This week’s episode informed us and the players that the time to purchase things with fire tokens in Survivor: Winners at War has ended. Which seemed odd (particularly as Probst was handing Michele some useless ones as he was saying it), although probably better than getting to use them to buy some previously unmentioned advantage in the 11th hour. So now that the tokens have been spent and the things they were spent on expired, let’s examine the best purchases made. This should help us evaluate what this new game mechanic brought to the season and perhaps decide if they have any value going forward.
Note: this list is only ranking the tokens spent in the main game. We don’t yet know how the tokens spent on the Edge of Extinction will pay off, so they’re not worth ranking. Also, since there’s only one significant goal on the Edge — returning to the game — the ranking thus far is easy: 1) Tyson’s challenge advantage, 2) Tyson’s peanut butter. All other tokens spent were either useless or TBD.
Another note: I’m ranking based on how these items paid off in this season specifically, not how relatively valuable they are in a theoretical season. Caveat: it’s possible that some of the moves made with these items could influence jury perceptions, and that calculation will be missing. But frankly, it’s unlikely we’d ever know for sure that a specific move resulted in a specific vote.
1. Safety Without Power
Purchased by Jeremy from Natalie via EoE for 1 token
The first item purchased with a fire token this season was also the best. There was no drama in the decision to sell or buy: Natalie found the advantage while she was by herself on the island, selling it to her ally in the game (and friend from their previous shared season), knowing he’d have the money (they were all granted one token to start the game and Natalie found it the second day of the game), and that he’d want it (he was on the outs of her vote out). Playing it, however, generated maximum drama. Jeremy was obviously in danger (both the pre-tribal discussions and post-tribal fallout confirmed that he was indeed the target of the group that would have been in the majority). But his vote was needed by his allies. And because losing his vote seemingly sent then-ally Tyson home, there was some debate on whether or not he made the right decision.
There shouldn’t be. Jeremy saved his ass in this game at the cost of one token. Had he not played that advantage, which expired at that tribal council, Sarah steals a vote from his alliance to gain an advantage, and they vote for him. At that point, the only thing that might have saved him is if Kim correctly guesses Jeremy as the vote target and plays her idol for him. At which point, Sophie (the target of Jeremy’s alliance) probably plays her idol on herself. No votes count. Jeremy is safe, along with Sophie and Tony, and the other side (probably) maintains their majority and Tyson goes home. And that’s IF Kim saves Jeremy with the idol.
Instead, he saved himself, and hung around for two more votes. Could’ve been more if Nick doesn’t win a challenge. And if he gets back in the game from EoE, it might be those extra days of better eating that made the difference.
2. Immunity Necklace
Purchased by Tony from Nick for 1 token
Right when Kim seems to have the numbers to move against him, which would either cost him his hidden immunity idol or his place in the main game, Tony gets an offer from Nick to quit the immunity challenge and give Tony the victory for one token. Sure, it’s likely Nick was going to fall anyway and thus got something for nothing, but we don’t know that Tony ALSO wasn’t about to fall. For the price of one token, we’ll never know, as Tony was safe and free to eliminate the biggest threat to his supremacy at that point in the game. (This ranks second because Tony had one other avenue to save himself that vote, and we don’t know if Kim’s revolt was going to succeed even without it).
3. Temporary Idol (Good for One Tribal Council)
Purchased by Denise from Sandra for 1 token
It’s clear by these rankings that the best thing that could be bought with tokens this season was immunity. Even with all the new advantages thrown into the game over the years, nothing beats the ability to avoid being voted out (well, one thing literally beats it, see below). Denise’s ranks below Jeremy’s (which is functionally less powerful with the loss of a vote) and Tony’s because she didn’t actually need it. She had her own idol so she was already safe, and she burned that idol at the same tribal (thus it didn’t allow her to keep it). Still, she took out the queen with her own bullet, and was able to guarantee it would work by using her idol to back up her play.
