Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Implications of Redemption Island

We still haven't blogged about this season's first episode- we'll get there! -but we wanted to take a moment to talk about the implications of this season's 'twist' on the game of Survivor. We're referring of course to Redemption Island.

The rules of Redemption Island are described here at as:

"On Survivor: Redemption Island...when a contestant is voted off, he or she won't leave the game completely but go instead to Redemption Island, where he or she will face off against the next person voted off in a duel. The winner lives on to face the next arrival at Redemption Island until one person left standing has a chance to return to the game."

So Redemption Island effectively creates a loser's bracket for Survivor. And just to be clear- since there seems to be some confusion about this on other blogs- only one person comes back from RI, and they only get to do so once.

Redemption Island and Strategy

So how does the game change, now that we have Redemption Island in the mix?

The most obvious and important repercussion is that at some point the castaways will see someone return to the game that they'd rather not.

...probably not for the first time this season.
Castaways should be nervous about the prospect of a return to the game, because when someone returns from Redemption Island, they will likely have had a hand in voting that player out.

The Revenge Factor?

Probst has been intentionally vague about when the last person standing on Redemption Island will return the game, but we can assume that in fine Mark Burnett style it will be timed to be 'interesting'- in other words, to have the most impact on the game.

Going by this logic, we can ignore the idea of the player returning before the merge. It simply wouldn't be interesting; the tribe would already have cast a majority vote against the individual and would have no reason not to immediately send them off again.

At or after the merge seems much more likely. Particularly because nothing plays so well on TV as revenge. At the merge, the returning player will have the chance to side with the opposing tribe against those who voted him or her off the island. It's good drama and good TV, which means it's probably what we'll see.

Does this change one's pre-merge gameplay? It's hard to say, particularly because whatever you do, it's hard to vote someone off and still have them feel good about you. It takes a delicate combination of personality, savvy, and luck to be involved in axing someone without them taking it personally.

You could call it the Sandra school of Survivor.

In fact, it may not be possible to avoid revenge-seeking on the part of the returning player. With that as a given, the best remaining strategy would be to limit the impact of the returning player by ensuring that your tribe goes into the merge with a huge advantage in numbers. That way, a single vote siding with the 'other side' will have no effect.

"Win more before the merge" doesn't sound like much of a strategy, but if it is embraced by players, it could seriously change voting patterns. Tribes usually turn to pruning off strong competitors some time prior to the merge, as it improves their chances for individual immunity. The return of a Redemption Island player adds more incentive for a tribe to keep strong competitors until the last possible moment. Whether or not players will see things this way remains to be seen.

Do the Duel

Another interesting aspect of Redemption Island are the one on one duels that determine who gets the chance to re-enter the game.
Duels: How people used to earn the title "Sole Survivor."
There has been a good deal of speculation on other blogs about how the duel structure will affect vote decisions. One of the most interesting- and audacious- involved the idea of voting out a strong member from your own alliance to ensure that your side "wins" Redemption Island.

We'd like to go on the record here and say that this will not happen. We know Probst likes to talk about making "big, bold moves" being the key to winning on Survivor, but this kind of talk is simply irrational. The risk to the player who gets sent to Redemption Island in this plan is extremely high and borne only by them personally, while the reward for their success is shared with the entirety of their alliance. Because Survivor is a game of shifting alliances, and particularly because deals on splitting prize money are explicitly not allowed, there's not enough incentive to make this kind of gambit work.

Then again, not everyone on Survivor is fully rational.

Maybe a former Federal Agent would take one for the team?

So if we ignore the possibility of "loading" Redemption Island with a strong player from your alliance, what effect should the duel structure have on your vote?

We would argue 'none', for a couple of reasons. For one, there seems to be an embedded assumption that the duel is going to be a purely physical or mostly-physical challenge. This seems to be a strong assumption, which should always give one pause. Survivor has seen more than its share of puzzle-based challenges...and the most athletic castaway does not always prevail. In other words, it's hard to predict what type of player might win a duel on Redemption Island, so trying to 'game' the system by selecting who you believe to be a winner or a loser may not pan out.

Secondly, voting a player out is fundamentally about reducing your competition and strengthening your alliance. Regardless of the re-entry of a player at a later stage in the game, these criteria do not change. Arguably, all that Redemption Island does is add a probablistic element to the outcome of your decision to vote someone out. Instead of getting rid of a competitor with certainty, you instead have a chance of eliminating them and a chance of them returning. But if someone is the biggest threat to you currently, it always makes more sense to possibly get rid of them (due to their ongoing risk of losing at Redemption Island) then to have them definitely continue to be a threat to you!

There is one factor that has been left out of the discussion so far, and that is the requirement that the resident of Redemption Island must be self-sufficient, handling their own survival necessities in food, water, and fire. This could have an effect on the voting order and on the expected outcome of a duel. Imagine, for instance, that your rival alliance has two members, one of whom has weak survival skills and the other who has strong survival skills. You may want to send the member with weak survival skills first- particularly if they have an athletic edge- to ensure that they are diminished and less of a threat for winning in the next duel. Strong-but-lazy people, watch out.

The Evolution of Survivor

So it looks like there are some subtle ways in which Redemption Island might influence the actions of individual players in the game, but overall, it seems like we shouldn't expect drastic changes in gameplay. Redemption Island seems like an incremental, rather than radical, change to the game, and the biggest impact of all may be that we get to see more of characters who otherwise would have received 10 minutes of screentime before being sent home.

Alas, Wendy Jo, we hardly knew ye...

What's interesting to note is that as Survivor has evolved, the game has given players more ways to control their individual destinies. First, players were entirely at the mercy of their tribes. Then the Hidden Immunity Idol gave the individual a chance to control the outcome of critical votes. Now, Redemption Island has granted them yet another way to kick sand in the faces of those who would see them gone.

Should be an interesting season.

-The Strategist


  1. Glad to see contestants getting more screen time, though there definitely some that get more than their share!

  2. The duel factor could influence the tribe to vote out stronger people earlier on, to increase the possibility of them being gone by the merge. If you vote them out just before the merge, they would likely win the duel and then return with a vengeance!