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.
“Don’t eat me.”
– Daniel Fishbach, Survivor: Tocantins
How can you not get teary-eyed at the family visit? Six people who’ve left behind everyone they know, who’ve pushed themselves to the limits of their endurance, who’ve betrayed newfound friends – suddenly they get a dose of unconditional love. It’s like a Christmas special.
We also get a brief snapshot of the oddballs behind the Survivor contestants. There’s Abi-Maria‘s mom, who’s just as challenge-impaired as her daughter. Lisa’s well-groomed brother seems more like Blair Warner than does Lisa. There’s Malcolm’s “knucklehead” little sib. And was anybody else worried that Skupin’s son was destined, by right of birth, to fall off that tree and get a very special family medevac?
Malcolm wins this week’s Fishy for the way he uses the family visit to his advantage. He shares his reward with Skupin and Lisa, his two more marginal allies. He thereby reaffirms the tenuous bonds that tie the alliance of four together.
Okay, the gift actually backfires: Lisa’s brother reminds Lisa to stop wringing her hands and start wringing some necks. But Malcolm actually sees what’s up. If he hadn’t won immunity, he could have mixed things up himself, or even played his idol.
I’m pretty confident that wily Malcolm wasn’t about to be outplayed by Lisa. The only time Lisa talks strategy is when she bemoans the moves she could have made but didn’t. Meanwhile, Malcolm has placed himself at the fulcrum of the game.
In Survivor, you can’t always guess the outcome of your actions. That’s why the best players constantly reassess.
We hear a lot about how the family visit affects the Survivors. I thought it would be interesting to hear what it’s like for the families. So I asked an expert – my brother Daniel, who visited me on Tocantins:
Did you guys swap information about the contestants on the trip over?
We spent a lot of time talking about who you guys were. But the descriptions were very vague. Everyone was cautious about not revealing too much information. People were relatively quiet about their finances. That did not come up until after we left your camp.
Even with Eddie George?
Eddie George just told us that CBS was bringing him there for publicity.
Did you try to guess who would be friends?
We tried to imagine the game in our heads. But we really thought it was much more of a game. We didn’t expect the level of reality.
What were your first impressions of the camp?
My reaction was one of pure shock. It looked like the remnants of some civilization. I think in the back of our minds, we had all assumed you were getting food or that you had craft services – that there was some gimmick. We didn’t expect you guys to be so malnourished. Or so dirty.
What did we talk about?
You talked about strategy. You talked a lot about food. About cupcakes.
You told me to remember that it was just a game.
Walking into the show, to me, it was walking into a game. So my advice to you – based on my preconceived notions about what was happening – was all about strategy. I don’t think I realized just how close and familial you guys were as a group until I saw it actually air. Only then did I understand why the choice to stab somebody in the back would be so difficult.
Did you guys bond?
I still stay in touch with a lot of the other family visitors. We formed our own friendships and alliances in our journey to and from the camp.