‘Survivor’ 40 finale recap: Who won ‘Winners at War’ — Ben, Denise, Michele, Sarah, Tony or Edge of Extinction returnee? [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

It seems like only yesterday the 20 returning “Survivor” champions returned for an epic clash in “Winners at War,” but now we’ve already reached the Season 40 finale. Heading into Wednesday’s three-hour event, only five castaways remained in the running to win the $2 million prize: Ben Driebergen, Denise Stapley, Michele Fitzgerald, Sarah Lacina and Tony Vlachos. But there were 14 players living on the Edge of Extinction who were itching for their chance to return to the game: Natalie Anderson, Amber Mariano, Danni Boatwright, Ethan Zohn, Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, Yul Kwon, Wendell Holland, Adam Klein, Tyson Apostol, Sophie Clarke, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, Jeremy Collins and Nick Wilson. The 20th contestant, Sandra Diaz-Twine, quit after being voted out on Day 16.

So who returned from the Edge of Extinction and who won “Survivor: Winners at War“? Below, read our minute-by-minute recap of Season 40, Episode 14, titled “It All Boils Down to This,” to find out what happened Wednesday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. Then be sure to sound off in the comments section about your favorite castaways on CBS’s reality TV show, who currently holds immunity idols and fire tokens, and what you think of the newest member of the “Survivor” winners list.

Keep refreshing/reloading this “Survivor 40” live blog for the most recent updates.

7:59 p.m. – “Previously on ‘Survivor’!” In last week’s 13th episode, there was a double elimination as both Jeremy and Nick were sent packing. We then shifted gears to the Edge where the voted-out players used the fire tokens they’d accumulated to buy advantages in the upcoming return challenge. A few of them — Natalie, Rob and Tyson — even have immunity idols in their pockets that will activate if they return to the proper game. Enough chit-chat, let’s get this thing started for once and for all!

8:00 p.m. – Like many other shows are doing these days, this season’s finale will take place remotely. Our first vision of that was of Jeff Probst from his garage with a make-shift set sent to him by production to assemble together for tonight. Later, all 20 of the players will join for the crowning of the winner from their own homes and they helped create what Jeff thinks is the greatest season they’ve ever done. Do you agree? Let’s gooooo!

8:03 p.m. – In the game we picked up right where last week left off, with the five in-game players arriving at the set of the Edge of Extinction returnee challenge. For the challenge the players had to make their way through an obstacle course while tethered to a rope and then complete a ball puzzle. Advantages were bought by Natalie, Parvati, Yul and Wendell bought the first advantage. Natalie got a second advantage that allowed her to also skip the second part of the course and a third advantage to have a third of the third obstacle already completed for her. With his advantage Yul got out to an early lead, but Natalie was still behind despite her advantage. In the second part, Wendell finished first and took a lead while Rob, Tyson and Sophie had already caught up to Natalie. One she did finish, Natalie skipped right to where Wendell already was, vaulting her to the lead once again as Yul and Parvati also caught up. With all of Natalie’s advantages behind her, Wendell jumped ahead and reached the final stage first. By the time he had landed his first ball in the maze puzzle, Rob, Natalie, Yul and Jeremy had already reached the maze as well. Natalie made quick work on her first ball, as did Tyson who managed to catch up as well. With only one ball left to sink it was down to Wendell, Natalie and Tyson and of the three it was Natalie that earned her spot back in!

8:15 p.m. – With a handful of legends now eliminated from the game, possibly forever, Jeff wanted to hear from them about what coming back to the game that they love means to them. We got to hear sweet dedications from Rob and Amber to one another and what it means to play as new parents from Tyson and Parvati. Ethan also got to put the “perfect bookend” (his words!) on his Survivor career in a touching statement about what it means to him after having battled through cancer. Every single player this season (okay maybe not a couple!) are legends and always will be! Now they get to relax as members of the jury that will determine the winner!

8:26 p.m. – After being voted out first, Natalie made her way back to the camp again and this time she has a hidden idol in her pocket. Knowing it’s a “tight clique” she has her work cut out for her to make a crack in the status quo. Her strategy was to throw Tony under the bus by saying that everyone on the jury is talking about him as the one calling all the shots and the presumed frontrunner. So all he could do was throw her under the bus, telling Sarah that it was obviously a ploy and saying that at this point Natalie is going to have the best story to tell in front of the jury.

