Full Show Index
Advertise With Us
Write For Us
Strategic Overview of Survivor, the Finale: A Winning Runby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/13/2004
View Printable version of this article
In the end, Chris made up for his strategic shortcomings by clutch immunity performances and a rousing jury performance to which future finalists should aspire.
If along Chris’ plan was to win the final two immunities in a row, it worked. Like a major league baseball pitcher who makes a bad pitch and gives up a homer to put his team behind (his decision to oust Julie rather than Twila the previous tribal council), he more than compensated for it by subsequently batting in the winning run for himself (by winning the next two immunities and using superior argumentation in front of the jury).
It’s not the preferred way to win because you don’t ever want to have control leave your hands as Chris allowed to happen when he let the dyad of Twila and Scout continue unmolested, ceding power to them. Staking your endgame strategy on immunity wins is reckless, if not foolhardy, because too many variables exist – just ask Lex in S3 who awoke seriously ill the day of the final immunity, which may have caused him to lose not just that, but the entire game. It’s much better to set up the conditions that propel you to victory that you can control out of the hands of fate, than to depend on fate or others to allow you the chance to win.
Eliza’s departure is a perfect example of this and what would have happened to Chris had he not won immunity. In this situation with the dyad he allowed to exist and a pair of singletons, the dyad determines who stays or goes, given the tiebreak rules. Chris would gain nothing, indeed risked eliminating himself, by trying to force a tie to save Eliza. Had he not had immunity, he would have been the target, being considered more formidable than Eliza, so only his immunity win kept him in the game.
This repeated in the last immunity. His strategy was entirely correct in keeping Scout around so Twila became his only competition. By no means was he assured of a win here but he got it, perhaps spurred on as Twila was not by knowing he was gone without it. As subsequent events unfolded, Twila was correct in any feeling she might have had that her place in front of the jury did not depend on her win; thus, that motivation would have been absent from her.
However, Chris’ move to take Twila rather than Scout also is somewhat questionable. Perhaps he did have an inkling that he would prove forensically superior to her. But the fact is, Twila could have had conceivably four votes (the betrayed Eliza and Julie in addition to Ami and Scout) while there is practically no way that Scout could have gotten four votes no matter what she or he said in front of that jury so, again, it was reckless for him to not take Scout with him in front of the jury. In Survivor as in baseball, if you as a pitcher are going to get beaten, make the hitter beat you with your best pitch; don’t go with something weaker and hope the batter isn’t good enough to connect.
While Chris’s strategy was very questionable down the stretch, he gave perhaps the finest jury exposition ever. Consistently he managed to turn criticisms into assets, rephrasing critiques in a way that tried to make the questioner feel superior to him. It would not be an exaggeration to think that he possibly flipped both Julie’s and Eliza’s votes by his responses, winning the game as a result.
(However, both his and Twila’s general attitude – “yes, we told some fibs but we’re sorry we’re not really like that the money/game made us do it” – illustrates what I consider to be an interesting, if disturbing, trend in play. This, however, is a subject for a future column.)
As far as the longer perspective, where players in this game fit in terms of strategic prowess, happily for the first time in awhile, not just one but two played meritoriously. For Twila’s performance should not go unnoticed. Had she won, she arguably could be called the most flawed player to win since the original himself, Richard in S1 (“flawed” in the sense of irascibility and irritability created in others).
In fact, one could argue she played better than Chris. Her only real mistake came when she spurned the males at the game’s tipping point right after the merge. This caused her to have to make up ground later, leading to her making her famous oath to facilitate this later switch, which some did seem to hold against her. Otherwise, she made the moves when she had to and managed to put herself within a sharp set of rhetorical skills of winning.
To remind readers, my top performances rankings concern strategic skill, which is correlated only imperfectly with actual finish (although clearly early exits demonstrate a lack of strategic skill, even if it’s unneeded to go far). To summarize, players’ performances can be classified as “great,” “near great,” or “good.”
The “greats” are those who always controlled the game, leading other players in directions that would assure them of their wins. Only Richard from S1 and Brian from S5 merit this high level of achievement.
The “near greats” are those who showed great skill, and even if they made mistakes they found ways to compensate for them. Those who didn’t win didn’t because, having allowed too much control of the game out of their hands, fortune or stupidity of others cost them. These include Tina (S2), Ethan and Lex (S3), Kathy, Vecepia, and Neleh (S4), Clay (S5), and Jon (S7).
The “good” are those who played well strategically but made mistakes that either cost them the win or were saved from their mistakes by fortune (mostly through mistakes by others) if they did win. They include Pascal (S5), Rob and Jenna (S6), and Amber (S8). It is into this category that both Chris and Twila should go, behind Rob and Pascal but ahead of Jenna and Amber. As for which did better, even though he made more errors along the way, persuasion is all part of the diplomacy involved in playing and Chris proved, not only in front of the jury but throughout, that his silver tongue could let people hear what they wanted to in order to support him, giving him the edge over Twila in the rankings, if not the crucial element at the end of the game itself.
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.
View Printable version of this article