Stephen's 'Survivor' Strategy Blog: Sandra Makes Her Move

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

“Foment internal divisions and scatter the inhabitants” –Machiavelli, The Prince

Sandra Diaz-Twine is most famous for two things: her “anyone but me” voting strategy and her hair-trigger willingness to “get loud.” But what makes Sandra so good at Survivor isn’t just her dedication to the numbers or to volume. Sandra may be the only person in the game as good as Russell is at the art of emotional jujitsu. For planting a Sandra Seed inside Russell’s brain and knocking out Coach, Sassy Sandra wins her first Fishy Award.

Sandra has an intuitive read on that transcends easy understanding. It’s her superpower. On Pearl Islands, she sniffed out every one of Jonny Fairplay’s lies, including his infamous grandmother ruse. Even more impressive, she was able to figure out when he was telling the truth.

While Russell uses his reads on to build alliances, Sandra uses hers to wreck them. “Russell’s the kind of person where, if he finds out somebody’s gunning for him, he’ll take them out,” she tells Courtney. With that in mind, she decides to poison him against Coach, so that the newly-formed five-person alliance of Russell, Parvati, Danielle, Coach and Jerri turns on itself. “I’ll be like, hey Russell, Coach wants you gone, and I’ll bet you, Russell will believe me and get rid of Coach, and me and Courtney will be saved again.”

When Sandra tells Russell that Coach is gunning for him, Russell immediately goes defensive. “Oh Coach ain’t my home boy,” Russell says. “I don’t trust him. Obviously — you can’t trust him. Because of that right there … He’s digging his own gave just like Rob did.” You can almost hear the Sandra Seed take root.

What makes Sandra’s lines work so well is how blunt she is in every other circumstance. Sandra never holds back what’s on her mind, from calling Coach out at Tribal Council to complaining about how Russell needs to wash his ass. So when she slips in some deception, everybody assumes it’s her usual brutal honesty. “Sandra said Coach wants me gone now,” Russell says. “But I have the power in this game.” Russell’s so concerned with keeping his tribal dominance that he never even considers that Sandra might be lying.

“With me, he don’t know what he got himself into,” Sandra says about her arch-rival. As Danielle and Russell start bickering, and the tribe sends Coach home, you get the sense she’s probably right.

In between rounds of chest thumping, the Heroes think they’ve figured out the Villains. “It sure looks like they got a woman’s alliance,” says Rupert. Oops! Russell can hardly believe his ears. “Now, if we merge, the Hero tribe’s gonna let me know who they’re voting for,” he says. I’ve written before that Survivor is a game of mistakes. As good as Russell is at making moves of his own, he’s equally good at sitting back and letting his opponents screw up.

You can never be really sure about the dynamics of the opposing tribe until you actually meet them. In Tocantins, we were absolutely positive that Brendan was controlling Timbira — until we merged and saw that Brendan had one ally (Sierra), and that Tyson and Coach were running the tribe.

With Boston Rob’s boot, it’s not a bad guess that Parvati’s up to her old tricks and has created an all-girl alliance. Lots of the All Stars have reverted to their past playbooks this season. But it’s a mistake to actually act on that guesswork without ever having spoken to the Villains.

The “Next week on Survivor” promo hints that, based on that misread, JT is going to give Russell his immunity idol. In a game as volatile as Survivor, you need to make big moves. Russell giving Parvati his idol might have played out as one of the dumbest ever if that had backfired. Before anybody rushes to judgment, let’s wait to see how this plays out.

Let me for a moment eulogize my former tribemate, Coach Wade, Dragonslayer. After Tocantins aired, were shocked to meet him and find out he’s an incredibly kind, supportive human being, and not the cartoonish villain that he came across. This season, he’s amped up his game considerably — beating Colby and Rupert in the challenges and astutely analyzing the tribe’s dynamics. People mock Coach for wanting to do battle with noble warriors, but isn’t that the classic “old school” Survivor that so many purists miss? Questions of who “deserves” to play the game went out the window in the first All Stars, when Boston Rob’s cutthroat gameplay discarded friendship for ambition. Russell has evolved the game a step further — future Survivors will probably burn down their own shelters and poison the water supply to sow havoc and reap screen time. Coach’s earnest desire to play against the best may seem antiquated, but is also, in its way, noble.

And of course, nobody can deny that he’s an amazing television character — even apart from the endless (and endlessly hilarious) scenes of Dragonslayer Chi. Has anybody noticed the numbers that Coach has been writing in the corner of his voting parchment? 4-18-1-7. He’s inserted a secret code into the very fabric of the game! Numerologists may have guessed that he’s substituting a number for every letter. D-R-A. . . he’s spelling out Dragonslayer!

Who else has the sense of theatrics to do that? Unfortunately for all of us, he only made it four letters in. What a DRAG! –Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: Did the Villains make the right decision voting out Coach? What will happen next week with JT and the immunity idol? Can anybody figure out the other secret message within Coach’s numbers? I’m told the answer lies in the Bible.Rob Kim/Landov

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