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 Survivorstrategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“In a game for a million dollars, you have to practice a little delayed gratification, because it might cost you a million dollars down the line.”
– Zeke Smith, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X
Survivor is rarely a game of simple decisions, and that’s especially true after the merge. Every vote you cast is going to infuriate one group and delight another. Every person you send to the jury bench could cost you a million dollars. If you have an idol in your pocket, you never know for sure when is the perfect moment to play it.
But even in a tricky game, last night’s vote was particularly complicated. After Sarah’s flip last week, a tenuous majority alliance had formed. Standard Survivor strategy would suggest that the alliance should stick together and vote off their opponents. As Michaela said, “Sometimes you’ve got to make the simple move just to progress everyone further in the game.”
But this isn’t a standard season. After so many swaps and switches, loyalties are all over the place. Andrea knew that Zeke was targeting her, so she wanted to vote him out first. Meanwhile, Sarah felt like Zeke was her closest ally, and she was working to save him.
Andrea and Sarah had opposite opinions, and they approached the decision with opposite styles. Andrea muscled her plan through the group. Sarah stepped aside and let it happen.
But Survivor is such a situational game that even though they used opposite strategies, I think both players made the right choice.
RELATED VIDEO: Former Survivor Contestants Share Their Favorite Rewards From Their Time as Castaways
Andrea knows that Zeke is targeting her. And if you know someone is out to get you, it just makes sense to get them first.
When someone targets you on Survivor, that doesn’t just endanger you for one week. It makes you a target forever. Once you’re on the short list of potential targets, your name is going to come up before every tribal council. And the more someone says your name, the more likely it is that other people will say your name.
By eliminating Zeke, Andrea can stop the vicious cycle.
Still, Andrea doesn’t want to totally alienate her alliance. When Sarah convinces Cirie to keep Zeke around, the group agrees that Sierra should be the target.
Then Andrea wins immunity. “Now that I won the challenge, let’s make a bigger move,” she says. “I’m for sure safe tonight, so why not go for someone who’s coming for me? And that would be Zeke.”
As Survivor winner Tyson Apostol has noted, you want to make big moves when you’re wearing the immunity necklace. That way you’ve got protection from any blowback, and you have three days to fix any problems that arise.
Taking out Zeke may not be a great move for Andrea, but it may be a necessary move. Zeke and Sarah have both said they’re planning to vote her out next. Sometimes you’re in a bad position, and all you can do is slightly improve it.
Timing is everything on Survivor, and Andrea picks the perfect moment to use her leverage. Now, Andrea has three days to do damage control.
- Watch the full episode of PEN Fan Forum: Survivor, streaming now on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
RELATED VIDEO: #TheFinalFive? Exclusive Clip From the Latest Episode of Survivor!
Officer Sarah has the inverse problem. Should she make a big move to save her ally or go with the majority and vote him out? Even though Sarah loses her best ally in Zeke, the way she handled the evolving situation was masterful.
When Cirie first mentions that the alliance wants Zeke out, Sarah sways Cirie by reaffirming that she is committed to getting rid of Zeke – but not yet. Then she reels Cirie in by sharing information about her advantage. “Typically on Survivor, you don’t want to show your cards, but sometimes it’s necessary to lock people in,” she says (which is one of the long-time tenets of this blog).
The plan works. “It’s going to be Sierra,” Cirie agrees.
However, when Andrea wins the immunity challenge and doubles-down on her plan, Sarah realizes that if she makes waves, she could be the next target. She votes Zeke, all while bemoaning with Michaela what a bad move it is.
Sarah reminded me so much this episode of Sandra in Heroes vs. Villains. Every week after the merge, Sandra worked hard to eliminate Russell. And every week, when her plans fell through, she still voted with Russell and the Villains. Sandra stayed in the game by voting with the majority, even if she didn’t like the majority’s plan. In the process, she stacked the jury bench with people with whom she had tried to align.
Let’s call it “strategic ineffectiveness.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is fail to get your way. If you play the situation right, nobody sees you as a ringleader, and whoever’s voted out ends up cheering you on from the jury bench.
Andrea edges out Sarah for the Fishy, because Andrea actually does execute her plan. Still, I’m not sure if Andrea will be able to escape her target. She has to smooth things out with her alliance, and based on Michaela’s tears at Tribal Council, it looks like she has her work cut out for her.
Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.