Rob Kim/Landov
March 12, 2010 12:00 AM

“A conspirator cannot act alone, yet he cannot seek help except from those whom he believes to be disaffected.” –Machiavelli, The Prince

Russell Hantz plays Survivor at full tilt. Even on a tribe of All Stars, he s playing harder, faster, stronger. While the rest of the Villains centered themselves with Coa-chi, Russell scrambled in the sand, searching for the immunity idol. But finding an idol only set Russell up for the move of the episode, which was recruiting Coach into his shadow alliance. For inducting the Dragonslayer into the Round Table of the Ridiculous, King Russell wins his first Fishy of the season.

As I wrote last season, one of the principle powers of the idol is that it can rally an alliance. On Samoa, Russell used idols to recruit Jaison, Mick, Laura, John, Shambo … actually, just about everybody. The problem this time around is that the rest of the Villains seem fairly united under the benign dictatorship of Boston Rob. Russell and Parvati have been swept to the side. Russell can t just walk up to anybody and flash his idol. If he reveals his plan to the wrong person, they might smile, shake his hand, and stab him in the back.

Watching the show on television, alliances seem rigid and the battle lines clearly drawn. But when you re out on the beach, you never know who is whispering to whom. You constantly suspect the close to you of double-dealing — and that s because they probably are. People ask me all the time why I never voted out JT on Tocantins. One reason was, the person I tried to recruit might have gone running right back to him. That s why being a good judge of character is one of the most vital skills in a Survivor player. If Russell recruits the wrong conspirator, his coup might end all too soon.

Picking Coach was a stroke of mastery. We saw last episode that the Dragonslayer has been feeling jilted by Boston Rob. I feel like the only time you want to bond with me is when we re getting up to the challenges, which is cool, if that s all you want, Coach told Rob. That s like the Survivor version of You re just using me for sex.

Russell picks up on that feeling of isolation and promises Coach more stable companionship. I don t have any problem to give the idol to you to get further in the game, Russell tells Coach. He s guaranteeing Coach a committed relationship, til Final Tribal do them part. All Rob could say last episode was, You have to trust me.

Formally knighting Coach was the smartest thing Russell could do. Coach is like Don Quixote. His fantasy world of dragons and wizards may seem ridiculous to the viewer, but he really does abide by the signs and symbols of the Knight Errant. In Tocantins, Coach tried to cement his alliance with JT by saying, It would be stupid if we made an alliance, gave it a name, bandied the name about, talked about ourselves being warriors, and then chickened out at the last second. The name was the most important thing. By playing into his mythology, Russell establishes himself as a crucial figure in Coach s world — in fact, its king. This is a monumental moment, Coach tells Russell. You can tell he s talking more about the epic poems that will be sung in the fictional world of Coachlandia than he is about Survivor.

Give Coach credit, though. Russell really is offering him a better deal than Rob does. And while Rob may be Superman in the challenges, the immunity idol is his kryptonite. There s a pretty basic flaw in the strategy We ll vote Russell out if he has the idol. What happens when he plays the idol and votes you out instead? When I played Survivor, there were no hidden immunity idols, Grampa Mariano keeps reminding us. But the problem is, he’s playing against the next generation of Survivors that grew up with them. –Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Did Coach make the right decision to go with Russell? Who will triumph — Russell or Rob? Is JT playing smart Survivor or is he overplaying his hand?Rob Kim/Landov

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