By People Staff
October 02, 2009 12:00 AM
Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

“He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent … may be called a heaven-born captain” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Even when Russell’s wrong, he’s right. In an episode where Russell claims he’s “running the whole show” and has Foa Foa “under control like zombies,” his best move is getting out of the way and letting Jaison take the reins. After trying to eliminate Ashley, his lone remaining antagonist, Russell wisely votes with the tribe to knock out Ben. Clear some space on the bookshelf, Russell. You have another Fishy Award in the mail.

The episode begins and ends with Jaison bristling at Ben. Last week, Ben called Yasmin “ghetto trash,” referred to her making “ketchup sandwiches,” and otherwise campaigned for an NAACP Image Award. Jaison wants him gone. But Russell wants to save Ben for one vote. He’s afraid that with Ben gone, Ashley and the Foa Foa girls will have numbers against the guys. “I will regret not sending Ashley home,” he says. “There’s no way she’s not going to try to get that all girl thing.”

The specter of an all girls’ alliance may seem sexist. After all, why should women be more likely to align than guys or young or Mormon triathletes? Nevertheless, it happens — almost every season, someone suggests a women’s alliance. In Tocantins, it was Debbie. (When I found out about it, Deb claimed she was “joking.” Hilarious, Deb. It was so funny, we had to vote her out, lest we die from laughter.) These days, every girl entering the game has a poster of Parvati and her Black Widow Brigade plastered on her bedroom wall. Russell is right to be afraid.

But Russell knows better than to overplay his hand. When Jaison threatens to make camp life hell if they keep Ben, Russell flips. Rather than alienate his tribe, Russell goes along with the group — the strategic move of the episode.

My biggest fear for Russell is that he’s a little easy with his alliances. Last week, he made puppy dog eyes at Jaison and showed him the idol. I thought it was commitment, but Russell just can’t keep his idol in his pants. This week, he shows it to Mick. What happens when Mick and Jaison compare notes and realize you’re two-timing them? I learned in Tocantins that you can control the flow of information for some of the game — but there isn’t that much to do on a desolate beach. Eventually, talk.

For now, though, Russell’s safe. “Nobody is playing the game but me on my tribe,” he says. “This might be the worst group in history, and I might be the best.” It’s a common sentiment among Survivor strategists. JT and I felt like the rest of Tocantins was moving in slow motion; Todd, the winner of China, said he sometimes thought nobody else was playing the game. Maybe CBS only ever casts a couple of strategists and saves the rest of the spots for hunky bartenders and model/actresses?

Whatever the reason, most contestants think only about the next vote — and sometimes, not even that far ahead. “We should see how today goes before we start discussing who to vote off,” Natalie tells Russell. So long as it’s not them, shortsighted castaways are content to be led like lambs to the slaughter. This season, Russell will be the one to lead them.

In Tribal Council, Jaison delivers the verbal smackdown on Ben, and the tribe votes unanimously to send him home. Losing an ally might not seem like great strategy. But knowing when to abandon a sinking ship takes insight and discipline. Russell showed this episode that he doesn’t just control the tribe — he also controls himself. — Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Was Russell right to vote off Ben? What’s going to happen next week between Russell and Jaison? And how will Shambo’s new friendship with Foa Foa play out?

Monty Brinton/CBS(2)