Thursday October 25, 2012 05:00 PM EDT
Stephen Fishbach Blogs: Why Baseball's Jeff Kent Is a Survivor MVP
by Stephen FishbachStephen 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
"This is a business trip, strictly. My attire is just beard and bathing suits out here. But I'm still in business mode."
– Brian Heidik, Winner, Survivor: Thailand
Is Denise a cooler?
I'm sure you all remember The Cooler – that classic 2003 drama. William H. Macy plays a guy whose luck is so bad that evil casino owner Alec Baldwin pays him to bring down other gamblers.
Six episodes in, and Denise has been to every single tribal council. That's a feat unmatched by any Survivor player ever. She's even got that hangdog Macy look.
She's certainly cooled off the once-ferocious Kalabaw. The red tribe went from edging out Tandang for victory in the immunity challenges to falling flat on their faces. Dana got sick. They've been to tribal council twice. The fish have fled their shoals. I'm waiting for Carter to burst into flames.
Kalabaw can only win when the Mephistophelian Jonathan Penner starts cutting deals. Even then, it's just for reward. They get sandwiches – but at the cost of their souls. (And their rice.)
I was surprised that Penner negotiated that trade. He's a veteran, so he should know that Survivor rewards don't fill you with vigor. Sure, whatever soggy pizza that production can scrounge up or left-over sandwiches from a corporate team-building event momentarily seems like manna from heaven. But rewards really just remind your stomach what food tastes like. They make you hungrier.
And it's enormously risky for Penner to promise he'll get fish to replace their bartered supplies. If he succeeds, he's only fulfilled expectations. If he fails – which he does – he's painted a big red bull's-eye on his forehead.
Kudos to Kent for not taking the shot. Down numbers, Kent has to make tough decisions to prepare for a merge. Penner will be a target, he's got the idol, and maybe he has ties with Skupin. Denise could pull over Malcolm. By voting out Katie, Kent keeps his options open. That's the hallmark of a good Survivor player.
Kent wins this week's Fishy – though it's really a mid-season award for excellent gameplay. He reminds me of Brian Heidik, a savvy gamer who uses his charisma and athletic prowess to lead his team, and makes self-interested decisions at every step.
He started the season by setting himself up as tribe leader and vilifying Penner. When Penner tried to use the idol to take charge of Kalabaw, Kent slipped him the four-fingered handshake. He didn't want to "ride in [Penner's] boat."
A few days later, he renegotiated the deal. "You bring yourself and your veteran status and the immunity idol, and I think I've got a pretty good relationship with our guys," Kent said. Rather than accept a subservient role, Kent made it clear that he brought at least as much to the table.
With his slack-jawed henchman Carter, he's remained the tribe's decision-maker. He recruited Denise. When Dawson looked like she might expose his secret, he eliminated her.
Kent's sole principle is: what's good for Jeff Kent? "This is a me game. This isn't a 'we' game," he has said previously. "All of [my options] have to do with furthering myself in this game," he said last night. But unlike Tandang, he knows which moves work best for early on, and which to save for later.
I wonder if Kent's ability to play self-interested Survivor is fueled by his secret identity. Keeping one big secret can make it easier to keep another. "I'm having a good time with these people just being normal," he said – and then caught himself. "And I am normal." Does anybody believe that he thinks he's normal? I bet he can't stop smirking about his big secret.
I hope he smirks his way to victory.