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.
“I’m not gonna trust anybody. But to a certain point, you have to.”
– Jeff Varner, Survivor: Australia
Trust is a mysterious thing – in Survivor, as in life.
Watching the game from home, you can’t believe Jon Misch would be so stupid as to trust Natalie. Doesn’t he know he’s playing a game for a million dollars?
Did he really believe her outrageous lie that she accidentally screwed up her tribal council vote?
But for contestants surviving together in the outdoors for 39 grueling days, you almost can’t help but develop trust. You trust each other to build fires and cook food. You trust each other for warmth at night when it’s pouring outside.
You even have to trust people in the game itself. You have to find a few key allies who you truly believe will have your back. You have to put so much faith in these people that there’s nothing you can really do if they choose to blindside you.
The crucial question of the entire game is: Whom do you put all that faith in? Finding the right people to trust is the difference between a successful Survivor player and a failed one.
So, how do you know who the right people are? Is it instinct? Is it wisdom? How many of us, in our own lives, could really see through a superb liar who was committed to deceiving us?
Natalie did an amazing job of convincing Jon to trust her. She saved his butt from Reed’s blindside by telling him to play his idol. She invited him and Jaclyn on reward and pretended to be delighted by his wine snobbery. In a game where there are very few opportunities to truly show loyalty, Natalie took every one.
Jon’s fatal flaw is that he’s so busy planning his tribal council speech, counting his money and cooing in Jaclyn’s ear, he’s not even open to the possibility that Natalie might be fooling him. Jaclyn raises the issue.
“Maybe her and Keith had something going on,” she says.
Jon dismisses it out of hand. “I don’t see Nat flipping.” And that’s the end of that.
A strong pair works so well on Survivor because you can bounce ideas off each other and keep each other sane in a game that drives you crazy. But if you aren’t even open to debate, then you’re not playing as a pair. You’re playing as an individual – with all the blind spots that entails.
Jon is too focused on big gestures, like giving Missy the reward. But how many times this very season has someone given up their reward and been blindsided in the exact same episode?
“That was super nice of him to do that, but getting Jon out is me and Natalie’s No. 1 priority,” Baylor says, about 15 minutes after Jon’s grandiose gesture.
Jon’s story is probably the most classic Survivor tale of all. He got complacent. And he got blindsided.
Natalie wins the Fishy this week for a superb performance that lulled Jon, and a perfectly executed split-vote blindside.
And you know what? Natalie also wins a retroactive Fishy for last week. I had faulted her for keeping Keith over Alec because I never imagined she could fool Jon and Jaclyn into believing she messed up a vote. Has anybody in Survivor history ever pulled off such a fast one? But she did it – and it paid off.
Now she has a pocket ally in Keith. A tight alliance with Baylor and Missy. And a clear story to tell at the final tribal council.