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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 5: Space Cadetsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 03/06/2006
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Because an immunity challenge occurred that actually emphasized brains nearly as much as brawn, Casaya naturally lost (in terms of formal education the two tribes aren’t that different, but in terms of wisdom and experiential learning, they’re miles apart). This put Bruce and Bobby on the chopping block, being that they had started acting anti-socially in the eyes of others by drinking all the wine while forced into Exile Outhouse.
The others got upset over the wine being unshared. This was stupid on two accounts. First, the last thing, other than poison, one should drink in a tropical climate with uncertain fresh water supply is any booze because it dehydrates. Use it for cooking, brush your teeth with it, but drink very little of it. So any injury that resulted should have been more symbolic and inconsequential. It’s an action worth noting for your strategic plans, but not one on which to build an entire strategy, as Casaya seemed to do (because Cirie actually appears to be the biggest threat, strategically speaking, to them, and is of limited use in challenges, so she needed to go next).
But, secondly and more importantly, Bobby and Bruce probably felt willing to breach this unspoken arrangement because they knew they were outsiders with little chance of making it to the merge with this tribe. Ten minutes after the original Space Cadets (Aras, Shane, Courtney, Danielle) made their hasty alliance Aras announced it to Bobby, and no doubt Bruce learned of it quickly after his return from Exile Island. That doesn’t mean what they did was smart (for example, what if there’s a swap coming up, you need to play to stay in the game as long as possible), but it is a consequence of the poor strategic play of the dominant alliance.
Meanwhile, she otherwise may only be good at throwing weight around when needed, but Cirie continues to play the best strategic game of this bunch. By now she must know that she cannot win the game, for she will be a fifth wheel for this alliance and, if she jumps sides at a merge – and she should if given the chance – also with the La Mina alliance, but she can go as far as an alliance can use her. She may well be the last Casaya standing when it’s all over.
Some dissent arose concerning which to go with. Shane alone championed Bobby’s ouster even though, in the long run, Bruce probably was the more dangerous of the two. In any event, either would jump at a merge. So Shane accepted the verdict of Bruce and then, as is becoming his wont, did a strategically stupid thing by telling Bobby and trying to work a deal. (And a stupid one at that, promising the final six, which must mean Shane sees Cirie as a fifth member, to her benefit, and confirms to Bobby he’s at the bottom of the ladder. That’s smart, telegraphing to somebody he’s sixth out of six with an empty promise. What was Shane going to do next, grab a handful of dirt and say, “Don’t flip on us and I’ll give you this sand?”)
What Shane did not understand was a person in the superior position never has to make a deal. It’s somebody in an inferior position who is forced to come to those with power and bargain and the superior person extracts concessions. Instead, Shane treated him as an equal and paid for it when his vote choice got restricted (he couldn’t vote for Bobby and he needed to throw away a player’s most valuable possession, his vote), and he gained nothing from it (Bobby’s gone).
His next idiot move was to go back and tell everybody about it who in the meantime decided now it was Bobby who had to go (if you’re going to make a deal without anybody else knowing prior to it, do it for yourself only). They joined in the stupidity by then bickering back and forth. Alliances don’t do that and succeed. The successful ones decide their moves far in advance, including permutations caused by potential different winners of immunity challenges, and then do not deviate from that plan unless conditions change materially (for example, members of it suspect one member is preparing to defect). If you are in a position of strength, you can’t build a large, grand strategy by constantly shifting tactics (by contrast, if you are in a position of weakness, because you cannot dictate tempo, you must play a very tactical game – just what Cirie is doing).
And we saw more of the same with the fractured vote at Tribal Council, which is the sign of an alliance that should be dictating tempo instead creating opportunities for others with less power to take it down. Aras voted against his group, so, like Shane, not only wasted his vote but could have invited disaster. But the minority also didn’t have its head on straight. Despite their drunken pledge, Bobby and Bruce voted for different people, Bobby’s going to Bruce. That actually was sensible, to save his own skin – but it might have happened more out of serendipity than anything else since, according to Shane, he didn’t need to feel threatened. But Bruce basically threw his away – voting in isolation guarantees that you’ll have no influence.
Consider the possible wages of Shane’s and Aras’ sins that led them to cast votes outside their alliance. What if Bobby and Bruce had gotten together and decided to take out Aras? They would have gotten a free ride on Shane’s back and Aras would not have been there with a crucial fourth vote against Bobby. It would have gone to a tiebreaker of Aras vs. Bobby. Might Cirie have then defected? Would Shane go back on his word to Bobby?
All of this obviously is playing into the hands of La Mina. They are four strong and their only possible defector, Sally, will not jump into an unstable environment at a merge. By contrast, Bruce or Cirie should be more than happy to defect and then the Space Cadets will be crushed (although, if smart, Bruce and/or Cirie should entice Sally over and leave a couple of the more useless ones – say Shane and Courtney – in the game to unite and attempt to over throw the Men of La Mina).
Watching Casaya operate is like viewing a Three Stooges short – it may be very entertaining, but if it’s sophistication (in strategic play) that you yearn for, hope the cameras stay away from them.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 5 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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