Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 3: Taking the Fifthby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 09/29/2006
Tonight’s episode showed how to and how not to assemble a winning coalition in Survivor, with an emphasis more on the latter than former.
However, first things first: the new Aitu appears to be made of sterner stuff than the new Raro. It has three of the most dominant players to date (Yul, Jonathan, and Ozzy) and Candice has potential as well. There also seems to be a good blend of athleticism, brains, and wisdom on Aitu compared to Raro. The only advantage Raro has is youth, which was demonstrated in the challenge. But most challenges won’t convey such a huge advantage to that aspect as this one did, so Aitu should gain the upper hand over the next couple of weeks.
We were shown little about the dynamics on Raro, but on Aitu some good lessons on strategy got demonstrated. Both Jonathan and Yul had the right idea in procuring a partner, and then joining forces. Of the two, Yul made the better selection. Becky is a person that can be led around (as Cao Boi pointed out, she will float along relying on somebody else).
Jonathan, by contrast, may be in for surprise. It’s early on, but one gets the sense that he achieves more by his smooth talking than by strategic sense, while Candice seems like somebody perfectly content to sit in the background until its time to make a move, in the meantime letting someone like Jonathan think he’s running things. If it were to come down to these four, without an immunity win Jonathan would be the best bet to go, and he would be surprised by it.
Even as Yul has chosen wisely, he did make a mistake in telling Becky about the idol. The best players must heed the advice Lt. Columbo once gave to a criminology class, “don’t talk too much … sometimes it’s better to keep something to yourself and let people think something else.” There was no gain to be had by telling her, and, worse, only disadvantages in pledging he’d use it to save her. If the Tribal Council vote had gone the other way, he would have had to save her right there and then to keep his word (he easily could have broken it; nobody would ever have known and she wouldn’t have been sitting on the jury). Yul dodged a bullet there but some damage has been done because he gave up something (the promise, which will have a cost attached to it) for nothing. For his sake, hopefully he’ll learn from the experience.
Jonathan, however, made a worse mistake in selecting a fifth for the nascent alliance. He did right in passing on Ozzy and Cecelia, because they could have a bond from their previous tribal existence which would make for an unreliable partner in taking one over the other, and Ozzy would have been a double mistake by introducing another potentially dominant player into the alliance. Sundra in the sense of previous tribal loyalties as a singleton was a better choice, but still would have been less optimal because too many weaker players (assuming for the moment Jonathan sees Candice as such) on an alliance allows them to go far in the game, then to overthrow the numerically fewer stronger ones. It would have been worse still if in fact Candice does show she’s hiding some talents and would have organized the other two women.
At least he got it down correctly to one out of two which both had a previous tribal loyalty to their group (Jessica to him and Candice, Cao Boi to Yul and Becky) – and then chose the wrong person in Jessica. One of these two was optimal because they are considered the resident flakes, a valuable kind of person to get an alliance past the mid-game because they will be a vote for you yet are not a threat to win the game. But snowflakes are all unique and Cao Boi clearly would have been a better selection of the two presented.
First, Cao Boi does have some head for the game, as he demonstrated in his talk to Jessica about the upcoming vote, just as she revealed she does not. Players should want flakes on their side because they cannot win but they also act unpredictably which can ruin the best laid plans. Because of his age and experience, Cao Boi is the more predictable of the two and the more likely to think strategically, producing greater loyalty and even better manipulability (the most difficult element to plan around is the one whose next move you can least anticipate).
Also, Jonathan failed to read correctly Jessica’s unease with the lineup he presented. From what we could tell, Cao Boi would have had fewer qualms about joining in. It was this failure to anticipate that nearly blew it for him, and Yul had to save the day by getting Cao Boi to come over, which had the effect of securing Jessica as well.
Note that Jonathan’s optimal move all along would have been not to bring aboard Candice and then Jessica, but to secure first Cao Boi, and then Jessica, separately, as having Cao Boi there would reassure Jessica. In this fashion, he could bring the two of them to bear against the double-secret alliance of Yul and Becky at endgame. By moving first, he could have made them more of a threesome that he could control.
Instead, as things turned out, now neither Yul nor Jonathan separately or together, can control the situation. Rather, the way in which the recruitment played ended up ceding power to Cao Boi and Jessica. The process gave them incentive to form a dyad that, at this time, threatens to control the tribe by its strategic placement.
Consider what happens the next time (if ever) the tribe loses an immunity matchup. Let’s assume the rules remain the same – wining tribe picks the exile. If any of Cao Boi, Jessica, Ozzy, or Sundra get picked, the Jonathan-Yul-Candice-Becky axis survives and takes control. But if the decision rule about picking somebody weak unlikely to be voted off (having the dual advantage of allowing the hidden immunity idol to be unfound – that’s the idea, at least – and exposing a stronger player to eviction) remains in force at Raro, the next logical person to get sent off is Becky – because Candice has gone already, Cao Boi and Jessica are flakes, Ozzy, Yul, and Jonathan are strong, and Sundra is a singleton from previous tribe experience meaning she is less likely to have an alliance made, and if Raro is thinking ahead they’ll want to send off the weaker presumed dyad member so the others can finish off the stronger one.
If that plays out, Jonathan, Yul, and Candice have lost control of the situation and Cao Boi and Jessica have it, because they could alight with Ozzy and Sundra to evict one of that troika. Again, had Jonathan not decided to invite in Candice, he with Yul, Becky, Cao Boi and Jessica could have a pretty unimpeachable five that even at the merge would be a strong force.
Instead, now they face trickier waters to navigate, especially since Cao Boi and Jessica now are alerted to the fact that they were useful to that alliance for one turn, but that it will not bring both of them along without risking its own doom – because that concession in essence allows for three dyad to compete, and they must know they will be the odd dyad out if they allow the other two to go through unmolested. This suggests that if Raro is thinking ahead after their next immunity win and Becky is exiled, Jonathan may well be the choice to go – because he had the fewest clues by which to find the idol so he might be figured to be the least likely of the three to have it, as whipping out the idol would send one of the majority on that vote home.
It seemed like a minor set of misjudgments at the time, Jonathan’s trying to bring first Candice, then Jessica into the fold, instead of Cao Boi, then Jessica. But it’s an error that may cost Jonathan his game life.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 3 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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