"I want to honor the experiences of my fellow contestants," writes Fishbach of blogging his experiences from Cambodia

By Stephen Fishbach
Updated September 23, 2015 11:30 AM
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Timothy Kuratek/CBS

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. This season, he will blog about his experiences in Cambodia as a competitor on Survivor: Second Chance. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

"This is the All-Stars. It’s hardcore. You’ve gotta play this game more intense than you did before." –Amber Brkich, winner of Survivor: All Stars

Once more unto the beach.

Last May, Survivor fans voted to send 20 former players back to the island. Twenty losers were given a second shot to starve and suffer in the Cambodian monsoon while they played the world’s greatest game. They could correct their mistakes – or fall flat on their faces trying.

Thanks to you, I was one of those lucky losers. So before I say anything else – thank you. Whether you voted for me, supported me on social media or happened to click on my face because you needed to fill out 10 ballots but were really there to vote for Joe: thanks.

Over the next few months, I have been gifted another incredible opportunity: I get to blog about the experience. I will be doing my usual episode analysis, awarding Fishies to great strategic moves and Rotten Fishies to blunders. This time, however, my blog will be leavened with my first-person experience of what it’s like to actually be on the beach – how it feels to build a shelter, to put faith in an alliance, and to bask in the warm glow of Jeff Probst‘s dimpled smile.

No contestant has ever written about their experience during the actual show, so I am incredibly grateful to CBS and PEOPLE. I’m going to honor their trust in a few ways.

First, you will find no spoilers here. Whether I last three days or 39, the opinions presented here will be what I was feeling in the moment and not in any way colored by events in the game not yet broadcast. If I’m eliminated, I will blog about the show from the same perspective as always.

I also want to honor the experiences of my fellow contestants. I will try to see things through their eyes, and not use the bully pulpit of this blog to besmirch my enemies or applaud my friends. Fishies will be awarded to great moves, regardless of how they impact me.

I had forgotten, over the past seven years, how massive the Survivor experience really is. Even the worst, most NaOnkian players endure something intense. Every single contestant suffers starvation, rough elements, paranoia and betrayal. Everybody struggles to be their best self, to keep their wits about them as their bodies wither.

I had forgotten how many snap decisions go into every hour. Survivor contestants make a thousand small daily choices. Only a few end up mattering. There’s almost no way to know which handful those will be.

Who’s the first person you speak to in the morning? What do you say? Do you offer an alliance? Do you withhold information? Do you speak close to the shelter, or do you walk away? How long does the conversation last?

You could look like a moron on television for doing one dumb thing after you spent two weeks doing everything else right.

Before the Game Begins

This cast may be the greatest in the show’s history. That’s a testament to the fans’ superb decision-making. A normal Survivor season is packed with erratic players, many of whom are dead on arrival. Starting this season, I believed that 17 of the 20 players could win.

I thought Shirin was a long shot, because we knew she was a millionaire, and because she might struggle to contain her big personality. I thought Woo was unlikely, given that he was neither particularly strategic nor did he have a hard-knock story. And I didn’t think Abi could win, because Abi.

It sucks to be against so many great players. The better the opponents, the worse my odds! Nevertheless, I was excited to test myself. As a great man once said, “Iron sharpens iron.”

I felt I could mesh well with Wentworth, Shirin, Vytas and Peih-Gee – smart, cerebral players. Wigglesworth, Woo and I shared the bond of being runners-up. I knew Terry from Survivor charity events. Most of all, I was excited to see Spencer. He and I had spent time together in New York and discussed everything from our pre-game strategies to our footwear.

I made no pre-game alliances, though. I didn’t want any commitments inhibiting my flexibility in the game.

Conversely, I was nervous about Savage and Jeremy, alpha males who could feel threatened by me. I observed their body language. They gravitated towards each other. I prayed not to be on a tribe with either of them.

If you’ve seen the tribe divisions, you know that all my nightmares were fulfilled.

I went into Survivor: Second Chance knowing that I would be an early target. This blog and my Know It Alls podcast transformed me from an under-the-radar “Fishbach out of water” to a major strategic threat.

My hope was to last a few days, dodge a few votes and let my pre-game reputation fade as the game itself unspooled.

Still, I was anxious, sitting on that beach, waiting to start – knowing I could be the first person out.

I was also sick. Before the game began, I contracted a stomach bug from – if you can believe it – a bad avocado. (For those who watched Tocantins, you may know that avocados are my great culinary nemesis.)

So I’m giving myself the pre-game Fishy. No matter what happens from here on in, I have at least one.

When I was presented with this opportunity, I seriously debated whether or not to return. I had a powerful, transformative experience in Tocantins. I also left with a good reputation as a strategic player.

I knew that going back, I was risking that reputation. I could humiliate myself; I could fall flat on my face. So much luck goes into Survivor. The odds were against me doing as well.

But I realized that it was cowardly to avoid an incredible journey out of fear. By jealously guarding my reputation, I could miss out on a rare experience.

That wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to take this risk. I look forward to sharing the adventure that followed with you.

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Survivor: Second Chance

premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.