Survivor: The Amazon – Dave’s Strategic Success… and Failureby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 03/17/2003
For all of those who like to parse Survivor for strategic skill, episode 5 provided a bonus. And it showed some very good and very bad maneuvers, sometimes by the same person.
So Dave and Jenna got put together. Viewers of previous series probably sensed something big concerning long-term game play was fast approaching, and who of this pair would have an advantage in turning the game their way? Well, let's see, Dave is a "rocket scientist," and Jenna is a "swimsuit model." Rocket scientist ... swimsuit model ... this is a tough one .... Predictably, Dave plays it guardedly and seems to feed her information the way he wants to shape it, while Jenna blabs about her alliance (the Hottie Harem of herself, Heidi, Shawna, Deena, and sometimes Christy), Jeanne being the outsider, etc. So when it gets revealed that they now must pick new tribes, Dave knows much better the power relations of both tribes than does she.
I would guess Dave was much more likely to have taken a course on international politics than Jenna, for he seemed to understand that when you are in an alliance facing another alliance, there are two ways to gain the upper hand, one of which is to cause subtraction from the other alliance. His method of picking the new tribe showed precisely such an understanding. Right off the bat, knowing Jenna and Heidi's closeness, he picked Heidi. Jenna then seemed to pick Alex on the basis of physicalness; had she been listening more, asking better questions, or thinking more clearly, she might have ascertained the bond between Butch and Roger and broken them up. Dave then capitalized by getting Butch and Roger, and in between slicing into another part of the Hottie Harem, Christy. Again, without much thought, when she still could have broken up Butch and Roger, Jenna picked Rob, but did have the aptitude to grab Deena and Shawna, enabling Dave to pick up Jeanne and sending Matthew to Jenna.
There could not have been a greater contrast in strategic skill here. Dave neatly carved up the potent Hottie Harem while fobbing off the weakest of his tribe to her (although Jenna got lucky that Rob's uselessness to Dave gave her tribe a manipulable fellow who, when around the Hotties, thinks too much with the wrong head).
Now, if he, Roger, and Butch could make one more smart move, the Hottie Harem would be put on life support and Dave, in particular, could really line up the game to his advantage. Losing the immunity challenge gave them the opportunity to do so. And then they threw it away!
If he had taken that class, Dave might have learned the other way to strengthen your alliance relative to another, and that was to add to yours, too. But he missed the part that argues it always is better take an agent from outside the opposing alliance instead of trying to convert a member of it, because the loyalty of the outsider, being otherwise vulnerable, usually will exceed that of a member of the other, who you are asking to surrender the security of their group to take a chance with a new group.
I can see where Dave was coming from when he approached Heidi to leave her fellow ally Christy and ally-of-convenience Jeanne, thinking he could add to his alliance and subtract from the Harem at the same time, obviating the need to chase after Alex, Rob, or Matthew. Better, but riskier, would have been to approach both Heidi and Christy. That would create the ideal 2+1+2 configuration, with Dave playing the singleton and in a good situation to play the two dyads off on each other at endgame. But Heidi and Christy might have interpreted this as tactic to isolate them into a dyad, to be broken up and sacrificed if immunity losses mounted before a merge, and refused this entreaty.
The best strategy would have been to go to Jeanne, knowing she was the outsider, and offering her a place in a very strong four-person alliance. By eliminating a member of the Hottie Harem, all they had to do was reel in another (preferably Matthew as an outsider), and Dave still would have a 2+1+2 alignment with him as the singleton up against a Hottie Harem reduced to four, and would have been an immunity win away from taking command of the game. And, later, Dave could use the weak dyad to take apart Butch and Roger, then use its survivor to go to the jury
Instead, he and the other males dangerously allowed the Harem to continue with five members. Maybe six, if rumors are correct and Shawna (assuming these dynamics don't change her loyalties) seduces (figuratively) Alex into supporting the Harem. What if the merge happens the next day, or a few days later after the next Tambaqui wins immunity? Does Dave really think that Heidi will embrace a three-man group she joined for convenience when she can go back to a more dominant five-woman alliance she's been a part of much longer?
The male Tambaquis' mistake has put the Harem right back in the game. And their situation, even split, really isn't so bad. Deena can hold Jenna and Shawna together, and maybe add Alex and/or Rob (given which head he tends to think with), meaning a new Jaburu immunity challenge loss before the merge gives them an easy way to eject Matthew, totally frustrating the optimal strategy that the Tambaqui men should have followed. That might be a better strategy, intentionally throwing the challenge, and having Tambaqui getting rid of a now less-reliable Christy.
It is the betrayal of Christy which causes this. Heidi should have gone to Christy and let her in on her switch, assuring her it was tactical. Christy's reaction to this may have lost her to the Harem now, making it more important than ever for Shawna and Jenna to work their wiles on Alex and/or Rob. Once down to five or six, Rob (if six) could be burned, then both Alex and Shawna, sending Heidi, Jenna, and Deena to the climactic immunity challenge.
That now is a more realistic final three scenario than one of Dave, Roger, and Butch, given how they mishandled the aftermath of the switch.
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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