8:33 p.m. – The final six immunity challenge was a giant obstacle course with a ropes course, staircase and slide that they had to run three times before completing a puzzle in order to earn safety at the next tribal council. Ben was the first player to complete the cycle once, followed by Tony and then Natalie and Sarah. By the time Ben was headed up to the slide for his second time, Michele was still trying to finish her first ropes course on the two plank bridge.

8:39 p.m. – Eventually all players were on the final puzzle by the time Michele caught up and then quickly assembled a first tier of her puzzle before any of them had! Natalie was able to learn from Michele’s work and build her own as well giving Michele some pressure. With both Natalie and Sarah now on their second tier, Michele finished hers and began her third and final. The challenge turned into everyone else just copying Michele’s work and trying to recreate it. That didn’t stop her and sure enough to staged one of the best comebacks ever and earned the final six immunity!

8:46 p.m. – Back at camp, the biggest question was figuring out whether or not Natalie has an idol to play against the rest of them. Ben was convinced that she doesn’t and that Tony needs to just “play it cool” so they can sail into the final four with his idol next time. Tony wanted to split votes between Natalie and Denise, but Ben was not willing to do that as part of his growth in the game.

8:47 p.m. – Natalie and Michele both had no choice but to work with one another to figure out a plan to take the player of their choice out. To gain her trust, Natalie confessed to Michele that she has an idol which put both of them in 100% safety going into this vote. Michele told Natalie that all votes would go on her and Natalie pointed out that if/when Natalie plays her idol that Tony is probably going to play his.

8:50 p.m. – Later in the day, Tony did his best to convince Sarah and Ben that their safest play would be for the three of them to sacrifice Denise this time in the chance that Natalie does have an idol and that if she plays it and all their votes are on her then Ben and him will have to burn their idols and it’ll leave Sarah vulnerable to be voted out. Sarah was adamant that she knows what is going on in the game, that Natalie would tell her she had an idol and that they’re safe to put all their votes on Natalie. Uhhhhh… this is smelling like Sarah is on her way out!

8:56 p.m. – At tribal council Jeff wanted to know how big of a threat Natalie is as the player coming from EoE. Michele pointed out that Natalie came to the game with a lot of information and that the chaos she brought hit them all in different ways. Ben clarified that no one is in the game to fact-check anything Natalie said. Natalie made it clear in front of the jury that what she told them is that Tony is running the game and the jury loves him which made Sarah bring up the gender bias that holds her back, frustrated that anything she’s done in the game is being credited to Tony. Surprisingly, Jeff offered his own perspective, owning up to his own bias and how he’s become more aware of the labels that women on the show have had to battle throughout the years. Finally!

9:02 p.m. – After another plea from Natalie for the women to see that Tony is running their show, they each got up to cast their votes. Sure enough, Natalie played her idol for herself just like Tony told everyone she would. Immediately everyone started shaking their heads and that prompted Tony to play his for himself, flushed or not. And Ben wasn’t ready to go either so he played his for himself, leaving only Denise and Sarah eligible to receive valid votes. Jeff read the votes: Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Ben, Ben. None of the votes counted and so there’s a revote, but only Denise and Sarah are the only ones eligible and they also can’t vote. As a tiebreaker without the option of rocks they’d have to settle it with a fire-making challenge. Before voting again Natalie whispered to Michele and then the four voted: Denise, Denise, Denise. That’s it. 6th place for Denise and Sarah/Tony/Ben are still in the game with a good chance of making final three?!

9:12 p.m. – Naturally, Tony was angry and frustrated by Natalie playing an idol and things going down exactly like he said they might. Now all their idols were flushed, but with three played Tony was convinced at least one more would be put out there and so he went searching for it. Having searched all night with no results he was joined by everyone else as soon as the sun rose the next morning. While no one was looking, Natalie found it! She showed it to Michele and so they were clearly planning to work together again with the goal of breaking up the other three at the next tribal council. I normally hate when idols are put back into the game this late, but that Natalie found it and can possibly use it against Tony and/or Ben is music to my ears. Both of them won their seasons based heavily on idol-finding and so now they get to see the other side of that coin!

