The Survivor: Tocantins and Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance is blogging all season for PEOPLE

By Stephen Fishbach
March 23, 2016 10:00 PM

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and a member of the jury on Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. He has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

“The most common reason people lose this game is not making the move they have when they could have because they got too comfortable.” –- Spencer Bledsoe, Survivor: Cagayan

Alexander Hamilton would be so mad at Peter right now. He threw away his shot!

At the episode’s start, it looked like Peter could pull together a Gondol Revolution. He whispered in Tai’s ear by the fire. He chatted with Julia in the water. He strolled with Scot. He sold his story of loss and revenge. “They took out my alliance member,” he mourned. FOR LIZ!

Sure he was a little ham-handed, but Peter was about to execute the perfect blindside. Then he made an Aaron Burr-esque mistake. He decided to “wait for it.”

The problem for Peter came when Joe “broached” him.

Joe: Are you trying to take me out?
Peter: What was the question?
Joe: Are you telling people, ‘Take Joe out’? Tell me the truth. Don’t dance around. Yes or no?
Peter: Who said that and when?

It took a whole montage of Peter looking flummoxed before he finally told Joe “NO.” If this is Peter dancing, he’s doing the Macarena – over-the-top, outdated, and awkward.

I have so much sympathy for Peter. Unless you’re a sociopath, it’s hard in to come up with a great on-the-spot lie. Plus no matter how many ‘no’s Peter says, Joe will always hear ‘yes.’ The best solution is to blame somebody else! Say “Julia is stirring us up against each other. She told me you were after me! We must unite – now more than ever!”

But Peter got his hand caught in the cookie jar. In response, he called the whole thing off. When Scot came to check in, Peter told him, “My mutiny fell through because Joe is on edge.”

Who cares if Joe is on edge if you’re about to blindside Joe?! Peter’s decision is more emotional than rational. He felt exposed, so he retreated to the safety of the Brains alliance and abandoned his big move.

“It’s better to go with the Brains and not stir up the waters,” Peter said. The problem is, the waters have already been stirred.

Scot Pollard from Survivor: Kaoh Rong; inset, Stephen Fishbach
CBS

Samurai Scot

Feeling burned by Peter for backing out of his deal, Scot plotted revenge. He sat down with Julia and Tai and the trio decided to target Peter themselves.

A basketball player, a gardener, and a college student walk into a camp. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it was actually the beginning of one of the highest-functioning alliances the season has yet seen. Survivor makes strange bedfellows. They devise a strategy to sow intrigue and paranoia among the fractured Brains.

Most importantly, they played on Aubry’s insecurities. Julia told Aubry that Peter was targeting her, not Joe. That made Aubry sit up and take notice. Survivor is all fun and intellectual when it’s your ally in the crosshairs. When your name’s getting tossed around, suddenly it’s personal!

I was surprised that Aubry didn’t give Tai and Julia a more definitive answer. “Thanks for the heads-up,” she said. You really have to overcommunicate on Survivor – but Aubry and Joe still act a bit like kingpins.

It seemed like the Brains would nevertheless stick together – but Julia’s paranoia pellet was rattling around in Aubry’s overly intellectual brain. At Tribal Council, Scot noticed that Peter was alienating his tribe further with vague and noncommittal answers. He called an audible and threw Tribal Council into an uproar.

Scot wins the Fishy for staying situationally aware. Some players withdraw at Tribal under the glare of the torches and Jeff Probst’s probing questions. Scot – battle hardened after his weeks on the Brawn tribe – performed perfectly and masterminded Peter’s exit.

Maybe too Scot’s experience as an NBA star makes him more astute in high-stress situations. From the little I know about basketball from watching one March Madness game (poor Yale!), I know you have to make split-second decisions and live with the consequences. Just like on Survivor.

Scot is at the center of the Yellow tribe’s alliances and he plays them perfectly. “I’m with you, whatever you say,” Scot told Tai. I don’t think there’s a single better thing you can say to an ally in Survivor. It demonstrates complete loyalty and also makes your ally feel powerful.

I also really respect Aubry and Joe’s decision-making. They’re right that losing Peter now would make them the targets next. You can never count on a merge or a swap to save you. Joe’s “stick to the plan” conservatism can be smart, too. Peter’s whole problem was that he was oscillating all over the strategic spectrum. Showing loyalty and solidity are both important on Survivor.

What’s so fantastic about this season is that so many people are making interesting and intelligent choices based on their life experiences and characters. NBA player Scot is taking a shot. FBI agent Joe is sticking to his squad. Ivy League grad Aubry is overthinking every decision.

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More than anything, the whole episode was a perfect example of how crucial momentum and perceived strength are in Survivor. Peter decided not to target Aubry not for any rational reasons, but because he felt the momentum shift when Joe confronted him. Aubry, even after she had decided to target Julia, switched her vote at Tribal Council because of Scot’s big theatrical play. She didn’t want to get left on the wrong side of the big move.

Big, dramatic moments can have an emotional impact that goes far beyond any rational or strategic implications. I remember last season in Cambodia, after Kelley Wentworth played her first idol, suddenly everybody wanted to work with her – not because the core strategic situation in the game had changed, but simply because there was an excitement around her now.

If you’re savvy like Scot and know how to shift the emotional dynamics of the game, you can have an outsized impact.

Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.

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