Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS
Stephen Fishbach has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. He is the host of the podcast Paraphrase, where he interviews writers about the openings to their novels. Follow him on Twitter at @stephenfishbach.
The best classical dramas explore what happens when two different characters, each embodying a different philosophy, go tip top toes. Take Antigone, in which the title character Antigone, who is loyal to her brother, collides with Creon, whose priority is to the state.
Now we have Devens vs. Wardog, discussing another ancient philosophical conflict. How much should past betrayals influence our present decisions?
On the one hand you have Devens. At both of his last two tribal councils, he’s been targeted by the Lesus. After getting betrayed multiple times, why should he ever trust them again?
“Why would I work with you guys?” he asks Wardog. “You guys stabbed me in the back over and over again.”
Then we have Wardog, to whom the past is past. Those betrayals were just the moves that were necessary at the time. The present requires new moves. “It gets you farther in the game,” Wardog says.
The conventional wisdom sides with Wardog here. Stop fretting about past betrayals. Seize the game as it comes to you.
But trust is a fragile thing on Survivor. Devens knows exactly where he stands with the former Lesu group – right at the bottom. In the miracle that the Lesu tribe does prevail, and it comes down to the final five, he knows who will be voted out. He’s already seen it happen.
But isn’t going with the Kamas putting himself at the bottom of a seven-person alliance, rather than the bottom of a five-person alliance? Not necessarily. Assuming the Kamas stay intact for at least a few votes – well, we already know how that turns out – Devens can expect that the they’ll want to betray each other eventually. He can be the hinge around which the Kamas self-destruct. So why not build some trust now to leverage at the blowout later?
(The one thing Devens didn’t count on was the Kamas self-destructing so soon.)
Devens’ paramount sin isn’t his philosophy. It’s that he tells Wardog what he’s thinking. The prime rule in Survivor is agree to every plan you’re offered. Devens should play both sides. See who has the numbers, and go there. By rejecting Wardog out of hand, Devens not only isolates himself from his former Lesu group, but he also forces Wardog to find a different path forward.
The Fishy Award
The Fishy unquestionably goes to Wardog this episode, for incepting paranoia and turning the Kamas against each other. He convinces Gavin and Julia that they can’t trust Eric and Ron.
“My best strategy is to convince the younger Kama people that they need soldiers in a war,” Wardog says. He tells them that Eric and Ron are protecting David and Devens – and that any vote that isn’t for David or Devens is a betrayal.
The plan works better than Wardog even intended. I think he just wanted to shift the target towards D&D, and spread some dissension among the Kamas. But Julia takes Wardog’s information and runs with it. She has a conversation with Eric, and proposes voting out David. When Eric pushes back, she realizes that Wardog was right.
Julia and Gavin decide that now is their time to flip the game. “We’re not going to win this game if we don’t make a big move like this,” Gavin says. “Hashtag gamechangers.”
This is a terrible decision for Julia and Gavin, almost as terrible as that hashtag.
There’s almost nothing that infuriates me more on Survivor than watching two people – supposed superfans both! – get gripped by Big Movez fever and make an awful choice. How many times have we seen this same thing happen? The dominant tribe turns on each and falls apart before they pick off the underdogs.
I’m not saying Gavin and Julia should just wait around ’til the final eight, where Eric and Ron will have the advantage. But I 100 percent side with Victoria here. Wait at least a vote or two. Take out at least one Lesu.
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(Brief moment of appreciation for Victoria. She’s clearly not afraid to make a move, as she proved when she blindsided Aubry. But she also knows when to wait. And yet as she shows at tribal council, she also knows when not to drag her feet, and get on the right side of the numbers.)
By voting out Eric now, there are still five Lesus left in the game, and Aurora is a solo operator. That means the Kama 6, that seemed so briefly to be in control, has lost all its power.
But what about David’s point at tribal council? “We are at the stage in the game where everyone up here has to decide soon whether they want to be a pilot or a passenger,” he says. Doesn’t it make sense for Gavin and Julia to put themselves in the driver’s seat?
Not at the final 12 it doesn’t. It’s just way too early. For the first 18 seasons of Survivor, it wouldn’t even be the merge yet! Flip the game now, and you’re sticking your head up too soon; you’re alienating your allies; and you’re empowering your enemies.
Yes, Julia was right to sniff that Eric was planning on using Devens and David as pawns in the game later. But just because you can tell your allies have devious plans down the road, that doesn’t mean you should destroy your own game now. Everyone has devious plans down the road! There’s a lot of game between the final 12 and the final eight, and there are so many other ways to handle the situation. It wasn’t like Eric threw a tantrum and demanded they keep David. Maybe push back harder! Maybe have a more honest conversation with Eric! Or force the issue and insist on targeting David. Or wait just one vote.
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Clearly this is a subject I have strong feelings about.
If nothing else, the vote proves once again the old axiom, that going to tribal council pre-merge battle-hardens you for the merge. Kudos to the insurrectionists, who play tribal council perfectly. And kudos again to Wardog, who keeps pushing at all the angles until he finds one that works.
“We gotta go out there and try to find cracks,” he says. “You can’t just say opes, I tried, it didn’t work. You keep fighting in this game.”
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.