9:20 p.m. – For the final five immunity challenge the obstacle course began in the water and finished with a sandbag toss. Natalie and Ben got off to early leads, but on the balance beam Natalie was able to break away and got to the beach first. Once on the beach, Ben caught up and the two of them began tossing sandbags at the same time. Eventually both Tony and Sarah caught up as well, as did Michele bringing up the rear once again. Ben was the first to land a bag, leaving him with only one more to get on his pedestal. Then Tony landed his first and his second to earn immunity again!

9:28 p.m. – Back at camp Natalie and Michele knew that their best option was to pull in Sarah to try and get Ben out. Before that could happen Tony touched base with Sarah and they created a plan for her to bring the girls over by his spy nest so that he can listen to what they say to her. In that conversation Natalie made it clear that she wants to vote Ben out so that she doesn’t have to go against him in fire, but before they could settle on a plan Sarah noticed Natalie’s idol hiding in her buff and so Natalie had no choice but to disclose that to Sarah (and Tony). Later, Sarah and Tony knew that Natalie wouldn’t play it for Michele and so their decision was to vote for Michele and send her home. But elsewhere Natalie told Michele that she was forced to tell Sarah about the idol. Michele knew that she’d become the obvious target no matter what they told Natalie. And then later Sarah and Ben wondered whether Natalie would actually play it for Michele and in turn send Ben home. For whatever reason that prompted Ben to tell Sarah to put his name down, too, so that she’d have a better chance at winning the game. Okay whhhhhhat… is… going on. LOL

9:41 p.m. – At tribal council the eyes were on Sarah and Ben who both spoke to their experiences following their wins and struggling with their dislike of the way they became “bad” people within the game. Sarah also said that the game is now not as much alliance-based as it is personal to save your own butt. But Ben said that the night for him is about “being brave” which gives the impression that he’s still planning on allowing Sarah to vote for him.

9:44 p.m. – And yet as they went to vote, Michele still felt vulnerable and for good reason. Once again, Natalie played an idol for herself, nulling any votes against her and leaving only Michele, Sarah and Ben as options. Jeff read the votes: Ben, Michele, Ben, Michele, Ben! Sarah did it! She voted him out and made her own stand, shocking Tony in the process.

9:50 p.m. – For their last immunity challenge and to earn a spot in the final and decide who will join them and which other two will compete in fire-making, the players had to play the standard challenge of keeping balls going through a caged maze longer than everyone else.

9:52 p.m. – While they were competing, Jeff dropped some stats on them. Of the four, only Michele won her final immunity challenge in her winning season. And in the three times this challenge was used as the final immunity challenge, the player that won the immunity also won the game. So who won this time? Well, they all got to the stage of having three balls going at the same time, but that phrase was too much for Tony who became the first one out! The three women all got to the next phase, dropping a fourth ball in, but that was too much for Sarah who dropped a ball, leaving Natalie and Michele to win. They both made it through that phase and got to the part of adding a fifth ball and somehow managed to last that way for quite a while! Natalie made a handful of great saves and when the pace became too tough for Michele she dropped a ball and Natalie earned her spot in the finals! From first out to finalist? Wow.

10:03 p.m. – Back at camp, Sarah and Tony were fairly sure that Natalie would save Michele and force them to make fire against each other. That didn’t stop Michele from practicing to build fire herself while the two of them practiced together. Michele proved she was pretty good at it while the other two struggled. For Natalie the decision wasn’t that cut and dry though. Her ultimate goal was to get Tony out and to downplay his strengths as a winner. With that in mind and based on Michele’s strength building fire, Natalie began to consider that perhaps it’s best if Michele goes against Tony instead. Like true winners, both Sarah and Michele were prepared and eager to be chosen to make fire against Tony who was clearly in the wrong head space and not very good at it.

10:07 p.m. – Naturally all Jeff wanted to know about at tribal council is where Natalie’s head at, especially as the first player voted out of the game and the last to return and now looking forward to being in the final tribal council. For the other three, all of their attention during the day was not lobbying with Natalie but instead about practicing fire and being ready to compete and earn their spot.

10:10 p.m. – Ultimately, Natalie decided to bring Michele with her to the finale and sending Sarah and Tony go against each other. In Natalie’s words she wanted to “see the last of this alliance,” hoping that Sarah would beat Tony and join the women in the finale.

