Rob Kim/Landov
February 19, 2010 12:00 AM

“A ruler who wishes to maintain his power must be prepared to act immorally when this becomes necessary.” –Machiavelli, The Prince

Survivor is about a lot more than strategy. Russell’s loss last season showed that you can pull immunity idols from behind Jeff Probst’s ear and still not win the game. Even beyond the aphorism “It’s a social game,” there’s something epic about pitting ordinary against each other in extreme conditions. Yes, the contestants assembled multi-colored blocks into a giant staircase to win a hunk of wood carved by CBS on Thursday’s episode. But because of the high stakes and the bleak surroundings, what could have been a contrived scenario turned into a test of strength, will, savvy and character. That’s not just jargon — that’s how juries make their decisions.

That’s why this week’s Fishy goes to Tom Westman. Sometimes in Survivor, you get on the wrong side of the numbers, and there’s nothing you can do. Tom’s alliance with Stephenie and Colby was outgunned by an irate James and a frustrated Rupert. But Tom’s game smarts combined with his solid character to make him a beacon of reason in the disintegrating Heroes tribe.

Pre-game, I wasn’t sure how Tom would do if the numbers turned against him. In his first season in Palau, he was the dominant figure in one of the most dominant tribes in Survivor history. So he never had to scramble. His foxiness last night impressed me. “If I can get Cirie and Candice to switch over with our threesome and send Amanda home, then we’re controlling this game,” he assessed.

Tom’s major problem may be that he’s too much of a mensch. “I’m not even going to ask you what you’re going to do,” he told Candice. “You and Cirie are going to have to decide if this is a move that makes sense to you.”

That’s a generous, manly thing to say. Unfortunately, this is Survivor, not a Western. As Russell proved last season, fear and intimidation are far more reliable tools than strong-jawed decency. Tom should hit Candice hard with rumors and innuendo. “They’re trying to vote you out tonight” he should say. Instead, he appealed to her reason: “I imagine the boot order is Stephenie tonight, then either you or Cirie if we have to go another Tribal Council.” That may be true, but in the Survivor scramble, three days of safety sounds like a lifetime.

I wished we had heard a little more of the other group’s arguments, which were drowned out by James’s camera-friendly outrage. Clearly Cirie is not going to base her vote on James’s recaps of the Palau season or who makes the better coconut popcorn. Still, the result is the same. Somehow the battlecry “One voice!” rallied JT, Cirie and Candice, and sent Stephenie home.

Tom may not have been able to save his ally, but he cemented his Fishy win when he stood by her at Tribal Council and up against James’s anger. Being loyal and decent may not have won votes last night. But those qualities could earn him valuable alliances later on — and might even be worth another million dollars if he can make it to the showdown.

Back at the Villains camp, Boston Rob managed to charm the entire tribe. “Boston Rob is the bright shining star,” said the effervescent Courtney Yates. Coach kept gazing at him with puppy dog eyes you’d think he’d save for Jerri. Even Russell sounded a little smitten. “Even though I’m the villain, I still worry a little bit,” he said. The puppetmaster, who imposed his will so effortlessly on the Samoans, has finally found a challenge. “I didn’t know his personality was that strong.” Only a day after passing out in the middle of the jungle, Rob led the ragtag Villains tribe of miscreants to an immunity win. Who would have guessed, going in, that the Villains would win back to back immunities?

It’s been fun watching the Heroes tribe of supermen self-destruct. Now that the alleged “kryptonite” is gone, can they battle back? –Stephen Fishbach

Tell us: How could Tom have swayed Candice? Did Cirie make the right choice? Is Boston Rob the most badass Survivor ever? And why can’t Victor Jih get more comments on his Amazing Race blog?Rob Kim/Landov

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