Strategic Overview of Survivor, Episode 10: Defection Perfectionby Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 11/24/2006
Perhaps readers who enjoy the strategic aspect of Survivor as much as I do, as much as we have to wade through strings of episodes full of posturing and inanities by players with little clue about strategy or, worse, those who believe they think strategically but cannot, marveled at the all-too-rare beauty of this installment where clear, superior strategic thinking executed flawlessly maximized some playersí chances at victory, and oneís above all else.
The merge did occur and, given that, the ex-Aitu plan, driven by Yul, was the optimal one: find somebody to flip. But making the way it went down all the more elegant, Yul did it in a way that, while all of Ozzyís, Sundraís, Beckyís, and Jonathanís chances increased substantially at winning, Yulís was maximized dramatically.
Going into the merge, Yul had three goals for the next vote, in descending order of importance: (1) build a majority coalition, (2) keep the idol in his hands, and (3) disproportionately increase his chances of winning. It meant having to outthink several individuals who had shown some minor ability to think strategically Ė Parvati, Candace, Nate, Jonathan, and Ozzy Ė three of whom were enemies, one who was an ally, and another he had to turn from enemy into friend.
Consider the dynamics over at ex-Raro Ė Parvati, Candace, and Adam and formed a trio upon which they were counting on keeping Nate and Jonathan believing they were part of the controlling trio to make for a solid five-member coalition. This identified Jonathan and Nate as the most likely to defect. Obviously, in this situation either would do but Yul, thinking ahead, targeted Jonathan and took exactly the right approach to entice him. He knew Jonathan, courtesy of previous conversations and the defection, tried to be a strategic player (whether he is a good one is debatable) so he knew an appeal on the basis of strategy could hook him.
That was dangling the hidden immunity idol and, publicly, giving Jonathan the choice of whom to eliminate from the ex-Raro, while, privately, pledging they would head to the final two (which may cause him a bit of a problem down the road as he appeared to pledge that his ex-Aitu crowd would be in with him in the final four). He hooked Jonathan perfectly when Jonathan revealed teaming with the idol holder would be a powerful inducement for his loyalty. Further, Yul knew how to use a stick as well as a carrot, by saying Jonathan would be their target without his cooperation.
Consider next the decision calculus Yul launched into Jonathanís head. Jonathan could have sandbagged them by saying he was with them, then run back to the ex-Raro gang and tell them Yul had the idol and to vote off somebody else, daring him to transfer it when one of the ex-Aitu women got five votes (to be honest, Iím still unsure whether that would be permitted, given Probstís phrasing of its use in his instructions given at the vote.)
This question illustrates how Yulís strategic thinking makes him a man among boys and girls compared to the ex-Raro reaction to Jonathanís probing question about voting off somebody else than Yul. Those rocket scientists immediately dismissed the idea, making a classic error in the game Ė you must always assume the best play, not the worst, from your adversaries. It would have been so easy to shift the vote to Sundra just because of the chance that Yul had it, as she could not have it absent an unlikely gift of it. Is it conceivable that this answer cemented Jonathanís decision right there?
But even Jonathanís sandbagging that would have lead to an ex-Raro majority would have produced for him a suboptimal path to endgame. The fact was, he would be unable to break into the Paravti-Candace-Adam triad and would have to win immunity all the way to the end had he gone to five with them. Yes, this does mean he has double-crossed, in a sense, almost everybody that would be on a jury evaluating him, as opposed to staying put and only selling out some of them. But, the fact is he had to get in front of the jury first and his chances now are vastly improved.
This is because the ex-Aitu group is composed of two dyads (Yul-Becky, Ozzy-Sundra) of which now Jonathan becomes the arbiter. Since he has attached himself to Yul, in essence he becomes part of a secret triad that can be used to liquidate Sundra and, most crucially, Ozzy. This means Jonathan almost certainly makes it at least to the final four (and to the final three if Ozzy does not win the third- and second-to last immunities).
However, even as Jonathan acted rationally to make his position better, note the way in which Yul got him to accept this role strengthened himself even more. By getting Jonathan to personally align himself with Yul, in essence Yul has magnified the power of the hidden idol from one that has a one-time effect to something that conveys an immunity on him all the way to the final three. Follow the logic: they know Yul has the idol, thus they know a vote against him is useless and will bounce back to send off one of his opponents, thus, he remains invulnerable until almost the bitter end because no one will chance a vote against him even if they have the opportunity and numbers. And, the absolute gravy is that, barring potential Ozzy immunity challenge heroics, Yul heads into the final three with two people personally pledged to him who, if that holds, will take him in front of the jury and to victory regardless of who wins that final immunity challenge.
