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‘Survivor’ 40 Finale Recap: Who Won ‘Winners at War’?

Ben Michele Denise Sarah Tony Survivor finale
Denise Stapley, Ben Driebergen, Tony Vlachos, Sarah Lacina and Michele Fitzgerald on the three-hour season finale episode of Survivor: Winners at War.CBS

It was a Survivor finale like never before. The Wednesday, May 13, finale of Winners at War began with the battle back competition. Amber Mariano, Danni Boatwright, Ethan Zohn, Tyson Apostol, Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, Yul Kwon, Wendell Holland, Adam Klein, Sophie Clarke, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, Jeremy Collins and Nick Wilson were all set to go through an obstacle course after spending many days on Extinction Island. While some had advantages — Natalie, 33, had two major ones — it was anyone’s game.

Related: Get to Know the 'Survivor' Finalists

Despite having a huge head start, Natalie struggled to make it through the parts she needed to and Wendell pulled into the lead. However, when it was time to pull through, she came back and after 33 days on Extinction Island, Natalie won her way back in. With that, she became part of the final six alongside Ben Driebergen, Michele Fitzgerald, Denise Stapley, Sarah Lacina and Tony Vlachos.

It seemed that the idea was to get Natalie out if she didn’t win the immunity challenge. At the challenge, each competitor had to complete three rounds of a course and finish with a puzzle. Michele, 29, fell far behind. By the time she caught up, everyone was already working on their puzzles. Regardless, she stayed calm — and completed it first, winning immunity.

Michele Fitzgerald Survivor Finale
Michele Fitzgerald on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR. CBS

At camp, everyone wondered if Natalie had an idol. Michele, who had no allies in the game, decided to pull her aside and the new member of camp was quick to reveal her idol to Michele so that they could work together and figure out who to vote out. Tony, 45, had a feeling that Natalie had an idol, but Sarah, 34, tried to convince him she definitely didn’t.

Related: 'Survivor: Winners at War' Cast — Then and Now

During tribal council, Sarah brought up the fact that Natalie said everyone on the jury thinks Tony is running the game and he’s the favorite to win. The police officer explained that she was thankful that Natalie said that because it showed her that there’s a gender bias happening — that when Tony or other men make huge moves that involve cheating, lying or stealing, it’s applauded; when a woman does, it’s frowned upon.

When it came time to vote, Natalie, Tony and Ben, 36, all played their idols — and only Ben and Natalie received votes. So, everyone had to vote again, for either Denise, 48, or Sarah. If there was a tie, they’d participate in a fire-making challenge. Instead, Denise was unanimously voted out.

Related: 'Survivor' Biggest Fan Favorites and Villains

Hours later, the search was on at camp for idols. Tony looked all night, while the rest of the group joined in as the sun began to rise. Ultimately, it was Natalie who found one and immediately shared the news with Michele.

In the next challenge, Michele quickly fell behind — but it didn’t matter. Everyone was stuck at the last part of the challenge when she got there, in which they had to throw two sandbags onto a platform. Only Ben and Tony could land one bag. Although Ben did it first, Tony landed his second bag first, winning immunity.

Ben Driebergen Survivor Finale
Ben Driebergen on the three-hour season finale episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR. CBS

At camp, Tony decided to hide in his spy nest while Sarah chatted with Natalie. Unfortunately, Natalie’s idol was visible through her buff so Sarah found out about it — and in turn, so did Tony and later, Ben. Ben then told Sarah — who broke down in tears — that if she needed to write down his name to better her resume, he wouldn’t be upset because he wanted to leave the game with real friends. At tribal council, Sarah did just that, sending Ben to the jury.

The last challenge of the season was one that’s been done three times over the past 40 seasons — in includes multiple small balls going around a contraption and none can hit the floor. Every time the show has done this challenge, the person who’s won it, has won the game. Tony was the first to go, followed by Sarah. While Michele and Natalie were neck-in-neck, Natalie ended up winning immunity, guaranteeing her spot in the final three.

Related: 'Survivor' Cast Reveal the Biggest Threats in Season 40

At camp, Sarah, Michele and Tony practiced making fire, as Natalie tried to decide who to bring to the final three with her. At tribal, Natalie said that she wasn’t sure until the last minute, but decided to bring Michele — with hopes that Sarah would also make the final. In a battle between the alliance formed on day one, it was the closest fire-making challenge of all time. However, as so many times before, Tony pulled through and sent Sarah to the jury.

During the last tribal, the jury was able to ask their questions — including asking Tony, who made it to the end without one vote against him, how he was able to arrange blindsides without making many enemies. He then shared with the group that he created a spy nest, which the group was impressed with.

It also gave Natalie a chance to list all the advantages and disadvantages she had sent into the game from Extinction Island. Michele also finally earned the recognition that she didn’t get the first time she won. In the end, the jury gave the finalists a standing ovation.

Nearly a year later, Jeff Probst read the votes from his home in Los Angeles. In the end, Tony was named the winner of Survivor: Winners at War.

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