Stephen Fishbach's 'Survivor' Blog: Why 'Strategy Is So Situational and So Personal'

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

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.

“This game, man, it’s not only physically tough, it’s mentally tough. It messes with your mind, your body and your soul.” — Russell Hantz, Survivor: Samoa

Survivor cuts you to the quick. The fatigue, paranoia, and physical collapse wear contestants down to the point that they make strategic decisions based on deep-seated insecurities. Nerdy players target the jocks that bullied them in high school. Former college athletes, dulled by office life, are frantic to recapture the glory they left behind on their college football fields.

Army veteran Angela is feeling abandoned in her real life. She’s lost her military family, her daughter has gone off to college, and she left behind her husband in a divorce. “It’s just hard,” she says.

So when Wendell, Domenick, and Morgan voted against her, Angela saw it as more than Survivor strategy. “My own family slit my throat,” she tells Chris. Most contestants will say they’ve been betrayed or blindsided. They’ll use the generic phrase “they stabbed me in the back.” Angela’s visceral imagery – her family slit her throat – shows how deeply she felt the betrayal, like her blood was pouring out of her.

Like many people who have been backstabbed or throat-slit, what Angela seems to want – even more than revenge – is to heal the wound. She wants to undo the betrayal, and go back to a simpler time when she was a part of the Naviti family.

Kellyn wins the Fishy for offering Angela that vision of a prelapsarian Naviti. Kellyn spins tales of the five tribe members who stood united on the Malolo beach. “We stayed, the five of us the whole time,” Kellyn says. “There was never a question about it.”

There was never a question about it. Beyond politics, just like a family should be.

At first, I thought Kellyn made a big misstep when she told Angela, “I know Des and I are gonna vote together. So I would love for you to work with the two of us.” I worried that Kellyn was showing Angela that she was again on the outside of a tight group. Feeling excluded might push Angela towards James.

But I wonder if that remark actually worked in Kellyn’s favor. Kellyn emphasized the unbreakable bond that she had with her Naviti alliance – and offered Angela a way back into it. If Kellyn showed she was willing to betray Desiree, it might have reinforced into Angela’s doubts. It’s a reminder that Survivor strategy is so situational and so personal.

Nobody bangs the Naviti drum louder than Kellyn. Even at the first swap, she had said, “My game plan is to keep us together.” And of course, nobody benefits from that persistent drumbeat more than she. Kellyn is at the top of the Naviti pecking order – but not the very top, where Bradley sits just waiting to be goose-egged at the final tribal.

WATCH: Jeff Probst On ‘Survivor’ Spin-Offs & Why He’ll Never Compete: ‘My Mouth Would Get Me Voted Out’

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

James also understood that Angela wanted a promise of safety. “I can assure you, if you work with me, you’re not going to be on the bottom of anything,” he told her. But it really wouldn’t make strategic sense for Angela to switch to Team Malolo, given that the tribe is now on the endangered species list. All three of the new tribes have Naviti majorities. Angela may be at the bottom of the Naviti group, but if she voted to save James, eliminate Des, and betray Kellyn, she truly would have been a soldier without an army.

A Fishy for Angela, too. She made the right play, even if it was a difficult one. Eliminating James now takes out a real strategic threat before the merge.

Still, I was sorry to see James go. He’s one of my favorite contestants in recent years. He was a smart out-of-the-box thinker; he was strong physically; and he also had a deeper emotional side. Jeff Probst said that “turning points are where strong players shine and weak players fade.” But sometimes there’s nothing that even a strong player can

Kudos to Michael, who votes with the majority against James, and doesn’t clue his fellow Malolo into the imminent blindside. When you’re on the bottom of the group, it always makes sense to vote with the majority when you can. Michael is another favorite – he’s always looking for his little edge, which is what you have to do to win.

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

Related Articles