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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 1: Strategic Simpletonsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 02/03/2006
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(For those of you looking for my quantitatively-based picks for this season of Survivor, I did so well intuitively picking them last time – Danni I picked second, got most of the top six if you exclude Stephenie who we weren’t certain would show up – that I decided to try it again as part of the RNO Roundtable. On with the show.)
First episodes of seasons of Survivor always are simultaneously tricky to understand strategically and somewhat dull to analyze, because the players know next to nothing about each other and have little time to start implementing strategy. Decisions more likely turn on idiosyncratic things than on anything else.
Maybe that’s what got Tina the boot. She’s a bit loud and brash and perhaps should have held her tongue a bit when commenting on work ethic of herself compared to the others. These things well may have contributed to her game demise. But the sad fact of the matter, for her at least, is she did get placed with apparently three strategic morons.
Tina would have been a perfect person for some smart player to use to go far in the game. Because she seems to be somewhat grating, yet at the same time has good survival skills, she is precisely the person you want to help carry you. She’s the type who could get you quite a distance, and she would deflect negative feelings from others that might go from you onto her so when she needs to be sacrificed, she can be. Even if such an ally can help later in the game, her worth is magnified earlier in it because you can’t get later in the game if you aren’t capable of doing well earlier in it, and she certainly would help one do better.
Instead, these strategic simpletons sent her home. At least give Cirie almost no credit, she realized because she is the least capable person out there that she had to divert attention from her substantial shortcomings. But give Ruth-Marie and Melinda no credit whatever because they were dumb enough to allow this to happen. It may well ensure fairly early exits for all, now that they lopped off their best survival resource and maybe their best athlete.
By contrast, the pact made by Dan and Terry likely ensures we will see them go deep into the game. They are as natural a combination as air and space who appear at first glance to have the capability each to play a rarefied game. Together, as long as they are not overt initially about their union, they can place themselves well for later machinations and have the capability of winning crucial individual immunities.
They probably wouldn’t have minded trading Shane for Tina. The only way he will not suffer an immediate exit is on the strengths of the high-flying duo and Bruce, as he catches on for the ride. Only an idiot deliberately doesn’t prepare himself for the ordeal of the game by smoking it up right until it starts.
But perhaps the most interesting gambit was played by Misty. She’s obviously bright enough to have latched onto the likely clue about the hidden Exile Island immunity idol, and to decide to act as if (whether in reality) she has the idol already. Implying that she does have it in front of everybody all creates a powerful disincentive to vote for her in any Tribal Council and strong incentive for allies to come her way, knowing they would be part of an alliance that is harder to break. However, if in fact she did not locate it and somebody subsequently does, unless it’s way far into the game and she has a strong alliance built by then, it will blow up spectacularly in her face, demonstrating she is untrustworthy and probably quickly leading to her ouster. If this is a bluff and she can pull it off successfully deep into the game, few strategic moves in the game’s history can even match its brilliance.
Or, she may have gambled too much and thrown away any chance at winning. I assume we’ll find out within the next three months.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Survivor: Exile Island Episode 1 recap:
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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