“I picked Ethan to win, so what do I know?” Rob Cesternino asked when The A.V. Club got him on the phone to share his thoughts on who will win Survivor: Winners At War. And it’s true: He did pick Ethan Zohn as the odds-on favorite to win season 40 when we asked for his thoughts ahead of the all-winners season premiere in February. But Cesternino—who made it to the final three on 2003’s Survivor: The Amazon, returned two seasons later for Survivor: All-Stars, and has spent the last 10 years hosting the Survivor recap podcast Rob Has A Podcast—is still the closest things we have to a true Survivor psychic. So, heading into Wednesday’s finale, here are Cesternino’s thoughts on who out of the final five has the best shot at winning it all—and who from Extinction Island could pull out an underdog win.
Previous season: Survivor: Philippines (season 25)
What Rob said then: 18-1. “Denise is another fantastic player. She’s the only winner I’ve ever predicted in the history of making predictions, so I have a real soft spot for Denise. She’s tiny. You can forget about Denise. She went to every tribal council her season and never got voted out, so there’s a realistic chance that people forget about Denise again. But the question is: Is she someone who will do enough that people will vote for her in the end?”
What he says now: 50-1. “People have forgotten about Denise, and while she did take out The Queen [Sandra Diaz-Twine], I don’t think that there’s a combination of people who she can sit with right now that are so unlikable that the jury would reward Denise for their positive feelings about her—and I don’t see them rewarding her for her subdued game play.”
Previous season: Survivor: Heroes Vs. Healers Vs. Hustlers (season 35)
What Rob said then: 15-1. “I think Ben gets a raw deal. Nobody likes that there was a fire-making twist his season that came out of nowhere at the final four and that he found all the idols, but none of that is Ben’s fault. I think he’s a really likable guy who can be goofy. I would look at Ben as a reliable vote, and I hope that he’s able to not run around like crazy looking for idols and can stick around.”
What he says now: 40-1 “I think Ben might be drawing dead at this point. He was able to not run around like crazy and he’s been a solid number with Tony and with Sarah, but he does not have enough of a résumé on his own. And he left goofy Ben at home. He’s had some issues with other players on the jury, like Adam and Jeremy. I think that Ben has a pretty good chance to get to the end, and he has a great story—being a Marine—but I think that he is unlikely to win.”
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng (season 32)
What Rob said then: 10-1. “Michele is so underrated coming into this season. I think she’s really primed to do well because she has no threat level. Nobody is scared of her and she is so likable and charming. She’s almost set up like a Parvati coming back in the season that she won. I think Michelle is somebody with real winner potential this season.”
What he says now: 10-1. “Michelle has been as advertised, and she’s the classic Survivor underdog coming into the finale. She’s the person who if she gets hot, if she can win two immunities, then really sell herself to the jury—that’s how she won her first time around, and it’s been done a bunch of times. If Michelle gets to the end, she has a great story and she’s an underdog for the audience and the jury to root for.”
Previous seasons: Survivor: Cagayan (season 28), Survivor: Game Changers (season 34—winner)
What Rob said then: 38-1. “Sarah played such a great game in Game Changers, but how does anybody out there trust Sarah again? Everyone she worked with last time had the wool pulled over their eyes, so, like with Nick, I think people are going to be very hesitant to trust Sarah deep into this game. I think she’s another early target.”
What he says now: 8-1. “Sarah has really impressed me this season. I think at times she’s making moves better this season than in her winning season. She seems like she really understands the social game. She completely changed the way people perceive her. And, at one point, she had a lot of options. But Tony took out Sophie and he really boxed her in, where her only path to the finals is probably with Tony. I think she probably needs to remove Tony from the equation if she’s going to win. However, that’s easier said than done.”
Previous seasons: Survivor: Cagayan (season 28—winner), Survivor: Game Changers (season 34)
What Rob said then: 34-1. “I love Tony. Tony in Cagayan was my favorite player that I got to watch as a podcaster. I am very worried about Tony, but I’m less worried about him the more I think about it because I do think there are a lot of players that are looking for somebody who is loud that they can hide behind—and there’s no better person to hide behind than Tony, because he’s always going to take the bullets that are coming to your side. If you can figure out a way to work with Tony, he’s a great guy to have around, so I hope he at least makes it to the merge.”
What he says now: 2-1. “I can’t say enough great things about Tony. I didn’t think he had this in him. I thought that he was going to come back out here and flame out again like he did in Game Changers. I completely underestimated his ability to adapt and change, and his ability to camouflage what he was going to do in this game. He sat on his hands for, like, 25 days and then he sprung out, back in his “spy shack,” playing the social game, and winning immunities. Nobody has a resume that can come close to Tony and he still has an idol. It’s all lining up for Tony right now”
But what about the returning player?
One of the eliminated winners will re-enter the game at the start of Wednesday’s finale. Cesternino thinks it’s most likely to be Natalie Anderson, “Boston” Rob Mariano, or Tyson Apostol. On average he gives the returning player 7-1 odds on winning. “They all three have idols in their pockets to keep them safe at least one vote, the question will be, ‘What will they ultimately be able to do with a limited amount of time?’” says Cesternino. Here are his thoughts on how each those three would fair should they be the one to get back in the competition.
Previous seasons: Survivor: Tocantins (season 18), Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains (season 20), Survivor: Blood Vs. Water (season 27—winner)
What Rob said then: 8-1. “Tyson is a great friend. He and I have done a podcast together called News AF every week for the last four years. He’s in such a great spot because he is so underrated and underestimated. He has such a likeable personality, but he’s not a try-hard. If anything, people look at him like he’s a slacker. And he has great connections. I think he’s in a great spot.”
What he says now: “I think Tyson has a hard road ahead of him. He’s already been targeted twice by some of these people—and some people on the jury. I don’t see people wanting to work with him.”
Previous seasons: Survivor: Marquesas (season four), Survivor: All-Stars (season eight), Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains (season 20), Survivor: Redemption Island (season 22—winner), Survivor: Island Of The Idols (season 39—mentor)
What non-Boston Rob said then: 98-1. “It’s going to be real tough for Rob to do well this game. I hope he can figure it out because I think it’s fun to have him in the mix the longer the season goes on. He’s a great leader, and that’s helped him in the past, but how does anyone keep Rob in the game knowing what he’s capable of and everything that he’s done? I just don’t see any way that he makes it to the merge in this season. He’d have the same winner odds as Sandra, but he has a better chance at coming back from Edge Of Extinction.”
What he says now: “Everyone knows how big of a threat Boston Rob is—and Sarah certainly has not forgotten what it’s like to play with him and have him play his mind games at camp. No one will want that.”
Previous season: Survivor: San Juan Del Sur (season 29)
What Rob said then: 20-1. “Natalie is probably an underrated player. She played a really smart game her first time, and she’s going to start on the same tribe as Jeremy. I think she’s someone to watch out for. She’s so strong and athletic, so she’s going to have a really high threat level. No one is going to forget about her.”
What he says now: “Natalie is the wild card. The tribe could say, “Well, you know, she was out first. She doesn’t have any connections with people that are out here.” They could even look past Natalie for a vote, which would be at their own peril. The jury has been with her on Extinction Island for so long, and they know how hard that experience was. I think Natalie might be the most dangerous person to come back because I think that maybe her threat level might be underestimated.”
The Survivor: Winners At War finale airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.