Fishbach makes a splash.

Credit: CBS
S31 E9

There’s a movie. It’s called The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. It is a fairly terrible movie, and I cannot in good conscience recommend that anybody — man or woman, adult or child — watch it. I mean, the lead actor is none other than Dr. J. As in the NBA player. That’s kind of a red flag right there.

And the plot may be the dumbest idea ever put on film, as a basketball team — under the spell of late-’70s disco-astrological nonsense, no doubt — decides to stuff its entire roster full of zany misfits who all happen to be born under the same astrological sign of Pisces. (Unclear if those, like myself, born on a cusp could join the team.) Naturally, they go on to win the championship.

The movie is all kinds of awful. And yet I love it. Watched it a million times as a kid. Wore out my VHS tape. Because kids watch stupid crap they are too stupid enough to realize is stupid. Seriously, my entire childhood was spent watching re-runs of Rerun on What’s Happening!! and The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Did I ever bother to question why What’s Happening!! had two exclamation points and zero question marks? Of course not! I was too busy worrying if Raj and company were going to get busted for bootlegging the Doobie Brothers concert with a tape recorder that was roughly the size of Texas. SPOILER ALERT: They got busted. They also got busted for scalping Stevie Wonder tickets, if I remember correctly. Man, those guys were always getting into some shady concert shenanigans back in the day.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think anything Fish-related could get me excited as that all-Pisces basketball team. But then I watched Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor. Ladies and gentlemen, hold the doofy circus music. Tell any small-to-midsize tree branches daring to be chopped to back off. Purge those images of premature-celebrations and not being allowed to touch the immunity idol out of your head. Because Stephen Fishbach went from zero to hero this week.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that Stephen made a great move in deciding to flip on Kelly Wiglesworth. Was this just an extension of his Joe obsession because he could not take out his real target, so he took out the person who was emerging as a close ally instead? Perhaps. I’m not sure this move improves his position in the game at all. May even hurt it… significantly. But Stephen knows all too well from his last time when he got skunked at final Tribal that he needs to make moves if he wants votes at the end, and he was able to pull one off here.

And not only did he pull it off, but he convinced his biggest ally — Jeremy — to make the move with him even though it would appear to be a seriously bad play for Jeremy. While Stephen needed to do something, Jeremy is already seen as the leader of the tribe and the one pulling the strings. We’ve heard several people say this. When you are in that position, your best move is to keep things exactly as they are. Just ask Tom Westman in Palau, or Boston Rob in Redemption Island, or Kim Spradlin in One World. They were seen as running large alliances and were rewarded for their efforts with million dollar checks.

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Not only that, but Jeremy has two hidden immunity idols. The fact that he could play these would also cement his position as a gamer and improve his credentials at the end. Jeff Probst always says that “you have to make big moves,” but not if you’re Jeremy. At last not here and not now. So the fact that Fishbach got him to make a move that was not in his best interest is pretty impressive.

But this wasn’t even Stephen’s best play in the game. That would be his beating Spencer for the “Steal a Vote” advantage. To recap, in the middle of the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst dramatically cut a rope and a bunch of buoys popped up. Jeff then said the first person to jump off their weird triangle balancing station and swim over and touch their buoy would win an advantage in the game. Nine people froze. Stephen and Spencer did not, but Stephen was quicker to dive in and nabbed the advantage, which it was later revealed would enable him to steal a vote from another player. (More on that later.)

Why was that a smart call? Because NO WAY IN HELL was Fishbach going to win that challenge anyway. It just wasn’t going to happen. So why not just go for something else that can help you in the game later? Yes, there is the potential downside of sticking out and making yourself more of a target by gaining the advantage, but when people don’t know what the advantage is (and they don’t) then it makes them more likely to wait it out and let it get used before they act. (What if it’s a complete get-out-of-jail-free card and their blindside gets completely overturned? You want to risk that?)

NEXT: Joe takes a shower

Plus, Stephen can deflect any attention as being too obsessed with idols and advantages (as he has been seen this season) easily just by explaining that he was about to fall off anyway, so he just jumped in. Had Stephen hesitated at all, he would not have gotten that advantage. Instead, he was decisive, and that was key. As Spencer said himself, he left one second too late.

So well done, Fishbach! Even though, as I said, I’m not convinced it was a strategically sound move to side with the women and potentially sever ties with the others, but Stephen is playing to win instead of playing for third place. This move may hasten his ouster, but it also gives him something to flaunt should he make it to the end. That is to be applauded.

