Stephen's 'Survivor' Strategy Blog: Russell Recruits Jaison

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

Russell Hantz is one of the best Survivor players ever. The fact that he snagged an idol right out from under the noses of his oblivious tribe — without any clues — was just the icing on the cake. The best move of the episode was the way he used the idol as a tool to ally with Jaison. Congratulations, Russell. Like Jeff Probst easily winning his second Emmy, you’ve nabbed your second Fishy Award for Best Strategic Move. You both should be proud.

Is the rest of Foa Foa blind? I was once again open-mouthed in shock as the Foa Foans puttered around while Russell fully climbed into a tree looking for the hidden immunity idol — in the middle of camp. When Mick asks him what he’s doing, Russell tells him: “I’m looking for the immunity idol.” Then he casually gets up, sticks the idol in his pants, and walks off. Russell may not have had any hints to finding the idol, but it’s the rest of Foa Foa that doesn’t have a clue.

Now the real power of a hidden immunity idol is rarely its ability to save you from a vote. It’s almost impossible to know the perfect moment to play it at tribal council. But what it can do is create a rallying point for a strong ally. That’s how Yul used the idol in Cook Islands to recruit Jonathan Penner; it’s how Taj, JT and I used it last season; and it’s what Ozzy failed to do in Micronesia.

Russell knows you have to give trust to receive it. So when he shows Jaison the idol, he makes the strategic move of the episode. “We have a deal,” Jaison says. They shake on it.

Having a close confidante simplifies the game. It’s a vote you can count on and a voice to back up your lies. “You can’t do this alone,” Russell says. “You’ve gotta have somebody.”

Jaison could be the perfect somebody — he’s clearly both a great athlete and a level-headed thinker. In fact, the Russell/Jaison alliance may be my favorite alliance since… since my own alliance last season with JT. There are some similarities, too — the smooth-talking Southerner and the over-educated gamer. Lather, rinse, win Survivor.

But there are also dangers to allying with Jaison. He could be too cool, too collected. He already complained that the attacks on Marisa were “a little too chaotic for me.” Russell feeds on chaos. And if anybody has the power to stand up to Russell, it won’t be his lap-dog Ben, milquetoasty Mick, or the remnants of his “Dumb Girl Alliance.” Jaison has the ability to entrench King Russell, or unseat him. And the scenes from next week hint that Jaison and Russell go head-to-head. If that’s the case, the week’s best move may also prove to be its worst.

For now, everything at Foa Foa is going according to plan. At tribal council, Russell almost can’t contain his glee as Ben once again gets into it with the tribe. Ben is good for business. As long as he’s around, Russell doesn’t even have to set fire to clothes or destroy the tribe’s food. Ben keeps the tribe on edge and bickering — whether he’s getting kicked out of the immunity challenge, leveling racist jibes at Yasmin, or chopping wood all night.

So it was no surprise that wise cop Betsy’s torch was snuffed. “Each time somebody threatens me, they’re going home,” Russell says. So far at least, they have. — Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Will Jaison and Russell stick together? Can Russell keep his power over the Foa Foa tribe? And is there actually a Galu tribe playing Survivor?

Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

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