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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 8: Blockheadsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/09/2007
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I kind of had an inkling when I reviewed this season’s cast of Survivor official biographies that there wasn’t much potential in the way of their wattage when it came to illuminating strategic thinking. Unfortunately, as each episode passes by, more and more confirmation of this comes through.
The second-most astute player in the game to date, Todd, has been trying to set up a Brian-like situation where everybody thinks he and they are headed in front of the jury – but, as I noted previously, very clumsily with plenty of telegraphing going on that, with players of half-decent strategic sense, normally would alert players of his intent enough to have him gone already. And so what does he do this episode but resume banging people over the head with the idea that they can’t trust him.
Keeping Jean-Robert around was a risk, but it was riskier to get rid of him at this time. Todd has juggled all these balls in the air (with the exception of the most astute player in the game, Amanda) and they stay in the air, i.e. will not for him in Tribal Council but will for him with him in front of the jury, only as long as they don’t see him as betraying them. By his ouster, Jean-Robert will blame Todd because he knew Todd sandbagged him as a result of their conversation to vote James out, and because of earlier conversations. With a panel of three in front of the jury, since there’s only one Courtney in the game it’s unlikely Jean-Robert will not vote for somebody other than Todd if he makes it that far.
Getting rid of James, however, would have been even worse. Since there was general animosity towards Jean-Robert, that may cause the minds of others to wander from the fact Todd will want to sell them out before what they think their time is. But even James, who must qualify as one of the strategically dumbest players ever to wear a buff, had he gone this time would have figured out he got the shaft, and blamed Todd for it.
At the same time, James is one of the luckiest the game has seen, with his good fortune to some extent accruing to Todd and Amanda – but only because he is too strategically stupid to press his advantage where it really could help him. James was in the right place at the right time to pick up first one, then two idols. He almost got sandbagged once when away from his original tribe but unwise play by Sherea and Frosti in not acknowledging their ex-teammates bought him a reprieve, and then this time he avoided being sandbagged again because of the fluke that Jean-Robert happened to tell Todd he wanted to eject James and Todd suddenly deciding that meant Jean-Robert had to go.
Prior to his obtaining the idols, James had to realize he was lowest on the totem pole on his former tribe, and getting a pair of idols doesn’t change that. So when Jean-Robert approached him with an offer that could have taken control of the game, as he did with Jaime and Peih-Gee previously like a turtle popping back into his shell he turned him down.
James’ blockheadedness doesn’t excuse Jean-Robert’s poor play, however. The move to abandon the Todd and Amanda ship should have come last round and instead of becoming combative with James, he should have pledged to work with him regardless; you always try to get somebody with hidden immunity on your side because you know that ally isn’t going away soon and will provide votes to protect you and to use against others.
So Jean-Robert never really got the wakeup call about Todd to save his own skin, but now must have it for any situation where Todd is in front of the jury. And while Todd chanced to avoid delivering one to James, he made sure he delivered another, this time to Denise by excluding her from the vote decision and leaving her hanging out to dry – as was done with Courtney on an earlier vote.
Just how many and how loud do the alarms have to be to wake up James, Courtney, Denise – and Frosti, who suffers in apparent delusion that he’s so far up in the hierarchy with Todd and Amanda that he’ll be with them in front of the jury, despite his late joining of them, despite that he must know he is seen as a physical threat? How many times need they be hit over the head by Todd (who naively thinks of this as making the game “interesting”) before they get a clue? Haven’t any of them caught on yet that only he and Amanda seem to be in on every decision supposedly made by the group? And when something like this happens, knowing that taking them out now is the best way to prevent yourself from being cut out of the decision to oust you as with Jean-Robert? And has Todd ever figured out just how obvious this can be?
Maybe not, as these are a dense lot of players. The only one of them who seems clever enough to rise above it all is Amanda, who by her worries about Todd’s maneuvering shows she gets it. It puts her in a potentially tough spot, with Todd bringing unwarranted and unwanted attention to their activities that, if anybody does eventually catch on, could cost her the game. Yet she’s gone too far with him now to abandon him, and he does provide a useful shield to take the arrows when they come – the risk being whether she could sufficiently distance herself from him when (if) they have his head and find they may want hers, too.
The reprieved Erik and Peih-Gee finally may be on to a way of finding allies, as at Tribal Council Erik exhorted the others to do the math and see how far they can go under this current conception. Whether they can get them to is another matter. The key is Frosti because he can flip James by spilling the beans on the initial plan to sandbag him. Denise would be the final piece the puzzle, by reminding her on how she got cut out of the discussion to send home Jean-Robert, as an indicator of her relative standing among the others (Courtney is a possibility, but since she is unlikely to win she must know whichever groups she sides with will only want to carry her as jury fodder – or maybe she doesn’t, given her low level of game smarts).
Potential future moves as these highlight the final mistake of discarding Jean-Robert instead of Peih-Gee or Erik – in the game, he distracted from Todd’s shenanigans. Without him there, even this underachieving group might see more clearly and decide going with the dyad of Peih-Gee and Erik presents less of a risk of failing to get to the end than the pair that is Todd and Amanda.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 8 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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