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.
“You shouldn’t even be in this damn game if you don’t know who the biggest threat is.” —Judd Sergeant, Survivor: Guatemala
I need to start this week’s blog with a public service announcement, inspired by Cambodia winner Jeremy Collins.
Dear Survivor contestants: stop shaking hands.
Make your alliances with words.
On the island, everybody is constantly watching everybody else. If two players stroll down the beach, everybody at camp notices. But nobody can be sure what they’re saying … until they shake each others’ hands.
This episode was a double-header, with two immunity challenges and two tribal councils — but no major big moves or blindsides. Instead, the infuriating theme of the night was that everybody knows David is the biggest threat, but nobody really wants to vote him out.
David is the “head of the snake,” according to Will. “You can’t beat David,” Adam says. If David makes it to the end, says Bret, “I might as well go back and eat cake right now.”
Jeff Probst bangs the gong that the players need to consider who they’ll be sitting next to at the end. “It all comes down to: how do I get to the end, and who do I take with me?”
Nevertheless, the Survivors vote out Sunday and Will, two of the season’s most invisible contestants.
Let them eat cake.
Sacrificing the Goat
The Rotten Fishy for this episode goes to Hannah. While Adam targets the mega-threats Jay and David, Hannah instead convinces him instead to vote out Sunday.
Let me just reiterate that. With four votes left before the finals, Hannah chooses to spend one of them on the least likely player to win.
Hannah worries that one of the big players like Adam will flip to take Sunday, clogging up the final tribal. “Sunday is such an enticing goat,” she says.
Eliminating goats can make good strategic sense for the big players, who want as many seats available at the finals. If David or Jay can get people to target Sunday, that’s fantastic.
But Hannah’s a smaller-scale player. If she wants to have any shot at winning, she needs to be adding big notches to her belt, and keeping around players she can beat.
“If Sunday goes home, then we’ve just saved David’s ass and we have a more loyal four,” Hannah argues.
At least from the viewer’s perspective, loyalty is not something Hannah needs to worry about. She’s surrounded by people who want to ally with her. Adam is rock solid. David and Ken are tight. Bret and Sunday are begging for an alliance.
Indeed, David is the entire reason that Hannah has been a target in the previous episodes. People have been voting for her as a proxy for him, worried that he would play his idol for himself. By voting out David, not only would Hannah eliminate the game’s biggest threat, but she would likely make herself less of a target.
Adam is correct that the tribe needs to stack votes on Jay to force him to flush his idol — and then actually vote out David.
“If we vote for Sunday, it would leave both Dave and Jay in the game,” he says. “They’re two strong strategic players, so we have to make sure that one of them goes home.”
Even though he’s right (and he successfully flushes Jay’s idol) I can’t give Adam the Fishy. He doesn’t convince anybody to go along with his plan. Instead, he follows Hannah’s decision.
Hannah says, “The kind of person who makes a decision and convinces other people of that decision is the kind of person that wins Survivor.”
That’s true … if it’s a good decision.
David wins the Fishy this week for avoiding two back-to-back votes without immunity or an idol.
I love David’s gameplay. Even as his name is on everybody’s lips, he seems so relaxed and confident, especially compared to his early frenetic days. He’s got Ken and Hannah drinking his Kool-Aid and Adam reluctantly along for the ride.
“I actually think you have to lean on friendships and bonds even more [at the end] than at the beginning or middle of the game,” he says at tribal council.
It’s a very astute comment from an incredibly smart player. David has built deep bonds with people, who are now protecting him in his march to the finale.
“I want to be walking back here tonight with David, who has been my closest ally and my closest friend,” says Ken.
“If David goes home, I lose David, who I freaking love,” says Hannah.
Guys, you’ll see David in three days. You can share a mini-cocktail on the flight back to L.A. Maybe for now, try to win Survivor.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.