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Stephen Fishbach
April 16, 2015 12:00 PM

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

"My whole goal coming into this game was to play the underdog, be underestimated and just kind of slide through, which is what I’ve done, and it’s gotten me this far." –Natalie White, winner of Survivor: Samoa

What do you do on Survivor when nobody seems to like you?

What kind of moves can you make when you’re an outcast from your tribe?

Every season it seems to happen to somebody. For whatever reason, the groupthink that sets in with any tribe dynamic leads one person to be unfairly pilloried and excluded.

Eliza on Vanuatu. Erinn in Tocantins. Cochran in South Pacific.

All outcasts. All excluded. All ended up completely flipping the game on its head.

This season, poor Shirin seems to be the one everybody is picking on. Carolyn couldn’t stand her on the White Collar tribe. Dan bullied her last week. Next week, it looks like it’s Will’s turn to shout at and degrade her.

I’ve written before about how a dominant player can build a strong alliance by reaching out to an outcast.

But what do you do if you’re the outcast?

At the merge, Shirin joined up with the small No Collar alliance. It was a questionable decision that I’m still not sure about. Maybe she thought the tight-knit foursome would outlast the more fractious Blue Collars. But the No Collars quickly crumbled in the face of overwhelming Blue Collar onslaught.

This episode, Shirin showed exactly what an outcast can do. She made incremental steps to build an alliance of her own – and cast doubt on the existing power structures.

Straight after Tribal Council, Shirin shaded Mike’s entire alliance by pronouncing that she planned to vote for him. She sowed small seed of dissension in the already quarrelsome group.

Shirin then approached Mike and proposed herself as a loyal ally. She noted that his group had some potential power players in it – and that she could be a solid vote to eliminate them.

Mike, for his part, deserves credit for seeing the opportunity. “Pulling Shirin in is a perfect strategy to get rid of some of these other threats that are in this game,” he said.

Survivor is a game of mistakes – and Mike has made very few mistakes. It’s a testament to his charisma that he was the one Shirin approached. Mike’s true superpower seems to be his ability to charm people – in addition to his incredible skill throwing grappling hooks.

But it’s Shirin who wins the Fishy this week. She’s the one who instigated the new alliance and suggested her longtime adversary, Carolyn, as a potential target.

Shirin perhaps deserves credit for not trying to upend the game with one huge betrayal. She kept her alliance with Jenn – but advanced herself, one small step at a time.

“Once I’m in, once people trust me – maybe I’m not in the driver’s seat right away, but I’m in the passenger’s seat, backseat driving,” she said.

At Tribal Council, the Blue Collars split their votes between Joe and Jenn. Immunity beast Joe finally lost a challenge. They were not about to miss a rare opportunity to eliminate a true threat – even though Jenn, feeling bereft of Hali, of chocolate and of her chickens, was asking to be voted out of the game.

(And for what it’s worth – I don’t really see a difference between walking out of the game and asking to be voted out. Both are essentially giving up)

But it was Shirin who had the deciding vote. She could either vote out Jenn – keeping the big threat and distraction Joe in the game.

Or she could vote out Joe as Mike wanted her to – proving he loyalty to her new ally and potentially winning a spot at the endgame.

Shirin proved her loyalty and voted out Joe.

She started from the bottom. Now she’s here.

What’s next?

Survivor: Worlds Apart airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.

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