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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 12: Rollercoasterby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/02/2005
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If this keeps up, I’m going to get both airsick and whiplash watching the game fortunes of the players in this Survivor series violently zoom up and down.
The trap was set, the path to endgame clear. A foursome of Stephenie, Judd, Cindy, and Rafe seemed to be in control, but in reality it was just the first three. They should have known that if they took out Rafe next that their position, save an unfortunate immunity win at four, was unassailable. Each had the optimal set of partners: Stephenie would be resented by some for having a second shot at the title, Cindy for her seeming floating along and doing nothing, and Judd because of his abrasiveness and hypocrisy. Rafe or Danni could have beaten any of those three if up against them. There was absolutely no logical reason or incentive for them to break up this group, especially because it held the one person everybody should have wanted to be up against in front of the jury, Judd.
And so the one in the strongest position, the one who would have beaten either of the other two, Stephenie, took the knife they held at Rafe’s throat, handed it to him, and then, along with the others, helped him slit Judd’s throat. The magnitude of this folly, one of the greatest in series history, cannot be overstated, and will reveal itself fully if Rafe has the wits to hang onto the knife.
How many sins did Stephenie commit by doing this? First, she failed to recognize who her real threat was (Rafe, given his challenge-winning ability in part because of his smarts, and because of his amiable nature) and who should have been her greatest friend (Judd, because she would beat him most easily in front of the jury), and thus sent off an ally instead of an enemy. Second, she violated an important tenet: the most successful alliances are those that start early and stay together. Once you have chosen your dance partners, you must stick with them in order to keep the important bond of trust that is critical down the stretch and also wins points with jury members. Third, and this never can be emphasized enough, once you have a knife at the throat of your strongest enemy ….
Intriguingly, Danni’s immunity win may have helped set up all of this. This outcome made Lydia seem to be the obvious target, so when Judd caught Lydia performing the “selling my vote for survival” rap with others after she did it with him, he could chalk it up to desperation on her part and not feel as alarmed as he should have been to institute countermeasures. At the same time, a threat such as Danni became more acceptable to deal with for the others, rather than to be dispensed with because now she could not be.
Rafe has shown the capability for superior thinking and if he achieves it now the path shown to him is simple on how to use that knife rather than to give it up. He now has a chance to reintegrate with Lydia and he must carry her as far as he can because she must know that she would lose in front of the jury against anybody but perhaps Cindy. Given their past bond, were Lydia to be in the final three with him and win immunity, if Cindy’s not there she would take Rafe.
Taking out Cindy (this latest move demonstrating, despite every good reason to be, that she never was integrated into a triad with Stephenie and Judd) should be delayed. At this point, Rafe needs to understand who his biggest competition is, and that’s Danni. Stephenie he can beat in front of the jury, but maybe not Danni. She has to go next. Then he must go to Cindy and offer her her game life to vote for Stephenie. Then at this juncture, he’s just a Cindy immunity win (who would bring Lydia with her) from taking the game. Even a Stephenie immunity win here would leave him essentially no worse off if having to oust Cindy: he or Lydia still would have to win the final immunity. What Rafe cannot afford is a final four with both Stephenie and Danni.
Danni needs to understand this and to assume that Rafe will figure this out, too (always assume your opponents will play an optimal game; by preparing for that, you also prepare to optimally handle the mistakes they may instead make). For her part, she needs to try to build on her relationship with Stephenie and then reach out to Cindy next to crack the Rafe/Lydia dyad by removing if possible the former. Having been a useful idiot, Cindy then may be dispensed with because Danni will want to buy the same guarantee from Lydia that Rafe can get at three: if Lydia wins the last immunity, she would pick Danni before Stephenie to go with her, but she would pick Cindy first.
If, however, Rafe wins immunity next, Danni would be forced to take out Lydia and then hope Rafe can be gotten at four. Then she would have to win the last immunity to get in for sure, because if Cindy did she might well take Stephenie, hoping the second-time-around factor is enough to defeat Stephenie in front of the jury.
Stephenie’s position has deteriorated badly but she’s in luck because Rafe and Danni both know they can beat her in front of the jury, so both will want her to join him or her and Lydia in the final three. Even Cindy has some incentive to bring her along, if able. So, she has to go whichever way the wind blows and stake it all on winning the final immunity and bringing Lydia, if possible, with her. Lydia obviously also should get carried to the final three, meaning Cindy’s future, absent a couple of critical immunity wins, is extremely limited.
Normally in Survivor, more bad than good moves get played. You don’t have to be a genius to make great moves to win (unless you’re Richard Hatch or Brian Heidik), but you do have to be smart enough to take advantage of mistakes of others. Rafe made one last time but now has a second chance to take advantage of Stephenie’s. Danni also can jump on this one. Will either of them do so and earn a place among the top performances of all time? Or will the eventual winner be the one making the fewest, and avoid making the last, mistakes? The one thing that is guaranteed is we’re likely to see an interesting finish.
(And, for anybody that wants to keep track of these things, throwing out Stephenie since her status in the game was unknown, I’ve got my predicted #2 (Danni), #5 (Lydia), #7 (Rafe), and #10 (Cindy) in the top five. Not too shabby.)
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 12 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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