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’ve been begging these people to wake up, to play the game, but I guess I’m playing with a bunch of people who don’t want to make moves.”—Ciera Eastin, Survivor: Cambodia
We’re in the Big Moves era of Survivor. Contestants today enter the show with the idea that if they haven’t flipped the game on its head and betrayed all their allies by day 7, they’ve personally disappointed Mark Burnett. But while big moves are great for viewers – and great for me, as someone who blogs and podcasts about Survivor – they’re not always great for the actual Survivor players.
Let’s take, for example, Gen X’s Jessica. Jessica started this episode in a solid majority alliance of six, with three women and three men. Her alliance was arguably the most cohesive group in the entire game. While Paul was the alliance “leader,” Jessica seemed to be the women’s spokesperson – meaning she had plenty of influence while loudmouth Paul was the biggest target. All that, plus she had a mystery advantage.
You literally could not hope for a better position in the first week of Survivor. David probably lies awake at nights, staring out into the vast Fijian sky, fantasizing about being in Jessica’s shoes. And yet this episode, Jessica decides to vote out an ally, blindside two others and fracture the delicate trust that every alliance depends on.
Jessica’s rationale is a conversation with Paul. As they discuss their completely reasonable plan to vote out Cece – an outsider and a huge challenge liability – Jessica floats the possibility that the guys might make a move of their own. Paul immediately dismisses it.
“Oh no,” he quickly says. “You have my word. If that came up, I would tell you. If they decided to do that, I would say, ‘Ladies you’re on your own.’ ”
To my ears, it sounded like Paul was just a little overzealous in his attempt to shoot down Jessica’s fear. “Not only will that NEVER happen, but in the off chance it did happen, I would let you know.”
But Jessica interprets the remark as a verbal slip, Paul accidentally revealing his lack of loyalty. She decides she’d better get Paul before Paul gets her.
It’s a bad move.
First, Jessica breaks faith with two of her closest allies. Trust is the most valuable and the most fragile commodity in Survivor. Chris and Bret will never fully trust Jessica again.
Moreover, the momentary gratitude she gets from David, Ken and Cece likely won’t be the foundation of a strong alliance. Let’s remember that David is the guy who just swore he would sell out every single member of the Gen X tribe for a high five from Taylor.
(Side note. Can you imagine David on a date?
JANE: Hi, David? I’m Jane, it’s so nice to meet –
DAVID: I TRUST YOU! I TRUST YOU! LET’S GET MARRIED. FORGET MY FAMILY, I’LL BETRAY THEM ALL. I TRUST YOU.)
The timing of the move is also particularly bad. Three episodes in, you have to imagine that a swap is coming soon. By blindsiding Chris and Bret, Jessica makes enemies at a precarious moment. By contrast, Paul is a fantastic person to have around at a swap. With his brash persona, he’s likely to be a big target.
I think Jessica may be falling victim to the Big Moves mindset. Sitting on the beach for six days with nothing to do, the old solid alliance can seem so boring. Why not MAKE A MOVE and FLIP THE GAME. Take out the ringleader! Change things up!
That kind of big play can make sense on day 29, when you’re counting jury votes, but it’s way too soon on day 9.
“We’re on the bottom as far as the six is concerned,” Jessica said to Sunday and Lucy. But together, Jessica, Sunday and Lucy made up half of that six-person alliance. They would have done much better to recognize their own strong position rather than be afraid of weakness.
So I’m sorry to say – a Rotten Fishy for Jessica this week.
On Millennial beach, Hannah just can’t take a hint, Figgy and Taylor are still in love, and Adam is working to flip Michaela.
Adam lays out a series of rational arguments for why it’s in Michaela’s best interest to switch alliances. There’s no way Taylor, Figgy, Jay or Michelle will ever betray each other, he says. That alliance is super tight!
Adam’s problem is that nobody changes their allegiance on Survivor because of a logical proof. Like Michaela last week (and like Jessica this week), people shift gears out of fear or hope. Adam should be sowing fear and paranoia, not attempting a Cartesian proof.
Also, isn’t Adam’s argument – that the Figgy-Taylor-Jay-Michelle alliance is incredibly tight – kind of ideal for Michaela? Who doesn’t want to be in a super strong and committed alliance? If I’m Michaela, I’m already envisioning myself as the swing vote between two couples at the final five, with a guaranteed spot in the end.
But I have faith that we haven’t seen the last of the outsiders on either tribe. Adam and Zeke, David and Ken – the Revenge of the Nerds may be coming soon to a TV near you.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.