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 am in control. It would take something extraordinary, off the charts, completely whacked out to disturb my plans now.”
– Marty Piombo, Survivor: Nicaragua
Survivor is all about storytelling.
To win the game, you have to tell a story to the jury about what you did over 39 grueling days to deserve a million dollars.
But to even make it that far, you have to realize you’re not just telling your own story. You’re a character in other people’s narratives, too. Every single person playing Survivor is, in their minds, writing the tale about how they win. If you can’t convince them you’re a supporting character in that yarn, you’ll be written out.
Tina, Aras, and Vytas all forgot that the story of Blood vs. Water isn’t only about them. That blindness cost them their dominance – and sent Aras to Redemption Island.
Never Write an Early Ending for an Ally
The episode began with Tina offering Monica an upgraded position in her alliance. “I think that loyalty should be rewarded,” Tina snooted, like she was Queen Elizabeth handing out honorifics.
It’s such an obvious mistake, yet it happens over and over. Overconfident players treat allies like vassals. Think John Carroll in Marquesas, Alex in the Amazon or Tyson in Tocantins.
Nobody wants to be told they’re being gifted fifth place. Ironically, on this season, fifth could be a perfect position. Monica would be a swing vote between the two couples at the final five. She could find herself at Final Tribal competing against a pair who might split votes.
Monica may have misjudged the strategy, but she perfectly understood Tina’s meaning. Tina tried to write Monica an ending, before she was ready for one.
Never Believe the Story Is All About You
Aras and Vytas approached the merger with a similar superiority. “Blood vs. Water should really in the end be called Vytas vs. Aras,” Vytas crowed.
You’d think with all the yoga they do, the Baskauskas brothers would be a little more self-aware. Maybe they bought into the way Jeff Probst hyped up their every interaction. The result was they underestimated their competition. “If people are smart, they would mobilize against us … But they’re not going to,” Vytas said.
Good Survivor play involves always knowing not just your best move – but what your opponents think are their best moves. If something’s glaringly obvious to Vytas, he should realize it’s equally obvious to his enemies.
Pro tip for future Survivor players. As soon as you find yourself saying in a confessional how confident you are, start looking around for who’s about to blindside you.
Survivor rewards humility and constant vigilance. Compare the Baskauski with Ciera. When Laura reentered the game, Ciera fretted that would make her a target, because pairs are obvious threats. She advised her mom to lie low.
Why didn’t the Baskauski have the same savvy?
Tyson: A Fishy for Excellent Gameplay
While the Couples alienated their allies, Tyson drew his closer.
In his previous seasons, Tyson’s downfall came from mishandling the tribe outsiders. In Tocantins, he belittled Erinn and Sierra, who happily voted against him. In Heroes vs. Villains, he course-corrected too far. He tried to recruit Russell as a pocket ally, not realizing Russell had his own game.
This time, Tyson got it just right. He patiently listened to Monica while she spun out neurotic hypotheticals. He made her feel safe and included.
Tyson also found the hidden idol, which somehow was still hidden. Given how little trouble he had, I’m not sure if I should be more impressed that Tyson found it – or that Hayden and Caleb, who had two weeks with the same clues, didn t.
Most importantly, Tyson holds his alliance together and ousts King Aras.
But will Tyson be the next target?