Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 9: Strategic Inferiorsby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/17/2006
Not to brag, but as soon as I heard that there would be a message delivered after the losing tribe voted, I knew it would be another elimination vote. Raro almost figured it out, when one of them noted that it couldnít be a good thing and had to affect only their tribe. However, they got hung up on the note announcing a merge, but why go to all of the trouble of revealing this secret only to one tribe since it would clearly affect both and become public knowledge quickly? Reasoning out the true meaning prior could have altered the outcome.
Actually, a little reasoning about the known vote also might have helped Raro, who increasingly make it clear that they are Aituís intellectual and strategic inferiors. The situation prior to the double elimination was a core group of five believed it had formed Ė but the core was different things to different people. Four apparently felt themselves to be part of it Ė Adam, Parvati, Nathan, and Jenny. But at least Adam, Parvati, and Candace saw Jenny as the fifth, while Nathan, Jenny, and Rebecca saw Rebecca as the fifth. Itís unclear how Jonathan saw his place in all of this, but he may well have seen it as Adam, Parvati, Nathan, Candace, and himself.
In this situation, with different core alliances having to compete, it would have been best to get rid of the one person that all but that one person saw has part of the core five Ė Jonathan. That way, it would delay conflict between the two sub-alliances that, without him, basically were making themselves into a 3+3 alignment, and in the interval until another elimination, whichever group exploited the strategic ambiguity better than the other would come out on top.
That group would have been the white kids, as subsequent events showed. They were able to turn Nathan and Jenny against Rebecca, kicking out a prop of that sub-alliance. While compelling reasons existed to do so (she having less survival and challenge ability that perhaps anyone else in the tribe), had Nathan and Jenny been more strategically astute, they would have defended Rebecca and tried to evict Jonathan on the basis of lack of trust, arguing (with good reason) that if a merge was coming up he may well defect back to Aitu. If that failed, they could have argued for Candaceís boot, the resistance to which would have alerted them of her subversive insertion into the alliance.
What the double elimination did essentially was accelerate the process by which information about the tribal pecking order got revealed. Suddenly, as Nathan demonstrated by his vote for Jonathan belatedly on the second ouster, two of his presumed allies are gone and he discovered he ranks no better than fourth in the tribe, and the white kids have emerged triumphant. Had he and his exited allies insisted upon strategic ambiguity with Jonathanís boot first, then with the next, immediate departure they would have been in a much better position to insist that the other interloper go.
While the white kids came out on top by the sequence that did happen, it could be argued that had they sent home Jonathan first, their position actually might be better. This is because for the second vote, it would have come down to Candace vs. Rebecca, and a much more defensible argument then could be made to eject Rebecca on the basis of least productivity, without tipping the hand that Candace really was above them on the totem pole Ė preserving strategic ambiguity but giving them the advantage because they had a piece of information Nathan and Jenny would not, that Candace was above them. At the very least, even with Rebecca gone first Jonathan should have gone next, creating the impression that Candace still rested fifth since Nathan and Jenny already would be assuming Jonathan was sixth.
Instead, perhaps because the white kids did not figure out the true intent of the note and failed to plan for this scenario, they ended up with the worst possible outcome short of one of their own getting sent packing: their five now depends upon the unreliable Jonathan and a Nathan now clearly aware of his inferior position, having picked up the crucial piece of information by the vote catching everybody unawares, thus disallowing tactics to try to cover up true intentions through strategic ambiguity. In short, both are prime candidates for defection on a merge with Aitu, who is looking for a natural fifth.
Ordinarily, a 5-4 matchup would allow the larger alliance to Pagong off most if not all of the smaller. But Jonathan in particular should know that his defection could empower him because, having come from that tribe, he knows eventually there can be only one if Aitu wrests the upper hand: winner of a power struggle between Yul and Ozzy, a powerful set of antural adversaries thrown together out of necessity, and Jonathan may prove to be the arbiter between the two, a role that if plays adroitly could put him in front of the jury.
Letís say Jonathan does defect and then Aitu mows down Raro. Becky already is in tight with Yul, and surely Sundra, realizing this, know there is no capital in her staying with them so she will latch on to the Hispanic Brian (if you donít know why a comparison to the winner of the fifth edition of Survivor is being drawn here, go to Google and do a search on Ozzy). Thus Jonathan decides, with his best bet voting against Yul, forcing Yul to use the hidden immunity idol and displacing Ozzy off the show. Jonathan then hopes for a tempo move to get rid of a female (Sundra unless she wins immunity, although better would be his wining it), and then Jonathan must win the final immunity to send Yul to the jury and probably beat the remaining female in front of it.
But Nathan too should have some awareness of this dynamic, having spent some time with Aitu. He can just as easily exploit it, using the same path.
Thus, Aituís strategy is clear if the merge comes next, they need to entice a defector and, with a little investigation, they should be able to tell that Jonathan and Nathan are the best targets. But a little insurance helps as well, which would occur by Yul pledging that the hidden idol will be used to save any member of Aitu if both of the potential defectors either refuse to commit or if one or both say they will and then sandbag Aitu. In that case, the vote should be for Candace, being victimized by the bounceback of the idolís use and busting that dyad which would subsequently create even more incentive for defectors to come over (because the chosen defector can attempt to play arbiter in Aitu; it wouldnít work in reverse because without Candace there would be no clear bipolar conflict in Raro where an arbiter has the maximum room to maneuver and prosper).
(Unless, of course, Yul is supremely sure that in the next vote he could get one of Nathan or Jonathan. If so, the chosen one would be instructed to get Raro to vote off Ozzy, and then Yul would refuse to save him. At the next vote, the idol would go into play, bouncing Candace, and then for the next vote the defection happens. This would give Yul both Becky and Sundra to get him to the brink of the final two. But there are major risks to this: what if Ozzy won the next immunity challenge, or the chosen defector then sandbagged him after the hidden idol got used? Yul would have to be very sure of his ability to read people to find a useful idiot willing to give him this stronger position.)
However, if a merge doesnít occur, if Raro were to prevail, with one becoming more likely all the time, Ozzy likely is gone. This is because Yul has the hidden idol and, if he is canny, will announce it to Sundra and tell her she might as well not even try to send him to the Losersí Lodge; she might buy it and allow him to save it. On Aitu, Nathan becomes a likely victim as the white kids have a greater chance of maintaining strategic ambiguity with Jonathan (as he has delusions that he is great pals with Candace) than with Nathan.
Any way this plays out, a great deal of fireworks potentially remains in store, giving us all what we all really want, bold moves borne of superior strategic thinking.
If you havenít already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 9 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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