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Strategic Overview of Survivor, The Finale: Runaway Juryby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/18/2006
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Before proceeding into the analysis of the last days of Survivor: Cook Islands, it must be noted that the institution of a three-person tribal council is just a really bad idea, and it will have a negative impact on the game in future editions even if never gets used again.
No strategy-based game can be such if there are not some very basic fixed rules about it. There can be much room for flexibility; for example, changing up when merges occur, or even introducing double send-offs. But changing dates and numbers of people sent packing represent surface changes while keeping the basic rules of play: a merge will occur, and a majority of votes will send someone home.
To change the absolutely basic rules takes away the ability of any player to use strategy, and turns the game increasingly towards chance outcomes. For example, what if suddenly Mark Burnett decided for a particular tribal council vote that only a plurality would be needed (guess what, that’s what he essentially did with this jury vote)? With no fundamental rules by which to guide behavior, strategy cannot be formulated, and if doubt is put into players’ minds that there are any fundamental rules, the same applies. The three-person final vote is just such a violation.
If I wanted to watch something where luck primarily determines winners and losers, I’ll go down the street to the casinos and watch people play blackjack. (Even there, the rule that the two cards that comprise blackjack as a hand win; it doesn’t become three at a whim). But I watch and write about Survivor because the strategy interests me. I’ll do neither if this trend continues.
While I’m complaining, I’ll mention there needs to be some clarity on what “tribal council” is. Last week’s blurb at the end of the show implied there was going to be two, or three, people in front of the jury, depending on how you defined the term. Things only got more confusing this week when, at four, Jeff Probst welcomed them to “the final tribal council,” but then later during the jury vote a graphic said the same thing. At least the question about possession of the hidden immunity idol got clearer, another matter of confusion as different players seemed to believe different things about when possession applied for use. The last impression with which we were left was possession counted before the last vote read, but clarification on this in the future would be most welcome.
As it turned out, the three-person finale may well have influenced the eventual win. What if Ozzy had continued his torrid challenge win streak at three? This would have meant the end of Yul and the win to Ozzy. That challenge probably would have been the endurance one at four which Ozzy did win, but Yul probably did not have as much motivation knowing he was through into three. Then again, Yul could have won at four as well (note more often than not he finished second to Ozzy in these, and not by much). We’ll never know, but the chance that the alteration could have changed the outcome is non-trivial.
Regardless, the final three were a satisfying bunch, one of the best ever (Neleh vs. Vecepia and Brain vs. Clay springing to mind) in a clash of titans. And, once again, Yul may have made a good move to increase his chances of winning, such as then one involving voting off Jonathan over Parvati. We now know he actually had done the same several days earlier when ejecting Jonathan which then seemed questionable given Jonathan could have remained loyal to him to the end (and did vote for him), because Adam promised a vote to Yul if Yul made it to the final if Jonathan went out prior to him.
This likely was the winning margin. Except for that, Adam probably would have followed the spiteful course of Candice, who one could tell that she was still peeved at being shown on national TV through her being outmaneuvered that she was not the smartest girl in the class (maybe for the first time in her life) and whose vote Yul could not have gotten in any event (as far as we can tell).
Knowing Adam’s promise also introduces more interesting speculation: was he trying to sandbag Ozzy with his question to have him denigrate the other two? That was an absolute trap of a question – Ozzy should have declined and said he wanted to be evaluated on the merits of his game only and he was not going to criticize others. Whether that answer lost him a crucial vote or more we don’t know, nor whether Adam – who never showed a glimmer of valid strategic thinking in the game – against type intended this to trap him to assist the guy to which he had pledged a vote.
Less obvious is the smart move Yul made when it became apparent that a tie loomed between Becky and Sundra at four. Although in retrospect it was unnecessary, the fact is Yul should have preferred a final three with Sundra rather than Becky, because Becky was a much better strategic player who could have siphoned votes from him and because she would be a rock solid vote on the jury for him. At the same time, he could not be complicit in sending her off or she could feel bitterly double-crossed. So his strategy of allowing her to suggest, and then rejecting, having the hidden immunity idol, and giving her positive affirmation for her logic in its rejection (lack of jury respect, which seemed to exist anyway), perfectly set up a situation where she could have lost yet he would have no blame attached to it.1 2 Next-->
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