updated 04/17/2014 AT 2:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/17/2014 AT 12:20 PM ET
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. Erik Reichenbach is a Survivor fan-turned-favorite, a comic book author and artist. He placed fifth on both Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan. Follow him on Twitter @BloodyAmer1can.
“It just comes down to your gut. And that’s scary because if you put your trust in the wrong person, you’re going home.”
– Gervase Peterson, Survivor: Blood vs. Water
I’m completely heartbroken!
My season-long favorite met an ignominious end Wednesday night on Survivor. Horse trainer LJ thought he was holding the reins in a six-person alliance. But “construction worker” Tony sent him out to pasture.
It was a huge move, and cry as I might over LJ’s loss, the timing couldn’t have been better. This is the point on many Survivor seasons where the bigger group predictably picks off the smaller.
Last night, though, Tony upended the game in a paranoid frenzy. Just like Kass before him, Tony broke up a solid alliance of six to oust his biggest rival.
It was great television – but was it a great move?
Enter: The Opportunist
Tony’s decision to vote out LJ started when he got four votes at Tribal Council. “I probably pooped myself!” he exclaimed. Shaken, Tony went off on a rampage against the Aparri alliance.
Trish was concerned: “He spins. A lot.” But LJ brushed it off. “He was pissed. That was his way of dealing with it,” he said.
Let’s give Trish credit for being the secret strategist of this season. She saw Tony unraveling right away, even when LJ thought it was no big deal.
Unchecked, Tony decided to eliminate LJ, his biggest threat. In typical Tony fashion, he concocted a scheme. He tried to lure LJ into betraying Woo, so that he could then safely turn on LJ.
Of course, LJ didn’t really betray Woo – he kind of shrugged his shoulders. And the only person who believed that LJ was ready to turn on Woo was Woo himself. Everybody else saw it as a symptom of Tony’s progressive delusion.
It’s a Numbers Game
But Woo was enough. Working with Spencer, Tash and Jeremiah, Tony had the numbers to vote LJ out of the game.
From where I was sitting, it looked like madness. With Woo and Trish solidly by his side, Tony was holding the majority position in the majority alliance. LJ and Jefra were a pair, and Kass was a floater. Who could challenge Tony?
In Tony’s defense, Survivor only casts a handful of true strategic players in a season. By taking out a smart strategist, Tony eliminated his competition.
The bigger issue here, however, is trust. Voting out LJ breaks the alliance’s trust – and trust in alliances is almost impossible to restore. It’s a classic Survivor mistake that we’ve seen play out in Timbira, in Galu, in Tandang. You take out one threat, but then the delicate bond that held your alliance together is irrevocably broken.
And where will Tony turn? To Spencer and Jeremiah? On the spa reward, Tony told them, “I need you guys to help me advance.” But the Aparri group isn’t interested in serving Tony unless it serves themselves. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tony was voted out next.
Spencer meanwhile is playing the cards that are dealt to him perfectly. When Tony approached him at the reward, he played up to Tony’s advances. “We’re pawns on the board, but you can use us if you want,” he said.
Spencer hasn’t made any big moves yet. But he has played a smart, cautious game, maximizing his advantage at every opportunity.
Spencer wins the Fishy this week. He convinced Tony that he could be trusted, and he had the read not to play his idol at Tribal Council. In Survivor, the difference between victory and defeat is often how good your read is. Just look at LJ.
I have absolutely zero clue what’s going to happen next. The only thing I’m relatively sure about is that Spencer, Tasha and Jeremiah went from sitting ducks to sitting pretty.