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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 11: Flexible Knives Don't Cut Itby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/26/2004
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When you have a knife at the throat of your enemy…
Two very important rules for a game of Survivor; three followed the latter and prospered. Three others ignored the former and latter, one of them is the latest casualty in the game, and another probably will be the next.
It took the breaking of the first rule to provide the opportunity to follow the second. Ami and Leann gathered Julie, Twila, and Scout to confirm the next bootee after Ami won immunity. They obviously erred in not inviting Eliza because had Eliza been among the other five who pledged to rid the game of Chris, there is no way she would have accepted Chris' invitation to overthrow Ami's kingdom. The only way all six could be assured that they were not on the block was to agree that the person not there was.
But of course Eliza could not be invited, because, instead of Ami and Leann wanting to send home Chris, the very symbolic representation of Ami's strategy ("girls rule, boys drool"), they suddenly reversed course. It shows the tremendous shortcoming of the one-note strategy Ami had pursued from the start (in case you've forgotten already, it's "girls rule, boys drool"). Like a certain recent presidential candidate who defended his inconsistent policy statements by saying over and over they were perfectly consistent, Ami kept hammering the idea that the chicks had to stay together, and after all the guys were gone then they'd think about what to do next (while she hoped they bought it and she was the only one thinking ahead). Every time it looked like a fracture approached in the grrls group, Ami held things together by chanting this mantra (all together now, "girls rule, boys drool").
So the absolutely last thing she should do would be to then slice a female out and keep a male. The very talk of that invalidated her whole strategic concept, especially in the eyes of Scout and Twila. Very clumsily, Ami and Leann let them both know that they necessarily did not have a spot close to the finals with them. This mistake also was required for them to allow their coalition to be dynamited.
To compound the inept handling of Scout and Twila and the failing to take out Chris, Eliza was the worst possible choice if a woman had to be sent packing. She would have been least likely to win a jury vote against anybody left in the game and she was isolated. So maybe a third rule was broken here as well (but it never should have come to this anyway, had the knife been plunged), that you break up dyads or larger groups first. If Ami and Leann were bent on eliminating a non-male, Scout was the obvious target. Reliable reports of disloyalty about her had reached their ears, she had bonded with Twila, and Eliza easily would have provided the needed fourth to eliminate her.
With Scout and Twila realizing that not only was the keeping of the girlz strategy bogus but that they were not part of the inner alliance, they had every incentive to try for a putsch. At the odd number of seven, they needed two more and Chris obviously was a third vote. Grabbing the fourth vote utilized the rule of flexibility. They, and Scout in particular, did what frankly I didn't think they had the brains to do; set aside their animosity to Eliza and accept her in.
Their mistake was not to have Twila do the talking, leaving that to Chris. Eliza, being Eliza, did not see the obvious strategic thing. She eventually did, but Twila could have made it easier by testifying about the group meeting and telling her that she was not voting for Chris. That would have made a bigger impression that Chris telling all that, which made it look possibly like he was blowing smoke up her bikini bottom. It worked for Eliza, but for Chris, it worked absolutely brilliantly.
In the space of a few hours, Chris went from the outhouse to the penthouse. This is because he owes nothing to anybody, while others owe him. Twila and Scout owe him for his cooperation, and Eliza really owes him not only because of his cooperation but because he let her in on all of it. And Julie voluntarily came to him to give him the information about the decision to boot Eliza. In short, he didn't go groveling and cut deals to save himself; they all came to him.
Julie's inexplicably being his pipeline presented a gift of the highest order to him. It's hard to think why she might do this: the only possible motivation she could have for doing this would be to sabotage the results - why tell him otherwise unless you're oblivious because the knowledge gives him an opportunity to counterattack against a decision you appeared to endorse and to prefer. Moreover, it eliminated her double-secret ally Leann which, if she had thought it out, could be the only logical person (besides herself) against which a counterattack could be made. The only possible explanation for this move would be if she somehow sensed something was coming, and by turning informant she assured it would be Leann and not herself heading home.
This really benefits Chris because, now at six remaining, he has more cachet with Eliza than anyone else and he's made inroads with Julie as well, the latter of whom must see which way the wind is blowing and will abandon Ami to her fate. This gives Chris the crucial two votes he needs to bust up Scout and Twila in six days, or sooner if Ami wins immunity again, and the two partners needed to take within one step on the final vote. With Julie's assets and large tracts of land in the minds of the male jurors contrasted with the annoyance that is Eliza, he must find a way to bring the latter with him in front of the jury and, like a phoenix, he rises from the ashes to win the whole shooting match.
Now we'll see if Chris can close the deal. Or perhaps Julie does have a sixth sense about these things and she'll use it to find a way to get herself in front of the jury. Even Twila and Scout should be applauded for (finally) coming to their senses and taking advantage of the opportunity thrown their way; they've finally shown that they can convert if given an opening.
It's refreshing to have the chance to write a column commending players for their strategic perspicacity instead of what I had wearily become accustomed to in this season of Survivor, where a strategic simpleton kept setting up her opponents who missed chance after chance she handed to them. Now that Ami has thrown this away, it would take mistakes by the others of a similar magnitude, or an incredible string of immunity wins, to put her back into a position to win.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 11 columns already posted:
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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