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Survivor

Stephen Fishbach's Survivor Blog: A Buff Swap and Back-to-Back Blindsides

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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.

Erik Reichenbach is a comic artist, illustrator, and former Survivor Fan Favorite. See more of his artwork and commissions on Tumblr.com and follow him on Twitter!

“There’s something about him I just don’t trust. So I formed an alliance with him.” —Boston Rob Mariano, Survivor: All Stars

Who doesn’t love the Survivor swap? All those weeks of hard work, alliance-building, scrambling to stay one step ahead of the vote: and boom, you draw the wrong buff, and it all goes up in smoke. For a country raised on a heavy diet of Wheel of Fortune and Press Your Luck, the swap adds a delightful element of total chaos to the season’s strategic drive.

As Jeff Probst said, you can practice your knots and go to therapy, but “there are some elements [of Survivor] that you have absolutely no control over.”

Or as that famous saying goes, “If you want to make Probst laugh, tell him about your plans.”

The swap forces players to adapt to a new reality. Will they rely on their past tactics, or will they change their games to meet the new situation?

Erik Reichenbach
Erik Reichenbach

Chris wins the Fishy this week for taking advantage of his new position. When Chris swaps to the orange tribe (Vanua, if you’re going to be a stickler), he’s gifted a tribe majority of Gen-Xers with David and CeCe. Many players would hew to the safe and simple path of tribe allegiance. After all, one less Millennial is one less participation trophy the art department will have to craft at the merge.

But Chris realizes the Millennials will likely dominate the end game — and he’ll be a giant, orange target once it’s an individual game. “I have to have a big alliance to protect me at a merge,” he says. Plus, he’s been burned twice already by David and CeCe — though to be fair, it was while he was attempting to burn them.

Chris decides to forge his own destiny. First, he approaches Zeke and whispers those three magic words every Survivor dreams of — “you are safe.”

“I got a game plan, and we can hash it out together and see what you think,” he tells Zeke. “Because right now I’ll guarantee those two will just wanna vote y’all out.”

Chris both includes Zeke in the plan — “we can hash it out together” — and also laces the remark with fear — “those two will just wanna vote y’all out.” Chris offers a lifeline, but makes it clear that he’s the only lifeline out there.

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty; Inset: Getty
Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty; Inset: Getty

Of course, the Chris and Zeke alliance isn’t just strategy. There’s a lot of affection between the two Oklahomans. I’ve talked before about how the secret sauce of Survivor is “jivingness.” Ultimately, the best alliances are founded on the ineffable quality of just getting along with someone really well.

Once Chris locks up Zeke (and therefore, presumably, Michelle), he has the numbers to simply blindside David and CeCe. Instead, he chooses to heal his rift with David by including him in the vote. Chris realizes he may need David’s connections later in the game — and there are very few opportunities to prove real trust on Survivor. Including someone in a vote, rather than blindsiding them and justifying it afterward, is one of the best.

I loved the way that Chris approached David. Just like his conversation with Zeke, he doesn’t simply boss David around — I’m voting out CeCe whether you like it or not. He makes the plan seem like a sensible strategic discussion between two allies plotting their course together.

“Me and you need to set down and really dig through this,” he says to David. “We need to think this thing through tonight. This is a pivotal moment, and if we make the wrong move ….”

Again and again, Chris uses the word “we,” linguistically linking himself with David. He prompts David so much that it’s actually David who suggests, “You’re thinking CeCe?” This gives Chris the chance to shake his head in dismay as though he’s making a tough choice — instead of executing the same plan he’d tried to pull off two weeks earlier.

Kudos to David as well for playing along so perfectly. His hand-wringing admissions of guilt at Tribal Council will help Chris along on the path to healing. Plus, David wisely keeps his new idol in his pants. (And seriously, bravo to David for finding a second idol. Some people just got it.)

At Tribal Council, Zeke and Chris’s plan goes perfectly. Chris laughs over the unlikely alliance. “I’m a big country boy — and [Zeke’s] a New York kid.” It’s a strategy that’s been known to work.

Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.