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
“I take risks in the game. And if you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, you go home. But I’m well aware of that, and I’ll take the risk all day long, to get farther in the game.”
– Russell Hantz, Heroes vs. Villains
Weep for Russell Swan.
He gave his life for Survivor. He actually physically died, was resurrected in a cryogenic chamber owned by Mark Burnett, and had every reason to expect Survivor: Philippines to be his march to glory. Now he can only pray to the empty skies, and cry the divinity’s name in vain:
Why, O Probst, on a season with such athletic males, did you saddle Matsing with the doughy anchor that was Zane?
Why, O Probst, did you cast Russell on the rainiest season in recent memory, when you knew that rain was his kryptonite?
And why, O Probst, did you put him on a tribe with the season’s two sharpest new contestants, when anybody else might have been his ally?
I’ve long suspected that strong returning players inhibit new Survivors from developing their strategic skills. Savvy gamers are incentivized to stay in the returnee’s shadow while he (always he) navigates the tribe to the end – rather than breaking out and making moves of their own. Look at Sophie in South Pacific: She was a smart player whose best move at every turn was to make no move at all. What might she have done on a season without Coach?
This season proves that point, as Russell’s spectacular flameout forges two of Survivor‘s best strategists, Malcolm and Denise [I’ll call the duo Manise]. If Boston Rob were on this season, they would have been the first two out.
Manise wins a co-Fishy award for the way they gull Russell with their plots and counter-plots. Each of them approaches Russell, and suggests they vote out the other. Russell, who was frantically looking for the idol, suddenly believes he’s the swing vote.
Keeping your targets busy by involving them in fake plans is one of the most reliable ways to blindside them. Nobody on Survivor ever truly knows their tribe position. But everybody hopes that the things people are saying to them are true. By feeding someone in such abject despair a little hope, Manise keeps Russell on the hook long enough to eliminate him.
It may seem like excessive manipulation, to work Russell over so hard. Don’t you understand he died for this game? But it ‘ that attention to detail that distinguishes the best gamers.
Things were going so well for you last week. You had flipped Tandang’s politics on their head. You’d made yourself tribe leader. And you’d achieved what past pretty boys, like One World‘s Matt Quinlan, never could: You figured out that 4 is greater than 2. It must be that background in engineering!
But now you’re getting cocky. Pete’s cute plan of planting the idol clue on RC’s belongings has a great TV payoff. Abi is explosive! RC is wounded! Artis is also somewhere around!
Pete watched Russell Hantz on TV spin gold out of chaos, and now he wants to try. But is it really a good strategy? Tribe leaders usually want to keep the peace so that nothing upsets the delicate interpersonal politics.
Abi and the rest of Tandang were already fed up with RC. By setting off his explosive Brazilian firecracker, Pete may be spending his ordinance too quickly. I could easily see Abi alienating the rest of the Tandang tribe with her outbursts. Could Michael, Artis, and Lisa make an Elders Alliance just for some peace and quiet?
Pete’s lucky that RC isn’t trying to flip the script again. She’s too thoroughly adopted a victim’s mentality. “If I knew what I did wrong, I could apologize,” she says.
It’s a lesson she should have learned in high school. You don’t beat the mean girls by trying to make nice.