updated 11/01/2012 AT 2:05 PM ET
•originally published 11/01/2012 AT 10:00 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
“Don’t sink everybody else and yourself because you’re pissed off at one person.”
– Ken Stafford, Survivor: Thailand
Call him Ahab.
You know – the crazed old sea captain who leads his crew to their certain doom in his quest to destroy the White Whale?
Except in Survivor: Philippines, the captain is named Jeff Kent. And the white whale goes by Jonathan instead of Moby Dick.
Who knows what trauma caused Jeff Kent’s vendetta against Jonathan Penner? Penner didn’t rip off his leg. But maybe Kent blames him for his bum knee? The only sure thing is that Kent will destroy everything he loves in his monomaniacal obsession to harpoon his former ally.
“Penner’s been my priority since day one,” he says. Then later, “I’ll join any game as long as I can get Penner out before I get out.” Still later, “From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” (Okay, that last one was the real Captain Ahab.)
The crazy thing is, in this version of the story, the White Whale just wants to be friends. Penner’s negotiating to recruit RC and Skupin to Team Kalabaw. That would make Jeff Kent captain of a dominant 6-person alliance.
Instead, Kent decides to hand the tiller over to Pete. He votes out RC and alienates Penner, one of his closest allies. He thereby ensures that he, Carter and Denise are at the bottom of the new tribe’s hierarchy.
Kent wins a special anti-Fishy for his awful gameplay. The badness of this move basically invalidates anything nice I said about him last week. If Kent was so obsessed with Penner, why not vote him out last week? At least he’d then have Kalabaw Katie by his side.
The move is actually worse than Cochran’s awful flip in South Pacific. Cochran went from the bottom of one alliance to the bottom of another. But Kent discards a great situation in favor of a bad one. It makes almost no sense.
No logical sense, anyway. As with all Survivor flubs, it really comes down to emotion and ego. Jeff Kent doesn’t want to look like a fool. He’s seen past returning players clown their tribemates. He’d rather lose the game than let that happen to him.
Props to Pete
Give props to Pete for enabling Kent’s horrible decision. Pete knows that RC and Skupin are guaranteed to flip. By eliminating RC, he takes out a fierce competitor and limits Skupin’s options. (It’s easier to negotiate as two than as one.)
But Pete wouldn’t be in this situation at all if he’d just been nice to Skupin and RC. So instead of pagonging Kalabaw, he’s forced to turn on his own. Even with RC out, Skupin is a vehement enemy. “They’re just too rude,” Skupin says.
So the Fishy this week goes to Malcolm for a seemingly innocuous interaction. When Lisa stumbles on his idol, Malcolm handles the situation flawlessly. “I get her alone. I don’t say a word. I just look at her,” he says.
Could there be any more perfect summation of great Survivor gameplay? Giving other people the chance to speak first lets you gather information without revealing any. It also gives you the chance to suss out the emotional dynamics of the situation. Is Lisa suspicious? Is she cautious? Is she guilty? By isolating Lisa and then waiting for her to speak, Malcolm gives himself maximum control.
It may seem small. But as I’ve written before, it’s that attention to detail in every interaction that makes the best Survivor gameplay.
I also have to give a shout-out to whoever came up with the merge tribe name. Dangrayne – get it, “Dang Rain?” It’s perfect for one of the wettest seasons in memory.