Stephen's 'Survivor' Strategy Blog: 'The Education of Holly'

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

“In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions.” – Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy, The 48 Laws of Power

Some Survivor contestants are physical powerhouses. Some are brilliant gamers. Some flirt their way to victory. But last night, Wendy Jo unveiled a never before seen Survivor strategy. “I don’t have any blisters on my feet,” she bragged to her tribe.

Unfortunately, even that superpower wasn’t enough. The kooky goat farmer fulfilled her husband’s predictions and became the first contestant eliminated from Survivor: Nicaragua. Credit goes to her early ally. For making and breaking alliances in three days like a seasoned Survivor schemer, Holly Hoffman wins Nicaragua’s first Fishy.

Last night’s episode actually seemed vaguely ho-hum after the nonstop fireworks of Heroes vs. Villains. Normal people, confronting the elements, slowly feeling each other out? That’s so 2008. Where are the idols? Where are the blindsides? Where are the challenges that test the limits of human endurance? Where are the tops being torn off?

To be fair, the episode featured a lot of introductions. Jeff surprised the tribes with the old-versus-young split. He explained the Medallion of Power. And did you know that Jimmy Johnson was on this season? Yes, Jimmy Johnson, it’s really him. No, guys, for real – Jimmy Johnson. Don’t believe us? Here he is again – Jimmy Johnson, ladies and gentlemen!

With all the Jimmy Johnson going on, we didn’t get to see much of La Flor’s dynamics. What we do know is this – everyone is afraid of Kelly B. The lady with the prosthetic leg is considered a sure bet for a sympathy vote. Kelly attempts to defuse the situation by confronting it directly; that at least stops people from staring. She’s less successful, however, with the idol. After Alina and she find the clue, they glance at it, give up because it’s too hard, and then . . . leave it right next to where they found it?! Dig a hole, ladies!

At least Brenda has come to play. “I like your spirit,” she tells Chase, and leaves him stammering to reciprocate. He can’t spit out the secret men’s alliance fast enough. “He’s clueless,” she says with a chuckle. Brenda does a great job of masking her wiles beneath a low-key demeanor. She’s the opposite of Shannon, who is bursting at the seams. Shannon is all big talk, big sentiments, big plans for big men, and big nipples.

Back at Camp Espada, while Jimmy Johnson (Jimmy Johnson!) gives motivational speeches and Jimmy T demands to be heard, Marty is proving himself the older tribe’s most subtle schemer. I’ve always been a fan of the players that get on the inside of every alliance. Think Cirie Fields or Erik Cardona (while he lasted). Marty pops up in almost every strategy conversation – not as its most vocal member, but as a silent observer and a guide. Witness him placating Jimmy T or egging on Holly and Jill. You can almost see his gears turning.

But the episode ultimately hinges on the education of Holly Hoffman. Straight out of the gate, Holly approaches Wendy Jo and makes an alliance. “You’ve got my word,” she says. But when the tribe turns against Wendy, Holly makes the smart move. Rather than stick to her alliance and defend a weak player, Holly cuts her ally loose. “I’ve got a good feeling about you,” she told Wendy Jo. But in Survivor, thinking has to come before feeling.

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