Fishbach is blogging his experiences from Cambodia

By Stephen Fishbach
October 22, 2015 06:00 PM
Monty Brinton/CBS (4)

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.

"You’ve gotta take your enemy out the minute you can." –Monica Padilla, Survivor: Samoa

“I’m not here to make friends.”

There’s a reason people on reality TV insist that they’re not looking for friendship. That’s because so many friendships do blossom on reality shows.

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In any social situation, whether you’re slaving away in your office cubicle or painstakingly sculpting clay ashtrays at summer camp, you inevitably bond with the people around you. When you’re on a TV show, removed from your real-life friends and family, you can’t help but define yourself by your relationships with your fellow cast members. You have to repeatedly remind yourself that these people aren’t in your life forever, that they’re just transient bit players in the heroic story of You.

Being forced to exclaim “I’m not here to make friends” is basically an acknowledgment that you are.

The first person to ever utter those words on television, as Spencer pointed out last night, is actually our tribemate, Kelly Wiglesworth. It’s a phrase that has unique resonance in Survivor, a game based on building alliances. When you’re freezing and starving together in the wilderness, you simply can’t build voting blocks purely on cold-blooded strategic calculation. You vote with the people you trust. As I said last night in the episode (can I quote myself? Is that weird?): “Strategy is based on emotion. You’ve got to build real bonds in order to build real alliances.”

On some level, you have to make friends to succeed on Survivor.

Abi-Maria Gomes would disagree. Abi is definitively not here to make friends.

Abi seems completely incapable of extending sympathy to anybody but herself. When Woo shares an emotional story about how his mother barely survived a heart transplant, inspiring his Survivor journey, Abi tries to trump his victimhood.

Oh your mother was sick? Well my grandmother died. And I also lost an aunt. And by the way, I had an injured knee.

Abi needs a monopoly on the tribe’s attention. If everything’s not all about Abi, how does she even know she exists?

When nobody supports her campaign for Victim-in-Chief, Abi adopts the same tactic as every other floundering candidate – she goes negative. Abi accuses Woo of being emotionally manipulative. If that’s not the pot calling the kettle manipulative, I don’t know what is.

You have to give Tasha so much credit for the way she placates Abi. You can see the conscious effort it takes for Tasha to stop her eyes from rolling all the way back inside her skull.

Spencer, on the other hand, is here to make friends. Whether he’s boating or he’s voting, all Spencer wants is to connect. Spencer in some ways is Abi’s emotional opposite. Where Abi can’t control her overflowing id, Spencer is self-consciously emotional. He’s like Haley Joel Osment in AI, a robot who just wants to be a real boy.

I can attest that Spencer was extremely emotionally open at camp. He often talked about his girlfriend, his family and his personal aspirations.

But how deep should your friendships be? It’s a delicate balance. For myself, I was consciously avoiding becoming too intimate with my tribemates. Before the season began, I spoke often with Cochran about how he kept his game in Caramoan from being too personal. Cochran trumped Dawn at the end when jury members felt personally betrayed by Dawn but only strategically outplayed by Cochran.

Cochran told me that he would confine his conversation to game talk. People never felt deeply bonded to him – and therefore, never deeply wounded by him. You can make friends without becoming soul mates.

There’s probably no right answer to the “right” amount of emotive. So much of the game depends on the people you’re with and the situations in which you find yourself. A winning philosophy one season could spell disaster on another.

While Spencer was connecting, Monica was plotting.

I think Monica came into Second Chance with the intention to play hard. Her major flaw on her first season was that she coasted the first half of the game, and only really strategically came awake in time to get voted out by Russell Hantz.

One challenge of a Second Chance season is that, by fixating so exclusively on a player’s single game-losing flaw, it can cause you to overcorrect. Survivor can be as slow as it can be fast, and Monica was going 90 mph in a school zone. We were gifted by the Survivor gods with a solid tribe majority on Bayon. Why mess it up?

But Monica was transparently scheme-y. She told Kimmi that she wanted a girl’s alliance, not realizing that Kimmi was close with Jeremy and me. Monica also came to me and suggested a “big move” – which could only in context mean voting out Jeremy – without realizing that he and I had a budding bromance.

Initially I was hesitant to vote for Monica. My biggest fear was that I thought we were due for another tribe swap. I was terrified that I would end up on a tribe with Savage and Joe and be blamed for betraying Bayon. Savage would never believe that steadfast Jeremy or loyal Kimmi could have turned on one of our own.

I was somewhat placated by the fact that Monica had always been at the bottom of the Bayon hierarchy. But I “joked” with Jeremy that if there were a swap, and we were separated, he had better yell over to Savage that I was a decent human being.

Furthermore, Spencer was too good an ally to vote out, and even Wiglesworth seemed a part of our cohesive new Bayon unit. Monica could be a greater danger down the road.

What would have happened if Timbira had voted out Erinn Lobdell before the merge, or if Galu took out Shambo? The entire tribe would have benefitted from eliminating the weakest link.

Disloyal numbers don’t just hurt you; they help your opponent. In that way, they’re like own goals at immunity challenges. (Check out this great deleted scene where I discuss my epic challenge blunder.)

The Fishy this week goes to the Bayon 3:Jeremy, Kimmi, and (cough cough) me. One of the major setbacks that dominant tribes often face is they never have the chance to vote out their flippers.

My only reservation with the vote was that we didn’t tell Wigles or Spencer what we were doing. Jeremy was adamant about keeping them in the dark; he wanted to keep them nervous and fearful. And keeping people in the dark is the safest way to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

But Tribal Council is the one place you have on Survivor to prove trust to each other. If we missed an opportunity to build trust with our new tribemates – how could we truly make new friends?

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Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.

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