May 21, 2009 04:34 PM by Ryan Haidet
Sly. Sneaky. Strategic. Second place. That sums up the game played by Stephen Fishbach, a 29-year-old Yale graduate. Throughout Survivor: Tocantins — The Brazilian Highlands, Stephen was able to control the game with the help of his strongest ally — and eventual winner of the $1 million — JT. Stephen stopped by to quickly chat with RealityTVMagazine on the red carpet following Sunday night’s finale in New York City at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Insert Foot Into Mouth
Stephen’s final Tribal Council was very detrimental to the votes when he started talking far too much. “My speech was cut down by like 80 percent, too. I had a really really long speech, I wish they had shown more of it,” Stephen said.
And one of the things that made him look really bad to the jury was when he admitted he may have taken Erinn instead of JT to the final two had he won Immunity. “Obviously I thought about the Erinn thing a lot. I was ambivalent about what to say. If I had taken Erinn it would have been for strategic reasons. It was something I was wrestling with at the time. I said it partially because I knew I had lost. I knew there was no way I was gonna win against JT. I was kind of fishing for a couple of jury votes. I didn’t want it to be a shut out, which it unfortunately was. ”
Does he regret it? “It’s hard to look back and regret things. Sometimes I wish I had more strongly laid out my strategic game there to kind of vindicate myself. … Everybody perceived me as JT’s goofy sidekick. It was a role I had played up, and apparently I played it up too much. I think it would’ve been absurd for me to come in at the end and be like, ‘Actually guys, I’m a really strong, strategic player.’”
While the other contestants were battling it out with Stephen in Brazil, they thought JT was running the show. But after getting to see the episodes on TV, most of them say they now realize that Stephen was the one crafting most of the strategy. “People have come up to me from the jury and said since then, ‘We had no idea you were playing such a strong game.’ And I think about ways I could have presented that, but I would’ve felt like a real heel with JT risking a million dollars to take me. It would’ve been great to win, but anyway.”
Just like his competition underestimated him, Stephen didn’t expect to ever be as successful in the game as he was. “I was surprised. I never thought I would make it that far. I thought I would go out Day 1 or I thought If I’d lasted two weeks that would be awesome. But then to sort of be in the position of running the game in the merged tribe (Forza) it just felt amazing. And to make it to the end, I’m so thrilled. I don’t have regrets and I don’t feel bad about anything. I just feel so thrilled that we did so well. We ran the strategic game together (he and JT). And we ended up there together in the final two.”
Different Lifestyles, Great Friends
Hailing from New York City, Stephen was taken way out of his element when he landed in Brazil. But some sort of magic happened and he became the closest of friends with JT — an Alabama cattle rancher. “Typically your friendships are based on your shared experiences and people with similar backgrounds, (so) I was absolutely surprised that we bonded. I had figured that I would do well in the game if I was in a tribe with older people and with more professional people — people who are more similar to me. Then I ended up being on a tribe of young southerners. And JT was THE Southerner. He’s the Alabama country boy. So I definitely didn’t think at all that we would bond in the beginning and the fact that we ended up having such a great partnership and working so well together was a surprise to me — and probably a life lesson.
Goofy Picture & The Perfect Start
Stephen was one of the many contestants recruited to participate in this season — but his story is a tad different from most. “I actually uploaded a picture to Facebook of me sort of looking goofy. A friend of mine who works in casting saw it, and they’re like, ‘We need somebody who is a goofy city boy.”
And the rest is history.
If you happen to be one of the recruits or applicants who will soon be heading off to Samoa, Stephen has some advice. “Working in an office environment is an amazing preparation for Survivor. It forces you to learn how to build consensus, how to sort of get your ideas out there instead of other people’s. How to build social relationships to get your projects undertaken. There isn’t a stronger divide between social and the strategic games. Anyone can have the idea to blindside someone. You have to be able to have the relationships to pull that off.”
Red carpet images taken by Ryan Haidet. All other images courtesy of Monty Brinton/CBS.
Read an exclusive interview with the winner — JT.
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