4. Vote Steal
Purchased by Sarah from Natalie via EoE for 1 token
The vote steal is such a situational advantage that it often fails to pay off. But in a crucial vote, Sarah was able to secure victory for her side by stealing Denise’s vote. Of course, they messed up the vote split, so the extra vote ended up not mattering. But it may have duped Kim into playing her idol on the wrong person, so that helped. Only a tiny bit though, since Michele also screwed up her side’s chance of benefiting from a correct idol play and the voting screw-up by the other side. But, hey, at least it bought her zero traction in the game.
5. A Bag of Rice
Purchased by Denise from the Fire Token Menu for 6 tokens
The rest of the main game purchases had minimal benefit for the purchaser, so they rank below the tangible benefit of sustenance. I suppose you could also argue her act made it is easier to blindside Nick, but blindsiding him wasn’t particularly necessary, so it’s a wash.
6. 50/50 Coin
Purchased by Michele from Parvati via EoE for 4 tokens
At the time, there was a lot of bellyaching about Michele spending a lot of tokens on a thing that could be worthless. Everyone who did that bellyaching was completely wrong and must sit there in their wrongness and be wrong. What’s that you say? You didn’t know that fire token prices were about to skyrocket? You made your judgement based on a lack of understanding of the true fire token market? Well… you know who else did that? Michele. She bought something for four fire tokens, not knowing that previous items were one token or that future items would be more. So you owe her an apology. And me a “damn, you were right again Andy” for saying that she made the right choice at the time. Mostly the second thing.
Michele made the best non-food, post-merge fire token purchase. Which is a horrific indictment on the items available for purchase with fire tokens. Not only was the item potentially worthless based on the whim of probability, it was also potentially worthless in the way that all idols are: you may never need them, or play them incorrectly, or not need them when you do play them, or not play them at all. In this specific instance, Michele’s coin did end up becoming a real idol, but she didn’t need it. You can say it protected her as the lower vote part of a vote split, but the only reason there was a vote split was because everyone knew she had it. Without it, they just vote out Jeremy without telling her. (As for the thought that they didn’t target her instead of Jeremy because of the fire token… I don’t buy it. I don’t think you blindside Jeremy by removing his ally if you’re intending on moving forward with Jeremy. You just take out Jeremy).
Also, and this doesn’t affect the ranking at all, but remember when Michele thought she was being slick by giving Jeremy the coin while voting against him, only to see someone else save him by simply NOT voting for him and convincing others not to either? That was fun.
7. Challenge Disadvantage
Purchased by Nick (with assistance from Michele) from Natalie via EoE for 8 tokens
I mean… it did prevent Ben from winning immunity. So mission accomplished on that front. But that didn’t help Nick at all. Fact is, this is a pretty shitty advantage. The way it helps is if there’s one specific person everyone wants to vote out, then you make it less likely they prevent you from doing so by winning the challenge. Which, like the idol nullifier, is a fantastic way to make a contest more difficult for an underdog — always a crowd pleaser. The other way is if you are someone who needs immunity, but there’s a specific person you need to worry about keeping it from you. Neither of those situations applied to Nick. Worse for Nick: by preventing Ben from winning, he helped Michele win… who looked to be the person who would’ve gone home instead of him. So that really sucked for Nick. He and Michele should’ve just bought some rice.
(Note: Michele might have won the challenge anyway; Ben might have lost the challenge anyway; the group might have decided to vote out Nick anyway — they wanted to the vote prior. I know the edit made it seem like Michele was the target — she certainly was A target — but that could’ve been to set up her triumphant win).
8. Being Extorted
Cost Tony (with assistance from Nick, Ben, and Jeremy) 6 tokens that went to Natalie on EoE
This is not the worst way fire tokens were spent in the main game. It’s an even stronger indictment on fire token value when being extorted for twice as many tokens as you have is better than actually buying things of value. Now, you can frame this as Tony spent 6 fire tokens on the ability to participate in a challenge (that he won) and vote… but he had those things before the extortion came his way. He didn’t buy them, he bought them back. This was a screw job, and it’s amazing that he made it pay off.
