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Strategic Overview of Survivor: When Strategy Failsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/12/2003
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As this installment of Survivor closes, it’s clear who had the best strategic minds throughout – Burton and Jon. Indicated as such during this episode, they mapped out their strategies well, considered alternatives, and even had the acumen to understand when things might be going against them and how to react accordingly. But it wasn’t enough to save one of them.
Burton’s gone because of another error in judgment with Lillian. When you have somebody who plays so emotionally, who agonizes and second-guesses every decision, to keep her on your side you must baby-sit her. Burton failed to do so by not taking her on his reward challenge trip, doubly disadvantageous because it further cemented in her mind that she could finish no better than third, as she would be up against two stronger guys for the final immunity with neither guaranteeing her continuance.
He should have guaranteed for her second unless Jon won that last challenge (which Burton should have thrown to Jon anyway), for Burton could win against either. In fact, as her play has become increasingly erratic, it’s now possible that Jon would have a good shot beating Lillian against the jury; in short, she may have replaced Jon as the most beatable player.
Lillian’s Outcast status, added to the perceptions that she allowed herself to be controlled by others, may be seen more negatively by a jury than Jon’s annoying personality and overt untrustworthiness (having broken promises now to almost everybody on the jury). As of now, neither could beat Sandra or Darrah, the latter of whom continues to hold the advantage against all others in both jury likeability and skill.
(Every week, Sandra does more dumb things that make the viewer scratch his head over what an idiot she is, and practically begs us to somehow excuse her by thinking that what’s she’s doing is so stupid that surely there must be some brilliant strategy involved because nobody could be that dumb. This week’s was planning to sabotage the camp when she thought she’d be voted out next, instead of immediately going to the other females to plot.)
Very interesting dynamics now bring us into the finale. Jon’s position went from one of considerable strength to almost zero. He now has exceptionally little leverage to bring Lillian to the jury with him, and the others have little incentive to carry him. After all, Darrah and Sandra now have Lillian that they can carry, and she is as beatable, if not more so, than Jon. Further, a pair would have to defect initially for Jon to be saved next time. He has to win immunity at least next time to be sure of any continuance.
If he does, chances are that Darrah goes. With three consecutive immunity wins under her sash, the females won’t take any more chances with her (and they shouldn’t since she’s the biggest remaining threat, although its questionable the other two can figure out this obvious fact without Jon’s help). Then Jon has a slim chance if he can convince Lillian that she can’t beat Sandra against the jury (using the Rupert-Christa guaranteed votes, plus Burton’s resentment, meaning Sandra is three votes up on her already). But his credibility is low and Sandra has to rank up there with Jan (S5) as the person who’s gone the farthest with the least skill of any kind, so she won’t seem like much of a threat. In short, Jon’s only good chance to win is to head to the jury with two immunity wins in a row, hoping that Darrah and Sandra don’t make Lillian walk the plank after his first.
Simply, Jon likely is gone next. Then concerning the three women, it gets pretty simple in at least in two cases. If either Darrah or Sandra win the final immunity, they send off the other. Each has three votes in the bag against Lillian, and maybe four if Jon resents her as well for his demise. But if Lillian wins, it becomes pretty tricky.
Sandra is an attractive opponent in front of the jury because the jury will see her as abrasive and having done next to nothing in terms of skill to get this far. But not only does she have the guaranteed pair of votes, Lillian also may have earned enough wrath from the ex-Morgans, seeing her as having sold them out, that even if Burton and Jon don’t vote for Sandra out of spite, maybe Lillian’s ex-tribemates might.
With Darrah already having the pair of ex-Morgan votes, Lillian could grab ex-Drake gratitude (for helping them get that far) and benefit from their resentment against ex-Morgans. However, Darrah is following the same path that brought Jenna glory last series: lay low and then win some immunity challenges late; we learned last time it’s better to be cute than to be a strategic genius (give Jenna credit, she knew where her strengths were). So she’s a risk as well, although, on the whole, Lillian’s probably better off taking her – but twice no chance is still no chance to win.
Of course, the smartest thing for Lillian to do is to realize she’s a likely loser against either and, if Jon doesn’t win immunity next time, to roll the bones, vote with Jon to oust one of the other females, and invite the Purple Rock o’ Death. Jon probably knows this now; he can prove he really is a puppetmaster if he can convince Lillian to do this, that they both must take a big chance if either has any hope of winning at all.
But even if Jon had the skill of a Rich (S1) or Brian (S5), this probably is too tall of an order. It’s hard to convince somebody with “take a chance on losing this time by voting with me because I’m the only one you can beat in front of the jury later,” particularly someone who’s so difficult to make think strategically rather than emotionally, and especially with Jon’s diminished credibility.
So, in the end, Darrah beats all, Sandra beats Jon and Lillian, and it’s a toss-up between Jon and Lillian. This also means that viewers who enjoy the strategy aspect probably will end up feeling much as they did after the last series when a weak strategist (Jenna) beat out guys with moderate (Matt) and good (Rob) skills in that department. Our choices here are a weak strategist (Darrah) who has the best shot, two inferior strategists (Sandra and Lillian) who are next, and the best of the bunch (Jon) now highly unlikely to win. Unless you’re an optimist and can get over Jon’s natural unlikeability, prepare to be disappointed.
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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