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.
“Leaving an outspoken duo, a power couple in this game, doesn’t seem to make that much strategic sense.” —John Cochran, winner, Survivor: Caramoan
In the college movie version of Survivor, Adam would be the Millennial tribe’s leading man — geekily handsome, always at the center of the chaos around him. And yes, maybe a little vanilla compared to the big screwball personalities that surround him.
When you think of Animal House, you remember John Belushi as “Bluto” Blutarsky — but the story really centers on affable Tom Hulce’s initiation into roaring college life. Similarly when you think of the Millennial tribe, you think of the blissed-out stoner couple Taylor and Figgy; anxious Hannah panicking in the corner; hot-headed Michaela who beasts out at every challenge; earnest, emotional bro Jay, and Zeke, the self-styled octogenarian cruise ship passenger.
(You probably won’t think of Will because, like me writing this, you’ll have forgotten he’s even there. Will wouldn’t have even been in this episode if he hadn’t happened to be with Jay when Jay found the idol.)
But Adam may have the classic campus movie story. He shows up for day one of Survivor, so excited to be there, but not quite sure what to do with himself, or even how to talk in confessionals without yelling. An early betrayal sees him suddenly questioning why he’s even there. Eventually Adam meets a cool older dude (played by Ken), who teaches him about love, loss and blindsides. You’ve seen this film a dozen times.
Adam wins the Fishy this week for voting out Figgy and allying with Ken and Jessica. In the process, he takes control of his own destiny.
But it’s actually not that straightforward a choice. Michaela’s made it clear that the Millennials expect to stick together, so Adam risks antagonizing them by voting out one of their own. Plus he’s earned an enemy for life in Taylor, in a way that voting out Ken wouldn’t have completely alienated Jessica.
Moreover, with CeCe’s elimination last week, it looks even more like Millennials are set up to run the merge. Adam is taking a big risk.
But it wouldn’t make sense for Adam to try to prop up an alliance that he was at the bottom of. He needs to disturb the game’s equilibrium any way he can — especially now, before the jury phase. If Adam does make it to the end, Figgy won’t be sitting there in judgment.
(Of course this begs the question — can Taylor still date Figgy if she hasn’t made the merge?)
Moreover, Figgy makes it clear at tribal council that she remembers Adam’s vote against her. “I don’t hold any animosity towards him,” she claims, as she holds his head in a death grip.
Taylor and Figgy argue that even if they’re smooching in the shelter, that they’re just another pair in the game — no more threatening than Ken and Jessica. “Just a pair” in Survivor is a ridiculous statement, since pairs are incredibly threatening.
Plus, a normal pair can at least be expected to act rationally. But people will do the dumbest things for love even outside the game. I bet Taylor and Figgy will really do the dumbest things. People on Survivor act erratically anyway — making decisions from paranoia and fear and hope. By allying with a self-proclaimed couple, you’re asking for disaster.
Even on her own merits, Figgy isn’t a great ally. She feuded with Michaela when her life was in Michaela’s hands, admitted her own tight bond with Michelle and alienated Zeke.
Ken and Jessica deserve credit for the way they set up Adam’s conversion. Jessica prompts Ken to make the case to Adam: “You need to convince Adam that you’re with him 150 percent,” she says. That’s less than Mike Holloway’s 150,000 percent, but still a pretty good percentage.
Then Ken does a fantastic job of selling the move as a question of personality, not age. “We don’t want to move ahead with two conniving, arrogant kids …. Do you want to sit over there with the cool kids, knowing you’re at the very bottom?”
Like the end of any good college movie, Adam realizes he doesn’t need to fit in with the jocks and can find with his own crew of lovable misfits.
He’s one step closer on his path to getting the girl. With the girl in this case being the million dollar check.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.