9. Temporary Idol (Good for Three Tribal Councils)
Purchased by Sandra from Natalie via EoE for 1 token
I mean… this should’ve been good. Being immune from votes is, as established, the best this game has to offer. The Queen didn’t even need it for two votes, as spending an entire season with Boston Rob didn’t make her as dangerous as being married to him or being his friend. But then… she thought she didn’t need it for a third. And… yikes. If she never bought this accursed thing, Sandra isn’t voted out at that tribal, probably makes the merge, and doesn’t make the worst move of the season.
Interestingly, by getting way too cute with her idol, Sandra may have saved this entire season. Yes, really.
Let’s break it down: if Sandra just plays her idol for herself (or never purchases it), she, Tony, Kim, and Jeremy vote for Denise. But Denise has her own idol. Without having that extra boost from Sandra selling her an idol (with one fire token still owing post-tribal), does Denise still target Sandra, with whom she had enough of a rapport that Sandra decided to try and save her? Probably not right? And Denise had also formed a bond with Kim, who wanted to work with she and Jeremy, but didn’t want put too much heat on herself from the original Dakal. So she probably doesn’t vote for her. And Denise wanted to keep Jeremy around (we know this because she played her idol on him). So… if Sandra doesn’t sell Denise her idol… Tony probably goes home that tribal right?
All hail Queen Sandra. Saviour of Winners at War.
10. Idol Nullifier
Purchased by Parvati from Tyson via EoE for 1 token
Such a fucking nothingburger that I bet you forgot this happened. Did nothing for Parvati, who could have found value in almost every other item for sale this season. At least it bought Tyson peanut butter.
11. Wendell’s Good Graces
Purchased by Michele from Wendell for 1 token
Is this your queen?
So what conclusions can we draw from this list? I think the easiest is that as a whole, for the people playing the main game this season, fire tokens were a huge pile of bullshit. There were some useful things bought early in the game (at rock bottom prices!), but they’re the sorts of things that in previous seasons, players would just find. So the only difference this season is instead of finding them, Natalie had to believe that you could buy things in order to get them. What innovation!
Later in the game, amassing fire tokens simply meant that players you may or may not have had a hand in sending to EoE would extort you (literally and figuratively) for increasingly shitty items. You were better off not having fire tokens late in the game (as far as we know, Sarah never did anything with the ones she amassed post vote-split). So it’s a good thing players like Sandra, Wendell, Michele, and Yul strategized over ways of getting them earlier (meanwhile, Tony just asked).
As deployed this season, all fire tokens did was provide players on EoE the ability to affect the main game, so that they could acquire tokens. (Of course, sometimes they didn’t even need to sell things to get them). While that had some strategic value, most of the strategy had little to “what can I do to affect the game” and more to do with “who will give me the most tokens”. So the main effect tokens will have on the season is to make it easier for certain eliminated players to change that status (with a maximum of two actually getting to use tokens to do so). Wheeeeee!
Now, just because fire tokens sucked here, that doesn’t mean that they always will. It sometimes takes multiple seasons before innovations find their ideal form in Survivor. The first immunity idol was, well, Safety Without Power. They refined it to a signature game mechanic. The vote steal went through several modifications before it became occasionally useful. So maybe fire tokens could be something in the future.
But it’s impossible to even imagine what they could do to improve them, since for the near term, they’d have to function in a completely different way they did here with Edge of Extinction reportedly being put on hold. No more bequeathing. No more selling of items. What does that leave? Finding them? Isn’t that just a worse version of finding idols (or its previous version: clues to idols)? Winning them at challenges? That would mean the people most likely to buy advantages are the people who also win challenges. Which doesn’t seem like a balanced system. Maybe if it’s limited to reward challenges (remember those?) instead of immunity challenges?
Hard to say. Honestly, while I’d be fine if they never come back, I’d also be fine if they try them again with significant modifications. Hell, I’d be interested to see if players just load up on food and shelter items, given how shitty and arbitrary the advantages ended up being.
What say you? Is the Fire Token worth saving? Is my ranking correct? No wait, ignore that one because it undoubtedly is. Instead, discuss WHY it’s so correct. Do that now.
Co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast and the Canadian of the group, Andy has been watching Survivor continuously since the very beginning and likes to treat that as some kind of virtue to lord over others.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cagayan, Cook Islands, Palau, Winners at War
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino