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.
“Trust is the currency of this game.” –Vytas Baskauskas, Survivor: Blood vs. Water
There’s no feeling in life quite like when Jeff Probst says “Go!” for that first time.
The 20 castaways of Survivor: Second Chance had been waiting for months. We had trained in the gym and studied strategies. We had begged friends for their votes. We had flown to Cambodia, toured the ruins of Angkor Wat and traveled deep into the jungle.
We were eyeing each other, imagining our alliances, even preparing our final tribal speeches. Until that point, however, it was all anticipation and guesswork.
Then our four boats pulled up before that Cambodian scow. Jeff said, “It begins now.”
And we literally jumped into the game.
The crazy rush up the boat, through the supplies and onto the raft was an insane burst of adrenaline. A million thoughts ping-ponged through my brain. Part of me was trying to gather up as many supplies as possible. Another part of me was still thinking: Holy [expletive]. This is happening.
A third part of me was thinking: Did Probst really call me “Fishbach”? Have I earned last-name status?
We loaded our raft with fiery red dragon fruits, massive watermelons, plump mangoes. There was produce I had never seen before, like the spiky red rambutans and lotus flowers, which we called “shower heads.”
But we failed to get the most vital supply. The importance of a bag of rice on Survivor can’t be overstated. Fruit rots. A bag of rice can provide solid sustenance for weeks.
Our hearts sank when Woo grabbed it. My heart sank, too, when I saw my tribe.
I was sitting on a raft, next to Savage, Jeremy, Keith and Chaos Kass – my nightmare tribe – watching Spencer, Wentworth, Shirin, Terry and Vytas paddle away together, joyously singing as they celebrated their victory.
The Initial Scramble
When we hit the beach, we hugged, congratulated each other. We plotted where we should build our shelter. Savage gave a brief speech about how blessed we were. With his casual confidence, chiseled jaw and gravely voice, he was an obvious leader. Or porn star.
Then all 10 Bayon tribe members were off, scrambling in every direction: gathering wood, looking for water and, most importantly, making alliances.
The game moved so fast in those first few minutes. Everybody was partnering up. You make friendships, establish bonds – then wait to see which bonds stick. As Varner says, “I don’t care who’s pulling me in the woods. Yes is your answer.” I wanted to be part of as many alliances as I could, but I knew I couldn’t be a part of all of them.
Worst of all, I wasn’t a part of Jeremy’s alpha alliance. Jeremy’s mistake last season was allying with people who would turn on him. This time, he brought in Tasha, Joe, Savage and Keith.
“Either the alpha males go at each other, or they align and come together,” Joe said.
I had been expecting the big alphas to target each other and was taken by surprise when they teamed up to bro down.
I knew I didn’t fit in with the jocks. But I expected myself to at least act cool. But like they say – you’re not being paranoid when everybody is out to get you. I was surprised and dismayed to find that I suddenly regressed to high school, adopting the attributes of that anxious awkward nerd from the seventh grade.
Like every nerd throughout history, I overcompensated and made it worse. I couldn’t help with the shelter, and I was terrible at weaving palm fronds. Clearly my chopping skills were a disaster. So I went off “looking for wood” – with a quick stop to look for idols.
The problem was, as soon as anybody stepped away from camp, someone accused them of idol hunting. Bayon wasn’t even sure there were idols in the game yet, but we were panicked about them. Being away from camp only exacerbated my reputation for being sneaky.
I had expected “new school” Survivor to move fast. But I had forgotten that Survivor can be incredibly slow. You count the minutes as the blazing sun drags across the sky.
Bayon was a particularly slow tribe, too. Savage had instilled in us his old-school mentality. We were about trust and family as a group – even if individually we were all undermining each other. We sat inside the shelter all day. Any time someone left camp, we speculated they were searching for an idol.
I sat there too, craving to explore the island. Here I was on Survivor, and I was leashed to a 10-ft. tether.
That’s why I’m so impressed with Wentworth. Not only did she find the clue to the idol, but she did so under the watchful eyes of her nine paranoid tribemates. Also, let’s geek out here for a second: How freaking awesome was it when she grabbed the idol at the challenge?!
Our tribe speculated a lot about what was happening on Ta Keo. (Kass would always insist that Spencer was on the outs and probably would be voted off first.) We knew that Bayon was the “boring tribe.” We figured high-drama players like Shirin, Abi, Varner and Peih-Gee were clashing on the other team.
We were right! I have a lot of sympathy for Abi’s bag hunt. A bag and a bracelet can seem trivial, but when they’re two of the seven possessions you have, they matter a lot. Jeremy accidentally claimed my bag, and it irked me. Abi struggles to contain “the Brazilian dragon.” But she nevertheless makes herself a target.
A target – but not the first boot – Shirin wins the Fishy this week for organizing the “new-school” players and even recruiting old-schooler Jeff Varner. Most people tiptoe around in the early days. Shirin came in like a wrecking ball.
Last season, Shirin’s overabundant energy spilled out and annoyed her tribemates. She gawked at monkeys. She pranced around bottomless.
This season, she’s channeling her energy into strategy. You can see how fast her wheels spun as she explained to Varner and Spencer why Vytas was a threat.
“This train took off, and I’m glad I’m on it,” Varner said. He made the decision to align with the fast-moving new-schoolers and leave the stodgy old-schoolers behind.
Vytas tried to use his yoga magic to bond. If his tribemates hadn’t already wanted him gone, it might have worked. Once you’ve decided someone is the enemy, though, everything reinforces that opinion. It’s easier to vote someone out once you’ve vilified them.
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Survivor: Second Chance premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.