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Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 8: Musical Immunityby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 04/07/2006
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My mother being a true Yankee (many of my relatives talk like Danielle), she has a trove of sensible aphorism, with one especially fitting Terry’s attempted strategic ploy, “a day late and a dollar short.”
Actually, his folly last time was even worse than I had figured, for I didn’t know the now-unhidden immunity idol could be transferred after the conclusion of the vote. Thus, even if Terry had not won immunity, his group still could have laid a trap, voted for Aras (keep Shane around for perfect jury fodder), made things 5-4 with Aras gone by passing the idol to Nick, then a single flip is all they needed from an alliance so fragile the only thing holding together is that it can keep a majority. Shatter that belief and it crumbles.
But, as we know, Terry and his dwindling pirates let the prime moment when the idol could have most directed the game to their favor pass. And so then all of a sudden he gets the idea that he can use it as a bargaining chip. This reckoning is almost as faulty. Any sensible member of the majority, even these Space Cadets, must know, even with the knowledge that Terry has it, all they have to do is whittle it down to Terry and somebody else (Sally), have four of them vote for Terry, two vote for Sally, if he has it on the revote (because Terry and Sally will vote for the same person) with the idol used all vote for Sally, she’s gone and Terry is defenseless. This provides absolutely no incentive to jump, if you know you can burn the idol away and still send one of the minority home.
However, the situation does become much more complicated if one of them wins immunity and, if Terry, he pledges the idol to Sally’s defense. This will force a core group of five to emerge, because that many of will have to vote for the ex-La Mina without immunity to burn the idol away.
Here’s where it gets tricky: the five who form have to sandbag the sixth. Four of them will go to the victim to tell this person they are doing the following strategy: four will vote for the ex-La Mina, while two of them vote for the person not present. They will say they are doing this because they know one will have to go and they want it to be someone of the majority of ex-Casaya’s choosing, not dictated by the ex-La Mina. This, they will argue, will make for a 4-2-2 vote, with the ex-La Mina surviving by surrendering the idol. A revote will now boot off the person not present. Then the five survivors can mop up on the remaining ex-LaMina. And Aras is the one they’ll spin this story to, because they will say since he got the three votes last time they need to protect him because they want to be allied with him.
What they won’t reveal, if they are smart, is that Aras is the one to be sandbagged precisely because he is the most likely to draw the two ex-La Mina votes. All except (let’s say) Bruce will go to Aras and tell him since they know he will be a target and likely to draw the two votes, their real target is Bruce, so Aras and somebody else will vote for Bruce. Instead, the other person votes for Aras.
Note what happens: the vote goes 4 for the ex-La Mina, 3 for Aras, and one for Bruce, and the sandbagged Aras is gone – if the ex-La Mina are predictable. If they aren’t, then one of them goes home but it’s only a one in five risk and even if Aras finds out he was sandbagged (maybe not, he may think it was a single traitor), so what? The remaining four still command a majority over Aras, Sally, and Terry. Given that one of them has to be voted off, for each a 20 percent chance under a less-than-likely precondition is a risk worth taking to be able to burn off the idol and get rid of a player of your choosing earlier than you anticipated.
The beauty of it is Aras can be so well convinced of it because he drew the two votes and knows he’s a target. And it would make all the sense in the world to tell him to vote for Bruce as a sign of good faith, but also because if he then switched to the ex-La Mina because he sensed something was up, or even to an ex-Casaya, he still loses as he’ll be the one with two votes. The only possible way out of the trap for him would be for him to realize early what was up, go to the ex-La Mina, and with them plot one of the ex-Casaya’s demise on a 4-3-1 vote. But again, so what, they’re still down 4-3 now without the idol. The other ex-Casaya must realize their worst scenario is only a 20 percent chance of going home, one that is unlikely to happen if they play it right.
Of course, Aras then could go to one member of his faithless alliance, say Shane, and tell him that he and the ex-La Mina will vote for him unless he falls in with them. Note because of the idol it would give this new 2+2 group the ability to go up 4-3. But if Shane’s smart (and since he isn’t, this is why Aras ought to go to him) he goes to the group minus the new target, reveals the plan, and they agree to sacrifice the new target with their four votes on an ex-La Mina (the worst that could happen is 4 votes on the ex-La Mina, 3 on the new target, 1 on another of them).
Of course, what if the new target found out? Well, now there are three ex-Casaya floating together – and they simply pick another target. And if another … well, no matter which way you slice it, a majority of them can find a way to eliminate somebody of their own choosing from among themselves and burn off the idol. (Changing their exact responses to the events outlined here would open them up to the risk of having somebody not of the majority’s choosing from themselves get voted off, which would increase the chances of the coalition shattering, but in every case this can be avoided.) The five remaining then simply reform, this time into a more stable coalition (because all will believe they can find a way to get into a suballiance of three) and wipe out the ex-La Mina, barring immunity wins.
But note that to get to this fantastic scenario, there has to be a Terry or Sally win next time and then an incredible string of revealed betrayals for the pair to have a chance to emerge in a stable majority. This is a very unlikely series of events and, if this was what Terry was banking on a few days ago when he didn’t use the idol to save Nick, it’s not good strategy. Two things one never should base strategy on: that your opponent will make a mistake, or that you will win a key immunity challenge (for example, what if the next one is one of the “eliminate-another-player” kind, and the ex-La Mina are jumped on immediately?). The odds were much better he could have flipped somebody like Bruce in a 5-4 situation.
However, back to the “bargaining chip” strategy: let’s say Terry passes it to Danielle. She says thank you, then votes out Austin anyway, at least that was the risk Terry ran. Or she does what she did, refuse and stay loyal, knowing the idol can change the course of the game only under a series of fantastic events. Or even if she kept it, she could defect in the future and have a shield until the final four and leave Terry without one. So there’s really no point in trying to use it to bargain; unless your opponent is dumb enough not to use it to her fullest advantage, and, in this case, your best move would not be making a permanent alliance with Terry.
Although the iterations would become fascinating if Terry or Sally win immunity next week and, if he doesn’t, Terry pledges its use for Sally, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a weak use of the idol compared to alternatives already squandered, and future players should beware it in similar situations.
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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