Jeff Probst never thought it would happen. 

While Survivor fans have long dreamed of having a season filled with past winners, the CBS reality hit didn't think they would be able to get some of the show's most infamous Sole Survivors, icons like Boston Rob, Ethan Zohn and Parvati Shallow, to return as many of them had turned down prior opportunities to compete again after their wins. But then a funny thing happened: while coming up with the theme for the milestone 40th season (and 20-year anniversary), they decided just to ask.

"Nobody said no that we asked," Probst revealed to ET Canada, going on to admit, "It took a couple of them a minute."

So yes, Survivor is gifting fans with an all-winners season, as Winners at War premieres tonight on CBS, with 20 Sole Survivors coming together in Fiji to outwit, outplay and outlast each other for the $2 million grand prize. But that means 18 winners are not taking part in the season, with some viewers upset to see their favorites left off the final list. 

So how did producers decide who to invite back? It was mostly strategy. 

 

SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment

"We did call most of the winners just to see their level of interest, but we did have a general idea," Probst explained. "It wasn't out of a lack of respect for the people we didn't invite, it was more that we wanted to taste a little of the early days, a little of the middle, a little toward the end and a little of right now. So we could have a composite of different styles of gameplay, different ages, different types of people and we have it. It worked out better than I ever dreamed."

While some previous winners have stayed out of the public eye since their final tribal council, others are refuting the claim that they were contacted about season 40. 

So what are the 18 winners not competing in Winners at War up to now? And why were some of them not asked back? 

Let's check in on Sole Survivors like Earl Cole, Tina Wesson, Todd Herzog, and, of course, the OG winner himself, Richard Hatch....

Richard Hatch, Survivor - Season 1

CBS

Tina Wesson, Survivor - Season 2

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Vecepia Towery, Survivor - Season 4

Theo Wargo/WireImage

Brian Heidik, Survivor - Season 5

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Jenna Morasca, Survivor: The Amazon

CBS

Chris Daugherty, Survivor - Season 9

Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Tom Westman, Survivor - Season 10

Bill Inoshita/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Aras Baskauskas, Survivor - Season 12

Bennett Raglin/WireImage

Earl Cole, Survivor - Season 14

Jason Kempin/FilmMagic

Todd Herzog, Survivor - Season 15

Steven A. Henry/Getty Images

Bob Crowley, Survivor - Season 17

Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

James Thomas Jr, Survivor - Season 18

Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Natalie White, Survivor - Season 19

Brian To/FilmMagic

Jud Birza, Survivor - Season 21

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

John Cochran, Survivor - Season 26

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

Mike Holloway, Survivor - Season 30

Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Survivor: Edge of Extinction

CBS

Survivor, Season 39, Tommy

CBS

Survivor: Winners at War premieres Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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