By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2020 06:28 PM
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Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

No question — Survivor: Samoa is the Russell Hantz story. He burns socks! Makes idols appear from thin air! Ain’t finished playing just yet! And he is one of the meanest, most aggressive, best strategists in the history of Survivor. But there are eight other still left in Samoa. Before this week’s episode, I want to take a look at some non-Russell strategy and size up the puppetmaster’s competition.

Natalie: Survivor is a social game — and Natalie might be Samoa’s best social gamer. Her strategy from day 1 has been to let Russell get his hands dirty while she smiles sweetly by his side. But don’t mistake that for na vet . “I know I could beat Russell in the very end,” she said on day 9. “A lot of other in the tribe have been rubbed the wrong way by him. So I’m just trying to … build good relationships.” Since the merge, she’s cozied up to the Galu girls and orchestrated the Erik blindside. If she’s sitting next to Russell at the showdown, the jury might prefer the sweet Southern belle to the snake oil salesman.

Danger Dave: Most viewers know Dave as the snappy source of the season’s best one-liners, like “He was clotheslined … by the clothesline!” But he’s also a savvy strategist with a keen awareness of the tribe’s social dynamics. What most impresses me about Dave is his discipline. After his bocce skills won the tribe chickens, he reminded himself that “getting cocky is a quick way to show me the door.” And when he had brief conflicts with Russell S. or Shambo, he immediately made amends and at least tried to seal it with a handshake or a hug. As one of Galu’s ringleaders, Dave is definitely in danger. Can he talk his way into the finale?

Brett: Who? A lot of casual viewers aren’t quite sure there is a Brett on Samoa. In fact, he may be the most invisible player in the show’s history.Yet every week since the merge, as Erik, Kelly and Laura have hit Ponderosa and the interview circuit, each of them has claimed to have a super-secret alliance with the invisible man. Last week, he was the only ex-Galu to even try to talk Shambo out of voting for Laura. The effort failed, but it showed that Brett can relate to Shambo as a human being, not just as some hideous monster from the subterranean depths of our unconscious. And when Galu wanted to axe Erik, Brett fought to think twice. “I think we should at least give it some time to discuss,” he said. “This is extreme emotion.” He’s a challenge beast — strong at both the physical stuff and the puzzles — and is tight with the core Galu alliance. Yet somehow, he’s managed to avoid being a target. Physical, social, strategic threat — and massively under the radar? If Brett can make it to the end, he’s sure to cash in on all those secret deals.

John: Last week, I gave John a hard time for flipping on his tribe. That said, you can’t play the game of Survivor unless you have somebody to play it with. The main reason I aligned with JT was that he was the only other person on Tocantins playing strategically.John knew Galu was a sinking ship, and like any smart rat, he scrambled off. Can he hold on with the Foa Foans long enough to flip things up at the final 6?

Jaison and Mick: So far, all we’ve seen from Russell’s two lieutenants is that they know how to salute. But, like Natalie, the two stooges have one big thing going for them — they’re not Russell. “Just following orders” might be enough of an excuse to score one of these guys a million bucks. –Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Whose strategy do you appreciate? Who do you see in the finale and who’s going to win it all at the end? Quantrell Colbert/Bravo