Survivor: The Amazon – Strategy and the Final Voteby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 05/15/2003
Among my many travels, I once took in the Pyrenees state of Andorra. The day I headed in, I fell in with a Swede named Jukka and that night, Saturday, we headed to some watering holes. Andorra has some good skiing and is quaint in many ways, but just is not known for its nightlife. Jukka and I pulled up at a bar where I played it safe and ordered a Stella Artois. Jukka bravely said, “Give me any beer,” and I repeated that in Spanish. Moments later, I got delivered a Stella pression and Jukka a bottle of German beer. He took a swig, made a sour face, and almost spat it out. “What’s this?” he asked. I noticed the writing on the label: “Alkohol frei.” The barkeep replied, “You said ‘any beer.’”
I reacted as did Jukka when seeing that Jenna beat Matt for the million smackers. Not only a letdown, but a crass one at that. Not that Jenna doesn’t deserve every penny of it (well, roughly 60 pennies to the dollar, after taxes), but that she clearly was the least deserving winner of all time, certainly not as deserving as her opponent. She won a fair amount of immunity challenges – but so did Colby, who lost to the much more deserving Tina. And Matt won his fair share of them, too. Matt worked; Jenna played. What gives?
The real crassness of it all came in that only Butch voted for Matt. I doubt one person in a hundred outside the jury thought Deena (who, when asked, compared Matt’s working hard strategy with Jenna’s flirtation strategy), Rob (who as a player who enjoyed strategy might be expected to find fault with a player who just floated along), and Christy (“those evil stepsisters”) would all vote for her.
To answer this, we must think back to the tantrum thrown by most of the Gang of Four from Survivor 4, the original victims of the first Wretched of the Earth coalition that formed to overthrow their hegemony, in their jury voting. Essentially, they disregarded Neleh’s steady, strategic play in favor of Vecepia’s vulture approach because they were angrier at Neleh for appearing as more of a leader in bringing together the coalition that beat them.
These three unexpected Jenna voters, from their descriptions of their thought processes, all indicated that some rather idiosyncratic notions lead them to write down her name:
Christy – despite her antipathy to Jenna, since Jenna beat her and they had been together from the first day, found her more deserving than Matt, who beat her as well but who she did not know as well (or, apparently, dislike as much). By voting for Jenna, Christy boosted her self-esteem more than had she voted for Matt. In other words, “Anybody who I wanted to outlast who outlasted me must be a fantastic player, because she outlasted me.”
Deena – perhaps the signal moment in her decision came when she got all huffy about Matt saying, “let the best man win.” She strikes me as the type of hypersensitive person who looks for offense where none is intended with that remark which is perfectly valid because (1) that’s the way the saying goes and (2) although my English professor wife informs me that political correctness is starting to discourage this usage, it is understood that in English grammar that a masculine reference now is considered to cover both genders. Throughout the series Deena was shown making remarks demonstrating how she seemed to carry a chip on her shoulder about the issue of gender equality. Could it be that Deena gigged Matt for that remark and simply because he was male and Jenna female? In other words, “Girl Power!” … no, strike that, don’t want to be associated with anything reeking of the Spice Girls … “Grrls rule!”
Rob – he dumps his ally, even his pupil, at the end for one reason – jealousy, that Matt made it farther than him. Maybe also because, in the background, his self-proclaimed status as never being a “cool” person got to him and he could feel more of being with the “in” crowd by pleasing the hottie (or, perhaps, he was genuinely grateful for her earlier display of her wares for peanut butter and chocolate).
Of course, Rob himself deserved this win more than Jenna. In the end, he proved himself to be the best strategic thinker of this crowd – but that’s like saying you have the most happening bar in all of Andorra. At the end of the previous season of Survivor, host Jeff Probst oversimplified the utility of John Nash’s game theory almost to mischaracterization, and this time the Probster overstates again by calling Rob the best strategic player never to win.
Rob made strategic mistakes throughout the game, but one of his last will suffice to compare his game to others who did a better job. In retrospect, it looks like Rob could have beaten Jenna and maybe Matt in the finals. Yet, when down to four, the one player Rob was gunning to send off next, Jenna, was precisely the easiest person for him to beat and the adversary he wanted to preserve (until she won immunity) was the one he was least likely to beat, Butch. In essence, Jenna saved him from his own folly by winning immunity.
Contrast his performance to two others who got close, Lex from S3 and Kathy from S4. One made moves to build a strong coalition (and when his own insecurities threatened to break it up, he corrected successfully), the other showed a superb nimbleness at making herself a crucial vote nobody could afford to be without until the very end. Lex’s personality and Kathy’s inattention did each of them in just short of the finals; for Rob, more than once luck intervened on his behalf but finally ran out on him when he did not have the foresight to keep Matt from tanking the final immunity challenge which he needed Matt to win.
But while Jenna, as well as Rob, played well enough to win in this group, this season, while entertaining, cannot go down as producing a very notable performance. Comparing them to the pantheon of greats, expanding it 12 now that six installments have entered the books, here’s how I would rank this deserving dozen:
It’s the first time we see a loser of one season actually having turned in a better performance than the winner, because it took some quirky voting which I believe neither Jenna nor any other player could have predicted and thus she could not have been able to play strategically to that pattern, not knowing it was there. But, it’s just been that kind of season. Regardless of who of those last four would have won, entertaining doesn’t necessary equate with highly superior play.
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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