updated 04/11/2013 AT 5:30 PM ET
•originally published 04/11/2013 AT 9:45 AM ET
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“Everybody tells me all the time how much they believe me, how much they trust me. Were these guys paying attention the first 32 days?” – Rob Cesternino, Survivor: The Amazon
Has Dawn Meehan hoodwinked her entire tribe? The kindly mother of six adopted children has somehow become Survivor: Caramoan’s most fearsome assassin. She lures her prey into a false sense of security – and then, she strikes!
On Wednesday’s episode, yet another alliance fell victim to the poison stinger of the weeping Meehan. Malcolm, who somehow isn’t on the outs even after his failed coup last week, is nonetheless determined to destroy his position in the majority alliance. He rallies lothario Eddie, sexually ambivalent Michael and exuberant golden retriever puppy Reynold for another putsch.
Then – mystery of mysteries – he decides to tell Dawn. On most seasons of Survivor, viewers scratch their heads wondering why nobody ever just talks to each other. “If A just shared info with B, they could learn that C was double-dealing!” This season, we can see why. A suggestion, even to a seemingly benign ally, can alert the opposition to your plans and destroy your alliance.
Dawn wins the Fishy for her particularly skilled work at playing both sides. She’s so good that, even after she sold Corinne out last week, nobody knows she’s the turncoat. Has that ever happened – someone betraying the same alliance, in two consecutive episodes?
People fault Dawn for her volatile emotions: she cries at the drop of a coconut. I actually think her weepiness is a testament to her Survivor skills. For most people, their personality is their strategy. They’re flirtatious or cool-headed in real life, and that translates directly to the game. Dawn is an aggressive strategist in spite of her personality. She’s managed to set aside her fragility to make the hard-nosed decisions that are deciding the course of this season.
Dawn, and players like her, are the hinge around which Survivor turns. They’re the decision makers who are a part of every plan, and guide the game by choosing the path that’s best for themselves. Kim finessed this role in One World; she was everybody’s ally, so nobody could formulate a stratagem that didn’t include her.
Kim succeeded because, even as she betrayed her allies, they still wanted her to win. Can Dawn inspire the same loyalty?
The Education of Andrea
Survivor history is littered with the nameless girls who come into the game claiming they’ll “flirt.” Usually that means they latch on to a strong guy, do what he says and get discarded in the pre-merge.
There aren’t many girls who actually use their flirtatious powers offensively, for their own gain. Parvati, of course, sets the gold standard. Brenda beguiled Chase in Nicaragua, before she was sapped of her life force and the power of speech. You could argue Amber flirted to victory in All Stars, though a decade of marriage, three kids and 6,000 reality shows later, Romber looks a little more solid than your standard showmance.
On Wednesday, Andrea did some strategic flirting of her own. She batted her lashes at Eddie, pretended to fall for his pretty looks and convinced him to spill the beans about the Brolliance’s plans. When she learned that she was their target, Andrea scrambled to change the vote from risky Malcolm to safe Michael.
Sure, she looked a little frantic doing it – but Andrea may have saved herself, since Malcolm played Reynold’s idol.
Andrea came into this season looking to shake off her reputation as one of Boston Rob’s zombies. By day three, she had backstabbed Francesca; by day six, she targeted Corinne. She’s not the subtlest strategist; unlike Dawn, people know when Andrea is scheming.
But she is using everything she’s got to get ahead. For now, it’s working.