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Strategic Overview of Survivor: The Biggest Liar?by Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/27/2003
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So, who got away with the biggest deception of this episode of Survivor? Was it Sandra when she deflected blame of losing fish to Christa without anyone knowing that she really had tossed their food? Or was it Jon when he fooled everybody into thinking of him sympathetically in their belief that his grandmother had died when she was really alive and kicking?
No, the biggest one was Burton preventing enough people from thinking that he should get the boot next. He had opened himself up to getting tossed as a result of bad timing in choice of people to boot. Six days previous, instead of sending off Christa or Sandra, he busted the wrong triad by evicting Ryan. This was an error because everybody except apparently Sandra and Christa was willing to send off Rupert at the next opportunity, and while he would be weakened by sending one of his women, the consensus would remain among the others that Rupert would have to go. As long as Rupert remained, Burton would be safe if he had a bloc of suballiances around him.
Then with Rupert gone later, Burton could take Lillian, Jon, and the surviving ex-Drake female to Pagong the ex-Morgans (or, at five left, to peel of one of the ex-Morgan, probably Darrah, and evict the last ex-Drake female) to the final four, giving him an unimpeachable advantage by holding a pair (himself and Lillian) against two singletons (of which one singleton, Jon, would feel compelled to stay with him since that means carrying Lillian, perhaps the only person he could beat facing the jury). Instead, he created a situation of three dyads and a singleton, where he could be defeated if the other two dyads combined forces.
His mission this episode was simple, to not allow that to happen. And it didn’t, thanks in large part to Jon’s smooth talking, from what we were shown. Idiotically, Christa, Sandra, Tijuana, and Darrah failed to pull the trigger on Burton, in large part because Jon seemed to convince Sandra and Christa their chances were better by voting off by booting Tijuana. Jon, of course, needs Burton to carry him and Lillian to the final three where he has a chance to arrange Burton’s ouster and thus ensure his only shot at winning.
Why Christa and Sandra would go for that seems odd. If they unite now with Darrah, the best they can do is the Purple Rock o’ Death against Burton, Lillian, and Jon. Do they really think Jon would abandon the chance of going up against an Outcast, against whom the jury may be prejudiced, in favor of against them when whichever of them he faced already would have two votes in hand? More likely, Darrah will save herself by rejecting this lineup and off go the ex-Drake women.
Or maybe Sandra could manipulate her way further? From what we saw this episode, her apparently strange vote last time not consistent with her alliance looks more likely to be, as I suggested last column, a clever way to ensure Rupert’s demise without threatening her own position. With her seemingly reflexive shunting of the fish story off her onto Christa, this is more evidence to show that such guile is not likely a one-off occurrence. Recall her strategic move days ago in preserving her alliance by providing timely information to Rupert, and this time in her sneakiness in trying to get Darrah and Tijuana to unite against Burton, even if she eventually cancelled this move. In light of this evidence, the conjecture that she is far more cunning than she lets on becomes very credible.
She may have the ability to secretly sell out Christa, then jockey to remove Darrah and, once in the final four, who knows? But what would she gain by letting Burton off the hook and then having to weasel her way to a jury vote? Until that becomes clearer, it’s difficult to say that she is a master tactician.
While many readers may cringe at the next few words, it’s getting easier to assume that about Jon. By pulling off Tijuana’s exit, as well as his baseball’s-opening-day deception (which is getting off work to see the first game of the season by claiming a grandparent is dead), Jon, even if he is a jerk, is starting to prove that he can play this game well – potentially, even better than past self-proclaimed “puppetmasters.” Like it or not, only an unusual series of events now can keep him from going to the final three.
His (and Burton’s, and Lillian’s) mission now is simple – bust the other dyad, pick off one of the other survivors from the dyads, and hope that the remaining of them does not win immunity when the cut goes from four to three. Their next target should be Christa, unless she wins immunity, in which case it should be Sandra (although, for reasons stated above, maybe the order should be reversed). Immunity challenge results willing, Jon then hopes to see Darrah go. His best outcome then would be for him to win the last immunity and to take Lillian to the jury; the only way he won’t go there is if Burton or Lillian let loyalty get in the way of common sense and send Jon packing if he doesn’t win the last challenge.
By many web polls, Jon is the least liked member of the cast. Many other viewers are not keen on Burton or Lillian simply because they are Outcasts. But, barring unlikely immunity challenge results, one of these three will win the game, and largely because others will have let them.
So I end up repeating myself from past columns. What were they (Christa, Sandra) thinking? And, when you have a knife at the throat of your fiercest enemy…
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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