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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 7: Terry and the Piratesby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 03/31/2006
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Terry has the physical and leadership tools to go far in the game of Survivor. Why he probably won’t is because of a blind spot when it comes to strategy. Trading a probable stronger ally in the cases of Ruth-Marie for Sally and Dan for Austin or Nick were sub-optimal but not bad mistakes. But winning the immunity challenge this time perhaps sealed his game fate as a loser.
While the hidden immunity idol is a new concept to the game, its theory should not be difficult to grasp. Its utility is not so much that it saves one from getting the boot, but that it forces somebody else to get the boot that probably commanded a far stronger position otherwise. That is, it is best played when it causes the most damage to your enemies, because if that is the goal of using it, then it will minimize your chances in, or even prevent you from, encountering a situation where you have to use it to save yourself.
Consider the ex-La Mina situation, down 6-4. The proper overtures were made but it seemed clear that there would be no defection at this time. Bruce was primed to go, and perhaps even should have to force a tie, but it seemed clear that he would not go unless somebody else came along. Further, it seemed clear that Terry would end up on the short end of the vote.
Of course, anybody in the six-person Casaya coalition must realize this-sized group is untenable. They must know that if they carry out a plan successfully to leave only them, that every incentive exists for a four-person sub-alliance to form and oust the remaining two. The most likely people to be that pair, surely they must recognize given past dynamics, are Cirie and Bruce. But neither of them (or anybody) would be willing to defect because, presumably, they believe they have a better shot of being part of a dominant four than being able to win against the four ex-La Mina, otherwise it makes no sense not to jump.
At this point, Terry and his pirates had to realize the two vote gap was the crucial fact preventing a defection from occurring. If it took just one defection to flip the majority, it increases the odds that someone would do it, especially since this one would be part of a five-person group and a possible arbiter within it. So the goal of them should have been to create a situation where they were down 5-4 – which was possible without anybody flipping at that time.
It was quite simple: further goad the ex-Casaya into voting off Terry by him throwing the challenge. Have him grunt and groan and show a good fight but, if he had to, tank it. Then his gang gets together and decides to vote on Aras. Terry loses the vote 6-4. He pulls out the immunity idol. And by the rules of its use, the next highest vote-getter, Aras, goes home, suddenly it is 5-4, and Bruce has every incentive now to flip sides.
Contrast this to the present condition of ex-La Mina. Now down 6-3, there is almost no incentive for a pair to jump from Casaya. This is because as a pair, they immediately prompt ex-La Mina to bond together in a troika, leaving themselves a vulnerable dyad. That’s no better than where they are now: they still lose as a pair and since people tend to go with the devil they know, they stay.
And what if they had suspected Terry had the idol? They vote for somebody else, and you’re no worse off than if they strategy wasn’t pursued. And what if Bruce or even Cirie had flipped? Then it doesn’t matter that Terry tanked it. And what if Bruce subsequently did stick to his group at 5-4? Well, the only way Terry can win if he’s on the smaller alliance is to win practically every immunity challenge from here on out, which is a poor strategy to have, because hoarding the idol in anticipation of having an opportunity to save yourself down the road doesn’t mean much if you’re called upon to do it more than once.
Unfortunately, Terry was too caught up in a myopic, tactical view of use of the idol. He was more concerned about hoarding it for a time when it’s needed that may never have come instead of using it now in a prime situation to maximally improve his condition in the game. Let’s say he doesn’t win immunity next time and then gets tagged and has to whip it out. Great: now he’s down 5-3 and barely any better off with little chance of a pair defecting to help him out. In fact, he will have accidentally stabilized the other coalition because with an odd-numbered coalition, everybody in it potentially can become an arbiter, giving them even more incentive not to defect – especially one where only one obvious pair (assuming Aras or Shane is targeted) of Danielle and Courtney would exist.
Fundamentally, a 5-4 split maximizes the chances of defection. A 5-3 split or greater sends these odds, barring stupid strategic play [Associate Editor’s Note: An important condition, given this group], close to zero. Even 6-3 carries better defection chances, because of the inherent instability of six-person alliances (although when at 6-2 these chances also essentially evaporate). Simply, the ex-La Mina as a whole, and Terry and particular, committed a potentially fatal mistake by not sandbagging the ex-Casaya into eliminating one of themselves before they were ready. He and the remaining members of his alliance have dramatically reduced their options as a result.
If the ex-Casaya were smart, they would next take out Austin if he doesn’t win immunity. Then, at 6-2, they could hedge their bets by (assuming neither won immunity, and because both spent time on Exile Island) throwing four votes Terry’s way and two to Sally. That would mean a revote (obviously assuming Terry and Sally voted for the same ex-Casaya) when Terry whipped it out, causing him to burn the idol yet the majority still accomplishing its objective by getting rid of an ex-La Mina on the revote. Terry then saves himself only by winning every single immunity from here on out or if the majority then fractures 3-3 and needs him as an arbiter. But that is unlikely to happen – again, every incentive exists for a four-person majority to emerge to eliminate the junior pair after getting rid of Terry.
Or, the only other hope that the ex-La Mina might have at 6-2 is if there is some strategic boldness trying to set up a majority group coming from the ex-Casaya. As explained in the previous column, in order for this to work, Terry cannot be forced to use his idol too soon. As previously indicated, a number of scenarios could unfold, but about the only ex-La Mina that would have any chance of going anywhere farther than the final five is Sally. Any way you slice it, barring idiot play Terry is gone without an improbable run of immunity challenge wins – which puts an exclamation point on why he needed to throw the challenge this time.
Thus, if Terry must use the idol next time, chances are a Pagonging is in the offing. If not, there’s a chance the ex-Casaya could fracture at this next stage, but Pagonging still is likely. Although such a move likely would have to be initiated by Cirie, in the ensuing scramble practically anybody could make it to the end – except Terry. And that’s why his mistake was so tragic, because by his own hand he could have prevented it.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 7 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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