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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 5: You Win Some, You Lose Someby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 10/19/2007
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Maybe the original Zhan Hu members aren’t the best at winning challenges, but they sure are good at losing them when they think it can help them – and in the process at least a couple of them show some strategic thinking that often takes one far into the game, more than making up for their mistake in sending home Dave previously.
Throwing a challenge is a double-edged sword. It can remove an unreliable member that threatens a dominant alliance within a tribe, but it does increase the costs to those remaining in terms of workload and psyche. But if there ever was a time to throw a challenge, Peih-Gee and Jaime realized it and made the strategic moves that, from those interested in the strategic aspect of Survivor, should bring applause.
First, they chose absolutely the right two people to swap to throw Fei Long into turmoil, because James was the glue holding together a potential Denise/James/Jean-Robert axis, while Aaron was coupling with Amanda. Taking those two busted both power blocs and (without the grasping of this being the only error they committed this episode, not realizing there was a swap instead of them getting two opponents for nothing) therefore maximized the chances of Frosti and Sherea staying alive at Fei Long, because with the emerging blocs fragmented, it would become easier for those newcomers to slip into one or use one to destroy the other and keep themselves safe.
The next smart move came with the decision of Peih-Gee and Jaime to throw the challenge (although Jaime should have let in Erik in on the move so as not to make him question trust, but she probably knew she already had ensnared him into following her no matter what). This could have been dangerous because it could have been countered by Fei Long as they had to sit out two people in the challenge. That tribe well could have left out Frosti and Sherea in the challenge, ensuring they could throw it better than Zhan Hu because at least two members of Zhan Hu would have been trying to win.
But it was a risk worth taking, and this was something Jaime probably sensed in her pervious interactions with their members, if her comments that she picked up the different statuses of Aaron and James were any indication. She likely could tell there were blocs coalescing over there which would prevent them coming together to plan to throw the challenge. Making it even less risky was that a merge probably is not far off, so one could take the chance of intentionally weakening your one tribe knowing an alliance could remain intact and come to the forefront in the near future. (This far-sighted thinking was illustrated perfectly, which also served to show the light-years ahead from James that Peih-Gee and Jaime are in terms of strategic thinking, when James complained about losing and Peih-Gee corrected him by noting they had lost a battle in order to win a war – even though Sun Tzu never offered up this aphorism, the sentiment would have done him proud.)
Finally, the decision to send off Aaron rather than James also was correct. While he wasn’t the brightest strategic bulb on the planet, Aaron at least knew you could only win if you stayed to fight another day while James let his emotions overcome what little strategic thought he seemed to have by his saying he should be voted off. Yet Jaime also had figured Aaron was the bigger threat and stuck to that conclusion and got the others to go with her on it. Perhaps they don’t know these things, but this move smashed the dyad with Amanda, dealt another setback to Todd who looked to be pulling Aaron and Amanda into his fold to command with Courtney a majority on Fei Long, and improved Jean-Robert’s position consequently since his ally remains in the game.
As far as the present Fei Long, this represents opportunity for Jean-Robert. It was looking as if the tide was turning against him, but if he is smart when it becomes apparent Aaron is gone he will start to work on Frosti and Sherea, saying they are will be the next targets, and, with James in the game, can convince Denise to go for the kill against Todd if they lose next because he can demonstrate he has a majority. As long as he can demonstrate that he has potential new allies that will hold a majority later in the game, an assertion that even if he goes now, she’ll go next unless she joins him will be persuasive.
For their parts, Frosti and Sherea would be wise to try to embrace Jean-Robert. They do know in the short run that spurning him increases their chances of staying, but in the long run he would be an excellent ally – enough to give their original tribe the majority, yet someone potentially obnoxious enough to be able to dump as endgame commences without the risk of a sub-alliance using him to get ahead. And if he can collect Denise they save themselves in the short term anyway.
But the best thing would be simply to win the next immunity challenge and allow James to be lopped off their old tribe. And if Fei Long doesn’t get its strategic act together, it will allow at least one of Frosti or Sherea to participate in the next challenge that in and of itself should be enough to bring victory if three-quarters of Zhan Hu are intent on throwing the whole thing.
Things could get interesting, however, if either Fei Long catches on or James somehow communicates the strategy to his old tribe. If the former scenario, Fei Long has a tough decision to make: toss a newcomer or Jean-Robert. Their dilemma is that they currently are marginalizing Jean-Robert to the extent that they may be throwing him into the arms of the opposition, so, regardless of their decision, it still may end up 5-on-5. This is why Jean-Robert should try to win Denise over with this exact argument: vote him or one of the newcomers out and you’re in a tie, but join him and the newcomers to vote Todd out and there’s a chance they and James as a triad could broker power among new and old Zhan Hu members.
To forestall the latter situation (a scenario that would have been avoided had Jaime not admitted they had thrown the challenge), the original Zhan Hu should start to work on James. Jaime also may have intimated that James was marginalized in Fei Long and so she could convince him to come over and be part of a four-member senior coalition that could use the junior partners over at Fei Long to wipe out James’ old comrades, then wipe out the junior side. The beauty of it is, the original three Zhan Hu then would have the ability to dump James at that point and, even better for the emerging dyad of Jaime and Erik, dump Peih-Gee at three if possible – and James, not being the sharpest shovel in the strategic shed, probably won’t realize he’s being used.
So, next episode (even assuming no merge) could be quite interesting and critical for the direction of the game. Unless the likes of Todd, Courtney, and Amanda catch on fast, the game could decisively turn against them. Unless James and Denise figure out what’s going on, if Jean-Robert is sharp enough they’ll get caught out as well. But unless Jean-Robert gets things going, he, Frosti, and Sherea may be in trouble, and all three of them by failing to do certain things also could end up jeopardizing Peih-Gee, Jaime, and Erik. It all will start with Todd, Courtney, and Amanda and their figuring out how to preserve James by getting rid of Frosti, Sherea, or Jean-Robert. They too must understand to win the war they may have to lose a battle.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 5 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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