Stephen Fishbach on His Survivor Elimination: 'I Was Too Sentimental'
The brainy contestant tells PEOPLE what went wrong – and who's backstab hurt him the most
We were excited when he was named as a possible contestant. We were thrilled when he made the final cast of the show. We were ecstatic – and a little bit surprised, if we’re being perfectly honest – when he made it through the first tribal council without getting voted off.
As it turned out, Fishbach did better than anyone expected, forming solid alliances and lasting 29 days before being voted out.
Survivor is unpredictable, and Fishbach was eliminated after playing his “steal the vote” advantage? Why? Because the season’s other superfan/strategizer, Spencer Bledsoe, backstabbed him.
Obviously, Fishbach has written his own blog about his elimination, but we thought it would be fun to ask him some of the questions that he didn’t already address.
Were you completely blindsided, or did you have a slight inkling that you might be going home?
When I was sitting there in tribal council, I got this feeling, “I’m going to look so dumb for using my advantage when everyone is voting for me to take out Joe.” And then I got this other feeling: “I’m screwed. I’m going home tonight and I don’t know why.”
So even as I was sitting there, feeling this doom pass over my head, I thought, “I have a lot of solid votes here. I’m not going home.” I never thought Spencer would flip.
But he did.
Yes, he did. [Laughs]
Everyone has said to me online, “Why did you trust for Spencer? He had voted for you before.” But there’s a back-story there. I knew Spencer from before the show; we hung out. He slept at my home. We were friends. I saved him on Bayon and then again at the merge.
When Ciera was voted off, I targeted her because I thought the girls were targeting Spencer, not me. I was running around the beach trying to save Spencer, and he was running around the beach trying to eliminate me.
After that vote, we had a heart-to-heart. He said, “I was misled. The girls told me you were gunning for me.” So I told him that I understood. We had a long conversation about that.
Did you take it personally?
I did, but I understand why he did it. I felt a lot of sentiment for him. I mean, he’s Spencer. I couldn’t believe that he had voted against me, but he justified it, so I thought there was no way he’d vote against me again. Both for personal reasons and also for strategic reasons.
Why not take out Joe, who was his biggest physical threat? Or if he had to make a move, why not take out Jeremy? That I don’t get.
But at some point, you would have had to take out Spencer, right?
That’s exactly right. I might have done the same thing for him. But this is going to sound naïve, but I thought, “He’s not going to do me dirty when I’m playing my advantage.” He’s going to give me this.
At the time, my thinking was that he might do me dirty later, but he’s not going to do me dirty now. He’ll let me have my moment.
Okay, fair enough. But Survivor isn’t about letting somebody else have their big moment. It’s about stomping on that person’s big moment.
That’s entirely true. I get that. I guess I’m just a little bit sentimental. I’m a 36-year-old guy. Spencer’s 22; he had a sole focus on winning the game, which should be applauded. I let sentiment cloud my judgment.
You could have gotten rid of him really early, when Monica went home.
If I were playing the most strategic game, I would have eliminated him instead of Monica. But I didn’t want my friend to go out before the merge; I didn’t want to do that to him. If I had not been sentimental, I would have made a different choice, and maybe I’d still be in the game.
•Want to hear more from Stephen Fishbach? Check out the audio interview below to hear his exit interview with two-time Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino!
Okay, another thing: Jeremy had saved you the previous round with his idol, and you pledged your loyalty to him. But you were loyal to an alpha male before, and that ended up costing you the game. Did that cross your mind?
I was freaking out the whole time, because my closest two allies were Jeremy and Tasha, and I thought, “This is like JT and Taj all over again.” I felt like I was reliving Tocantins.
I knew that I couldn’t take Jeremy to the finals. I would have had to take him out fourth or fifth. He would have blown me out of the water anyway, but he could argue that I was only in the game because of him. I would have gotten less than zero votes.
You were going to backstab Jeremy at some point?
This was my plan: If this had worked out, Joe would have gone. Then we’d take out Abi and Kelley Wentworth. At final six, I’d flip with Kimmi and Keith and maybe Spencer. We’d take out Jeremy and Tasha. Then Spencer goes in fourth place.
So to be clear, when you said, “I’m with you until the end,” you were lying.
[Laughs] Well, yeah, of course. And that’s the thing: I’m saying that Spencer shouldn’t have backstabbed me, and then I’m saying that I would backstab Jeremy. That’s the double standard of Survivor.
I’m not saying that Spencer made the wrong move. Maybe he made the best move for himself to take me out. But I just didn’t see it coming.
So are you glad you went out a second time?
Ah, you know, I think I’m glad I did it. The fact that America voted me in, that’s awesome. I’ll always have that. This was such a great, crazy season. I got to see the game evolve. It was miserable at times, but there were great times also. You go on Survivor to have highs and lows; you don’t get those emotional experiences in real life. So yeah, I’m glad I did it.
Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.