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.
“You want to know the best case scenario? The idol’s in my pants!” — Ryan Ulrich, Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
Angela Perkins’ Survivor story has revolved around two key themes. First, her loyal and sometimes-resentful link to Chris. And second, her need to feel like she’s part of the Naviti majority. Last week, both of those connections were severed, when the merge tribe almost unanimously voted Chris out of the game, without her knowledge. As Michael tells her, “You were the only person out of the loop last vote.”
So it makes psychological sense why she would go into overdrive this episode, stirring things up around camp to target Michael. She relays to Kellyn that Michael had said that Kellyn and Chelsea hadn’t trusted her; and she tells Wendell and Domenick that they are Michael’s targets. Angela places herself at the center of the Naviti strategic discussions – which is all she’s ever really wanted.
But does it make strategic sense? Stirring things up to create chaos within the Naviti leadership would be a genius move on Angela’s part – if that’s what she were doing. If she started a campaign of whispers to alienate Wendell and Kellyn and Chelsea, and turn the Naviti power brokers against each other, she would be advancing her own position in the game. Tell Kellyn that Wendell wants her out. That might start some real drama.
But all that Angela is actually accomplishing is currying favor with the heads of the Naviti alliance – Wendell and Dom and Kellyn – and targeting a guy who’s already an outsider.
Maybe Angela is bothered that Michael, a Malolo, is more on the inside of her tribe than she is. After all, he’s the one who reminds her that she was the only person left out of the last vote. What an insult, coming from someone who you believe should be below you in the ranking. It often happens that those at the bottom of a power structure turn on each other, jealously guarding their own step on the ladder, rather than actually destabilizing the forces up top.
That said, I don’t think that Angela should have teamed up with Michael to vote out Wendell. Clearly, that’s a nonstarter on the Lavita tribe, and Angela would just isolate herself further, make herself an enormous target, and likely cost her jury votes, if she makes it to the end. Angela’s best play right now probably is just to wait for the bigger players to turn on each other.
Furthermore, Angela has every reason to worry about her own position in the game, after her best ally is voted out. It didn’t look like the Navitis were targeting her – but she has no way to know that. Her true motivation may simply be self-preservation. She tells Libby at the reward, “Once you have that tag or bullseye on your back, it’s hard to get rid of.” It seems like she’s offering advice, but she may really be speaking about herself.
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So while targeting Michael isn’t the major disruptive move that Angela presents it as, it is one of the small, incremental moves that make up good gameplay. Angela does need to integrate herself into the strategic conversations of the tribe, and this is a good start. Yes, it would be better if she could destabilize the whole system, but that’s a lot to ask. Angela makes a decent play and – combined with her incredible defense in the immunity challenge – I’d give her the Fishy, if Michael had gone home.
But of course the Fishy this episode goes to Michael. As we saw just last week, when The Noble One left the game with an idol in his pocket, playing your idol at the right time isn’t always easy to do, even when it seems like it should be obvious.
So much of Survivor success depends on reading the room in tribal council. As Wendell says in confessional, “You can’t trust everything you hear on the island. You have to start really listening to things and cues in tribal.” It’s a fantastic point, and one which I don’t think is brought up enough. Contestants are weirdly honest at Tribal Council, in a way that’s incommensurate with how they act at camp. Somebody who is totally comfortable with lying to your face by the fire will start giving strange hints when Probst is grilling her. You really can start to guess who is going home by the tenor of the tribal council conversation – if you can do the difficult task of filtering out the background paranoia.
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Michael picks up the cues, plays his idol – and sends Libby home in his place.
I also want to give shout-out to Kellyn for a small moment that shows just how well she’s playing the game. Keeping your allies happy and secure is probably the most important Survivor skill. When Laurel starts to express how she feels left out, Kellyn tells her, “We are depending on you all more than you are depending on us.” Making people feel powerful and important is the best way to keep their alliance.
Wendell tries to similarly reassure Laurel, but in his case it backfires. He can read that Laurel is starting to have doubts about her position in the game. To reassure her, he tells her about his idol. Historically this move has been a deep expression of trust between two players. But rather than be reassured that Wendell is confiding in her, Laurel instead worries about all the time that he spent not confiding in her.
“I think he’s shown that I can only trust him to a certain point,” she says.
Laurel’s right that she needs to get out from the shadow of Wendell and Dom and define her own game. We may see a big move from her soon.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.