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 former two time Survivor Fan/Favorite and Comic Book Artist. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikReichenb4ch.
“This game is based upon the person next to you. And so it’s a lot about relying on your alliances, your friends, and trusting that they’re going to do what’s in your group’s best interest.” – Mookie Lee, Survivor: Fiji
Sometimes Survivor presents players with strategic choices so difficult that making the right call can be like hitting a slingshot target from a floating platform. A thousand tiny interactions have to be weighed and measured before you decide to eliminate player A or play B – and even then, you’re basically just tossing your hands up in the air and taking a guess.
But then sometimes there’s a layup. This episode, allies Chrissy and Ryan face one of the most straightforward decisions in recent memory. Do they eliminate JP, a massive meat shield with little strategic game? Or should they take out devious Ali, who’s just holding her breath for the merge and the chance to take revenge on Ryan?
Give the show credit for making a straightforward boot seem uncertain. Indeed, I was so sure that JP was going home at tribal council, that I was already scripting my scorching takedown of Chrissy and Ryan’s awful decision-making.
But they get it right.
Every reason that Chrissy and Ryan offer for eliminating JP is actually a reason to keep him. Oh, JP’s a physical beast in the challenges? Awesome, he’s the perfect person to have around at the merge, where he’ll both take the heat and make sure your actual enemies don’t have immunity. JP has trouble socializing? Great! No worries about him masterminding a new alliance.
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Ali on the other hand would be a massive threat at the merge. Extremely social, with deep hooks in the other Hustlers, you could easily see Ali winning the whole show. She’s exactly the type of person you take out before she can scheme her way to the end.
Ali’s biggest misstep may have been her honest emotional reaction after the Roark vote. “Why couldn’t you just tell me?” Ali demands of Ryan. It’s a very fair point; as I wrote last week, Ryan should have gotten both of his allies on the same strategic page. Then he wouldn’t have to eliminate one of his best allies this week. Nevertheless, by turning the post-tribal debrief into an attack on Ryan, Ali basically forces him to vote her out.
As any true Survivor fan knows, no matter how bad you get screwed at Tribal, the first thing you say when you get back to camp is, “Great move, guys.” Of course, that is easier said than done, and your emotions can surprise you on Survivor. “I said 100 times I wasn’t going to come out and cry,” Ali says. Been there.
The Fishy this week goes to Chrissy and Ryan for making the right choice – even if it was the obvious choice. Extra credit to Ryan for staging a makeup sesh with Ali just before eliminating her. “I’m sorry,” he tells her, and then promises, “I have your back.” It’s always best to keep the sheep calm en route to the slaughter.
(Having to vote out one of your best former allies is never a great position, but I already gave Ryan grief for his mishandling of the last tribal council. This week, he cleans up his mess.)
If the dynamics on the yellow tribe are straightforward, there are more interesting things happening with the other two groups.
WATCH: Survivor‘s Cole Medders Passes Out
On the red tribe, poor Cole is starving. Things look bad when he passes out from malnutrition – and then get even worse when he tells Jessica, “I forgot how to talk to pretty girls.” Get this guy a Cliff bar before he’s too weak to fist pump.
Cole is like many ripped Survivor dudes whose gym-blessed muscles atrophy on the show’s starvation diet, making them weak and cranky. Pour a glass of protein powder for lost soldiers like Cagayan’s Garrett Adelstein and Palau’s Ibrehem Rahman.
Sadly, Cole’s tribe has no sympathy for his #rippedguyproblems. “He should have worried about his appetite more than his six pack,” grouches Ben. “Start packing on a few pounds.” Ben and Lauren play to Doctor Mike’s irritation, realizing that he could be a crucial swing vote. On Survivor, there’s no more hot button issue than food hoarding.
I bet watching this back at home on a healthy diet of lean meats and kale, Cole won’t even believe some of the extreme behaviors to which calorie reduction has driven him. My hope is that one day, future Survivor scholars will correlate in-game performance against pre-game nutrition. For what it’s worth, the great Tony Vlachos advises players to eat fatty foods like avocados and peanut butter before venturing onto the island. Tony had limitless energy for 39 days – though that may just be Tony.
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Speaking of Tonies, his doppelganger Joe finds a second idol. He may need it, as Ashley is trying to convince Desi to vote him out.
“Do you really feel like you could trust him?” Ashley asks.
“I trust Joe to the point that he’ll use me to his advantage in this game,” says Desi.
It’s an incredibly astute game observation. You can never “trust” somebody 100 percent in Survivor. It’s a zero sum game for a million dollars. But you can trust many people to act in their perceived best interest.
The challenge is figuring out what they perceive their best interest to be.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.