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.
“An alliance is easier said than done.”
– Kelly Wigglesworth, Survivor: Borneo
We finally had a coming-out episode for the season’s secret strategist on Wednesday night’s Survivor. Oh sure, Tony found his super idol, Tasha won immunity, and Spencer pontificated grandiloquently.
But the real mastermind in a season filled with big players and giant reversals may be one of the least ostentatious and most overlooked. No, I don’t mean Jefra – she’s got the strategic chops of cardboard. I mean Trish: she of the annoying laugh and the uncomfortable jokes about her masculinity.
Remember who brought LJ into the fold and convinced Tony to take out Cliff Robinson?
Remember who flipped Kass, when it looked like Queen Sarah was in control?
And heck, remember who induced Lindsey Long-Hair to quit?
Trish may not win Miss Congeniality. But she’s been responsible for many of the season’s definitive moves – certainly the moves that actually made sense.
On Wednesday night, while Tony hid in his spy shack and Spencer misplayed his idol, Trish was diagnosing problems within her alliance. When Jefra returned from the reward, Trish immediately sensed that something was amiss.
She approached Jefra in the water and sussed out that Jefra was still fuming from Tony’s blindside of LJ. Trish could see that Jefra was ready to flip sides.
To mollify Jefra, Trish called out Tony and insisted he end his duplicitous ways. This wasn’t really about holding Tony’s feet to the fire. Trish put on a show to make Jefra feel comfortable that her concerns were being addressed. “Jefra needed to hear that I was calling him out,” she said.
Tony said he would stop being so devious and the group hugged it out. Does anybody really think Tony will change? Absolutely not. Trish spoon-fed Jefra a narrative where her anger was respected and placated. Trish’s quick work averted a potentially destructive flip.
Trish got a big hat tip from Kass, who observed that keeping Tony made sense simply because he was annoying. Going to the end with Spencer or Tash was suicide. But who wouldn’t want to be at Final Tribal sitting next to the guy who runs his mouth nonstop and betrayed the entire jury?
A Delicate Balance
One of the core challenges of creating a Survivor alliance is keeping everybody in line. Contestants are cast largely because they’re strong-willed, outspoken and from diverse backgrounds. That’s inherently a recipe for conflict. Trish has been able to repeatedly gauge people’s emotional state and ensure that they stick tight together.
Trish also gets credit for the smooth way she operated at Tribal Council. While Jefra said how betrayed she was by LJ’s blindside, Trish made a point of mentioning how surprised she was as well.
It’s hard to communicate directly to the jury – Jeff Probst gets really upset if you start talking to them, or even gesture in their direction – so Trish found a clever way to let her old ally know that she didn’t have a hand in his ouster.
Trish wins the week’s Fishy Award for her smart play and her emotional intelligence.
That said, I also want to give Tony some credit for faking out Spencer at Tribal Council. As Spencer went to play his idol, he tried to get a read on the group by their reactions. Tony feigned fear, and even clutched his Super Idol to his chest. Spencer probably was predisposed to play the idol for himself anyway, but by looking nervous, Tony may have sealed the deal.
Tony’s a loudmouth, and he’s pretty ridiculous, but he has moments of true Survivor genius. His big moves combined with Trish’s subtler style have created a truly formidable duo.