Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can
“I played a lousy strategy game, because I didn’t hide well.”
– Tom Westman, Survivor: Palau
The King is dead. Last night on Survivor: Blood vs. Water, Caleb Bankston unseated tribe monarch Brad Culpepper. At Tribal Council, Culpepper hinted that Caleb could be a possible target since he had no connections on the other tribe. In response, Caleb announced, “I’m gonna write Brad’s name down” – and encouraged his allies to do the same.
The move was a powerful reminder that one wrong word on Survivor can change everything. Of course, Culpepper has misspoken more than once. “I hooked [John] from Day 1,” he bragged to his tribe. “You made a wrong decision to trust me,” he told John in front of both tribes at Redemption Island. He made a show of his deceitfulness. Why would anybody believe him?
Nevertheless, as much as I loved Caleb’s takedown of Bully Brad, it was the wrong strategic decision. Culpepper has been a lightning rod for both tribes, and would be a giant target at the merge. Ciera, on the other hand, can slip through the cracks. As Hayden said, “Brad takes the heat off us.”
Is anybody else as beguiled by Hayden as I am? If God were fair, Hayden Moss would be a doofus. With his adorable floppy hair and rippling muscles, he has the strength and charisma of a college athlete. But with his keen insights and laid-back demeanor, he’s also a smart strategist.
Coming into this game as the winner of a previous reality show, Hayden should be a huge target. Instead, he uses his bro-ish demeanor to camouflage his brains.
This week he thought to keep Brad; last week, in a secret scene, Hayden explained why they should keep John. Hayden has the good sense to try to keep big targets around for the merge. But he has the even better sense to adjust his opinion for the sake of his alliances.
With Culpepper and John eliminated, Hayden is now by far the beefiest guy on the rapidly shrinking Tadhana – and his girlfriend, Kat, isn’t in such a great position on Galang. I worry about his longevity in the game.
Did anybody else feel bad for Culpepper at Redemption Island? It’s like he was trapped in The Survivor Carol, and had to confront the ghosts of Tribal Councils past. Culpepper’s sins came back to haunt him, and they wouldn’t stop flipping him off.
I’ve always hated this element of Redemption Island – that the bitter losers can reveal the secrets of the tribe that betrayed them. But this season it’s made for great drama. The other tribe isn’t just learning strategic information. They’re learning who’s responsible for voting out their family.
Brad hasn’t handled these moments flawlessly. But who could when they’re getting shouted at?
When Candice and John Cody give the Immunity Idol clue to Monica, Brad and Monica’s reaction is perfect. He immediately tells her to burn it – and she immediately does.
It’s the best possible move for Monica, especially on the anti-strategy Galang tribe. Monica and Brad win the Fishy this week for very smart play in a difficult situation.
With Colton out of the game, and strategy talk forbidden, life at Galang is like one big episode of Gilligan’s Island. This week, Tyson and Gervase are stealing coconuts. Will Laura and Monica find out?
The Colton Fiasco may have been the best thing to happen to the Returnees. Tribes that consistently win often fester. But Colton aired all the tribe’s issues, then quit. Like the classic scapegoat, which is exiled from a community carrying all its sins, Colton’s exit has left Galang blameless and pure.
That can’t last forever.