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.
Erik Reichenbach is a former two time Survivor Fan/Favorite and Comic Book Artist. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikReichenb4ch.
“I think you always have to keep your options open, and then know when to stick with the plan, too.” — Kim Spradlin, winner, Survivor: One World
Drawing rocks is apparently Kellyn Bechtold’s “biggest Survivor fear.”
But on Survivor, the gods and Mark Burnett laugh at your fears. When Kellyn’s tribe loses the reward challenge and dip their hands into the bag of destiny, she inevitably pulls the white stone.
On Ghost Island, Kellyn is presented a choice. She can wager her next vote for the chance at a secret advantage. But this seems like a bigger decision than just a simple trade. It almost feels like Kellyn is choosing between two different styles of play.
Kellyn is part of a slim 5-4 Naviti majority on her new tribe. An advantage could give her enduring power in the game. But giving up her vote could ruin the tribe’s next tribal council.
Will she go with classic Survivor, which is more about building alliances and marshalling the votes? Or will she try to make a Big Move?
“In this game where one bad decision can change your life, you’ve just gotta trust your gut,” she says.
Kellyn decides to not risk it – and wins the Fishy for her choice. In Big Moves-era Survivor, there’s a lot of pressure to load up on idols and advantages, which can define your legacy on the show. But playing big is often at odds with playing smart. Kellyn chooses calculated gameplay over bombastic showmanship.
And at the next tribal council, when her alliance squeaks out a vote, it’s thanks to her – and to destiny.
Kellyn may win the Fishy for her decision, but I can’t wholeheartedly applaud any of the Malolo-Navitis this week. Kellyn, Bradley, and the rest of their allies do a terrible job of engaging with the Malolo minority on their tribe. As a result, they almost lose a crucial vote.
Last week, we had Kellyn shutting down Stephanie and Jenna at the water well. “None of us are going to flip on purple. So it just sucks for you guys,” she said.
This week, Bradley lectures Stephanie that “It’s 5-4.”
“I want to stay,” Stephanie says. Stephanie is clearly giving Bradley an opening. She’s implying that she’s willing to make a move against her tribe if she’s not the one who goes home. Bradley has the chance to forge a bond and pick up a pocket ally at no risk to himself.
Instead he just smirks and says, “We shall see.”
Bradley says he wants to play like Kim Spradlin, but what made Kim such a devastating player was the deep bonds she forged with everybody. I’m simply amazed that nobody from the Naviti majority even tried to plot or scheme with the Malolos. Even if they didn’t want an alliance, at least engage them in strategy talk. The best way to make sure nobody is plotting against you is to seem like you’re open to a fake plan. “I can save you if you turn on Michael, etc.” Then, when Michael sees that Stephanie wrote his name down, he’ll feel furious and betrayed. It’s such textbook Survivor that it’s astounding this tribe of super fans can’t figure it out.
I understand the idea that you don’t want to overcommit to somebody you’re going to betray, but looping in a few people to a fake vote is a pretty low-risk situation, and opens the door to future conversations. Forming loose bonds today could mean an alliance after another swap or a merge, when you may no longer have the numbers.
Why does Bradley’s dismissiveness bother the Malolos so much more than Kellyn’s? “He’s the one I want,” says Stephanie, when they’re discussing their target. “I’m going to write his name on five pieces of paper,” says Jenna. I wonder if it’s partially Bradley’s demeanor. Kellyn is so extremely emotionally open. She’ll shut down a strategic conversation, but also share hugs while gazing off into the sunset. Bradley on the other hand seems aloof and distant. When he refuses to engage strategically, it comes off as condescending.
You have to know your type and play against it.
At Tribal Council, Bradley’s dismissiveness almost costs him his place in the game. Michael pulls out an idol, with an absolutely amazing story about how it can save two people. In today’s Survivor where anything goes, it’s easy to believe him. Then he extends the offer to Chelsea and Sebastian that should have been extended to him.
“People respect big moves,” Michael says. “I’ve made it very easy for you to do so. And I challenge you to play the game you came out here to play.”
The performance would be truly Fishy-worthy … if it actually worked. Incredibly, the Naviti 5 stick together. Kellyn’s vote ends up being decisive. Brendan goes home.
All of that said, Bradley does deserve credit. If he truly is the Naviti ringleader, then he successfully held his 5-strong Naviti alliance together at a crucial moment. That’s not as simple a task as it may seem. Just last week, the other tribe’s majority splintered.
Bradley may have an image problem. But for now, he’s doing a good job.
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Likeability is also playing a decisive factor on the Naviti tribe – as it does on much of Survivor.
Angela tells Chris how she was nearly blindsided. But for Chris, that makes it all about him.
“Obviously they’re trying to take me out if they’re trying to take you out,” he tells Angela. “Wendell and Dom went for Angela, because they wanted the power away from me,” he says later.
Now look – Chris happens to be correct here. Wendell explicitly said that he wanted to vote out Angela as a proxy for voting out Chris. But it’s funny that Chris can’t even spare Angela a hug or a commiserating word for her experience, before making it about himself.
Chris’ bossiness opens up a lifeline for Domenick and Wendell. Laurel and Donathan would rather work with them.
“I don’t want Chris calling the shots around here,” says Laurel. She sits down to bond with Domenick. Laurel is doing what every player on both tribes should be doing – making inroads with everybody.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.