Saturday, December 10, 2005

Survivor: Guatemala - My Prediction

Back when Survivor first debuted, in the summer of 2000, it was a big hit among players of the boardgame Diplomacy. Where most people saw Richard Hatch as a conniving backstabber who hoodwinked the other people on that island, we Diplomacy players saw a kindred spirit who was playing the other people in order to accomplish his series of goals - "going for the 18 centre win" as we'd put it - by establishing an alliance and using that alliance to eliminate other players and controlling the game throughout. All the while he was also manipulating other players in such a way that they would see him as the lesser of virtually every alternative in the final jury session. Hatch's opponents took too long to fully understand what was going on. A perfect example of how he handled things was final Immunity Challenge of that first season. It featured Hatch, whitewater rafting guide Kelly Wigglesworth and former US Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch. Hatch knew that neither he nor Wigglesworth were likely to beat Boesch who was well liked by many of the members of the jury primarily because he hadn't engaged in the sort of intrigues that Hatch and Wigglesworth had been part of. Hatch also knew that he couldn't vote Boesch off lest he lose the older man's vote in the final Tribal Council. Therefore he eliminated himself from the competition leaving it a battle between Wigglesworth and Boesch, certain that he would be in the final two either way - Wigglesworth would take him believing that she could win against Hatch and couldn't win against Boesch while Boesch would remain loyal to their early pact. In the end Wigglesworth outlasted Boesch in the endurance challenge, but it was Hatch, who had created the alliance strategy after researching the Swedish show Expedition Robinson on which Survivor is based was able to convince the other players - famously including Sue Hawk - that he was the lesser of the two evils they had to choose from.

Subsequent seasons of Survivor weren't as popular with Diplomacy players, in part because the lessons of the first season were often only half learned. Survivor: Outback featured Colby Donaldson, a player who physically dominated the individual Immunity Challenges but made a major mistake by choosing the more popular (and manipulative) Tina Wesson before the jury instead of the far less popular Keith Famie. Wesson won because she was better at the non-challenge part of the game. Similarly Kim Johnson chose Ethan Zohn in Survivor: Africa because she wanted him to win the money and didn't think she could win against either Zohn or third place finisher Lex van der Berghe. Subsequent seasons saw the rise of the "under the radar" strategy pioneered by Vecepia Towery in Survivor: Marquesas a strategy which has the problem of being seen as riding on a stronger opponent's coattails as happened in Survivor: Palau Katie Gallagher. Something vaguely similar to the "under the radar strategy" occurred in the All Star version of Survivor in which Rob Mariano (who hadn't been a particularly effective player in Survivor: Marianas but obviously had been studying) played master manipulator to reach the final two along with his ally, the virtually invisible Amber Brkich (who had tried the coattails thing in Survivor: Australia - she won as the lesser of two evils. Increasingly the strategy which has been most successful is a strong two person alliance with temporary alliances with others to reach the final four or three - in fact the same essential strategy pioneered by Richard Hatch in the very first Survivor, although in many cases players haven't had the Machiavellian willingness to subtly pull the trigger on their principal ally that Richard Hatch did when he pulled out of the final immunity.

So what, in this old (and bad) Diplomacy player's mind, is going to happen in the two hour finale of Survivor: Guatemala. The final four are Stephenie La Grossa (who had been a contestant in Survivor: Palau), Rafe Judkins, Danni Boatwright, and Lydia Morales. Of the four, Rafe and Steph appear to have the closest alliance, although it seems to be under a lot of pressure. Lydia had been a partner in this alliance and ridden along on its coattails but was increasingly seen as an outsider. Danni is the only surviving member of the original Nakum Tribe. Rafe and Steph are the two most dominant players in terms of being competitive in challenges - both immunity and reward. Lydia has not one an individual challenge of either type while Danni won a crucial immunity when it seemed likely that she would be voted out as the last Nakum member. For a Diplomacy player the best situation is to go into a head to head contest with a player who is at a positional disadvantage on the board. In terms of Survivor: Guatemala, this is Lydia who has been the weakest remaining player throughout the season. Having her in the final two will insure her opponent the win, so if anyone is playing optimally she should go before the jury. Assuming that either of the two strongest players - Rafe or Steph - wins the first immunity of Sunday night's show that person should work with Danni and Lydia to eliminate the strongest remaining player. That is Steph should try to eliminate Rafe and vice versa. This means of course that whoever wins the final immunity should keep Lydia and vote out the other player.

I can practically guarantee you that this will not happen. While it is optimal play it isn't expected play. I expect Lydia to be eliminated for the exact reason that she should be kept on - she hasn't been a strong player and it may be that the stronger players will find her unworthy of having even a slight chance at the million dollar first prize. The question then becomes whether Rafe or Steph will take Danni to the jury or each other. If the final is Steph versus Danni I would expect the vote to be 4-3 for Steph. Rafe versus Danni would either be 5-2 or 4-3 for Rafe. Rafe versus Steph is a bit harder to call and will probably depend on the winner of the final immunity challenge, although I lean towards Rafe winning because he hasn't antagonized as many people as Stephanie has. Rafe beats Lydia, Danni and probably Stephenie, while Stephenie beats Lydia and probably Danni. Danni is only certain to beat Lydia, meaning that the most likely winner of Survivor: Guatemala is Rafe Judkins.

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