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Strategic Overview of Survivor: A Tactical Zeroby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/16/2003
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At least when Kim J. took Ethan rather than Lex with her to the jury in Survivor 3, she knew she wasn’t going to win and so she went with the person she would like to win the grand prize. For that reason, it wasn’t a mistake.
At least when Colby took Tina rather than Keith with him to the jury in Survivor 2, he knew he probably gave away the grand prize but to somebody he really liked. From Colby’s perspective (maybe not everybody else’s), it wasn’t a mistake because he was willing to make that tradeoff.
But when Lillian took Sandra rather than Jon with her to the jury in Survivor 7, she committed the worst strategic blunder in series history. Not because she thought she was in the same situation as Kim J., but because she couldn’t count straight. At least Colby read the situation correctly and made his choice; Lillian totally misread it and it cost her $900,000.
Funny thing was, she was the best strategic player for the jury to choose. By far, Sandra is the least adept, least skillful person not only to win, but ranks right up there with Jan from S4 as the worst player ever to make the final four. Viewers should long for the bad taste left in their mouths after Jenna won S6, because that sure tastes sweet compared to what’s there as a result of this finish.
Jenna did turn in a credible performance, making a couple of minor strategic moves early and then winning some crucial challenges at the end, making the right decision who to take to the jury. But Sandra won nothing, barely did anything strategic, and she put it best, she was just there for others’ purposes. In other words, she was just a warm body eating space, a strategic cipher, a tactical zero, worth only a vote and contributing nothing more to the skill element of the game. For those of us who watch the series for the strategic element, it was like being promised a huge gourmet meal, then having it snatched away at the last second when she won.
It turns out the promise of such hearty fare came courtesy of Jon. Publicly unpopular to say the least, while off to a rocky start at first, in the last two weeks on the island, he put his money where his mouth was and turned in an outstanding performance that merits him a place in the (now) Top 13 strategic performances of all time. His last days in particular clinched his spot.
Most players would have been goners after Burton’s mistake of not babysitting Lillian while enjoying his reward challenge prize. Jon was left with three women, two of whom should have well known that they would overpower Lillian in front of a jury, so why keep Jon as a foil? Given their dislike of him, most players would not have stood a chance to remain another day.
But these females kept saying that Lillian would be strong in front of the jury because she seemed so “real” (including Lillian herself, although later she revealed she thought her Outcast status would likely prevent her from winning – what did she really think?) it seemed only Jon knew that his only shot was against her, and he had to find a way both to keep her and himself.
At this point, he correctly diagnosed that he had to create another target, and that Darrah’s challenge-winning ways could be it. Further, he sensed that Sandra did not understand the obvious about Lillian being a sure loser in front of the jury so that she would trust him in his counsel. In other words, he offered Sandra a deal to replace her toughest competitor, Darrah, with who she saw as her weakest, him. This turned her ire away from Lillian. He also got Lillian to go along because she labored under the illusion that she was stronger than Sandra or Darrah and so she would be their next likely target. It was a maneuver as skilled as any in the series’ history.
He also apparently intuited that Lillian’s emotionalism would get in the way of his plan to bring the two of them to the jury, so he sought out a deal with her during the final immunity challenge. Her feelings did get in the way and it cost him; otherwise, for days he had been playing the game strategically at as high of a level as anybody ever had.
The result was that Lillian could not see clearly that Sandra had two sure votes already and Jon just one. Further, that given their feelings about each other, whomever she sent home in third would vote against her, something far less costly regarding Sandra because while she might lose her one vote, she probably would pick up Rupert’s and Christa’s given their antipathy towards Jon; with Jon out, now she had three votes guaranteed against her rather than just one. Worse, the ex-Morgans still had a lingering sense of betrayal at her hands that only the presence of Jon against her could overcome. And almost everybody felt the same negative way concerning her Outcast status; only Jon’s annoying nature could overcome that in a jury vote.
A decent strategic mind would have understood this scenario. A poor one did not. A good one gets reflected in the updated Top 13 list:
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