’97 valedictorian stars on ‘Survivor’

By Cathi Choi

On “Survivor,” most people put up with the backstabbing, isolation from society and extreme outdoor conditions because of the million dollar cash incentive, but Stephen Fishbach ’97, Harvard-Westlake valedictorian and a Yale University graduate, had a different motivation.

Fishbach is one of the contestants on the new season of “Survivor” in Brazil, premiering tomorrow, and he saw this show as a great experience that could help his writing. Fishbach is “a struggling writer,” he said.

“I think that anyone in writing is trying to capture something of human experience, right?” Fishbach said. “And that’s sort of why I was so excited about going on ‘Survivor’ – I thought it would really broaden my understanding of human beings.”

The cash prize, he said, was intriguing, but he never thought he had a real chance at winning it.

“I was just excited to have this extreme experience and meet really interesting people,” Fishbach said.

Being on a reality show was never a part of Fishbach’s long-term plans. When he was first approached about being on the show, he was apprehensive.

“My first instinct was absolutely not to do it,” he said. “I always thought the people who did these TV shows were sort of dumb. You can’t control your own image or the path ahead of you.”

From the footage Fishbach has seen, he thinks that the show might portray him as an outsider, a role he was nervous about falling into because of his educational rap sheet. His Yale degree, he suspected, would immediately position him into being an outsider, as he had seen in past seasons of “Survivor.”

“There was an idea that somehow this Ivy League education would enable them to backstab everybody, pull some special Ivy maneuver out of their back and destroy all the competitors,” Fishbach said. “So I always thought that going in, and I think that’s the way I’m going to look on the screen.”

He did benefit from his education, he said, specifically his study of English. Former English teacher Phil Holmes probably never expected his lectures on the power of rhetoric in AP English Language would help Fishbach navigate successfully through a Tribal Council on “Survivor,” but it did.

“The host asks really probing questions, and I definitely thought that going into the game speaking well would be a good skill to have – knowing what information to emphasize and what to withhold,” Fishbach said. “The host asks really probing questions and you want to be able to answer these questions while also evading them in a certain way to not incriminate yourself.”

Because of contractual obligations, Fishbach wasn’t allowed to go into details about what he has been doing after “Survivor.”

He was, however, allowed to talk a little about tomorrow.

“I’m having a ‘Survivor’ premiere viewing with my friends and family, Fishbach said. “Hopefully they won’t be ridiculing me that much.”