The Survivor: Tocantins runner-up says a series of interactions "might have been one of the most subtly strategic in the show's history"
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Credit: CBS; Inset: Getty

Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

"I’m paying attention to everything that’s going around me. I’m like on surveillance. I’m just sitting there, and I’m listening. Because then I know what moves to make." –Pete Yurkowski, Survivor: Philippines

Gorgeous Joe is just too perfect for Survivor.

He out-charmed Vince for Jenn’s affections. He wins every challenge, whether it’s holding on to a pole, finishing a puzzle or determining who has the most luxurious hair. And he’s managed to build a solid alliance with Jenn and Hali that is so devoted to him, they don’t even blink when he leaves them for the reward.

Joe can’t seem to lose. That’s exactly why Joe can’t win.

The rest of Tribe Merica: Joe Police were fixated on getting Joe out. “The kid’s amazing,” worried Mike. “I don’t know how I’m going to beat him.”

Unlike some of his pretty-boy forefathers, Joe also has strategic chops. After winning the reward, he invited Tyler, Caroline, Will, and Shirin – all the swing votes. On the reward itself, he noticed a hidden idol clue at the bottom of Carolyn’s soda.

(Which, like, isn’t that dangerous? Could someone have choked on that?)

When Tyler observed his idol clue, Joe even played that off perfectly: a quick glance of acknowledgment between the two of them, and they tabled their discussion for later.

The dawn scene between Joe, Tyler and Mike might have been one of the most subtly strategic in the show’s history. Tyler was waiting by the fire for Joe to approach. Together, they grabbed the dishes and pretended to do chores while they shared idol information.

Meanwhile, Mike pretended to snooze so he could follow them. He tracked Joe and Tyler through the jungle; his Ninja Stealth Mode maneuvers would impress even Woo.

When Mike confronted Tyler, both played the situation perfectly. Mike, for his part, waited for Tyler to speak. Silence may actually be my favorite move in the game. You reveal nothing about your own hand and just wait for your opponent to reveal his. (It’s also an interview technique Jeff Probst often uses in Tribal Council.)

Tyler also sold it perfectly. He shared the idol clue with Mike as if that were always his plan.

After a mad-dash scramble, Mike planted the rumor that Joe had found the idol – both increasing the already-massive target on the Golden Boy and making sure that nobody else would look for the idol.

In a brilliant piece of acting, Joe barely tried to deny it. He knew he could never convince people he didn’t have the idol. So why not play along? Joe thereby took advantage of the ancillary benefits of the rumor – which was that people might hesitate before voting for him.

What an incredible string of interactions! Three players at the top of their game, all circling each other like wolves.

It’s Mike who ultimately wins the Fishy. He found the idol, rallied his alliance and voted out Hali.

But what makes this season so amazing is that everybody else is playing their hardest as well.

Tyler and Carolyn have built a secret alliance that can swing the power in the game. Both are savvy, subtle players. Both are playing hard to win.

Shirin is playing her own game, as well. She almost succeeded at shifting the target to Dan.

Jenn is a force of chaos. She played the idol at the perfect moment last week. “I believe there’s still little things to screw up for everyone else,” she said.

And then there’s Rodney.

I wonder how much Mike benefits from Rodney’s secret alliance. Mama C, Tyler and Will may only be staying loyal to Mike as they wait to blindside him at the final seven.

Could Rodney be the glue in Mike’s blue alliance?

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

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