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.
“The women are tired of the guys pulling the strings the entire game. And now we’re taking control” – Caryn Groedel, Survivor: Palau
How do you keep an alliance together? It’s one of the central problems of Survivor. People have different goals. They fight. They freak out.
This week was all about what happens when a tentative alliance falls apart. Just as Brawn and Beauty were about to eliminate Aubry, Neal was pulled from the game – and suddenly, one medevac later, everything was different.
Cydney wins the Fishy this week for a move that is textbook Survivor in its perfection. She sees her position in the game weakening, so she assembles a new alliance and eliminate her threat. She asserts her control and positions herself at the center of two different groups.
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The Women’s Alliance & Other Nightmares
The problems all started when the women and Tai went canoeing. Nick, Jason and Scot fretted that they could be plotting a women’s alliance.
The women’s alliance is a persistent fear every season, like some kind of misogynist ghost story that men tell their sons during campfire drum circles. First the women go canoeing. Next thing you know, it’s an all female Ghostbusters.
To be fair, the idea often gets raised by the season’s women, too. Kimmi and Monica both tried to start one last season. But there have only been a handful of successful women’s alliances that actually cohered. Most of the time, the idea is raised and quickly dropped. It’s almost like people’s strategic goals aren’t based exclusively on their gender.
The real danger is paranoia – which makes smart people do crazy dumb things. When the Conniving Canoeists return, Nick immediately checked in with Julia. That made Cydney freak out that the guys were spying on her. As Jason noted, “Paranoia’s going to kick in at a certain point with everybody.”
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Jason tried to alleviate Cydney’s concern with a quick water run / strategy convo. “You know I’ve got your back,” he told her.
But even if Cydney overreacted to the specific issue of Nick’s t te a t te with Julia, her gut instincts about Nick, Jason, and Scot were correct. Since the merge, we’ve seen Nick edging Cydney out of her central place in the Brawn brolliance. Last week, Scot told Nick about Tai’s idol – and explicitly instructed him not to say anything to Cydney. This week, we saw the boys trusting their ally of two days more than their ally of 3 weeks.
So Cydney decided to take Nick out. She approached Aubry and Debbie, who were up for anything that kept them in the game. Then she went to Julia and Michele and, after smack-talking Nick for a minute, proposed eliminating him.
I like that Cydney locked in outsiders Aubry and Debbie before she approached Julia and Michele. The Beauties have more to lose from a flip, since they’re already in the central alliance. Insiders will be more skittish than outsiders until they know the plan is a real possibility.
Ironically, by fearing the women’s alliance, the men brought it into existence. Now Cydney can go with her new strong women’s alliance of five – or perhaps even jump back to her brawn boys. She’s in a great position (if the whole move doesn’t blow up in her face.)
“No, Aubry. I expect you to die.”
Of course, Cydney had help eliminating Nick from Nick himself.
Nick is like a Bond villain. Let’s call him Blohard. Just as he had the Brains at his mercy, he took Aubry aside and explained his evil plans in elaborate detail so she could foil them. If the Brains did have an idol, he’d have given her enough information to wreck his schemes.
At first I thought Nick was making a smart move, trying to build an alliance with Aubry when she was most desperate. But the conversation somehow took a wrong turn, and Nick ended up acting arrogant and alienating her further. Nick, rather than talk about the bonds he and Aubry are making, is left to smirk, “But she can’t do anything about it.”
I think this brief conversation is a perfect microcosm of Nick’s entire gameplay. He knew exactly what he should be doing, he just couldn’t stop himself from playing the part of cocky villain. He was having fun chewing the scenery – but it cost him the game.
So how do you keep your alliance together?
At Tribal Council, just before the blindside, Jeff asked Scot – how do you keep an alliance of seven together? Scot said, “You don’t have six days between tribals.”
He’s exactly right. The Brawn/Beauty coalition might have stuck strong if they had been able to vote together three days ago to take out Aubry. As I wrote last week, votes cement alliances. But there’s a momentum to Survivor. People want to scheme and plot. It’s hard to sit for three days and just stick to the existing plan.
Alliances, like jocks and pretty people, can age and get overripe and then they’re done. That’s when the misfits get revenge.
Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.