After days on end with little food and almost no sleep, it's hard to keep your wits

By Stephen Fishbach
March 20, 2019 10:00 PM
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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.

Erik Reichenbach is a former two time Survivor Fan/Favorite and Comic Book Artist. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikReichenb4ch.

Always keep your guard up. You never know when people are trying to trick you. There’s a lot of actors here, a lot of poker faces. — Earl Cole, winner, Survivor: Fiji

The best way to blindside someone on Survivor is to involve them in a fake plot to blindside someone else. That way, they’re so busy twirling their mustaches with their own devious moves, that they never see your moves coming.

Victoria wins the Fishy Award this week for engaging Aubry in plots and counterplots. Aubry lowers her guard – and gets sent home with an idol and an extra vote in her pocket.

(Brief pause to wonder why Devens, Reem, and Keith – all of whom were at one point aligned with Wendy – didn’t send her the extra vote, preferring instead to help out a stranger they’d never met. C’mon guys, Wendy was a loyal ally to every one of you!)

Manu

When Manu somehow loses an immunity challenge to Lesu, Victoria, Gavin, and Eric want to eliminate Aubry. But they’re worried. She might have an idol. Plus, she’s a devious player, and who knows what tricks she has up her sleeve.

Victoria comes up with the plan to involve Aubry in a counter-scheme with Wendy, so that she doesn’t get suspicious. Victoria approaches Aubry on the beach, and suggests an all-girl alliance. She plays the moment perfectly. “I think you’re the only I trust even a little bit right now,” she tells Aubry. Sounds like a productive dialogue!

The best part about Victoria’s plan is that she gives herself options. While she’s plotting with Eric and Gavin to deceive Aubry – she’s also plotting with Aubry to deceive Eric and Gavin. Yes, we know that her actual goal is to take out the vets. But if things go sideways, Victoria has an escape hatch.

Comically, the fake plan to blindside Eric gets stuck with Wendy, who refuses to go along with it. But the Manu alliance compensates, and pretends instead they’re going to vote for Wendy. They even have a fun tagline – “forge this four in fire!”

While Victoria is being devious, Aubry makes a classic Survivor mistake. She assumes that the rest of her tribe isn’t being strategic , because they’re not being strategic with her. She says in one interview that her tribe is asleep from the “Kama cult Kool-Aid.” When Victoria approaches her, she says in surprise, “She’s been sneaky-awake the whole time!”

It’s easy to get lost in your own schemes and your own headspace. But on Survivor, you should always assume everyone has a plan. If you don’t know what it is, you’re probably the target. I remember watching the Palau DVD and hearing Gregg Carey explain how he would go down the row of the shelter every night, trying to figure out what each person thought was their best move. It’s a useful rubric for anyone on the show to stay grounded.

SURVIVOR

(Personally, I found that I did well when I used that strategy. When I forgot it, and got so fixated on how everyone else was a bit player in my big plans, I got blindsided.)

“Every time I try to do something in Survivor, something goes wrong,” Aubry says. “Maybe I have to have a little faith that just a little bitty thing can go right.” Aubry won’t make that mistake again!

In Aubry’s defense, you can’t run from a target that has nothing to do with your game. Aubry was targeted not because of her personality, or her gameplay, but simply because she’s a returnee. As the merge approaches, there are still four vets left. By themselves, they constitute a voting bloc as big as any tribe. Of course they become an enormous target.

(Counter-counter argument that Aubry could have recognized that and played her idol. But it’s so hard to know the perfect moment for a move like that).

Kama

When Joe sees that Aubry’s been eliminated, he starts to feel Jeff Probst’s chill breath on his neck. A standard stratagem in his position would be to try to make somebody else into a huge target. Start a campaign of whispers about how devious Ron is, or whatever. But Joe recognizes that he’ll always be the biggest threat on the beach.

So Joe tries out an interesting strategy – making other people feel like they’re big targets, too. Thus, they need to keep him around as a meat shield. “If I can make everyone feel like they’re a big threat, maybe we can all unite,” he says.

“You’re beautiful and smart, a med student who knows this game really well, and you’ve been killer in challenges,” he tells Julia. “You know they’re all thinking it.”

There’s no better tactic on Survivor than spreading fear. Other than beasting out in immunities, it may be his only shot.

I wonder if Aubry and Joe became such huge targets on Kama because they were clearly working together. Even as the numbers on David and Wentworth’s tribe have dwindled to nothing, the two of them are still in the game. Maybe that’s partially because they seemed to be gunning for each other – while never actually voting each other out. Because each of them was involved in schemes against the other one, they could forge mini-alliances – rather than letting the big group ally against them.

Whether or not it was deliberate, it clearly worked.

Lesu

Speaking of Lesu – how fun is this foursome that just can’t stand each other? Wentworth’s exasperation with everyone; Wardog’s relentless scheming; David’s dogged hopefulness; Lauren’s despair. I could watch these guys hate each other all night. That said, their long experience across many tribals makes them a strategic strike force when it comes down to the votes.

When the Lesu Four face off against Manu at the group tribal council, both foursomes swear to stay strong. But it only takes a few seconds before Manu cracks and eliminates Wendy.

I Need a Dance Partner
Wendy Diaz
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

(Though to be fair, she was never really a part of that group anyway)

So Wendy heads to the Edge of Extinction, aka the Apex of Dysfunction. How tragic and hilarious was it to see all these players tripping over their own two feet in their attempts to both cooperate and deceive each other? First Devens tells everybody how to figure out the map. Then Reem basically shows Keith where to get the advantage. Then Reem essentially loses her mind at Chris, for simply observing out loud what had just happened with Keith.

After days on end with little food and almost no sleep, it’s hard to keep your wits. No wonder their brains are malfunctioning and their nerves are frayed. With three weeks left in the game, someone’s gonna crack.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.