Fishbach is blogging his experiences from Cambodia
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. This season, he will blog about his experiences in Cambodia as a competitor on Survivor: Second Chance. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“It gets mentally overwhelming and draining to think about all the things we need to do just to survive out here, and it’s exhausting.” –Andrew Savage, Survivor: Pearl Islands
Sometimes the best part of being on Survivor is getting to watch Survivor from five feet away.
At our season’s eighth tribal council, when Kelley Wentworth whipped out her idol and invalidated the nine votes cast against her, we all knew we were in the presence of a masterful Survivor move. Even as Jeff Probst read off the remaining ballots, even before we knew who had drawn the short stick and would be sent home for our epic blunder, we gazed around at each other with shocked and delighted smiles. Yes, we were all playing the game, but we’re also fans – and that was freaking awesome.
Nine votes, for what it’s worth, is the most votes ever invalidated by an immunity idol.
I’ve written before that the fundamental narrative of Survivor, like all great tragedies, is hubris and overthrow. I could see that story unspooling before us right then, even as I sat there. The arrogant nine of us sitting there so self-assured in our dominance right before a total blindside.
Even though it was happening to me, I thought it was hilarious. Arrogance had slipped into our game, when we all should know better. People had been speaking in moral terms instead of strategic. “The Girls” – meaning Abi, Wentworth and Ciera – didn’t deserve to be there, some people were saying. As though deserve had anything to do with Survivor.
You could say it was arrogance too that we didn’t split the vote. From my perspective, it was strategic. My great fear was that if we split the vote, it gave an opportunity for a third faction to scuttle our plans – Joe, Keith, and The Girls could easily vote me out instead.
But nobody thought Wentworth had the idol. Nobody. We had discussed it up and down. If she did have an idol, surely she would have played it at the previous Tribal Council. Moreover, nobody on the original Ta Keo had seen her looking and we certainly had never her seen her looking at Bayon. It’s a reminder of how quickly game-changing events can happen on Survivor. Someone can find an idol in a heartbeat. A person’s fate in the game can be ruined or saved in a conversation. There’s no real way to know for sure if the person you’re voting for is secretly immune.
Wentworth also played it up perfectly before Tribal Council. She sat alone by herself on the edge of the shelter looking miserable and dejected. I did however remember being surprised that she took a major role in helping clean the rice. Our small rice store had developed mold, and we were separating out the moldy rice from the good rice, grain by grain. It was annoying detail work, and Wentworth spent a good hour or two at it. She knows she’s going home, I thought – Why is she cleaning out the rice she won’t even get to eat?
Those are the little suspicions you have to pay attention to, but I brushed it off. In a game made up of nagging suspicions, it’s hard to distinguish insight from paranoia.
So of course Wentworth gets the Fishy. That Tribal Council was like her debutante ball as a major player – Here I am, bitches. “I f—ing came to play,” I believe she actually said in the heat of the moment. Shirin in an exit interview compared Wentworth to Arya Stark, and I think that perfectly illuminates her game. She spent a lot of time in the shelter trying to look unobtrusive, but when it was time to strike, she had a Valyrian steel blade in her pocket.
Call Me Fishmael
A lot of people ask me – why am I so fixated on Joe? Last night I compared him to my Moby Dick. Joe was persuasive and charming. He worried me. Moreover, if I take out the Golden Boy, I’ll have a great résumé at the Final Tribal. I’ll have made a “Big Move” and can be said to have fulfilled my second chance promise. Survivor is a lot about storytelling – and you need to have a narrative of your journey that you can tell the jury.
I was also becoming a little shaken up by my existing narrative in the game. My closest allies were alpha male Jeremy and strategic Tash, reminding me a little too much of alpha male JT and strategic Taj, my allies in Tocantins. Their names even sounded alike. I felt like I was reliving Tocantins, falling into familiar patterns, and I didn’t want to sail into the finals as a goat.
Was it too soon to make a move on Joe? That’s exactly what I was hoping Joe would think, so I could catch him unaware. I wanted to make my move before it was expected, while there was still room to play.
I had no clue, however, that I was overheard in my plotting.
Of course I knew Savage was throwing my name around. He’d been throwing it around for three weeks, why should he stop now? But I had no idea how truly close I was to getting eliminated.
The plans against me had become specific, and Jeremy saved my butt. That conversation was a perfect example of how most decisions were made after the merge. People would make arguments about who was the biggest threat and why, and the most persuasive rhetoric would win.
Do we vote out Ciera or Wentworth? Do we finally rid ourselves of Abi? What about Spencer, he’s a threat. We would debate things nonstop for three days – but it all came down to who said what at the final conversation before Tribal Council.
Jeremy made the case at the perfect moment and saved my hide. So I have to give a second Fishy to him. Thanks, buddy.
RELATED VIDEO: Get a Tour of Survivor Host Jeff Probst’s ‘Spectacular’ Pad
Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.