10:15 p.m. – Cop against cop, Sarah and Tony went into their head-to-head for a spot in the finale. Sarah was the first to catch a flame, but it quickly went out just as Tony found one of his own and successfully managed to nurse it into something stronger just as Sarah got a second flame to build up. Quickly Sarah’s flame got very high and it reached the rope and looked very close, but then diminished as Tony grew his up stronger with much less height. During this the jury seemed to be pushing for Sarah to win, as were Natalie and Michele, but Tony had the stronger fire and earned his spot in the final, eliminating his closest ally and friend in the process.

10:27 p.m. – On Day 39, the final three enjoyed a breakfast with each other and reflected on their journeys in this game as well as how far they’ve come since their original seasons. Michele probably had the hardest time with her original win and came out to this season needing to prove to people that she truly is a strong player that can earn her spot in the end of a game. Natalie recognizes that she has one of the most non-traditional journeys to the final in series history, but that just proves that she never gave up and was relentless to overcome the biggest setback anyone could have. For Tony this was an opportunity for him to double down on his own reputation as a great winner, proving that it wasn’t a fluke and owning that he put many of the jurors there and deserves their vote because of it. He’s ready to be the “King of Survivor” to Sandra’s “Queen”! Let him have it!

10:31 p.m. – At the site of the final tribal council it was a torrential downpour and so the jury looked especially miserable for this experience. They began by questioning the finalists on the “outwit” aspect of the game. Yul opened it up by telling them that they’re all proud of them and urged them to “fill in the blanks.” Denise wanted to know what the missteps were for each of them. Michele definitely won that round by owning up to only playing in pairs rather than building a larger alliance in this game of numbers. Nick and Jeremy were miffed by Tony’s response that he would do anything to get a small step further, including his relationships that some of them think weren’t genuine.

10:36 p.m. – Rob gave Natalie props for her strategy of painting whatever picture of EoE once she got back in the game, but he questioned her decision to isolate herself from some of the others on the EoE during her time there. Parvati stood up in her defense though and said that she admires how unapologetic she is. But they wanted to know how Tony managed to get through an entire game as the only player without a vote cast against him. It’s at this point that he said he had the spy nest and that’s how he was able to learn things that helped him along his way.

10:40 p.m. – For the “outplay” portion, Wendell gave Natalie the opportunity to explain all the advantages she won and/or sent to other players in the game. She worded all of it really well, explaining that even from outside the game she got to see her decisions play out for everyone else in the game. Ben pivoted from that and highlighted how Tony won four immunities and Michele won two. Michele had another great moment explaining how her wins allowed her even one more day in the game to work herself into more cracks. Rob wanted to know why Natalie didn’t step up to beat Tony in the fire and her reason was being the one to get rid of the alliance that ran most of the game toward the end. Weak response.

10:44 p.m. – In their closing statements about “outlast,” Natalie spoke about her perseverance and how big of a disadvantage she was being the first one voted out, but how proud she is that she managed to make the ultimate comeback. Once again, Michele got to speak to her previous season and how this one was about overcoming the stigma of being a controversial winner. She pointed out that she went to 15 of 19 tribal councils and survived them all. She also was very proudly sitting there as the type of player that she can be given her tools and that it worked for her this time, too. As a polar opposite, Tony talked about how many different things he did throughout the season and the huge obstacles he had in front of him as a notorious player and how he stepped up to be a great player on a great season.

10:51 p.m. – As the jury voted we saw Rob vote for Tony, Parvati vote for Natalie, and Ben vote for Tony. Of course, Jeff didn’t read the votes then and there and instead sent everyone on their way, promising to read the votes back in Los Angeles.

10:53 p.m. – At the time no one knew that Jeff would be reading them alone from his own home via satellite, but here we are. And here are the votes, as Natalie, Michele and Tony watched from their own homes: Tony, Natalie, Natalie, Tony, Natalie, Tony, Natalie, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony! The King is crowned!

10:58 p.m. – No reunion, but do you agree with Jeff that this was the best season ever? Is Tony a deserving two-time winner? Sound OFF!

Here are the answers to Gold Derby’s contest questions for the “Survivor” 40 Finale:

Who will win ‘Survivor’? Tony Vlachos

Who will place 2nd? Natalie Anderson

Who will place 3rd? Michele Fitzgerald

Who will place 4th? Sarah Lacina

Who will place 5th? Ben Driebergen

Who will place 6th? Denise Stapley

Who will return from Edge of Extinction? Natalie Anderson

Will a hidden idol be played? Yes

Will anybody quit or be medevaced/removed? No

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