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.
“You plant that little seed in their head, in their little brain. And then it grows, and it’s called a Russell seed. It takes over their whole mind.”
– Russell Hantz, Survivor: Samoa
Tony Vlachos’s initials aren’t TV for nothing.
The crazed cop has made Survivor: Cagayan one of the best seasons of all time. On Wednesday night, he once again turned on his alliance and flipped the game on its head.
Tony decided that a women’s alliance was brewing, and voted out benign Jefra. That left fan favorite Spencer still in the hunt for a million dollars.
Was voting out Jefra the best strategy? Probably not. Not only is Spencer a major strategic threat, but he has already publicly declared he’ll vote for Tony if Tony makes it to the end. That’s the kind of guy you want to send to the jury bench.
The move made for fantastic television, though. Tony convinced the opposing alliance to vote with him to take out a member of his own alliance. When was the last time that happened at the final seven?
Furthermore, bland players like Jefra typically clog up the works and coast into Final Tribal as inoffensive goats. That’s great for whoever’s sitting next to her – but bad news for viewers.
Tony has no patience for goats. (He was also responsible for eliminating Morgan.) He plays as hard as anybody: You could see him suffer as he passed up eating in the auction for a chance at a game advantage. But he’s not like Boston Rob, who wanted an easy Final Tribal sitting next to the worst.
Tony wants to make good television almost as much as he wants to make good moves. His bold choices have made this season impossible to predict. That makes it extremely fun to watch.
How is Spencer still in this game?
The young lad was almost out on day 11, when he was at the bottom of the Brains. Since then, he’s been fighting to stay alive almost every week.
It’s interesting how people develop their game play in response to their game situation. Spencer chewed the scenery in his pre-game interviews and pitched himself as a devious chess master Machiavelli. But he was immediately outed for his intellect by being cast on the Brains tribe, then sent through a dizzying series of challenge losses and humiliations.
The Spencer that emerged is a crafty player and a cautious one who does more damage with a few perfectly placed sentences than he does with an immunity idol.
“You’re not worried about that girls thing actually working, are you?” he whispers to Tony. He plants a Spencer Seed in Tony’s mind that a women’s alliance could form and take control of the game.
Meanwhile, Tasha is in the ocean, helping water those seeds. She wants Tony to see her chatting with the women.
Spencer and Tasha win a combined Fishy Award for the way they play Tony and get him to vote out Jefra. They know that Cagayan is the Tony Show, and the best way to stick around is to focus the Whirling Tony Dervish in a different direction.
But Tony’s no dope. Spencer and Tasha know that if they oversold the idea of a women’s alliance, he’d immediately pick up the ruse. Many players have failed at similar gambits by selling too hard. (Do we all remember the Amanda Bat?)
Spencer just drops a few words. Tasha is equally devious. The crazy thing is we don’t even know if they planned the deception together, or they both picked up the same idea. Survivor pairs are often so in sync, they can make plans with hardly any actual planning.
Spencer and Tasha have fought a long and hard battle to this point. Either one easily deserves the million dollars.