Stephen Fishbach Blogs: Russell Swan Was Too Good for His Own Good

Stephen Fishbach (left) and Russell Swan

Monty Brinton/CBS (2)

updated 10/11/2012 AT 6:00 PM ET

originally published 10/12/2012 AT 8:20 AM ET

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

“I take risks in the game. And if you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, you go home. But I’m well aware of that, and I’ll take the risk all day long, to get farther in the game.”
– Russell Hantz, Heroes vs. Villains

Weep for Russell Swan.

He gave his life for Survivor. He actually physically died, was resurrected in a cryogenic chamber owned by Mark Burnett, and had every reason to expect Survivor: Philippines to be his march to glory. Now he can only pray to the empty skies, and cry the divinity’s name in vain:

Why, O Probst, on a season with such athletic males, did you saddle Matsing with the doughy anchor that was Zane?

Why, O Probst, did you cast Russell on the rainiest season in recent memory, when you knew that rain was his kryptonite?

And why, O Probst, did you put him on a tribe with the season’s two sharpest new contestants, when anybody else might have been his ally?

I’ve long suspected that strong returning players inhibit new Survivors from developing their strategic skills. Savvy gamers are incentivized to stay in the returnee’s shadow while he (always he) navigates the tribe to the end – rather than breaking out and making moves of their own. Look at Sophie in South Pacific: She was a smart player whose best move at every turn was to make no move at all. What might she have done on a season without Coach?

This season proves that point, as Russell’s spectacular flameout forges two of Survivor’s best strategists, Malcolm and Denise [I’ll call the duo Manise]. If Boston Rob were on this season, they would have been the first two out.

Manise wins a co-Fishy award for the way they gull Russell with their plots and counter-plots. Each of them approaches Russell, and suggests they vote out the other. Russell, who was frantically looking for the idol, suddenly believes he’s the swing vote.

Keeping your targets busy by involving them in fake plans is one of the most reliable ways to blindside them. Nobody on Survivor ever truly knows their tribe position. But everybody hopes that the things people are saying to them are true. By feeding someone in such abject despair a little hope, Manise keeps Russell on the hook long enough to eliminate him.

It may seem like excessive manipulation, to work Russell over so hard. Don’t you understand he died for this game? But it ’ that attention to detail that distinguishes the best gamers.


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