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.
“Predictable in this game is great.” — Brendan Synnott, dragon, Survivor: Tocantins
The tribe swap is a great reminder of how much luck and chance go into winning Survivor. Grab the wrong basket, and your whole game can implode.
But it’s also a reminder of how contestants can make their own luck. Adaptability is Survivor’s crucial skill. “I knew I wasn’t going to be in power the whole game,” says Stephanie. “You’ve gotta ride the waves. If there’s a wave, you’ve gotta surf it.”
Both of the new tribes end up with a 5-4 Naviti advantage. To the untrained eye, it looks like the old purple tribe can rest comfortable while they pick off their opponents. “It would be so epic to knock out the Malolo tribe one by one,” says Kellyn.
But sometimes, being the underdog can be an advantage. While the former Navitis bask in their newfound power, the Malolos hustle and scheme.
In the immortal words of Avis Rent-a-Car, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else.”
On the new Malolo tribe, the posh Navitis can’t handle their down-market new digs. Kellyn compares the tribe’s shelter to an ugly baby. And is that really dirt? Bradley had specifically requested sand.
Building a shelter is an iconic part of the Survivor experience. When a swap or a merge brings new people onto your beach, you’re excited to show off your digs. So to have your beloved Survivor home belittled is like – well, like having your real home belittled.
Realizing they’re in trouble, the hard-scrabble Malolos go idol hunting, and male model Michael finds the hidden immunity idol – one of James Clement’s unplayed idols from China.
Whether an idol can help save them from their aristocratic new overlords remains to be seen. So far everybody who has touched an advantage has had bad luck. Jacob and Morgan have both been eliminated, and Domenick is Naviti’s biggest target.
Maybe the curse is real?
Meanwhile, on the new Naviti tribe, the old Naviti members aren’t going to let something as silly as a numerical advantage stop themselves from self-destructing.
The bad blood between Chris and Domenick that animated Naviti in their first week on the island carries over to the new group. Chris runs around camp telling everybody that Domenick has the idol. The rest of the group rolls their eyes and decides to vote off Chris.
Naviti doesn’t really have a great excuse for its dysfunction. Yes, it’s true that many winning tribes make the mistake of turning on each other to settle their old scores rather than voting out the smaller group. But we’re not talking about Tandang from the Philippines, that went 19 days of festering resentment before backstabbing RC. It’s only been a week.
Moreover, when it comes time for tribal council, Chris isn’t even around to be eliminated. He’s chilling on Ghost Island with a full pot of rice and rich family memories. But the Navitis are so fixated on him that they decide to indirectly attack him by eliminating his “right hand man,” Angela – even as Angela herself complains that she’s tired of being under Chris’ thumb.
James wins the Fishy this week for realizing that, with the Naviti tribe members split, the old Malolo doesn’t need to go along with somebody else’s plan. They can choose whomever they want to go home. He targets Morgan.
My initial gut reaction was that James made a terrible decision. By blindsiding Morgan, the Malolo 4 makes enemies of Wendell and Domenick.
But then I realized I was judging the move based on who I wanted to see succeed, as a TV viewer. I just like the Wendell/Domenick pairing. They’re both fun presences on-screen and hard gamers on the island. I loved Morgan’s enthusiasm at tribal council, where every sentence she uttered was bolded and ended with an exclamation point. “Right now we could all be sitting here completely lying! Or we could all be telling the truth!” Contrast that with bossy Chris who mansplains his every move.
But the more I thought about it, the more I respected James’ decision. By choosing to side with Chris and Angela over Wendell and Domenick, the Malolos are choosing an alliance with the weaker strategic players over the stronger.
James correctly gauges that Domenick is an aggressive gamer just waiting to make a big move. “I see Domenick almost as a Russell Hantz 2.0,” he says. “I truly think he is capable of lying straight to my face.” James also sniffs out that the fake idol may just be a diversion from the real one.
“If anyone has to go I swear on my children and family it’s a bad sign,” James says, echoing Rupert Boneham’s famous words from Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains that he could never trust anybody who swore on their kids.
WATCH: Shaun T & Andrea Boehlke’s Survivor-Inspired Workout!
Contrast that with Chris, who wears his emotions on his sleeve. When he’s mad at Domenick, the whole world knows. You never have to wonder what he’s secretly plotting, because nothing he does is secret.
Voting out Morgan over Angela has the added benefit of maximizing internal-Naviti dysfunction. If they eliminated Angela, you’d still have the three-strong alliance of Wendell, Domenick, and Morgan, with one outsider, Chris.
But Angela has made it clear that she and Chris are at odds. Angela has also just seen Wendell and Domenick write her name down in an attempted blindside. After that tribal council, Angela has nowhere to go except to the Malolos who saved her.
Moreover, the move separates Libby from her budding Catholic girl alliance with Morgan. You always want to be first in your allies’ hierarchy. If you can see that new bonds are forming, it’s a good thing to sever them.
So why not just take a shot at Domenick and hopefully eliminate him along with the idol? Because the danger is, if the four Navitis are actually gaslighting the Malolos and Domenick plays his idol, then it’s a Malolo who goes home. Yes, it’s a small chance – but why take the chance at all?
I wonder if I would have had the wisdom to make the same decision that James did. I think the strategist in me would have wanted the fun of playing the game with Wendell and Domenick and Morgan. And then when they inevitably blindsided me, I’d have nobody but myself to blame.
By keeping around weaker players, James strengthens his own position and that of his entire tribe. It’s a great move.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.