Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. This season, he has been blogging about his experiences in Cambodia as a competitor on Survivor: Second Chance. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
"Everyone has the knife and it’s stab or get stabbed." –Joe Anglim, Survivor: Worlds Apart
Walking out of the game after the last Tribal Council, I had two major preoccupations.
First: I was coming to terms with the end of my own Survivor journey.
Second: I felt so guilty for Jeremy and my other allies that I had cost them their second chances.
Recuperating at Ponderosa was wonderful and relaxing. I read my book, baked cookies with Kelly Wiglesworth and decompressed from the game. Ponderosa was a fantasy vacation, an island getaway where I had no responsibilities and could gorge myself on as many pancakes as I pleased. It was a time to reflect and to heal – both emotionally and physically – before returning to my job and the obligations of daily life. On my first morning at Ponderosa, as I enjoyed an early breakfast of eggs and toast, Savage sat down with me, and we chatted about our lives and bonded, freed from the frenetic demands of a game that had kept us rivals.
However, I also fretted that I would soon be joined by the people I cared about the most. The jury speculates endlessly about “who’s next,” and after my epic blindside, we had every reason to think it would be Jeremy or Tasha.
So when we showed up at the next Tribal Council and the decision seemed to be between Joe and Abi, I was delighted.
I have to give a Fishy to all three of my allies – or voting bloc participants – Jeremy, Tasha and Kimmi. All three of them left my blindside knowing they could be on the bottom of the new tribe. All three of them returned to camp to once again flip the game on its head.
Jeremy and Tasha reintegrate themselves by reforming their old alliance, minus one. Jeremy walks down the beach with Spencer, and rather than blaming him for his betrayal, simply says, “I want to make sure we’re still good.” When Tasha, Jeremy and Spencer make a final three pact in the shelter, Tasha asks, “How do you proceed forward?”
One reason this season is so compelling is that that is the only question the players are asking. Not, What happened to me yesterday? Instead, What can we do today and tomorrow? As Ciera had said before she was eliminated: “This game is constantly changing. Every minute of every day is a new beginning.”
You have to give Spencer credit too for helping to re-forge those bonds. “It’s going to be like it has been,” he tells Jeremy. “It’s going to be like picking up the pieces.”
Kimmi, perhaps the closest person to me in the game, takes a completely different path and decides to separate herself entirely from her former allies. To be honest, she had never been that close with Jeremy and Tasha. She approaches Wentworth and tries to form an all-girl alliance. There are four girls in the game, and if one of the men is eliminated, that gives the women the numbers.
“I didn’t come out here and leave my family just to be somebody’s pawn,” Kimmi says. “I came out here to win. So it’s time for me to make my move.” Kimmi is seizing my exit from the game as a chance to step up as a strategic force of her own. Like Natalie Anderson elevating her game after Jeremy himself was booted from San Juan Del Sur, my ouster could be the trigger Kimmi needs to take ownership of her own strategic powers.
Wentworth too is now stepping into a leadership role. She has played a superb under the radar game, dodging votes in the early merge and leading them in the middle. She’s pulled together her own alliance of Abi and Keith, without anybody seeing her as an imminent threat. She could break out as a major force in the endgame.
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Like Father, Like Man-Bun
Before anybody had the chance to put their plans into motion, however, we got some hardcore emotion. Who doesn’t get teary at the loved ones visit? Val telling Jeremy that their unborn child would be his first son has to rank as one of the most moving moments in the show’s history.
Of course, I was disappointed not to be able to see my “loved one” – my friend Ben would have been my visitor. I could just imagine Jeff Probst: “Jeremy here’s your wife! She’ll tell you about your unborn child. Spencer here’s your girlfriend. You can finally tell her that you love her. Stephen here’s your friend Ben. You guys can fist bump, and he can tell you how many Twitter followers you now have.”
But I was also gratified to see Joe and his father share their man-bun-on-man-bun island moment. Receiving a family visit from his father had been one of Joe’s major Survivor goals, and at the previous tribal council, he had worried about missing that moment with his dad.
I had a similar heartfelt experience with my brother in Tocantins, and I know that it’s something they will be able to share for the rest of their lives.
Cleaning Out the Mold
Of course, when Joe loses another challenge, the tribe doesn’t miss their second opportunity to eliminate him. (Come on guys – where was this unanimous concern three days ago?!) Only Keith casts a stray vote for Tasha. Perhaps it’s his way of avoiding voting against his long-term friend, his 32-day companion and his partner in their island construction enterprise.
In a way, Joe played himself out of the game. He is so uniquely good at Survivor challenges that he can’t help but be a massive threat. Joe may in fact be the best all-around challenge competitor in the show’s history. He broke the record for “most days immune” on the island. For the first 29 days of the game, he was never up for elimination, and he won every reward that he competed in except two. The fact that he literally played so hard his body gave out is a testament to his commitment to the game.
Some people have suggested that Joe should have downplayed his challenge abilities, maybe thrown a few of the early merge competitions. I disagree. Everybody knows how good Joe is. He wouldn’t be any less threatening if he flubbed a balance challenge. He probably would just have been voted out sooner.
Joe was right to play as hard as he could, every second of the way. We were rivals in the game, but I have so much respect for him.
And for the record, Joe, don’t listen to Abi. Your hair’s great just the way it is.
Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.