By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2020 06:44 PM
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

“Masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions. —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Every stage of Survivor is harder than the last. Getting through the first vote and making the merge are all major milestones that amp up the game play. But once you make endgame, you’re really in the suck. With five or six left, paranoia runs high. By this point on Tocantins, I had lost my mind and was fairly sure the sand dunes had turned against me. So in a rare Fishy upset, this week’s major move goes to Natalie for the way in which — in spite of all the chaos around her — she manages to keep her cool and bond with Brett.

In Thursday’s episode — even more than last week — you can hear the paranoia creeping in. “Every time somebody smiles at you, what’s really going on their minds?” Mick wonders. “I don’t think anybody’s beyond the chopping block,” Shambo says. “I’m starting to get more worried about inter-divisions that may be starting to appear in our alliance,” Jaison avers.

Natalie, on the other hand, has kept her cool. “We actually have quite a bit of power,” she says. When Russell comes by for his daily check-in, you can almost see his wheels spinning. “We gotta get rid of Mick … or Brett,” he muses. “That’s our plan anyway,” Natalie replies. While Russell’s been off doing Survivor calculus, Natalie knows you only need addition to make a majority.

That calm attitude has helped Natalie distinguish herself from Mick and Jaison. All three of them seem to have the same strategy — be the one sitting next to Russell at the showdown. But the jury members have to do more than not write down Russell’s name. They need to pick up the pen and spell out yours. Natalie is the only one of the Foa Foans who seems to be forging the personal bonds that could make that happen.

This episode, Natalie earns her Fishy by bonding with Brett over their shared Christianity. Early on, they trade Bible verses, and at the reward challenge, she reinforces the connection. “Brett, you’re a prayer warrior, aren’t you?” she says. “I’m one too.” She clasps his hands and recites the traditional blessing of the reward challenge. With the score 77 to 23, you almost believe God has rewarded His chosen — though it ultimately turns out that the Lord doesn’t care about Survivor (Like the Emmy voters, He probably prefers The Amazing Race).

That’s not to say that Natalie is faking her Christianity. After sharing so much hardship and deprivation, it’s easy to create real bonds with on Survivor; but it’s just as easy to remain in your shell. Watching the hyper-intellectual Jaison struggle to relate to Monica and Brett last week, you have to appreciate Natalie’s easy charm.

Russell is, as always, controlling the game’s major action. He urges Mick and Natalie to target Shambo and assures Shambo that Mick’s really next. When Jaison’s brusque manner spooks the kooky marine, Russell even manages to calm her down. Keeping a united alliance is one of the major abilities of the game — it was my strength on Tocantins, helped Todd Herzog win China, and was the difference between Foa Foa and Galu this season. “It don’t matter what each individual thinks … because I’m in control of it all,” Russell says. His strategy is like a Monet; up close, all blurry lines, but quite beautiful when you step back.

But for all his mastery, Russell has one major blind spot. “Mick and Brett are big threats,” he says. “They’re likeable guys.” Notice anybody missing? Russell seems oblivious to the bonds that Natalie has built. That oversight may cost him a million dollars. –Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Should Russell have kept Shambo instead of Mick? Can Brett really go all the way?Monty Brinton/CBS(2)