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Strategic Overview of Survivor, the Finale: Land of Delusionby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/17/2007
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While David began his recap with lyrics from a Bugs Bunny tune, I would use a Genesis song, changing the title and one word of the lyrics for this, if you are a fan of strategy, most unsatisfactory season of Survivor: “Land of Delusion.”
You probably can’t say this was the weakest, least-deserving set of final competitors in series history – that would go to the Survivor: Pearl Islands duo of Sandra and Lillian. Nor can we say that it overall involved the least amount of strategy by all – that honor must go to Survivor: Palau. But the final episode had plenty of delusion to go around. Denise thinking she could win against Amanda or Todd? And, related, that Courtney ever deserved a vote, much less two? And even host Jeff Probst thinking it was one of the best seasons ever?
Not if you liked good strategic playing. Only in such a season could a strategically flawed play such as Todd’s could win, when it relied more on luck than skill. Todd would have been out of the picture long ago if, let’s see, James hadn’t been the densest strategic player in series history (and winner of a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment) and played just one of his immunity idols, or if Denise hadn’t been maybe the second-most dense player in series history and had defected at six, or had defected at five…, or that Todd was the beneficiary of a name fitting for this particular episode, “How to Lose a Million Dollars,” starring Amanda.
Bluntly, she had the game won as soon as she triumphed in the final immunity challenge. It was clear the last ousting vote was going to be Denise or Todd and she held sway – and it wasn’t even going to be a tie apparently, for Courtney said if Amanda wanted to vote out Todd, she would join her. Amanda herself admitted Todd would be the toughest of the three to beat (although that wasn’t saying much). The knife was at the throat of her biggest rival, all she had to do was draw the blade.
She didn’t. A big mistake, but not one that was completely insurmountable, as she could have played to set up at least four votes for her from the jury even in keeping Todd. What troubled her was voting out Denise, because that would anger her, even as she felt loyalty to Todd and – delusion again – thought Denise might be able to beat her in front of the jury. How to solve this problem of not having Denise with you in front of the jury yet voting her out in a way that does not raise her ire against you? Simple – let Todd and Courtney vote for her, you tell her you won’t put her name down to vote against, and then vote for Courtney.
One vote now lost from Denise’s subsequent voting behavior. Still, if that vote goes to Courtney, Amanda has at least three, no worse than a tie which, if Denise then must vote between her and Todd as part of a tiebreaker, she would win eventually. So then she has to produce the most miserable performance ever in front of a jury of any person with a realistic chance of winning. Her strategy appeared to be long on contriteness and short on demonstrating her strategic mettle, a winning combination only if you are up against somebody who was both a backstabber and largely unlikable.
Todd may have been a clumsy schemer but he wasn’t unlikable and encouraged jurors to see him in this dual light. To overcome this, Amanda had to show that she recognized this in Todd, used him to that effect, was complicit in the sense that she countenanced his play for her own benefit, but ultimately made him use it for her own ends. In other words, she had to say she was sorry for bumping people off not because it made her feel bad for being a duplicitous person, but because it furthered her position in the game at the expense of others. It’s the difference between looking like a buoy adrift or as the master of her own fate, providing a justification for her actions. Todd tried to make that distinction but it all would have come to naught had Amanda done something similar. This appeared to cost her both the votes of Jean-Robert and Jaime.
The jurors clearly recognized this inadequacy. Erik almost had to beg an answer out of her that would allow him to vote the way he wanted – for her. Peih-Gee even spelled it out for her, saying she wanted real information proving her worth to win rather than just endless sad-faced regrets about acing people out. And, in a final folly, Amanda (and the others) fell for Jaime’s bait about bad-mouthing the others. One firm answer may have been all it took to win Jaime’s vote, and perhaps others: “I’m not here to talk down other players, I’m here to tell you why I deserve to win, because I made this alliance, made important decisions in it, and got it to carry out them to benefit me.”
To Todd’s credit, he made solid jury arguments but, to be realistic, it was nothing that won him the game, it was that Amanda’s post-challenge behavior that lost it for her and made him the default victor. Thus in Survivor lore, if we salute Chris of Survivor: Vanuatu as having a tongue of silver for a jury performance that turned defeat into victory, we must shame Amanda for her tongue of lead that turned victory into defeat.
As far as my tongue goes, distaste describes the state it is in after watching this strategic dreck, but a fitting end for the entire season which was wanting in this category. So many good moves could have been made, so few were, and it wasn’t just the ignorance of them not being made but the self-deception that their alternatives actually were good. Even more baffling, it appeared that there were more fans of the show in the cast for this one than had been for several seasons, so you would think they would know what they were doing.
Maybe we’ll luck out with the next installment, where self-described fanatics of the series take on “popular” players. This might be a vast improvement if those players are the likes of Yau-Man… or maybe little improvement if they are the likes of James. Still, if anybody is a fan of good and well-executed strategy, it won’t be difficult to top this season.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out these other recent Survivor: China articles here on RealityNewsOnline:
When not watching for strategic elements in Survivor, Jeffrey D. Sadow is trying to teach about strategies inherent in international relations, diplomacy, governance, political campaigns, and lots of other neat stuff as an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
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