Monty Brinton/CBS
September 16, 2009 12:00 AM

Attention Survivor fans! Stephen Fishbach will be blogging about strategy and game play on Survivor: Samoa each week at PEOPLE.com. A New York brand consultant and runner-up to JT Thomas on Survivor: Tocantins, Fishbach gained fans and fame last season for his artful maintenance of Jalapao’s hidden immunity idol and, along with JT, picking off Timbira one-by-one to get to the final two. Check back each week to hear from Stephen — and to talk all about the new season of Survivor, which begins Thursday, Sept. 17.

“A clever fighter wins his battles by making no mistakes.” –Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Survivor is a game of mistakes. As soon as you hit that beach, your tribemates are looking for something that sets you apart, a reason to vote you out. You’re too old or too ugly. You make the wrong alliance. You slip up in an immunity challenge and cost your tribe victory. You invite your friends on a reward and leave your enemies back at camp to plot against you. Maybe you win too much, or too often. Or maybe you wait too long to betray your biggest ally and lose the game to him in a jury shut-out.

If that last one sounds vaguely familiar, that’s what happened to me last season in Survivor: Tocantins. I played what I think was a strategic game: I controlled a hidden immunity idol, tried to eliminate randomness where I could from an extremely unpredictable game, and played two opposing alliances off against each other.

But ultimately, after I had betrayed just about everybody in the game, I missed my chance to twist the knife in my best friend/god-child/light-bringer JT’s back. The jury swooned for his Southern charm and awarded him the million bucks!

Since Survivor, I’ve been nursing my wounds and getting back to work as a freelance writer and brand consultant. Now I’m excited for Survivor: Samoa to start, so I can do for these poor saps what past bloggers did for me — armchair quarterbacking from the comfort of my well-stocked and air-conditioned apartment.

Every week, I’ll be picking what I think is the key strategic move of the episode — whether it’s a brilliantly-constructed blindside, a smart alliance, or even just a friendship that could pay off big strategic dividends down the line. But I also want your opinion. Who’s playing a smart game? Who’s overrated? Who’s living in a fantasy world of knights and dragon-slayers?

For now, check out the cast’s bios and pre-game videos.

My personal pre-season favorite is Jaison — he plays the strategy game Diplomacy like I do, and I found that to be an incredible primer for The Game. Diplomacy is like Survivor without the starvation: there’s scheming, alliance-building based on trust and mutual self-interest, and of course backstabbing. I also like Jaison’s plan to back-channel information and create hidden alliances.

I’m also a fan Monica and of Erik. And I’m looking forward to seeing Russell H in action. Jeff Probst called him “the closest thing to evil we’ve ever had on Survivor.” Let’s see what villainy he has in store!

For the most part, everyone says they will fly under the radar and align quickly with a small group of friends. Fortunately, Survivor casts who can’t control their mouths or their tempers. A couple of them already admit they “tell it like it is.” Good. That makes for better TV, if worse strategy.

And no matter how smart your pre-game strategy, everything changes as soon as you hit the beach. It’s 120 degrees, you’re eating termites, and that Survivor paranoia starts to set in… . Game on! — Stephen Fishbach

Tell me: Who are your favorites? Who do you think has what it takes to win?

Monty Brinton/CBS

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