In reality, we know that, if it does end up with Yul, Becky, and Jonathan as the final three, that if Jonathan wins the final challenge he must take Becky with him, for it is his only chance to win. But Jonathan at best is an unsteady strategic player. Were he more solid, he would immediately have grasped Yulís overture was the absolutely correct course of action to follow, but he would have feigned indecision to extract maximal concessions. (Or, perhaps more riskily, he would have sandbagged Yul but made sure the ex-Raro people voted against Yul, thus evaporating the hidden idolís power, then flipped at eight. However, he would have had a hard time getting the ex-Aitu to trust him subsequently.) This suggests he could meekly take Yul with him if winning at three.
The stunning brilliance of the defector selection and timing of the idol revelation that led to the defection cannot be overemphasized. It not only produced the majority for Yul, but did so in a way that made him virtually invulnerable until the end of the game, maybe even preordaining his victory. It got Jonathan on their side generally, on his side personally, and signaled to the other players that Yul cannot be voted out until almost the very end. It demonstrates superior understanding of the precise value of a piece of information, leveraged it to its highest, best possible use by choosing to make it public at the exact optimal time.
To put the cherry on top of it all for Yul, in addition to gaining the majority and keeping the idol, he managed to disproportionately increase his chances at winning the game at the same time in another way Ė through subtraction of another playerís chances by engineering the ouster of the exactly correct person to send off, Nate. While Nate (as made obvious in his parting words blaming Jonathanís strategic deception for his exit rather than his own inability to think well strategically born of self-deception) was a weaker strategic thinker than Candace or Parvati, his budding relationship with Ozzy would have given the Hispanic Brian more power in the majority.
When the ex-Aitu four brainstormed subsequent to the merge, Ozzy should have taken charge and said he thought he could have brought Nate into the fold. Perhaps had he done so quickly enough, any plans with Jonathan might have been abandoned. Suddenly, at five Ozzy might have held the upper hand. Even if he had not come over, Ozzy should have held out to keep Nate around, argued a better strategic player should be sent off.
Maybe Ozzy fully intended to do this once the Jonathan defection became a likelihood. We donít know for sure, but maybe this was the reason why Yul wanted, as part of his incentives, to give Jonathan a chance to name a target. If Yul had noticed the orbits of Ozzy and Nate converging, it is possible he engineered this event to give him the precise legitimacy to put Ozzy into a position where he would have to let go of an ally (hoping that Jonathan would name Nate, perhaps even encouraging him to do so?).
With Nate around possibly at six, Ozzy could have led a revolt at six by voting off Becky (in the extremely high probability she would not be immune, but also meaning he would have to get Jonathanís vote). Isolated, unless he then won immunity, Yul would have to sacrifice the idol while three of the other four (the males as a reward to Jonathan) would sandbag Sundra by throwing her a couple of votes to send her home at the same time. Then, Yul would have to win the remaining two immunity challenges. Instead, by getting rid of Nate now, Yul has forestalled this potential backdoor move against him.
The playbook is simple now for Yul. First, eject the remaining ex-Raro tribe in order of strategic smarts Ė ideally in the order of Candace, Parvati, and Adam, barring unhappy immunity wins. If (say) Adam wins it at six, Yul should have the firepower to eliminate Ozzy then (his two allies with his hidden idol should be enough to grab another vote). If immunity works out happily for the ex-Aitu group and one of them wins it at six, then Yul ought to be able to take out Ozzy at five, unless Ozzy wins immunity, then Sundra goes. He may run into problems if Ozzy then wins at four because then he must ditch an ally, almost certainly Jonathan.
This would set up a duel of titans at three, with the only other matchup in history rivaling it being Ethan vs. Lex in Africa and is something really worth rooting for. Regardless, I hope my Reality News Online brethren agree with me that we did see a Reality Hall of Fame moment in this edition, perhaps part of a run that is going to lead Yul to a Hall of Fame induction and one of the greatest seasonal performances in series history.
If you havenít already done so, make sure to check out the other Episode 10 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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