So in honor of that, Stephen, I promise not to make any mention of the somewhat creepy comment that you wanted the newly dubbed Three Witches to “make the potion that’s right for me” because that makes it sound like you are auditioning for Tate Donovan’s role in the remake of Love Potion No. 9. I also promise not to dwell on Probst mocking your awkward descent down the slide in the reward challenge by barking “C’mon Fishbach! This is why you’re out here!”

And I promise to only make a little fun of you for YET AGAIN making outlandish overstatements about how this is some sort of massive game-changing season that is unlike any season before and has permanently changed Survivor forever! This week’s egregious examples:

Exhibit A: “This game is moving much faster and very different than the game ever has.”

Exhibit B: “I absolutely think the game is evolving. Alliances are not as clear-cut and defined as they were in the past.”

Evidently, Stephen has never seen Survivor: Cagayan. Or pretty much every other season of the show. Of course, we savvy Survivor watchers are aware players do this only because they know how much Probst loves it and how it is sure to guarantee them a few extra seconds of screen time. It’s right up there with talking about how awesome whatever particular product placement happens to have infiltrated that episode is. Just say how “crazy” your particular season is over and over again and you’re sure to make final cut. Fishbach is a pro at this.

Ladies and gentlemen, I just wrote over 1,200 words on Stephen Fishbach. But that’s his reward after being the unwitting subject of so many Dalton Ross Vines over the course of the season. Now let’s move on to a few other odds and ends from the episode.


I have to admit, I’m pretty over Kelley and Ciera constantly talking about how nobody has been playing all season long and how they want “people to finally get this game started.” Just because people have not been voting with you does not mean they have not been playing. After all, hasn’t Fishbach been telling us all season how this is the craziest, most sub-alliance filled installment in history? I get why Kelley and Ciera have made this their narrative because they have been trying to get someone to flip, but it gets tiresome to hear it on continuous loop.


Cool reward challenge with the teams having to navigate a Survivor obstacle course, but unfortunately the green team was so bad it was never a contest. “This might be one of the biggest blowouts in Survivor history,” yelled Probst. Kind of a bummer to see such a cool course designed by John Kirhoffer and company go to waste.


I mean, of course we were treated to a shot of Joe in the shower on the Survivor spa reward. Was there ever any doubt? Hell, I’m surprised they didn’t start pixelating his nether regions when he came out even though he was wearing a towel just to give that special Survivor: After Dark feel to it. But I was struck most by Ciera’s comment that, “You go to the end with Jeremy, you don’t win.” We’ve heard variations on this before. Once again it makes me question Jeremy’s decision to shake things up when a steady hand appeared to be his best path to victory.

NEXT: Thoughts on the Steal-a-Vote twist


But one thing you cannot question is Jeremy’s resilience at finding immunity idols. Once again, he snuck off to go idol-hunting and this time he located another clue. The clue told him to make his way to a light after everyone went to sleep to go find his idol. Just one problem: Nobody went to sleep! So he faked diarrhea or something, found a torch and his idol hanging beside it. Which leads me wonder: Could anyone have found that idol? Had Joe or Ciera strolled over there at night to go to the bathroom would one of them have gotten the idol even though they had no clue? How did that work exactly? (Good thing I have access to the host and can ask such things. And I did exactly that, and you can see his answer in this week’s Q&A.)

But kudos to Jeremy. Having two idols is a huge advantage at this stage of the game. Huge. Now he just has to make sure he doesn’t get too overconfident and pull a James by going home with two in his pocket. Because I have a feeling the real Val is going to kick Jeremy’s ass with the Val Idol if Jeremy goes home without playing it.


So this week’s immunity challenge forced the contestant to balance a ball on a platform while…. Wait, what’s that? No balls on platforms this week? I thought that was a regular thing now, right up there with “C’mon in, guys,” “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” and “I got nothin’ for ya.” Judging by recent events I simply assumed every immunity challenge from here on out involved Jeff Probst making fun of dudes’ balls. My mistake. But no, this was the recent classic where contestants have to balance on triangles out on the water. Simple, but great. I love this one. And the final one-legged battle between Joe and Abi — with Joe winning again — for immunity was pretty legit.


But I loved the challenge even more with the addition of the secret buoy advantage. As you all know, I am a huge proponent of offering choices in challenges. This goes all the way back to Palau when tribes had to decide how many supplies (which they could keep) to try and carry with them in a challenge race. Any time you offer options, you both learn more about the players themselves and their strategies while also getting a heaping helping of drama. So I absolutely love this wrinkle, which is actually somewhat similar in spirit to my original idols-at-challenges pitch from years ago which involved players having to decide whether to help their team in a reward challenge or go rogue and try to dig up a hidden immunity idol in a sand pit instead.

