Sunday, September 13, 2009

Survivor: Samoa prelim evaluation

I like Survivor. It's a competition rooted mostly in social maneuvering, with twists and turns that make things interesting without necessarily creating unfair advantages for the players. Because the game is simultaneously cooperative and competitive, it creates a very difficult to analyze game where no 'false' drama has to be introduced - the game itself is deep enough that they don't need to incorporate BS drama and judges into the game.

This season is going to be on Samoa, which is all sorts of awesome. Samoa has a rich culture and heritage, full of tribal dances, tattoos, and all sorts of other cool stuff. The Samoan people are really open and communal, and I've had the luck to talk with people of Samoan descent about their history and culture. This makes this particular season pretty immersive to me. Also, Samoa is a really gorgeous place. This tends to be the case for most seasons of Survivor, but the "tropical island" appearance of Samoa really feels 'right' for the series.

If I wanted to look at videos of Samoan topology though, I'd be watching the Discovery Channel or something (okay, I watch that too). Instead, I'm here to watch a really good Survivor season, and this one has a few really big competitors I'm looking forward to seeing.

This season, most of the women are fairly uninteresting as strategic competition. The big female power I see comes from the Elizabeth. She's Korean-American, has graduated from three Ivy League universities and is a practicing lawyer. She radiates success, and that's very telling for how she will do in Survivor. Her legal experience, as well as her self-proclaimed "social butterfly" nature, will make her a dangerous competitor in the game. She is also fairly self-realized, understanding that she can be opinionated and that she needs to "be assertive without being blunt." I think she'll be a power player.

The next woman I find interesting is an older lady named Shannon, who calls herself "Shambo." She's a former US Marine (automatic cool points) and is a highly successful sales rep. I'm not sure how effective she will be in the game, but her tomboyish exterior will cause a lot of interesting interactions between the other players. If she sticks around to actually start playing the game, she could be interesting to watch.

Unfortunately, there's no other really cool female players. Generally the female players in Survivor tend to be uninteresting (at least strategically) because the producers tend to pick boring hot chicks instead of quick-thinking strategically minded women. Fortunately, we have a lot of character in a few of the other ladies, particularly Yasmin and Monica.

One girl I'm not looking forward to seeing is Kelly. In her pregame interviews, she expressed interest in flirting with cute guys as one of her major motivations. I do not approve, Kelly. Please do us all a favor and get some annoying guy voted off along with you.

This season has some of the coolest guys in a season thus far. I mean this in different ways than most people, but it has two of the biggest, dangerous Survivor villains ever to grace a show. The other guys (Ben and Erik in particular) I could care less about.

The first guy I'll talk about is a pretty cool guy. He's smart, successful in life, and most importantly, he understands Survivor really well. His name is Jaison, a pretty big, good looking black guy. He's the guy I'm rooting for to win. Jaison understands Survivor extremely well, including understanding the intricacies of human interaction and how to decieve and trick people. The best part is that he has a certain demeanor - he has this sort of honest, nice guy persona that will get him far in the game. His strategy will win him the game. His interview is really awesome. His main trouble will be being so much of a nice guy that people will see him as a threat.

Part of the reason I like Jaison so much is that his attitudes and strategy are a lot like mine, so it's like seeing how I would do if I was transplanted there.

Next up is John, who is a rocket scientist (really!) and supposedly one of the smartest people ever to appear on Survivor. Smarter than Ken or Stephen? I have no idea. Anyway, smart guys (and girls) are always cool to see on the show, so it's nice to see geniuses like John (and Liz and Jaison) this season. I don't think John will do exceptionally well. I think he will drop pre-merge without much in the way of allies. Probably. I still like smart guys.

Next on the list is Dave, who I think is also a really smart guy. He falls into the same sort of self-realized boat as Liz. In many ways, he's a white guy version of her (with less credentials). He realizes he's opinionated and that he can say things that will offend people, but it seems less likely that he will control himself like Jaison or Liz will. I think his success will depend mostly on the specific people he befriends. If he can get in relatively close to a nice guy or girl and can lay low, he's got some potential.

I had to watch a number of videos to get a good feel for Mick. He's a poser. Jeff thinks John is a poser, but Mick is a far bigger one. He thinks he's a player and a nice guy all at the same time, and in my initial opinion of him I felt that that he had a good 'player' attitude while keeping an invisible, likable guy opinion at camp. However, a closer look makes me think that he really isn't able to play on the same level as the smart people. He's a pretty snake-like guy and I think he'll be disliked.

The main guy I'm looking forward to seeing is Russell H. This guy is a MONSTER. A BEAST. He will change the way Survivor will be played forever. He's the owner of an oil company, and he comes off as a total pompous jerk in his interviews. He is a total pompous jerk, and I can't say I'm rooting for him to win (although this will probably change depending on how things turn out). Russel stated one thing that I've been talking about since I first started theorizing about merge strategy - that he wanted to sandbag his team so that he went to the merge with a smaller number of people on his team.


No, seriously. In Survivor, it is highly disadvantageous to go into a tribal merge with a 7/3 "advantage." It is still a big disadvantage to go in with a 6/4 numbers advantage. I'm sure that Survivor fans will disagree with me. I'm sure that even after Russell ends up taking second place that Survivor fans will disagree with me and say that he got there totally on luck.

For the uninformed, the early parts of Survivor consists of two (or sometimes more) tribes that compete against each other in various challenges. The losers of an immunity challenge must select one of their team members to remove from the game. After a certain period, typically when there are roughly 10 people remaining, the two tribes merge to become a single tribe. After this point, immunity is granted to the person who wins the challenge and all ten people determine which person to vote out from among the people who did not win.

Common logic determines that a larger tribe post-merge will dominate the smaller tribe by superior numbers. However, this is never the case in practice, because the larger tribe always splinters. This is not due to some random lucky chance. It's because people are trying to win.

A tribe with smaller numbers has had to attend Tribal Council (the vote-off process) more times, and thus has more experience with that part of the game. This means that they know how to manipulate people better (generally) and predict how others might vote.

A tribe with larger numbers also builds cliques, better known as "alliances." In any tribe of 5 or more people, alliances of 2-4 people will emerge. The weaker of these alliances will tend to flock to the other smaller tribe (likely one alliance), in order to increase their chances of winning. In many cases, these 'swing vote' players end up winning (such as Bob in Gabon, or Amanda in Fans vs. Favorites) or coming in 2nd or 3rd, so this strategy is well-founded. It makes no sense to keep people around if they are banded together in a tight group. If you are an alliance of 2 people and there is another alliance in your tribe of 4 people, you are extremely likely to go with the group that will put you in 3rd or 4th position rather than 5th or 6th.

Russell H understands this, so even if he doesn't play the social game as well, he will be awesome to watch. He had better make an understanding alliance (of 3) early on, though - or else he'll be in some deep water. After that, all he has to do is find the 'swing voters' and he will likely ride the current all the way to the final 4 people. I do not want Russell H to win because of his character (he's a jerk!) but I do want him to do well as a proof of concept that his strategy is sound. The problem is that he's a jerk, and it may get him screwed before he ever gets a chance to implement it.

There's another guy named Russell S, he's a cool guy but is not as strategically interesting.

Anyway, those are the people that I think are going to make the big waves this season.