Survivor

Stephen's Survivor Strategy Blog: Stephanie Struggles to Keep Hope Alive

03/17/2011 at 01:00 PM EDT

Stephen's Survivor Strategy Blog: Stephanie Struggles to Keep Hope Alive
Stephen Fishbach (left) and Stephanie Valencia
Monty Brinton/CBS(2)
"As long as the enemy is not defeated, he may defeat me." – Carl von Clausewitz, On War

I know I'm not supposed to like the Zapatera 6. For one thing, they have a bad case of smug. And it's a fundamental law of Survivor that as soon as you think you have everything under control, something's about to go horribly wrong.

But the Zapatera 6 have been one of the most highly-functioning tribal alliances in Survivor history. They dominate challenges, they have a few easy boots on the tribe fringes, and they haven't given in to in-fighting – yet. For maintaining cohesion like a six-headed hydra and eliminating Krista, the Zap 6 alliance wins this week's Fishy Award.

A lot of people dismissed Zapatera when they threw a challenge to eliminate Russell. But season after season of Survivor has shown that keeping a motivated minority in your camp spells disaster after a merge. You're almost better off merging down numbers than with a free agent like Russell operating in your camp. He'll lie to your face while his minions stab you in the back.



I just don't buy Krista's complaint that "they're not playing the game." What exactly does that mean? They're not turning on each other on day 12? Part of what makes the Zap 6 great is that they seem to function as genuine friends, except for some possible tension brewing between David and Sarita.

Sure, the smarmy kumbaya garbage is grating to watch. They realize, however, that solid personal relationships are the foundation for strong alliances. "If we could show [Krista and Stephanie] that we're a solid family ... I would think that they would want to hang tight with us going into a merge," says Steve.

Mike echoes the thought at Tribal Council. "How about you go talk to someone and you form a bond and you establish some trust," he says. "That's strategy."

Even when the Zap 6 lose, they win. Last night they were able to vote out Krista. That helped their alliance and cost Ometepe a potential defector.

Their biggest challenges now are in-fighting, understanding Ralph's accent, and Stephanie.

Keeping Stephanie over Krista looks like a major mistake. Stephanie is playing hard.

What impressed me most about Stephanie's strategy was the way she got into Boston Rob's mindset. "Rob kind of feels like his head is on the line here, because our team got rid of Russell so quickly," she says.

Playing on your target's fears was the kind of savvy psychology that animated Russell's gameplay. Keep hope alive.

Ometepe

Krista would love Ometepe – they're "playing the game" with panache.

Ashley and Natalie are pretending to like Andrea and Phillip. Andrea is pretending to like Ashley and Natalie. Phillip is pretending to be sane. And Phillip and Andrea can't wait to stab Rob in the back.

The Zap 6 seem poised for their comeuppance. But if you had to guess now which tribe would fall apart at the merge, wouldn't it be the backbiting, in-fighting Ometepes?

The only thing keeping Ometepe united is Boston Rob's charisma. Rob is playing one of the most perfect games of Survivor ever. At this point, all that's preventing him from a Fishy sweep is that he's not facing any actual obstacles. He sends Grant on a wild idol goose chase just to keep himself entertained.

Look how comfortable Rob is answering Jeff's "gotcha" questions or getting the cameramen to hurry up behind him as he hides the idol clue.

The biggest threat for Rob now is Matt. If Matt comes back into the game, he could unify both the Ometepe and Zapatera dissidents – and he'd be hard to beat in front of a jury.

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