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

By Stephen Fishbach
April 27, 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 reason I was able to get to where I am now is because other people had other agendas, they had other fish to fry.” – Sandra Diaz-Twine, winner, Survivor: Pearl Islands

Last episode on Survivor, Aubry kept her grip on her alliance. Jason struggled to avoid the vote. Tai held onto his idol and dodged a blindside. Devious Julia was smuffed.

It was an action-packed episode, but we also got something a little unusual: a character study of a fringe player. The Survivor education of Michele.

Michele who?, you may be wondering. She’s the neat lady who ate a cookie last week, who rolled her eyes at Nick’s mansplaining, who was shocked about Aubry’s decision to vote out Debbie. Otherwise, we haven’t seen her that much.

But after she was left out of the Scot blindside, Michele knew she had to reintegrate herself into the group. She invited Aubry out to brunch with Cydney as a first step. But to truly prove herself, Michele would need to turn on her longtime ally Julia.

Would she turn on her friend – or would she stay loyal to the end? “It friggin’ sucks,” Michele said. “I don’t want to write down the name of my biggest ally.”

The cast of Survivor: Kaoh Rong
Monty Brinton/CBS

What’s so remarkable about this story is that Michele’s decision had almost no impact on the actual vote. Cydney seemed to be the one making the crucial call if she’d flip – and if you watched her body language before tribal council, you knew she wouldn’t. She couldn’t even look Jason in the eye when they discussed blindsiding Tai.

That’s exactly why I loved Michele’s moral dilemma so much. It didn’t really matter to the strategy of the episode. But it really mattered to Michele.

Not every person on Survivor is some epic strategist or a major player. But everybody is enduring the same hardships. They are all starving, freezing, losing their minds with boredom – and betraying. Everyone struggles with the moral consequences of actions they’re not always comfortable with.

Michele Fitzgerald (inset: Stephen Fishbach)
CBS/Getty (2)

The very theme of the episode seemed to be that you have to be willing get your hands dirty if you want to win.

“You’re not going to win if you just are loyal and float through [the game],” said Julia said.

“You have to make moves at some point or another in order for your game to be respected,” said Michele.

“If the idea presents itself, you need to take it in and listen to it,” said Cydney.

“Every person out here … has to be able to justify themselves to every person on the bench,” said Jason.

If we think Michele really had a choice, then she made the wrong choice. Blindsiding Julia eliminates her closest ally and puts her at the bottom of an alliance of likable, strategic players.

Plus, she’s not really even a part of that alliance. Aubry refers to it as “Four – plus Michele.”

Nevertheless, blindsiding Julia could be the moment Michele wakes up. Much of Michele’s story to this point has revolved around their friendship. Last week, for example, Aubry said the reason they left Michele out of the vote was because she was too close with the conniving collegian.

Now that she has her hands dirty, and she’s thinking of herself as an individual instead of part of a pair, maybe we’ll see a new side to her gameplay.

The Fishy
With two challenge wins and some big confessionals, this really was Michele’s episode. Still, the Fishy goes to Aubry and Cydney, who actually ran the numbers. They kept their alliance together – they even convinced Michele to vote out her best friend! They also made the smart decision to eliminate likable Julia instead of isolated Jason.

Julia deserves major kudos, too, even as we wave her goodbye. She reminded me of Andrea Boehlke, on her second time out in Caramoan. She played the game hard, even if everybody else knew it. I hope we see her again.

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