The Edge of Extinction will give eliminated players a chance to stay in the game – if they push themselves past their limits!

By Stephen Fishbach
February 21, 2019 11:50 AM

Stephen Fishbach has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. He is the host of the podcast Paraphrase, where he interviews writers about the openings to their novels. Follow him on Twitter at @stephenfishbach.

“It feels so good to play with you amateurs.”
— Boston Rob Mariano, winner, Survivor: Redemption Island

Survivor is back with 14 new players, four returnees and one big new twist. The Edge of Extinction will give eliminated players a chance to stay in the game – if they push themselves past their limits!

Cue the dramatic music! But first – the thrill of the new game, and start of a new adventure, as the blue tribe and the yellow tribe discover their beaches, build shelters and begin to scheme.

On the blue tribe, beach laundress Reem and her loyal pal Wendy are immediately outcast for the sin of helping Keith learn to swim. Reem doesn’t want to be the tribe mom, but she also wants to remind everyone to drink water every few minutes.

On the yellow tribe, Joe makes fire and builds shelter. Julie is the awkward New Yorker. Fireman Eric wants to target the returnees. And Ron has a secret advantage, which gives him an “Advantage Menu.” Ron can choose between an Extra Vote, a Steal a Reward, or an immunity idol.

But act now! Supplies are limited, and this advantage menu expires after only three days!

Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

O Captains My Captains!

Of course the real excitement this season is the return of four of Survivor’s most popular contestants – Joe Anglim, Aubry Bracco, Kelley Wentworth, and David Wright.

I’m not typically a fan of captain seasons. I agree with fireman Eric when he says, “Part of the experience is figuring everything out.” Because of their skill at the game, captains deprive the new contestants of their chance to develop strategy. Instead, much of the season ends up being defined by how the new players react against the returnees.

There’s also the fact that there’s no better preparation for playing Survivor than playing Survivor. It’s a tremendously unfair advantage. In every season with a captain, one of them has made the finals.

Credit: Erik Reichenbach

But it’s also been a long time since we had a captain season. Maybe the game has evolved far enough where the new players will know enough to vote out the vets. And I’m definitely interested in seeing how these particular four adapt themselves to new circumstances.

Joe vows to dial back Joey Amazing – but then three seconds later he’s making fire, winning the challenges and feeding the tribe with just seven coconuts and fishes. Joe’s problem is he simply can’t help himself from being helpful.

But I actually think that Joe has a secret advantage, which is that his game chops are underestimated. Joe would predict twists in Cambodia before they happened; you could see him this episode mulling over what Edge of Extinction really means. My hope for Joe is he surprises these new contestants with his strategic savvy.

I’m excited about Wentworth too, because I can see how rigorously she’s analyzed her past game in preparation for her new game. For all her idol blindsides and immunity wins, she hasn’t ever controlled a vote – and she’s trying to push herself personally as well as strategically, to play from the top. “I have to be more open, I have to get to know these people on a human level,” she says. Personal connections are crucial on Survivor; they lead to deep alliances. Wentworth massively upped her game on her second outing; I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see her as a finalist on her third.

And it will be interesting to see how David and Aubry adapt. Both of them only became strategic titans in the later parts of their seasons. And neither is your typical alpha guy or alpha gal, who have traditionally been Survivor’s captains. My favorite moment of the episode was David’s surprise and delight at seeing how the other contestants looked to him for advice.

The First Elimination

It’s no surprise that the Joe squad wins the first immunity challenge. And no surprise again, it’s Reem who ends up being the first eliminated. Not only was she targeting Wentworth, but she wasn’t doing it very slyly.

The first Fishy goes to Keith, who recognizes that Reem and Wendy aren’t his pathway to Survivor glory. He can see how Reem is overwhelming Rick and not giving him a chance to breathe. (It’s a Survivor mistake – you want to convince people, not compel them.) So he takes his info and goes back to the other squad with it.

And Reem is the first to get her torch snuffed.

Island of Extinction

But then Survivor presents Reem with a massive twist and a tremendous choice. She can turn right, and head out of the game – or turn left and continue her journey at the island of Extinction.

We’ll find out what specifically that means next week – but would anybody not take that choice? Head right, and you head to fame, ignominy, and an entire month of cooling your heels at Ponderosa. The left path is a second shot at the world’s greatest game.

Of course you go left.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.