Strategic Overview of Survivor Special: Candice’s Flawed Decisionsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 12/06/2006
All faithful readers of the Strategic Overview of Survivor columns, at the very least, should read the interviews of the latest victim, the “Insider” recap, and the “Survivor Live” recap here at RealityNewsOnline. Note that the regular SOS column appears within hours of the broadcast, and things that come out from the venues reported and analyzed ably by RNO writers can provide clarification or new information. Not because of any expectation that the snippets of information from the contestants (or, in one instance, from a host of Survivor Live who shall remain nameless but who, every time she opens her mouth, leads one to conclude her winning an edition was a total fluke) will tell us much useful about strategy, but on the rare opportunity that something interesting along these lines actually will surface.
Candice’s interview provides far more insight into the strategic machinations than most contestants ever will give – sometimes more than you’ll see in an entire series’ worth of interviews. It’s clear that she had thought through her position in the game quite thoroughly, and reading her thought processes and conclusions shows she’s got some native ability in this regard.
Unfortunately for her, just a few misconceptions on key points caused her to make some wrong decisions that led to her demise. What she was thinking and how she reacted to events reminds one of a few object lessons in understanding the strategy of the game, and what pitfalls to avoid. Observe that the mistakes noted are in order of severity, starting with the least first.
1. Mutiny. Candice said two considerations drove her decision to take off. Recall that contestants were given only a matter of seconds to decide, so very little thorough analysis could be achieved here. First, she said she feared a move might have been coming against her within Aitu. Second, she thought she would bring strength in numbers to Raro, not only to win challenges and keep her off the chopping block, but to reunite with putative allies.
Both suppositions turned out to be errors. Candice was well aware of Yul and Becky’s tight bond, but she seemed unaware of the sub-alliance structure. She and Jonathan also had a bond, but really only in his mind. She also should have understood how Ozzy was on the outs with Yul and her, which was natural considering collectively they were the three strongest players.
She should have known, given those dynamics, that Yul was just as endangered as she (her not knowing he had the hidden immunity idol) depending upon which two dyads would coalesce with each other against the third (Sundra by default moving into Ozzy’s orbit). With a little acumen, any threat against her could have been dispatched; indeed, if she felt threatened the reaction should have been to proactively plot against Yul instead of fleeing.
As for the other assumption, it was a fallacious one. It is the quality of the players, not the quantity, that determines who will win challenges. And she could not have been sure that anybody would have followed her to produce the presumed unimpeachable advantage. The mutiny easily could have left things at 7-5 which conveys a fairly unsubstantial advantage to the majority.
But it was 8-4 and let’s say it did work out and further let’s assume as a result Ozzy and Sundra got whacked while Brad was lost, and then the merge happened. It would have required a supreme juggling game over at Raro to prevent a schism among seven people, where losing three of them meant their joining with Yul and Becky would have found Candice on the short end of the stick again.
Her problem was, at the time of the mutiny, her information was far less complete about the Raro situation. Her huge mistake was in taking Nate’s word that Adam and he were “running” things and therefore she got it in her head that, because of her manipulation of the empty-suit Adam, she would be running things as well. (As long-time viewers should by now know, any time a player says he’s “running” things, it’s a sure sign he is not and will likely be voted out very shortly; by contrast, those who completely disavow that, like Yul, are really running the show.)
Lesson: the most advantageous situation for a player is one with which she is the most familiar, because it minimizes mistaken assumptions. Even if she felt threatened, her superior knowledge of her Aitu situation should have informed her that the quality of her tribe made it more likely to win rather than lose challenges, and that even if they were lost, she should have had greater faith in herself to manipulate the situation about which she should have been knowledgeable to her advantage.
Instead, by her departure she ceded control to Yul and Ozzy who now, instead of her using one to get rid of the other, by circumstance were thrown together so both would survive if that tribe survived intact. And that’s what happened because even down considerably, even with her departure, the mental and physical toughness of Aitu greatly aided by the Yul/Ozzy combo still exceeded that of Raro.
2. Flipping. Candice testified she never saw Jonathan defecting back because she thought that would work only once, that former allies would not accept back a defector, discouraging the defection. That view reflects an incomplete understanding of how the game works.
The best strategic players remove emotional considerations from the decision-making process. Simply, as Yul understood, Jonathan would decide what was in his best interest at a given moment, even if it meant a complete reversal of policy. While Jonathan is not in Yul’s class, he is enough of a strategist to have realized that he would go farther in an alliance with Yul than not. No matter what enmity arose among the guys Jonathan abandoned towards him, if it best served their interests to take him back, they would. Candice should have realized this
Lesson: history is just history, and any hard feelings generated from past actions must be put aside for strategic gain; one cannot limit your strategic frame by assuming emotions will dictate play.
3. Idol. Contributing to her flawed decision was myopia regarding hidden immunity idol placement. This is a real head-scratcher because, given the dynamics of who languished on Exile Island and when, only two possibilities existed in terms of where it was: either it hadn’t been found, or Yul had it – and Candice herself should have known the first possibility was remote given the amount of time she had spent looking for it. True, Adam apparently hinted he might have it but, given Candice spent so much time sucking face with Adam after the mutiny, surely one of the things she could have sucked out of him was knowledge that he definitely didn’t have it.
It boggles the mind that she so summarily dismissed what seemed so obvious when analyzed objectively. She claims knowledge of this well might have changed their decisions patterns leading up to the crucial voting off of Nate that would have prevented that from happening – but it just doesn’t seem that hard of a thing to have assumed.
Lesson: always assume the worst of events – take into account all possibilities, even the unlikely ones – and the best from people – that your opponents always will make the optimal move – and base your strategy on that. To build strategy on an optimistic outlook and to assume your opponents will make mistakes will set up most players for a rude awakening when assumptions are proven wrong and opponents outwit you.
So it must be understood that the defection did not set off a chain of events that led to Candice’s demise. Indeed, with Jonathan joining her, it worked out better than she might have hoped. Instead, it was mistakes after it that compounded to end in her elimination, borne of insufficient awareness or attention to some basic strategic lessons.
In fact, the chain of events leading to her demise makes one wonder whether Candice is credible in her assertions that emotional attachment to Adam did not impinge upon her game. The mutiny decision, while suboptimal, was not fatal, but the myopia on the flip and idol is hard to fathom when contrasted to Candice’s thoroughness and depth of strategic thinking in her interview. One of our writers directly lays blame to Candice’s hormones in explaining her game play; while she places too much emphasis on the mutiny as the cause of Candice’s departure (and the article was written prior to the post-game interviews), her central point remains valid, if only because the mistakes a presumably superior player made were so obvious and basic.
Which means that Candice, as a self-avowed big fan of the series, either did not draw from it the proper strategic lessons despite her great interest in the past seasons, or many of the explanations in the interviews are elaborate reconstructions and rationalizations to save face for an obviously-intelligent player who made mistakes you would not typically see coming from a talented contestant.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out these other recent Survivor: Cook Islands articles here on RealityNewsOnline:
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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