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.
“With me showing you the idol, I show you that I trust you 100 percent.” —Russell Hantz, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains
Michaela Goes to Rocks
Nobody in Survivor ever wants to go to rocks. But for Michaela Bradshaw, the rocks proved an unprecedented disaster.
Last night on Survivor, Michaela used a cluster of rocks to show her close-knit allies Jay, Will and Hannah a plan to bring the four of them to the end. Somehow, that little bit of stone-crafted strategy proved so terrifying that Jay and Will decided to vote her out.
I’ve watched Jay and Will hash out their scheme three times now, and I’m still having trouble understanding their motivation. Here are just a few of the things that the boys say as they concoct their plan.
Jay: Michaela’s a smart girl, so that’s the problem.
Will: Michaela is so intelligent. Every time I have a conversation with her about this game, she thinks about it methodically.
Jay: She’s a huge threat. She’s good at competitions and she’s a smart chick.
Will: I’m just like, dude you’re thinking way too far ahead.
Jay: I trust Michaela. She hasn’t lied.
Jay: Michaela’s only alliance is us.
Jay: Michaela’s a great alliance, and I’ve been with her since day one, and I still don’t trust Bret.
Jay and Will make an incredibly compelling case for why they absolutely can’t vote out Michaela. She’s a smart, methodical, loyal ally who’s never lied. She’s also great at competitions, so she’ll be a big target at the merge.
Voting out threats right before the merge is a great strategy — if the threats aren’t your allies. Michaela was literally mapping out a scheme to get Jay and Will to the end.
So what’s really going on? I think boredom and #BIGMOVES are once again the culprits. The Ikabula Millennials have been sitting on their hands for a week, spinning plans about how they’ll vote out Bret or Sunday. By the time they actually lose a challenge, that idea is old news. Shaking up the game and voting out a big player seems so much more exciting.
You may be asking: How is this different from what Adam did last week, when he won a Fishy for blindsiding Figgy?
But Figgy and Adam had bad blood. Adam was on the bottom of the Millennial alliance, not the top. And Adam had crafted deep new bonds with Ken and Jessica. It made sense for Adam to try to shake up the game to put himself in a better spot.
By contrast, Jay was in a strong position, and he weakened it. As Michaela said in her parting words, “Damn, Jay. F—ed up something good, bro.”
Functionally, this may spell the end of the Millennial alliance. Jay, Hannah, Michaela and Will could have been a core four to keep the scattered Millennials together. But who among that former tribe trusts each other now?
I think it’s far likelier we’ll see a new group of Zeke, David, Adam, Ken and Jessica take control of the game. I can’t wait to watch it happen.
The Fishy this week goes to David. In an episode where we see Jay adopt New School #BigMoves, David uses his idol in a classic way — to solidify an alliance with Zeke.
David shows Zeke his idol, and explains, “I really do want to go to the end with you …. That’s my proof.”
As I write almost every week, there are very few ways to build real trust on Survivor. Voting together at Tribal Council is one of them. The other is sharing information about an idol or an advantage. You have to either prove your loyalty, or expose your secrets.
That’s why the idol can be such a powerful totem. By telling Zeke about it, David proves trust.
I’m really enjoying David’s strategy these days. It seems like he got his wild big moves out of his system at Gen X beach. He’s settled into a more deliberate gameplay.
When David’s walking down the beach with Zeke, he says, “You know I’m a paranoid guy, so let me know if someone’s coming up behind us or anything.” But he sounds bored, even relaxed when he says it.
The idol has evolved a lot since it first popped up in Guatemala, so it’s worth taking a second to think about how the idol should be played.
When I played Survivor in 2008, nobody was particularly frantic about immunity idols. The possibility of an idol existed. We split our votes after the merge. But it wasn’t a daily fear.
Back then, people often shared their idols. “You need to keep [the idol] between three or two people to make it work,” the great Edgardo said in Fiji.
In Tocantins, I used my idol as a rallying point for an alliance. In Samoa, Russell Hantz did the same thing. In Nicaragua, Sash used the idol as strategic leverage to keep himself in the game after Purple Kelly and Na Onka quit.
We were all sharing information about the idols, for strategic purposes beyond the idol’s more limited function, of saving you for one vote.
But over time, the idols became a source of deep paranoia — perhaps inspired by Russell’s idol-slinging ways and Tony’s bag of tricks, and by the fact that idols started popping up everywhere, not just at the end of a long chain of clues. When I played again in Cambodia, we worried about idols constantly, obsessively.
Keeping the idol a secret — which previously seemed like a waste — became necessary. Wentworth kept her idol hidden inside a rolled-up sock. She would have been blindsided if anybody knew about it.
That may have been the pinnacle of idol paranoia. I wonder if the frenetic pace of Cambodia didn’t burn itself out. David is following a middle path. He’s aware of the paranoia the idol can cause, but he sees its power to be more than just a one-off vote save.
Of course, like every part of Survivor, there’s no one correct way to play any given situation. Everything comes down to the details.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.