Full Show Index
Advertise With Us
Write For Us
Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 6: The Worst-Kept Secretby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 10/26/2007
View Printable version of this article
Things started out all right for Todd. With Fei Long’s winning the reward, they correctly asked for James back. For the majority in the tribe, the move obviously was best not only as he would be most likely to reveal intelligence on Zhan Hu, but, especially from Todd’s perspective, that James would get a hidden immunity idol clue. Only Todd would know this having been the recipient of previous ones. His optimal move would have been to take James aside – who seriously could use an ally – and team up secretly, just the two of them and wile the clue out of James.
That he did, and as a bonus discovered the previous thrown challenge and won James’ loyalty with a pledge to get the idol together. But already the plan was going awry when he let in Amanda on the idol-gathering plan. This wasn’t a big mistake, but a mistake nonetheless because information is the most important resource in the game. If you know something helpful, the fewer people that know of it, the more influential that information becomes to the benefit of the fewer people knowing it.
It got farther off track when Todd inexplicitly advertised where the idol was, or at least let almost everybody in camp think he was in line to obtain it. Back in the days where the idol could be played after a Tribal Council vote, public knowledge wasn’t a bad thing because it could be used strategically to fend off multiple attempts at your game life by daring them to waste votes at Tribal Council (ever hear of a guy named Yul?). But now, secrecy must be maintained because it must be played before any votes are revealed as a ruse can make it be wasted (ever hear of a guy named Mookie?)
Amanda could have played it better too, by not being so obvious herself. It’s understandable that once she figured out where she thought it likely to be that she’d be too excited and fearful that it might be found in the meantime to wait until others were gone. But she could have just sidled on up to Todd and told him quietly to come there and help surreptitiously, instead of prompting him to bound over to the gate and start poking around. Instead, she attracted Frosti’s attention and, when discovered, now he had to be let in on the plan – the fourth person now aware of it.
To make matters worse, Frosti was part of the captured Zhan Hu contingent, in fact the most feared one in Fei Long’s eyes. Now Todd had no choice but to trust Frosti or else Frosti could carry this valuable intelligence back to the original Zhan Hu crowd. In turn, this empowered Frosti and made him much more of a threat to Todd because now Frosti could play arbiter between the opposing forces.
Then, oddly, he told a fifth person about the idol, Denise. Now, it could be that he was aiming at the magic number of 5 for an alliance to get through midgame, with those told being the alliance he wanted. Note how this lineup had changed in just three days: originally, he was hoping to put together a group of Aaron, Amanda, Denise, and Courtney. Aaron went, but that was not a real problem as he just needed to plug somebody in and James came his way. But then Frosti showed up and must be taken onboard.
Suddenly, Todd has to pare a member, and his choice is to let Denise or Courtney go. He chose Denise – probably wrongly. Neither Denise nor Courtney showed much in the way of strategic thinking, which is good if you need a useful idiot’s vote for awhile until they can be disposed of. But, in the long term, more stable players are the bigger threat because they can more easily advance without much notice and they are less likely to act annoyingly and/or in self-destruct mode which makes it easier to get rid of them when they are no longer helpful.
In this case, another reason presented itself, and that is Courtney’s instability makes her paranoid. By revealing the idol to her and detailing how it will be used strategically, this would reassure her not to go off the reservation, that she was part of a larger group and not isolated. Instead, by not bringing her in (although she was part of the discussions to evict the clueless Sherea), this missed chance at reinforcement could not prevent her paranoia from building to the point she decided to go against group norms. That she actually went through with it shows the lack of quality in her play: if you don’t have the votes to change a majority of which you are part to another decision, don’t go against it. It made her appear less reliable – and provided Jean-Robert with some useful intelligence. Now he will know there is some discord in the remainder of the tribe and can try to drive a wedge further into it.
Of course, Jean-Robert would think it is Frosti who tried to defend Sherea with a vote against him. This means he may approach Frosti, empowering the youngster even more. This would, among other events, reveal the biggest mistake made by Todd and his gang.
I’m not entirely sure it’s solid strategic thinking or just great instincts, but Jaime and Peih-Gee correctly reasoned this time Zhan Hu needed to win the challenge, got a small amount of luck, and did so, blew up Todd’s plan to throw the challenge to oust Jaime. This left Todd and Amanda with a decision to make – and they made the wrong one because they asked the wrong question.
That is, it wasn’t a matter of Sherea vs. Jean-Robert to send home, the correct question would have been why was there any debate at all, it was Frosti that needed immediate ousting. If Todd’s objective is to create an alliance that would be loyal and have as weak players as possible, Frosti has shown himself to be more formidable than either Denise or Courtney. He should have sandbagged Frosti by gathering what was left of the original group he tried to cobble together – Amanda, Denise, and Courtney – and told them Frosti was to go. This would have eliminated a stronger player as he knew about the idol and could build bridges back to Zhan Hu that could trigger a coup against Todd, and reassure Courtney and keep her from sliding into a state of free agency that he can’t control.
But Frosti remained, Courtney is detaching herself from being in Todd’s orbit, and Jean-Robert gained strength as well. The latter’s position is better but Frosti’s increased in quality significantly. If a merge happens soon which seems likely, Jean-Robert can offer his services to the old Zhan Hu, and Frosti becomes the arbiter. This is because he must know he would be the sixth wheel even behind James in Todd’s alliance because he is too much of a threat and has hung with them the least amount of time. But if he could convince James to abandon his old tribe – and if Jean-Robert starts making overtures to Zhan Hu they will find out how James was isolated over there and will give them incentive to try to recruit him. Frosti can present his credentials for re-entry into his old group by telling them of James’ idol.
Of course, this does mean getting James to sell out his old mates which he may be reluctant to do especially after one of them gave him an idol. If Frosti cannot, he has a hard choice – go with Todd to make a 6-4 majority but be perhaps the next to go, or trigger a 5-5 tie and have his old side take their chances. (He does have another intriguing option – sandbag his old side into voting for James as Jean-Robert apparently does not know that James has the idol. He would do this with the blessing of Todd as it would serve not just to give Todd’s side an unimpeachable advantage in the near future, but would strip James of the idol, as he would pretend to carry intelligence to James that he was on the chopping block to goad him into using it. However, as this would serve Todd’s needs as much as Frosti’s, it would require trust in Todd and, as Jean-Robert noted long ago, that might not be such a good thing.)
Todd seems to have a pretty decent grasp of the overall strategic picture. But what is likely to sabotage a long run in the game for him is figuring out correctly the tactical details to get there.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 6 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.
Be sure to sign up for our e-mail update so you can stay informed about new articles on the site! And take a look at the rest of the site. You can find all of our recaps and other info on this show at the Survivor: China page, and take a look at our Amazing Race: All-Stars page and our The Apprentice page. You can even buy reality show stuff at our Reality TV Store!
View Printable version of this article