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
“It’s about winning the war. It’s not about winning the battles. – Peih-Gee Law, Survivor: China
Was that one of the best Survivor episodes ever?!
Penner wins immunity! A scramble at camp! Two idols exposed! I had zero idea who was going home until Jeff Probst read the last vote. Even now, after I’ve scooped my jaw up off the floor, I’m still not sure what happened.
So many people are playing to win. But who’s playing smart, and who’s just playing hard? Let s step back and examine each player’s plan.
Episode Quote: Playing the mastermind role is definitely very hard work And you never really know you re the mastermind.
Pete can be a smart player – sometimes. But he overestimates his skills. His horrible read on Malcolm alone should cost him the game. As of last night, he s leading the dominant alliance. Pete s best bet is to make nice with Lisa and Skupin to pick off Kalabaw. But does Pete know how to make nice?
Episode Quote: I was selflessly having this to protect people in my alliance.
The hot-headed Brazilian could make it to the end as the Phillip to Pete s bizarro-world Boston Rob. But she also could antagonize people past the point of tolerance.
Episode Quote: I ve been eating beans and rice for 21 days. Beans and rice for 19 more days? Not a problem for me.
Is Artis in the game s best position? Third man in the dominant alliance. Artis could win merely by sitting next to Pete and Abi at final tribal.
Episode Quote: I m trying to win, which means I first need to get to the final 3 with people that aren t going to get more votes than me.
I m loving Lisa s Cirie-esque journey from outcast to mastermind. She laid low and let RC self-destruct. Now she s influencing both sides. Keeping Pete as a goat and a target is great strategy, and wins Lisa her first Fishy Award. But if Lisa sticks with Tandang, what happens at the final 5?
Episode Quote: We should just wait for somebody to screw up.
Is Skupin Lisa s clueless lackey? Or is his strategy of laying low the only way he can save his neck? An alliance of Skupin, Penner and Lisa would be a strong as any other group in the game. And nobody sees it.
Episode Quote: I thought they were sending you home tonight.
I ve long believed that Carter isn t as dumb as he sounds. But last night, Carter knew his top ally Jeff was going home, and kept quiet. One shows that Carter feels at home with the Tandang alliance. That makes sense – Pete and Abi are more his age.
Episode Quote: Every crack is an opportunity. Denise has built strong bonds with Malcolm and old Kalabaw. Problem is with the loss of Jeff, old Kalabaw is next to go. Can the honey badger find a crack in Tandang?
Episode Quote: There s way too much chaos tonight So this thing s getting played.
The usually level-headed Malcolm got his feathers ruffled when Lisa outed his idol. But his move of flashing the idol and not playing it was positively Hantzian. Flipping on Tandang without being sure of the votes, however, makes Malcolm s a target.
Episode Quote: I have no allegiances.
If Penner did what I think he did, it was brilliant. He tricked Kalabaw into making a play for Pete, ensured that Jeff went home, and cast a vote to incite Abi. Playing two alliances against each other is his only shot.
Episode Quote: Hopefully the bullet s going to go in the right direction.
I bet he regrets voting out RC!