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.
“You’re here to win, so why take chances?”
– Brenda Lowe, Survivor: Nicaragua
What Survivor: Caramoan lacks in brains, it makes up for in tears. What this season has missed in strategy, it’s delivered in breakdowns. I joked early on that this cast of Looney Tunes would lead to a daffy season. Has there ever been a final six more prone to bug-outs?
Just as Caramoan is building to its conclusion, its cast is falling apart. Erik’s going coconuts. One-time black widow Brenda has contracted a case of the Brandons and decided that lying is immoral. And Dawn? She wept more tears last night than Lisa Whelchel shed her entire season. Surely Eddie would be sobbing, too, if only he knew where he was.
Dawn wins a special anti-Fishy for her decision to betray Brenda instead of take the safe vote against Eddie. The entire point of the post-merge is to vote people out in such a way that they’ll vote for you to win. Backstab your closest allies unnecessarily, and they’ll campaign for you to lose.
Brenda gave Dawn the immunity necklace; in return, Dawn gave Brenda the boot. There may not have been a best way for Dawn to betray Brenda. Blindsiding her before Eddie is surely the worst.
Eddie was a safe vote that everyone could agree on. The next day, Dawn would be the hinge of the game – solid majorities with either Cochran and Sherri or Erik and Brenda. If she decided to vote Brenda out, she could have done so with an explanatory farewell. Instead, she sends her packing with a dagger in her back.
Dawn’s done a good job all season long of separating her volatile emotions from her strategic decisions. This week, that separation went too far. Dawn traded a loyal ally for a bitter juror. In Ponderosa’s festering swamp of resentment, bitterness can breed.
‘Tis Better to Receive than to Give
We know Brenda made a big mistake by giving up immunity. The big question from the episode was: Did she make an even bigger mistake by giving up the reward?
There may have been an era in Survivor history when people felt grateful for generous gestures. But as Cochran so wisely said last night, “Likability is a liability.” By giving up the reward, Brenda painted herself as a threat to win the jury vote, and thereby painted a target on her back.
I can’t believe Brenda would really win or lose jury votes based on her decision in the reward. By keeping the reward, though, she might have appeared less likable – and therefore, less threatening. She also would have spent a meaningful afternoon with her best ally, Dawn. Instead, she turned Dawn into her biggest enemy.
Family visits are the most emotional moments of the season. Kudos to the Survivor producers for creating such a devilish conundrum. I’m only sorry Brenda chose the wrong answer.
Best of the Worst
In the land of the emotionally broken, the emotionally fragile man is king. Cochran wins the Fishy this week for the way he persuades Dawn to turn on Brenda. Dawn’s epic mistake is Cochran’s strategic coup.
Cochran knows it will be difficult to convince Dawn to vote out Brenda, so he lets her convince herself. He merely suggests that Eddie might not be the brightest bulb, that Brenda might be too big a threat. Cochran remains calm and thoughtful. It works.
Cochran hasn’t played an explosive game filled with big moves. Instead, it’s been a smart game with good decisions. In some ways, his game most resembles that of Sophie, who won his original season of South Pacific – just with funnier confessionals.
Can Cochran win, too?