A rice war erupts after the tribes swap
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS /Landov

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 call it ‘being cool.’ Just not ticking people off.”
– Judson “Fabio” Birza, winner, Survivor: Nicaragua

The hunger gets pretty bad on Survivor. But even worse than the starvation is the people.

Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor was all about rice. But even more fundamentally, it was about how people relate to one another in survival circumstances.

Rice Wars

For two weeks, the Hunahpu tribe members have been gorging themselves. They’ve been eating a decadent two meals of rice a day. The binge-eating has kept them so strong, they’ve been winning all the challenges.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Coyopa tribe members have been living an ascetic life of only one meal a day. They’ve been rationing their limited supplies. Sure, they’ve been consistently losing – but they have a full sack of rice.

When the tribes swap, two different styles of eating quickly cause conflicts. On Nu-Hunahpu, the famished tribe decides to barter with Jeff. (Always a dangerous proposition. His life is fine.)

But at Nu-Coyopa, the tribe members turn on one another.

Should we extend our sympathies to poor Dale? He’s been starving for weeks, and now has to bite his tongue until he draws blood, while Missy devours the food he’s carefully preserved.

Or perhaps our hearts go out to Missy? She is attacked and criticized merely for eating a few extra spoonfuls of rice.

Really, they both look bad. They’re two of the tribe’s older members, but they’re acting childish and petulant in a game of relationships and compromise. Who cares how much rice you get to eat on day 16? A million dollars can buy you all kinds of groceries.

The rice war sets off a broader conflict that divides the fledgling tribe. Missy grouses that not only is Dale some kind of crazy food-hoarder, but he tried to vote out her bear cub. Dale claims that Missy is “a self-centered, bossy bitch.” (You stay classy, Dale!)

Pairing Up

Jon and Jaclyn, meanwhile, beam in delight as they find themselves at the center of the new tribe. It’s a pretty big swing – they started from the bottom, now they’re here. Jon was on his “apology tour” just a day before. Now they’re taking long walks on the beach, smooching and whispering sweet nothings about whom they should vote out.

Do they side with wishy-washy Missy and Baylor, who has flipped on Jaclyn in the past? Or do they align with Dale and Kelley, who are dangerous because they’ve seen every episode of Survivor?

Ultimately, the couple chooses to vote out Kelley. It’s probably their best move. We haven’t seen very much of Kelley but everybody thinks she’s a threat. Not only does she have a cable subscription but she’s likable and good in challenges. Jon’s former bro Drew had his torch snuffed in his quest to eliminate her.

The move also sets Jon and Jaclyn up for the merge. Baylor has a long-standing alliance with Josh, and Missy has ties to Jeremy – two of the game’s dominant players. By allying themselves with the Texans, Jon and Jaclyn give themselves more inroads with the power players after a merge.

Meanwhile, if you have to piss off somebody, it might as well be Dale. The tribe’s elder statesman is a weak challenger performer, and he has no real ties in the game. (He was the only person who voted with John Rocker.)

Jon and Jaclyn win the Fishy for taking control of their tribe and making a strategic voting decision.

And let’s give Keith credit, too. As the one single on a tribe of pairs, Keith looked like the odd man out. But while the rest of the players bickered, he faded into the background.

It’s a smart strategy for now.

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