Stephen Fishbach's Survivor Blog: How Much Do You Trust the People You Don't Really Trust?
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.
"This game all comes down to that critical moment in the game – and that is moments before tribal council, what are we going to do?" –Yung "Woo" Hwang, Survivor: Cagayan
“You must trust and believe in people, or Survivor becomes impossible,” Anton Chekhov would have written if he had a Survivor blog.
You have to trust people to play the game. With your closest allies, you extend so much trust that they can destroy you.
But what about that next layer of the onion? The theme of last night’s episode on both tribes was: How much do you trust the people you don’t really trust?
After two tribe swaps, it’s hard to know where people’s loyalties lie. There have now been seven different tribes, and I guarantee that each of those tribes has affirmed to each other that this is the real alliance – that these 10 or six or seven people will move forward in the game as one tightly cohering unit. You saw it last week with the Ta Keo five, and we made the exact same pact on Bayon after eliminating Monica.
But there’s a lot of overlap within those allegiances.
I got incredibly lucky in the second swap: I stayed at my home base on Bayon with my two closest allies, Jeremy and Kimmi, and one of my original allies, Tasha. Once again, I had the majority numbers on a strong tribe.
But Bayon 3 wasn’t like Bayon 2 with two obvious members on the outs. Sure, we had Kelley Wentworth who was a supposedly “easy” vote. But Joe and Keith were shifty as hell, and they doted on her.
It’s clear now to me that Wentworth was playing a self-aware, under the radar game, but at the time she just seemed to lie in the shelter rolling her eyes at Kimmi. As Kimmi’s overprotective brother-from-a-Bayon-mother, naturally this infuriated me.
Wentworth and I had a handful of conversations, but everything I said made its way to Joe then to Jeremy and back to me. Wentworth was someone I wanted to ally with from the beginning of the game, but too much game had already passed.
It was strange having Joe swagger back into the camp that he had once helped build. He brought his usual restless enthusiasm, of course. Joe would dream up camp improvements, and Keith would chop any wood that needed chopping or hammer any nails that needed nailing. We joked that they would go into the construction business together after the show was over.
Joe wasn’t too subtle with his attempts to save Wentworth, however. Joe accusing Kimmi of being weak in challenges was a bit tone-deaf, considering I was the guy who scored a goal for another team on the slingshot and merited my own soundtrack of circus music in the reward (check out this great deleted scene where I reflect on how much I care about the ring toss). I couldn’t help but hear the subtext, and after he threw out Kimmi’s name to me, he mentioned my name to Jeremy. It was clear that any illusion of a lasting Bayon alliance was shattered.
So of course I wanted Joe out. Eliminating him would be an aggressive move to take out an untrustworthy competitor. It would stop any danger that Joe might pose of winning individual immunities at a merge, which we all suspected was imminent, though we didn’t know when – in three days or six or eight. It would be a major résumé point for me should I make the final tribal.
And yes, it would help fulfill my Second Chance story. I wrote last week that a second-chance season can cause you to fixate on a single game-losing flaw. I was obsessed with taking out the golden boy.
Did I get a little weepy about it? Of course I did. You have to invest so much physical and emotional energy in Survivor. One of the reasons I was hesitant about going on the show a second time was the extreme toll it takes on your body and your mind. If I was going to fully immerse myself, I couldn’t just stand by and watch the game pass.
Eliminating Joe would also free up a lot of floaters. Joe was a power center in the game towards whom people gravitated. In my head, I had people loosely divided into #TeamJeremy and #TeamJoe. Wentworth and Keith both could be interesting allies, if only they could be surgically removed from Joe.
On Bayon, we assumed Spencer or Wiglesworth would be in trouble if Ta Keo lost. We never imagined Woo would go home.
As at Bayon, the problem on Ta Keo is trust within the original Bayon alliance. In his jubilation at rejoining a functioning tribe, Savage casually threw out that Spencer should be the target and Ciera should be the decoy boot.
Nobody likes being the decoy boot.
You never want your name written down at Tribal Council. There’s just too much uncertainty on Survivor. It’s easy to imagine how one or two votes could suddenly flip to four or five. Heck, that’s exactly what happened last night.
Yet time and time again, castaways cavalierly offer up their allies for target practice. It’s a classic Survivor mistake that immediately communicates that the proposed decoy is at the bottom of your hierarchy – an acceptable loss if the vote goes awry.
Ciera expressed it perfectly: “There are certain times I want to take one for the team. This is not one of those times.” From her perspective, Savage was suggesting he cared more about his new allies Abi and Woo than he did about his original Bayon alliance.
Savage was facing the fundamental dilemma of the double swap. He needed to prove trust with his original Bayon allies without alienating Angkor.
Ciera wins the Fishy Award for flipping the script and eliminating Woo. Not only did she take out an immunity threat, but she isolated Savage.
Ciera has a phenomenally effective social game. With her innocent face and enthusiastic demeanor, she is great at inspiring trust and influencing the vote.
Kass deserves credit too. Kass “joked” constantly about voting out Spencer. On Bayon, we assumed Kass wouldn’t miss a shot at her erstwhile adversary. But Kass opted to further her own current game rather than settle an old vendetta.
And of course – if it’s Wednesday, then Abi is flipping on her alliance.
Can you blame her? Woo voted for her twice.
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Survivor: Second Chance
airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.