Stephen Fishbach's 'Survivor' Blog: The Storm Unleashed

Fishbach will be blogging his experiences from Cambodia

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS; Inset: Monty Brinton/CBS

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.

"Everybody’s mad I messed up their game. Because I’m playing my game." –Kass McQuillen, Survivor: Cagayan

That was when everything went bananas.

The night before the merge was the first real rainstorm in Cambodia. We had been crowing for two weeks about how blessed we had been with the weather. We knew we were in monsoon season, but so far the worst we had seen were blistering days and humid nights.

On night 16, however, the skies opened up. Outside of a Jon Krakauer book, there’s no great way to communicate the misery of enduring rough elements, but suffice to say we were freaking cold. We huddled around the fire for warmth, Keith and Joe struggling to keep the small blaze lit until the fire pit became too soaked. We would hang our clothes above the fire to dry them out, only to see them drenched again minutes later. The entire horizon was covered with a thick gray sheet.

It was a portent of things to come, as though the weather gods were predicting the madness that was about to be unleashed in the game.

When Kimmi and Keith came back to camp with the treemail saying that we should expect visitors, we were thrilled. Of course, there was no way to be certain it was a merge – maybe Jeff Probst had taken a second job as a tour guide leading Cambodian nature walks – but the prospect of food buoyed our exhausted spirits. And if it was a nature walk, maybe one of the tourists would have a Clif bar.

We were also shocked. A merge with 13 people was a massive wrinkle in the game. Every additional person on a tribe adds extra complication, new arrangements of alliances – and how much more true that was after two swaps. You couldn’t be certain about anybody’s loyalties.

Jeremy, Kimmi and I looked to each other in particular surprise. Bayon Beach, we loved you – but we were ready to leave you. The three of us had spent our entire time on that little thread of sand, while everybody else in the game had bounced around between the different camps. Now it looked like we might never escape. Still, the fact that we had never been separated meant we could trust each other, as much as you could trust anybody in Survivor.

You spend a lot of time on Survivor speculating about food, so we all had high expectations for what the feast might entail. Jeremy had regaled us with tales of the San Juan Del Sur feast, which even featured lobster. I had shared anecdotes of the less luxurious Tocantins merge feast – salamis and cheeses. Well, they seemed great at the time.

On Second Chance, the feast fell somewhere between those two. There was chicken and cured meats and delicious hard and soft cheeses, cookies and candies, fruit juices, wine and rum. We saved some of the more easily preserved foods like crackers and olives and nuts to portion out over the next few days.

I knew we should be on the lookout for idol clues, and Joe was the person I was most concerned with actually finding one. You saw in Worlds Apart the sly way he fished an idol out of a Fanta bottle. Sure, you can accuse me of excessive idol paranoia. If you’re not paranoid about idols, you’re doing it wrong.

As the feast wound down and people started sprawling out on our chairs and blankets, our shrunken stomachs bloated with food, we all eyed each other, knowing that the delicate détente would soon end. Joe was the first to stand, then Wentworth and Ciera went into the shelter together to “catch up.”

Then the whole camp went bonkers. Every person went off in every direction. It was like nothing I had ever seen before – clusters of people scheming up and down the beach. Normally, strategy talk takes place in private or away from camp. But there were simply so many of us, all moving so quickly, that we just gave up on the illusion of secrecy. You could walk to the beach, turn your head left and right and see alliances forming and dissolving in front of you – people counting off numbers on their fingers as they tried to figure out their path to the majority.

Watching people’s fingers was one of the best ways to tell when they were talking strategy. There were so many of us, it was hard to even keep track of your own numbers, given the state of our protein-starved brains. You counted them out on your hands or drew in the sand, like Spencer did with Joe.

It was impossible to differentiate truth from lies. Everybody was spouting both with abandon. Tasha said this was exactly the kind of chaos that Kass had unleashed in Cagayan. I was happy to go along with the vote to gut the Ta Keo 5 alliance. I also wanted to save Ciera because she and I had worked together at Bayon.

Thirteen people at camp also meant 13 people in the shelter. The Bayon shelter had been small for 10, and with 13, we had to sleep imbricate, stacked like fish scales. We literally lay on top of each other as the rain gusted in and soaked our feet.

Tasha wins the Fishy for undermining Kass’s credibility. She planted the seed with Kass that the Bayon alliance was over – which, let’s face it, we all knew it was, even as we pretended it mattered.

Kass’s lawyerly brain tried to “trap” Tasha with precise arguments, but votes on Survivor don’t happen from neat legalities. The more Kass tried to debate which specific things were said and when, who said “Bye bye Bayon” and what it signified, the easier it became for Tasha to dismiss her. Kass may have been technically accurate, but she lost the emotional argument and was voted out.

At Tribal Council, I made a remark that the vote marked an evolution in the way the game is played – that it was strange for three women to be the merge targets. I think this episode marked the point where Survivor truly became self-aware and meta. There used to be a strict order to who was voted out when: small women at the start, hulking dudes at the merge. But with this group of players, being a non-threat also made you a threat, which then made you a non-threat again – and therefore a threat? Someone like Kass could seem dangerous simply because people didn’t think she could win, whereas Joe was less threatening because he was such a huge target.

Does that even make sense? The game was moving so fast, I could barely tell if it was good strategy or bad.

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Survivor: Second Chance

airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.

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