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Survivor: Thailand - Shii Ann, International Politics, and the Nature of Alliancesby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/01/2002
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Another episode of Survivor, another Mark Burnett twist, and another exposition of how international relations theory can tell us more about the present and future of this installment. The latest, "phantom merge" episode of Survivor 5 provides for us a likely path of the game, as well as demonstrating a valuable lesson from the world of international politics (had to throw that in - that's my niche at RNO) that we may apply to our "simulation" of sorts of international relations that the game represents. In the process, it's becoming clearer that they may not be as pretty as Sook Jai, but Chuay Gahn does have the brains in this bunch, as least as far as understanding a crucial concept in international relations, alliance-building.
The nature of alliances. We must remember that, at its core, the game is all about the building of alliance structures with the goal of increasing power (measured simply here, unlike in the real world, by the concept of a vote) at two levels - to get to the finals and to win in the finals (while in the real world, the "finals" never come - it is an unending struggle). The same concepts lying behind alliances in the world of international relations apply equally to the game. An alliance increases its power in one of two ways, either it gains strength or others lose strength. In this game situation, where strength is determined by a single factor (how many votes can be put together), where two tribes represent two alliances, there exists a perfect inverse relationship between gain and loss of power: when one alliance gains, the collective power of all other alliances loses. It appears that Chuay Gahn has a better understanding of this concept at this point, as the following shows.
Alliances in Survivor 5 at the phantom merge. For illustrative purposes, let us diagram the alliance structure in Survivor 5 at Day 19 (note that one person can be represented as an alliance of a single member - always the easiest to manage!), along a continuum of loyalties to each other:
A: Penny, Erin
I placed Penny and Erin separate because Shii Ann perceived them to be conceptually separate from the two men (which Ken seemed to confirm), Helen separate from Jan because she defected from Jan on the vote to boot Ghandia, and Clay separate from the other two Chuay Gahn men because of the latter pair's furtive alliance. The single lines signify a second order of alliances, and the double line a third order. The higher the order, the more immediate temporally the relevance of that alliance. At Day 19, there were two alliances of five each (the two tribes), four sub-alliances each of one (Shii Ann, closest to the four-person), two (Chuay Gahn women, closest to the three-person), three (Chuay Gahn men, closest to the two-person), and four members (the rest of Sook Jai, closest to the one-person), and seven sub-sub-alliances (A through G). Recall that for any alliance at any level, it has two, inversely related and complementary goals: to increase its strength by adding members which then at the same time reduces the strength of all other alliances. The tricky thing, of course, is you don't want to add just to the highest-order alliance you're in, you want to all to your sub- and sub-sub-alliances at the same time without threatening the stability of your highest-order alliance.
To this point, Chuay Gahn has shown a far better grasp of this principle. On the one hand, despite the fact that the men grumble a bit about the women and vice-versa, there appears to be no hard feelings among those five. This is critical in preventing the other alliance (tribe) from gaining power at its expense by a Chuay Gahn defection. On the other hand, events at Sook Jai produced an outcast mentality in Shii Ann. Only Ken seemed to grasp this, but he did not have the ability to manage it well enough to prevent it (or maybe Shii Ann was just a hard case to begin with). Laboring under the fiction of a merge, Shii Ann, Clay, and Brian (as far as we are shown) did seem to grasp this, too. Shii Ann offered to defect, and Clay and Brian seized the opportunity to pull her in (and Clay, being the odd man out in the Golfing Group, could have really bolstered his stock by, in effect, forming a sub-sub-alliance with Shii Ann leading to a situation where three groups of two could have tried to wipe out the other two groups in Sook Jai, then band two against one to go into endgame at even odds two-on-two). Perhaps I give Clay and Brian too much credit, but they could very well have been thinking about not only the Chuay Gahn alliance, but the place of Shii Ann in their sub-alliance Golfing Group (with Ted), and their Carolina and Non-Carolina sub-sub-alliances. Ultimately, barring stupid play on their parts or the vagaries of immunity, the odds would have been extremely good that part or all of the Golfing Group would have made it to the final four. Shii Ann, for her part, correctly rebuffed Ken's argument that they take out Chuay Gahn first, then get rid of Penny. It's the same in both international relations and Survivor: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Ken damaged his case by pressuring her, reminding her of the unpleasantness she perceived in Sook Jai and that he sounded like an unreliable alliance partner. Better for her to take her chances in finding an sub-alliance within the Chuay Gahn alliance than continue to be a target in Sook Jai.1 2 Next-->
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