Stephen and Spencer are exactly the two people I would have predicted would dive in for the advantage, and playing exactly to type, they indeed were the two that went for it. Fascinating. But what do I think about the advantage itself? First, a little background: I was a fan of the double vote advantage in Worlds Apart, and this one is similar but actually even more powerful. The double vote simply gave Dan two votes last time, but this steal-a-vote twist gives Stephen two votes while also taking away someone else’s. So it is, if played correctly, a three vote swing.

Is that too much power? I don’t think so, and here’s why. I hate challenge advantages because they inherently make the challenges you are watching less competitive and more of a foregone conclusion. Look no further than Mike’s blindfolded advantage last season for proof. Like most challenge advantages, it made the running of the actual challenge pointless. I want all my challenges played on even Steven (or Stephen, as it were) footing just because the challenges are more interesting to watch that way.

I also was not a fan of the post-vote reading immunity idol (later dubbed the Tyler Perry idol, even though it existed years prior to his Johnny-come-lately recommendation) because that was too much power for the same amount of work of finding any other hidden immunity idol.

But advantages like this — which all players are informed of and have equal opportunity to go and retrieve — are different. Anyone could have jumped off that floating triangle to go and get it. But they didn’t. So there’s nothing inherently unfair about an advantage that everyone has an equal and open opportunity to get. I love the vote steal. It’s another fun twist, and I like that producers are constantly thinking of fresh new wrinkles like this. Hopefully we’ll get to see play out. (Don’t blow it, Fishbach!)

NEXT: Welcome to the rainy season!


I was speaking to a few people the other day who were only remotely familiar with Survivor, and they were shocked when I told them that the players actually have to live and sleep out in the wild with no room or bathroom or toothpaste. I guess they thought they just filmed that stuff outside and then went to their 5-star hotel every night after wrapping filming for the day. They were flabbergasted when I told them what really happens out there, and I was flabbergasted over their flabbergastery. After all, it’s season 31. Do folks still actually think this is fake?

S— gets real out there, people! Did you see that rainstorm? That was NO JOKE. We are officially in the rainy season in Cambodia now and you saw it in full force this week — from the challenge right through Tribal Council. These people are suffering for our entertainment. Yes, they are also suffering because reality television contestants tend to be narcissists by nature, so they will do absolutely anything to get on national television, but let’s thank them for their carefully calculated sacrifice.

I love watching challenges and Tribal Council in a downpour. People start shivering. Others start curling up in the fetal position. And Jeff Probst starts looking like a grade-A badass with his hair all slicked back. It’s the stuff dreams — and nightmares — are made of. But make no mistake, this is all real. And it’s miserable. I was out in the Philippines for six straight days of rain and was a complete mess. It’s a miracle I didn’t have my own #SurvivorBreakdown, and I had a roof over my head at night, unlike poor Lisa Whelchel.


We have already spoken about the strategic plusses (Stephen) and minuses (Jeremy) of flipping to get Kelly Wiglesworth out, but what of Kelly herself? Well, it was clear she was never going to win judging by how little we saw of her. And trust me, had she been saying anything even remotely interesting we would have seen a lot more. Probst repeatedly referred to her as the Second Chance poster-child before the game began, and I saw him constantly trying to get her narrative jump-started, but she just was incapable of playing along. For those of you watching and complaining that Kelly was not getting more screen time, I assure you from being out there, they tried. Lord, how they tried.

Again, I’m not dissing Kelly. I like her. Lovely lady. She just wasn’t very showy or interested in playing up to the cameras. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, in a way, it makes me like her even more as a person. But not as a television personality. You could even take her final comments after being voted out as an indication of her general uncomfortableness with the entire process. “It’s a much different game than it was my last time,” she said. “It’s not really my style, so they can have at it.”

Kelly may have been one vote away from winning the very first season of the show, but she never really made a mark here, at least not one that we saw. Still, all that said, it was nice to see her back — suspiciously smooth forehead and all. I dig these links like Kelly, Kimmi, and Varner to the early seasons and seeing what players from yesteryear are like now and how they mix with more recent schemers and scammers. Hell, bring back Sonja Christopher and her ukulele for all I care.

Okay, that will do it for this week, but don’t forget our Q&A with Jeff Probst. And we have an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode as well as our pre-game interview with Kelly and most recent episodes of Survivor Talk. Also make sure to come back Thursday afternoon for our latest Survivor Talk with Kelly and guest cohost Parvati Shallow, and for more Survivor scoop sent directly to you, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Was this a good move by Fishbach to flip the script? What about for Jeremy? Can Joe keep winning? Hit the message boards to weigh in with your thoughts, and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of special Thanksgiving crispy!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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