Strong groups are falling apart in the face of weaker opposition

By Stephen Fishbach
Updated March 20, 2014 09:30 AM
Credit: Erik Reichenbach

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. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can.

“I never had numbers. I always make it to the end. I don’t need no stinkin’ numbers. All I need is trust. Loyalty.”
– Russell Hantz, Survivor: Redemption Island

They were the best of tribes, they were the worst of tribes.

They were a tribe of wisdom, they were a tribe of foolishness. They had moments of strategy, and they had moments of idiocy.

In short, after Wednesday’s Survivor tribe swap, we saw the Tale of Two Beauties.

On Apari, the once-unbeatable Beauty fell apart like a bridezilla with split ends. On Solana, Beauty used their sex appeal to seduce the dominant Brawn.

Two different versions of a tale as old as time. Two iterations of a song as old as rhyme.

Beauty and the Geeks

At the new Apari camp, three Brains and three Beauties looked ready for a face-off with Sarah as the swing vote.

As soon as the tribe got back to camp, however, the Beauties turned on each other. Morgan, Jeremiah and Alexis all distrusted each other after the fallout from Brice’s ouster. They separately approached the Brains and tried to win their favor, each using their distinctive skill set.

Alexis talked strategy. Morgan tried gossip. Jeremiah harnessed the power of his marble-mouth to confuse people about what he was saying.

“They seem to have so little social skills for a tribe that’s supposed to be beautiful and social,” says Spencer. He’s quickly learning one of Survivor‘s zen koans, which is that losing is the best way to win.

It’s a tragedy we’ve seen before, on so many seasons. A dominant tribe wins early challenges, but internal resentments fester. At a merge or a swap, they turn on each other, giving the battle-hardened underdogs the opportunity to take control.

All their time at Tribal Council has made the Brains thick as thieves and taught them the art of lying to people’s faces.

“This could be the final three,” Spencer joked. “The only thing between us and that is two entire tribes.”

That glib remark could prove prophetic.

Beauty and the Beasts

On Solana, Brawn had a huge numbers advantage. They were five strong against Jefra and LJ.

But all those big muscles are hiding a weak core. Trish hates Cliff and Lindsey. LJ shows her his abs, and she’s smitten.

Moreover, Trish learns that LJ is from Boston, like her. If living in the same metropolitan area isn’t a great reason for two people to work together in a strategy game, I don’t know what is.

Most of Brawn wants to vote as a tribe. Even Tony thinks it’s madness to keep beguiling LJ in the game. But to keep your alliance strong, you need to treat your allies well. Cliff and Lindsey aren’t exactly shy about how little they like Trish.

LJ wins the Fishy this week for wooing Trish. He was a certain target, and he flipped the game.

LJ also deserves credit for not playing his idol. It looked like madness to us at home that he took that risk, but I’m betting LJ had a strong read on Tony. The best Survivor players have the intuition to know what other players will do in the voting booth, and the courage to trust their convictions.

Trish gets a second Fishy for putting her plan into action, building an alliance with LJ and convincing the skeptical Tony. Trish knows that having the numbers only matters if you’re numbers 1 through 3.

Is Failure the Key to Success?

On both tribes, we’re seeing strong groups fall apart in the face of weaker opposition.

Could a winning Survivor strategy be to throw the early challenges? If you were on Survivor, would you try it?