Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. This season, he will blog about his experiences in Cambodia as a competitor on Survivor: Second Chance. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“An alliance is easier said than done.” –Kelly Wiglesworth, Survivor: Borneo
Before I start this blog, I need to take a moment to apologize to humanity. Yes, if you were watching that episode last night, I misquoted one of the most famous lines in literature on national television.
It’s double, double toil and trouble.
Not boil, boil, toil and trouble.
It’s shameful. As excuse I can only say that my brain was literally shutting down.
Even in the best of times on Survivor, you operate with diminished capacity from the exhaustion, the malnourishment and the stress. When the rain hits, everything becomes much, much worse. We were too cold to sleep. We shivered away all our energy.
I could feel my mental capacity diminish.
Keith said it best at Tribal Council. “It’s hard to concentrate right now because I’m not thinking straight.” I remember sitting at Tribal hoping Jeff Probst wouldn’t call on me because I couldn’t form a coherent thought. My head felt fuzzy, like it was stuffed with gauze. I could barely follow what other people were saying over the sound of my chattering teeth. We were drenched, head to toe, hoping a breeze might catch some of the heat from the fire.
That’s one of the challenges of Survivor that never quite makes it across the airwaves. You’re playing an impossibly complex game of strategy against a dozen unreliable opponents who are shifting their alliances minute to minute – but with the brain capacity of an 8-year-old.
The reason we sometimes seem like morons is that functionally we become morons.
That’s why rewards are crucial. You talk strategy, and you refuel your brain. Food gives you energy for immunity challenges, and to quote Joe, “it keeps your mind right,” too. Part of the reason I was able to blindside Wigles was simply because I had eaten well.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
When we got home from Savage’s boot, everybody wanted to talk to Wentworth. She was the belle of the ball, and she quickly filled her appointment book for the next day with one-on-one meetings, strategy sessions and high-fives.
Wentworth playing her idol confirmed there were idols in the game. Yes, you can say, of course there were idols, you idiot. But on Survivor, anything can happen and we’d already seen so many twists and turns – swaps and more swaps and an early merge. In Survivor, you’re never sure if something is real until you hear it out of Jeff’s mouth or you read it on a parchment.
The appearance of an idol raised a lot of urgent issues. First, we all assumed Wentworth’s idol would come back into the game. Second, that meant there definitely was a Bayon idol floating around somewhere.
It also raised the strong possibility, though not the certainty, that there was an Angkor idol. Someone could already have that idol; one of the eliminated Angkor tribe could have left the game with it; the idol could never have been found and been left at the Angkor beach; or the idol could never have been found and then placed at the merge beach. Then there also was the possibility of a new merge idol.
You can see how every single decision on Survivor has to take into account a hundred different possible scenarios. For all we knew, there were four possible idols in the game, and anybody might have them. So you can understand why idol fever struck camp. We were all digging in the muck, hoping to strike pay dirt.
As Jeremy suggested in the episode, he and Wentworth had an edge because they knew how they had found their original idol clues: in trees, covered by leaves. Wentworth was one of the few people who wasn’t running around searching under every stone – which I thought strange, since she was now an even bigger target.
Jeremy wins a Fishy for once again finding the idol. It takes a lot of energy and guile to sneak off from camp without getting caught, especially on the one night where we all stayed up playing games and sharing stories around the fire. We all knew Joe was idol hunting, but I had absolutely no clue Jeremy had two of them.
A Fishy for Fishbach
Savage’s elimination galvanized the majority alliance of eight. Everybody was talking about how vital it was that we stick together and eliminate the three “witches,” who “didn’t deserve to be there.” Then the eight of us could play the game for real.
However, I knew that if I made it to the end, I needed a real Survivor résumé. By passively going along with the group and coasting into the finals as Jeremy’s buddy, I would be playing a game that didn’t deserve the million dollars.
I’m giving myself a Fishy for blindsiding Wiglesworth. Is this weird? It feels a little weird – but it’s happening.
I approached the witches’ coven and said to them that “I would work with you guys but I’m not willing to tell you guys what to do.” I didn’t want to come in like the big boss from the dominant alliance dictating plans. I wanted the move to be a plan that we had come up with together.
In my mind, this was a game of voting blocs, not alliances. I was forming a new voting bloc of myself, Jeremy and Spencer, and Abi, Wentworth and Ciera. Convincing Jeremy and Spencer to go along with the flip was the hardest part.
You may not believe it, but Wiglesworth had been a major hinge in the game. She was close with Joe, close with Kimmi and developed deep ties with Tasha. In the past few days, Wigles had also become strategic – almost too strategic, like she was overcompensating for the first few weeks.
Eliminating Wiglesworth would have a major destabilizing effect on the game. I knew that I just had to move fast enough afterward to pick up the pieces.
Oh, and I also get the Fishy for my quick decision to go after the advantage. I knew I was not long for that immunity challenge. Balance, as you may have learned, has never exactly been my strong suit.
Probst typically provides a stream of background commentary in challenges and winning can often depend on your ability to tune him out. But I had noticed that the things he was saying made very little sense compared to what we were actually doing. “Your success in this game is typically dependent on your ability to make the right decision at the right time,” he said – and went on in this vein for a number of minutes.
What does standing still on a platform have to do with making a decision? I wondered. We’re all making the decision to stand really still?? I thought something had to be up – or Probst was losing his mind as much as the rest of us.
When the buoys popped, I knew that whatever it was, I was going for it. If it was a single cookie, it would be worth more than falling off my platform a few moments later.
The advantage that I received was better than I could have dreamed. Being able to steal someone’s vote meant that I could create a massive swing in the game. Now I just needed to pick the perfect time to use it.
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Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.