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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 4: Useful Idiotby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 10/07/2005
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The phrase “useful idiot” often is attributed to the Soviet Union’s first leader and architect of the murder that would come from it, Vladimir Lenin. With it, he referred to those who did not fully understand communism’s agenda or denied its essence, yet still advocated it. This episode of Survivor gives us its own benign, mini-version of it, where Stephenie plays the role of Lenin (sorry, Stephenie, normally that is an insult but I don’t mean it as such in this context) and, naturally, Judd is the useful idiot.
Whether through native intelligence or learning from her first go-around, Stephenie knew exactly the weakest link to go after when the surprise swap happened (there will be those who argue with righteous indignation that such an early swap somehow “violates” the integrity of Survivor, entirely forgetting that, as a creature of Mark Burnett, Survivor is solely and legitimately defined by him, so you can argue it cheapens strategic interest in the game, but you cannot argue it cheapens the game as a concept). Judd fell for her entreaties hook, line, and sinker, and will be disposed of as quickly as possible by Stephenie, Lydia, Jamie, and Rafe.
Probably the only thing now that can save him is his new tribe winning enough immunities to string things out until a merge. He doesn’t seem to realize that Stephenie will feel she and Jamie can provide enough muscle to win future challenges, that Lydia is a perfect deadweight vote to carry far into the game, and that they can depend upon any of Gary, Amy, or (because of his connection to Lydia) Brian to serve as a fifth vote once a merge occurs. Judd is superfluous, and he’s the only one who doesn’t seem to know that.
Yet a perhaps an even more useful lesson to learn from this episode concerns the different reactions of the presumably equal factions on the new Yaxha had to the switch. Stephenie was smart enough to go on the offensive and pluck an ally, while Margaret, Cindy, and Brooke took a defensive strategy of trying to hold Judd (who should have realized he would have been more valuable in a majority coalition of perhaps all other and not terribly physically-imposing women). This mistake, again excepting a run of immunity challenge winds for Yaxha, will eventually end all three women’s run on the show. Potentially, this was a huge turning point even if early in the game,
For Yaxha, the plan now is simple. Stephenie is well set up with more-brawn-than-brains Jamie, the semi-useless Lydia, and the semi-strategically-cluelesss Rafe. After dumping Judd, if she can nurse them to the merge, she can grab preferably Amy (first choice) or Gary, offer protection to Lydia, and then storm to the brink of the finals in a troika.
Over at the reconstituted Nakúm, Gary suddenly has problems. With three young bucks like Bobby Jon, Brandon, and Blake and someone with Danni’s emerging ability to string them along, he definitely is superfluous. The only thing that could save him is if Danni wakes up enough to realize she still can gain leverage over him. It is very impressive that she remembers accurately the visage of a middling quarterback for the Dallas Cowgirls of 20 years ago thousands of miles from home in the jungle and that she seems confident enough not to shrink from that assessment after his denials. She needs to make a deal immediately with him not to reassert his secret and to protect him if they carry each other to the final two. Then all she needs is to con one of the three B’s to come with them to the final three and her position is as good if not better than Stephenie’s. Then she and Gary try to prevent the victim from winning the final immunity challenge, they pledge to take each other in front of the jury, and once there she re-outs him. As a side note, if her head is on straight, Brian leaves next, followed by the hobbled Amy.
Stephenie has demonstrated a strong will previously; now let’s see if her strategy is as solid. Danni already has shown she can make errors strategically, but the right moves now more than will make up for that previous unforced turnover. Depending on when the merge happens, it could be a very interesting battle of Amazonians in a week or two.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 4 columns already posted:
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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