Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and a member of the jury on Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. He has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“I want to take control of the game. I’ll do it without remorse. I’ll do it without any reservations. It’s scary that I’m saying that. I feel like I’d turn into something that would scare my mother if she saw me.” — John Cochran, winner, Survivor: Caramoan
There’s an infection sweeping through the Gen X tribe – and I don’t mean Jessica’s pink eye.
It’s a bad case of Big Move-itis.
Last week, Jessica flipped the game on its head after a misplaced word from Paul. This week, David catches the bug. In a Big Moves fever, he wastes his idol to save a woman who’s barely his ally.
Not All Big Moves Are Good Moves
The Big Moves epidemic started to spread when Gen X returned from Tribal Council. Jessica had fallen from a power player to a pariah. Bret and Chris don’t trust her, and even Lucy – who had participated in Jessica’s plan – blames Jessica for breaking up the solid six.
Future players take note. This is basically what happens every single time someone flips on a majority alliance, unless their name is Tony Vlachos.
Lucy decides to blindside Jessica – but Tiger Mom Lucy has trouble controlling cuddly kitten Ken. Ken likes grammar and vinyl and long walks under the moonlight. Lucy’s more of a slam-bam-strategy-plan type of gal. Lucy tries for a quickie chat by the well, but leaves Ken feeling used.
Then in the greatest game of Survivor telephone ever, Ken rats out Lucy to Jessica, who then rats out Ken to Lucy, who rats out Jessica to Ken, who then gets furious at Jessica. Follow all that?
The end result is a rare moment of consensus: the entire tribe is ready to vote out Jessica.
That’s when David decides this is his big moment to flip the game as well. He plays his idol, saves Jessica, and sends Lucy home. David’s worried that if Jessica goes home, then his alliance with Ken and Cece is still on the bottom.
But can’t David see that the “bottom” is meaningless? It’s the people on the top who keep getting picked off! David and his allies aren’t even targets.
I wonder if – like Jessica last week – David wants to Make A Big Move! almost for its own sake. Taking control of the game can seem so glamorous, especially to a long-term Survivor fan. But it doesn’t actually make sense until after the merge.
Using your idol to take control on day 12, with a swap and a merge in the future, is like taking a date to Spago on the first date. Now you’re broke and have nowhere to go from here but down.
And it’s not like Jessica is some true-blue ally. Jessica just sold out David’s plan! If anything, Lucy is acting more in David and Ken’s best interests.
If David is trying to cobble together an alliance, you wouldn’t know it from the way they voted. Jessica voted for Cece, Ken voted for Jessica, and only Cece and David voted out Lucy. Are Jessica, Cece, and Ken going to be able to work together after that crisscross of votes against each other?
If David had just stuck with the party line, he could have knocked off another member of the dominant alliance and kept the idol for himself. Now, the idol will be back in play – and potentially fall into someone else’s possession.
I really can’t overestimate that last point. SO much of Survivor strategy today is trying to guess who has the idols and how they’ll play them. Almost every screwed up vote is caused by a bad guess about where the idol is. Knowing the location of one idol is invaluable knowledge.
David’s lucky that there’s a swap next week, which will give him a chance to reset his game and finally abandon the Gen X ship.
All that being said, the story we’re being told about the Gen X tribe is almost entirely from David and Ken’s point of view. So whether or not this idol play was the right move at the right moment, I’m confident they’re both going to be around for a while.
The Fishy this week goes to Adam. While the rest of the Millennial tribe is off chasing goats, Adam was on the beach doing the hard work of idol searching.
Sure, everybody knew he was looking. Hannah even called down the beach to wish him good luck.
But Adam is a likely boot if the tribe loses immunity. He has nothing to lose by scrambling in the sand. And he manages to gain a lot.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.