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

By Stephen Fishbach
May 08, 2019 09:00 PM

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.

“I like to have chaos and I like to have trouble.” — Kass McQuillen, Survivor: Cagayan

Love him or hate him, Rick Devens is one of the greatest tribal council performers in the history of Survivor.

Almost every week, Devens makes a scene at tribal. Last week, he pulled off grand theater as he sent Ron home with first a fake idol play, then a real idol play. This week, he again makes a splash as he pulls out an idol and promises to play it for Julie.

Some love Devens for his theatrics. Others despise him for what they see as grandstanding. But there’s no question it’s effective.

When I was on the jury in Cambodia, I realized how crucial it is for players to connect with jurors. Tribal Council is the one place the jury gets to see the game with their own eyes. As a result, they disproportionately prefer big moves that happen at tribal to the devious subtleties that go down at camp. It’s almost irrelevant who’s actually in control – all that matters is who the jury thinks is driving the action.

Survivor Comic
Credit: Erik Reichenbach

Look at Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, where Chrissy – who won four immunity challenges and was a major strategic force during the late game – lost to Ben, who played idols every week at tribal.

So even though Devens is almost always on the wrong side of the actual vote, because his play is so visible to the jury, they’re rooting for him. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s the ultimate underdog.)

That said, for all Devens’ theater, I don’t actually think he was the decisive factor in the vote switching from Julie to Aurora. My guess is that Gavin, Victoria and Lauren came into tribal council planning to vote Aurora anyway. After all, it’s not like the trio was particularly scared. Gavin notes it makes no sense for Devens to play his idol at six when he’ll desperately need it for the next vote. Moreover, we didn’t see any cross-talk from the allies, no fingers pointed or subtle nods.

Survivor: Edge of Extinction
Credit: Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images

So I’m giving Lauren the Fishy for this week, for being the one to pull the plan together behind the scenes. Lauren recognizes that it makes a lot more sense to vote out Aurora than it does to take out Julie. While Julie had a strong presence in the early merge, she’s stumbled at recent challenges, and her outbursts at tribal council have made the other contestants think she’s a jury goat. “If we let Julie go, it just looks stupid to me,” Lauren says.

Survivor: Edge of Extinction
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Moreover, Lauren and Julie have a good relationship – giving Lauren more maneuverability down the road.

Aurora on the other hand is a beast in every challenge (at least those not involving word puzzles), and has a compelling story she could tell the jury, as the underdog who got to the end.

Lauren stumbles slightly when she tells Gavin that she’d be willing to make the move without Victoria. That sets off Gavin and Victoria’s anxiety, and I thought there was a chance they’d flip the vote on her. (After all, if they do manage to eliminate Devens, Lauren would be the last Lesu standing). Why not wait until after Gavin has tried convincing Victoria before making the case you don’t need her? Alliances are a Jenga tower of hope and dreams, and the slightest breath can knock the whole structure over.

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But it’s such a small quibble with Lauren’s well-played move. Now, going into the endgame, Lauren may be in the best position of anybody.

But with Rick Devens, a massive threat with an idol in his pocket – and another threat about to re-enter the game from the Edge of Extinction – the dominant alliance may fall prey to that common Survivor struggle. They may simply not have enough time to take out all the big threats before the final tribal is on them.

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