Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“When you’re out here playing this game, your mind does crazy things.”
– Amber Brkich, Survivor: All Stars
What would happen if we turned the inmates of an insane asylum loose on an island and asked them to play Survivor? In Survivor: Lunatic Island, we finally get our answer. They break down in tears. They channel their relatives – living and dead. They create elaborate fantasy worlds to cope with the extreme conditions.
The Favorites this season were cast for their erratic behavior – and they’re delivering. So Brandon had a meltdown? Brandon’s in a continual state of melting down. Dawn started weeping? Her code name, “True Grit,” has to be ironic.
And Phillip? All that Stealth R Us, Inc, LLC, HMS stuff is just the mask Phillip wears. What’s interesting about Phillip is – who’s the guy behind the mask? Who’s the man who feels this need to parade around in pink panties doling out nicknames?
Cochran and Malcolm at least try to keep things peaceful. That counts for strategy on Lunatic Island.
Let’s play a game this season. How much of what the Favorites say about each other is really a description of themselves?
“When you’re dealing with a narcistic [sic] person, they don’t have empathy for others,” says Phillip, perfectly describing Phillip.
“The only thing I can predict about Brandon is that he’s going to be unpredictable,” says Cochran, who flipped on his tribe.
“Phillip is not controlling anything,” says Corinne, who’s marching to Phillip’s drumbeat.
“If [Brandon] treats other people like that, it’s like pollution,” weeps Dawn, shortly after making Francesca the first-ever two-time first boot.
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Does Reynold remind anybody else of a Bizarro Malcolm? He’s handsome, charming and athletic. He’s excellent at the carnival games that have decided this season’s challenges. He gets in trouble for cuddling with a cute blonde. He finds the idol without a clue. At tribal council, when his idol’s exposed, he threatens to play it – then doesn’t. It’s a perfect recapitulation of Malcolm in the Philippines.
But Reynold is missing a crucial Survivor gene. Witness the way he calls out Shamar.
It’s never a great idea to start an argument with a 300-lb. loudmouth. That’s especially true in a game of social politics. Hasn’t Reynold ever heard the expression, “Never argue with an idiot?”
On the other hand, Sherri sees Shamar not as an obstacle, but as an elephantine opportunity. “I want Shamar to keep annoying people,” she says. “Shamar is my Phil.”
Phillip may talk about the B.R. rules. Sherri actually follows them. When Matt suggests they oust Shamar, Sherri assures her alliance that Shamar’s erratic behavior is only temporary. “Once he realizes he’s not going home, he’ll chill out,” she says. She then guides her alliance to a different target by asking Laura who she wants out.
Sherri never forces her will on her tribemates. She just subtly manipulates them to where she wants them to be.
There’s no better example of her understated control than at tribal council. Laura has outed Reynold’s idol; Shamar has had yet another outburst. Any strategic player has to be worrying about a stray vote going the wrong way. Could Laura vote for Reynold? Could Matt vote Shamar? The whole plan could fall apart.
So Sherri clarifies things: “I’m voting the way I’m supposed to be voting,” she says. She makes it sound like she’s sticking with someone else’s plan (the way she’s “supposed” to be voting), while ensuring everyone sticks to her plan. She also keeps everything vague enough so the Cool Kids won’t panic.
Sherri wins the Fishy for this episode. She may be the best player on all of Lunatic Island.