The Survivor: Tocantins runner-up writes, "if this level of gameplay keeps up for the next seven weeks, I'm so grateful to be watching"

By Stephen Fishbach
Updated April 02, 2015 12:20 AM
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Credit: CBS; 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.

"There’s no point in going into a merge if you have somebody who can’t be trusted." –Bill Posley, Survivor: One World

What an episode, what a merge and what a season!

Wednesday on Survivor, the season’s merge left all 12 players scrambling. Alliances shifted and reformed as each of the variously collared contestants worked to solidify old agreements and form new bonds.

Survivor: Worlds Apart has no Jefras, no purple Kellys content to bob along on the game’s tides. Everybody is struggling against the current. Mike has his alliance of Blue Collar. Jenn, Hali and Joe have their No Collar alliance. Rodney has built up a side final four of his own. Carolyn and Tyler have a secret pact. Shirin and Will are bouncing between sides. Every single player has a hustle, a side hustle and a backup hustle.

Of course this episode, Mike and Jenn were the real stars.

All episode, Mike built up a coalition that crossed tribal lines while the No Collars worked against him. He cozied up to Will and Tyler. He solidified his relationship with Rodney. And while it looked like the vote might come down ragged and confused, almost every single person voted with Mike – everyone except Gorgeous Joe, Jenn, Hali and Shirin.

Mike managed to secure all the swing votes but one. Even Will threw his lone vote at Hali to show his commitment to the Blue Collar team.

For her part, Jenn failed at her primary goal, which was to build up a competing alliance and challenge Mike. But Jenn wins the episode Fishy for knowing perfectly how to play her idol. How many players across the seasons have missed that opportunity? Jenn was stung by the bee – and, in return, stung the Blue Collar alliance.

The question next episode is, How will Jenn’s coup breakup Mike’s fragile alliance? Will could feel betrayed for having been told to vote for Hali. And the secret “swinger” alliance of Tyler and Carolyn may hold all the power – even as they avoid the dreaded moniker of “power couple.”

“You cannot show any strong bonds at all or you’ll be out of here,” said Carolyn.

The witch hunt against power couples is just one reason why this season may mark an evolution in Survivor – in the same way that Boston Rob‘s cutthroat gameplay did in All Stars and Russell‘s nonstop mania did in Samoa.

These contestants are extremely self-aware about the conventions of the game. That’s why a loudmouth player like Rodney may get pulled along as a jury goat and a couple of friends like Sierra and Lindsey had to be separated.

Maybe this evolution is Tony Vlachos‘s legacy – he saw the game as truly a game, an opportunity to have fun and spin his tall tales and build forts.

Maybe it’s all thanks to Rob Cesternino: Do a Google search now for “Survivor strategy,” and you get a wealth of audio books and podcasts from every super strategist ever to play, explaining in detail what they did and why.

Or maybe this is just because of the world we live in, where every Survivor contestant is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and the entire universe is hashtagged, meta-textual and self-aware. If you follow any of this cast on social media, you’ll see they can’t stop posting incessant pictures of their self-celebration.

At the merge, Mike said, “Everybody’s going to go talk. Go talk. We know what’s happening.” They all do.

Host Jeff Probst noticed it, too: “There’s a sense in this group that it is a game,” he said. Everybody nodded their heads.

Whatever the cause, if this level of gameplay keeps up for the next seven weeks – and the next few seasons – I’m so grateful to be watching.

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

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