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.
“Everyone’s on the outside of some group.” — Courtney Yates, Survivor: China
One of the most important parts of Survivor is something that no contestant has any control over: Who’s on your tribe?
Being in a group with people you connect with can be the difference between Survivor success and failure. Could David Wright have dominated Millennials Vs. Gen-X without his right hand Ken? On the other hand, imagine how differently things might have gone for Ghost Island’s Jacob Derwin had he been cast on a tribe filled with giant superfan music teachers?
Lairo’s Vince finds himself in a tricky situation. His tribe is run by an alliance of five women. Even though they keep referring to “the five girls and Vince,” they never invite him to their aquarobics sessions. Vince doesn’t really fit with the men on his tribe either – a group of giant strapping “bros.”
But getting unlucky with casting is just part of the game. Vince makes the worst of a bad situation.
Last week, after the tribe returned from voting out Ronnie, Elaine tried to make peace with outsider Aaron. But Vince went on the attack. “I want to know how the [expletive] my name came up!” he demanded.
“We got back from tribal, my ass was like – maybe I should just be nice,” he explained in confessional. “But I was like, no, that’s not who I am!”
Success on Survivor often means acting political – even if it’s at the expense of who you are.
Then this week, when the men do try to recruit him, Vince can barely sustain Aaron’s eye contact as he claims to be with the guys.
“How do you feel about working with us?” Aaron asks him.
“I’m down. Totally,” Vince says, to the air.
“So if [the girls] bring you an idea?”
“Then we could talk about it,” Vince says, glancing off into the ether.
Vince can barely look at Aaron – is there any way that the guys actually trust him? And “we could talk about it” isn’t really up there with the history’s greatest declarations of loyalty.
When Vince is sent to Island of the Idols for a lesson in subterfuge and limbo, he becomes an obvious boot. He isn’t part of any group, and now he could have an idol. Vince really could have used a lesson in interpersonal politicking – something that Sandra and Rob are both experts at – rather than how to shimmy under a tree branch.
That said, it’s hard to really judge Vince’s gameplay, because the episode was missing a crucial scene. What did Vince say when he got back from Island of Idols? Did he try to assuage the tribe’s suspicions? Did he say anything to Elizabeth – maybe try to forge a bond over their shared secret? Vince was forced into an awkward situation by a random draw. How did he handle it?
We just don’t know, which also makes it challenging to decide who wins the Fishy for this episode.
Do I give it to Missy, who chatted up Vince and involved him in a fake plan?
What about Tom, who was the first to suggest Vince after the challenge?
Maybe it should go to Elizabeth, who pushed back against Missy on voting out Tom because of their bond as professional athletes. (A bond I know so well.)
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What about Elaine, who went from the biggest target of episode 1 to completely off the radar in episode 3?
But then there’s Mastermind Dean, the first to suggest a split vote!
Ultimately, voting out Vince was a tribe decision. “We vote out Vince, that’s our easiest vote. I don’t think anybody will be mad at that,” Elizabeth says. It makes sense. Around day eight, when you start to wonder if a swap is coming, you make decisions that build tribal cohesion. If the tribe had voted out Tom, that would leave a furious Aaron and Dean.
So I really have to give the Fishy to Boston Rob and Sandra. They taught Vince how to keep calm – a lesson that worked too well. He kept so calm at tribal council, that he failed to play his idol, and was voted out of the game.
The most surprising part of the vote was that the women’s alliance was willing to split the votes onto Karishma, rather than Tom. I had thought that Karishma was merely being paranoid. But you know what they say – just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you. It really looks like for all its divisions – boys vs. girls; young vs. old; Karishma vs. her hand – the Lairo tribe is working together.
With Vince gone, Karishma could be next.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.