jeff Probst treated the 20 castaways to a champagne toast, before the first challenge began. The two tribes battled waves and each other in order to secure safety from the first vote, but the original plan was a bit scarier. Probst explained what the challenge could have been, saying:

Our original idea for the opening challenge in Survivor: Winners At War was a truly brutal idea that involved a cage and a rising tide. The Cheurlin Champagne toast was originally going to be a misdirect. But as we developed the cage idea, we decided it was not in the spirit of what we wanted to do. But we fell in love with the champagne toast! We saw it as a legitimate way to say 'thank you' to the players for representing us in our 40th season. The funny part of the champagne toast was that when I went to hand each person their glass, they all started eyeing the glass for some kind of a clue or twist. That’s the mark of 20 players who were in game mode from the opening moments.

Well, that's terrifying. It looks like the first challenge was originally going to be psychological as well as physical. As the survivors would have been put into a cage during the rising tide. Ultimately this fell by the wayside, although the waves ended up remaining a major factor in the fight for immunity.

The first challenge was an iconic opener for Survivor that we've seen in other seasons like Caramoan. It's a physically exhausting battle of brawn, that no doubt immediately drained the competitors. Later in Jeff Probst's conversation with EW, he spoke about just how physical that first challenge was for the returning players, saying:

We then put them right into a very physical challenge. This was by design. We wanted them to know that in order to win, you would have to earn it. Every. Step. Every. Day. When you take into consideration that a lot of these players are significantly older, some have endured health issues, a lot of them are moms — some of them very new moms — it was a pretty demanding way to start the game. But wow, did they deliver. That was pure adrenaline, and it was exhilarating to be a witness to it.

The man has a point. With so many Survivor all-stars wanting to stay on the Island and protect their winner reputation, they were hard during Winners at War's opening challenge. It was all adrenaline and hype, and even the castaways who are getting long in the tooth but in a great effort. Clearly it's going to be a great season.

You can see how the challenge really went down below.

The two hour Winners at War premiere had plenty of twist and turns, as well as new game mechanics that are coming to Survivor for the very first time. The fire tokens have basically introduced in-game currency, and it should be fascinating to see how its ultimately used, and how the Edge of Extinction plays into the main action of the game.

Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays on CBS. In the meantime, check out our midseason premiere list to plan your next binge watch.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.