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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 1: Exerting Authority!by Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 09/17/2004
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First episodes are the hardest the write about concerning strategy since there's not much opportunity to observe the dynamics among the players - especially when several minutes of the presentation are consumed in showing a yaqona ceremony that might well make Fr. Lini roll over in his grave if he knew it was for the benefit of Survivor. At least propriety wasn't violated, by having the women sit it out.
The real value we can get out of these comes from how people make decisions in an environment of minimal information. When it comes to sizing up a team, one would look at the talents one brings to the team. Being a highway worker, Chris probably did not strike anybody as too good at strategy, so it would be his physical prowess that he would appear to have to demonstrate to merit the group's good graces. Good thing he's not a skyscraper construction worker or he'd have fallen off a high-rise long ago. That immediately clued in some of his tribe that he would be a worthless teammate and they wanted him out.
This provided the opportunity for an impressive debut. Armchair Survivor prognosticators often easily dismiss people in authoritarian occupations; perhaps the best example being the almost-universal dismissal of Paschal prior to S4, who would have won the whole thing had it not been for the Purple Rock o' Death. What these sages don't realize is that is takes outstanding interpersonal skills to put yourself into a position where you can exert authority. Literally, authority means getting people to do what you want them to with their consent. People with such a career path are in excellent shape to do well in the game.
Thus, Lea showed excellent playing ability in how he shaped the situation to his advantage. The drill sergeant appeared to recognize the natural impetus to blame and thereby to evict Chris, and that it was a coalition of younger guys forming to do the deed. In fact, they came to him, recognizing his aura of authority, to solicit his vote on their behalf. Cannily, he understood that by quietly organizing to save Chris he would earn himself one staunch, fairly unthreatening ally, and invite others to form a more mature male coalition. Among these others, he pulled in another threatened individual, Rory, from whom he might be able to exact fealty. To top it all off, he rigged the elimination of somebody (on paper, the best one can do with three days experience; minimal information) who looked to be a serious threat.
Lea now has a major opportunity to quickly consolidate power. Having gone his way once, those who voted out Brook will be more amenable to continue following his lead. If he can hold that coalition together, he probably sails easily right to a jury spot at the very least. Even better, the opposition on that vote seem naturally drawn to him (and his seeming disparaging of Chris during tribal council might throw them off in terms of seeing him as the ringleader, although with only three votes against Chris those three probably know he went against them). This portends that they will be reluctant to go after him. Of course, Lea must continue to work behind the scenes, and let every member of his coalition believe that they are more influential than they really are.
Age also went to the heart of the initial rift among the women, not unexpectedly given the minimal information environment. The younger let the older do more work, and to boost their advantage their strategy should target Scout, who quickly demonstrated she will be a physical liability. However, the dynamics could change rapidly given everybody knows so little about everybody else at this point, a situation that obviously will disappear shortly.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the Episode 1 recap:
Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport where he teaches, among other things, classes in international politics, international organizations, and diplomatic history. He has published in the area of gaming simulations in international politics.
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