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MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the season finale of Survivor: Winners at War.
The grand finale of Survivor: Winners at War was a massive, three-hour TV event that finally determined the champion of champions. Tony Vlachos finally found out that he had won $2 million when host Jeff Probst tallied the votes from his garage. Tony played a consistent and impressive game, complete with a spy nest, but he came close to being sent packing more than once in the finale thanks to one person: Natalie Anderson, the Edge of Extinction returnee, and that shouldn't have happened.
Before I start breaking down why Edge of Extinction needs to go extinct after the Winners at War finale, I feel obligated to come clean: I was rooting for Natalie to win. I love a good comeback story where the underdog rises to the top, and Natalie couldn't have been much more of an underdog, having been the first person sent to the Edge. I was Team Natalie once Sophie Clarke was voted out first and foremost, and I was secondly Team Not Tony once Boston Rob Mariano was eliminated. I would have been cool with Michele Fitzgerald winning (or at least getting a final vote or two) over Tony, but I was all about Team Natalie.
But, my personal feelings about Natalie vs. Tony vs. anybody other than Tony aside, would it really have been fair if Natalie beat Tony? While she was dealing with the grueling Edge of Extinction longer than anybody else and overcame those challenges to return to the game (mostly due to the advantages she'd accumulated), they weren't the same challenges that Tony, Michele, Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, and Denise Stapley had been facing before she won her way back into the main game. The playing field wasn't even.
Nobody can say that Natalie was living an easy life on the Edge while the remaining competitors fought and schemed to survive, but they were playing by different rules, and Natalie got to jump right back in to spin whatever story she wanted about the jurors' leanings, not to mention her immunity idol. She was also lucky that Michele was looking for an ally in the face of the seemingly unbeatable alliance of Tony/Sarah/Ben.
Natalie did also play an amazing game once she made it back, even if -- as Boston Rob noted -- she made a fatal mistake in not getting rid of Tony as soon as she possibly could have. I feel safe saying that Natalie's return from the Edge made for a more interesting and intense finale than if the final group had just been down to Tony, Michele, Sarah, Ben, and Denise.
It worked in this case, and fans who weren't firmly Team Natalie in this finale don't have to argue that the final results were unfair due to the Edge of Extinction. It was a pretty close call, though. If Natalie had won, I think there would be some pretty angry fans who didn't want to see somebody who had already been eliminated come out on top.
It would have been interesting if, instead of Edge of Extinction being a competition to send somebody back to the main game, it had become a more grueling and less rewarding version of Survivor. If the eliminated contestants had been fighting for $1 million at the Edge while the remaining contestants were still in the running for $2 million, maybe it would have been more fair.
As I've said, Natalie's return from the Edge of Extinction to raise the stakes really worked for Winners at War, since I don't know that anybody else could have presented as much of a challenge to Tony as Natalie. Since she was the runner-up, there's also nothing to be especially mad about unless you were Team Sarah, Team Ben, or Team Denise. I mean, did Michele ever really stand a chance at winning?
In any other season, packed with anybody other than champions who had already proven their stamina and determination, this particular Edge of Extinction return might have been either extremely underwhelming and short-lived or a total fiasco. Survivor may never pull off something like Winners at War ever again, so it's time to retire Edge of Extinction for the second and final time after this season.
I can't see Survivor topping Natalie's return with any future Edge of Extinction situation when it comes to thrills and suspense, and Survivor contestants deserve to head into the final challenges on even playing ground. As much as it pains me to admit that Natalie losing despite her amazing comeback was a good thing for Survivor, it probably was for the best.
While Survivor: Winners at War has come to an end and many TV shows are still stuck in production shutdowns, Jeff Probst announced at the end of the three-hour finale that the show will be back in the fall. So, check out our summer TV premiere schedule for some shows you can watch to pass the time until the next batch of castaways head to Survivor!