Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“This is like a chess game … You can’t just think about tomorrow. You have to put yourself in a position that you can be there in 30 days. You have to think about that now. Because otherwise you won’t be there.”
– Jonathan Penner, Cook Islands
Pete Yurkowski was the dominant player in the dominant alliance in Survivor‘s most dominant tribe ever. He could just taste that oversized million-dollar novelty check. But on Thursday, instead of eating novelty check, Pete ate crow. Where did it go wrong?
1. Raw skills: Pete’s a model and an engineer, two professions not exactly renowned for their people skills. Like an engineer, Pete set up an elegantly structured alliance. Then, like a model, he just sat back and looked pretty.
2) Pre-merge dominance: Very few people come into Survivor comfortable lying to someone’s face. By never going to tribal, Pete never really learned how to play. Note to future strategists: throw every challenge pre-merge. By the endgame, you will be awesome.
3) Poisonous alliance: Pete got sucked into Abi’s black hole – and I mean that in the worst way possible. Dragging along a goat requires finesse. Boston Rob inoculated himself against Phillip’s bad mojo by uniting the rest of the tribe against him. Philip became a mascot – kind of annoying, but not a threat. Pete, however, set Abi up as his first mate. Nobody wanted to take that three-hour cruise.
4) The heart: When Malcolm joined Tandang, Pete fell in bro-love. He refused to even consider blindsiding his hero. On Thursday, he should have cornered Malcolm on the reward, but couldn’t bring himself to have the awkward conversation. Note to Pete – be more careful next time you meet a dashing stranger with a mysterious past.
Pete had flaws, but he also had skills. He managed to unseat RC at Tandang, and he dominated the early merge. What makes this season fun is that so many contestants are playing hard but also making enormous mistakes. On that note …
50 Shades of Penner
Penner is Pete’s inverse. Pete’s great at building alliances, but horrible at maintaining them. Penner is awesome at personal relationships. But he can’t establish a well-structured alliance to save his Survivor life.
Was anybody else shouting at their screen when Penner turned down Lisa and Skupin’s final four offer? The second cardinal rule of Survivor – right after “be nice to everybody” – is, if someone offers you an alliance, ACCEPT. Otherwise, they’ll take their business elsewhere.
Skupin and Lisa should be Penner’s ideal final 3 – the two traitors who turned on Tandang. Plus Skupin is also a returnee. Malcolm, Denise and Carter all have made fewer enemies, won more immunities and have more lustrous hair.
Maybe Penner’s still smarting from being ditched by Kent? Now he’s got commitment issues.
Penner oscillates wildly between strategic genius and clueless goof – maybe more than any player ever. Let’s just tally up the worst of his cringe-worthy missteps this season. He started the game scrambling for the idol and isolating himself from Kalabaw. At the merge, he put blind faith in Jeff Kent and was betrayed. Two weeks ago, he threw a vote at Abi in pique and cost his alliance the majority.
Yet he’s still in the game, scrabbling along his circuitous route. And everyone who steps off the island attributes their downfall to Penner’s machinations. Maybe he just doesn’t have the patience for long-term alliance building. He’s happiest when he’s hustling. As viewers, we have a tendency to draw a neat line between “good” and “bad” gameplay. But really there’s just 50 shades of gray.
So the Fishy this week goes to Malcolm. Malcolm does the work that Penner won’t, and firms up a final four deal with Skupin, Lisa and Denise.
He’s lucky that Penner wouldn’t commit. But you have to get lucky to win Survivor.