Sunday, 20 February 2011

Redemption Island Episode 1: The Gift of Rob and Kristina's "Bad" Strategy

From the stomach-dropping helicopter intro to the larger-than-life challenge, Probst and Burnett pulled out all the stops on the first episode of Survivor: Redemption Island to show that this season is going to bring the fireworks.

The marooning sequence was extremely reminiscent of Heroes vs. Villains, and probably not by accident. Probst noted that the drama of that season's opening really drew the viewer into the show. While we're not certain that this opening was as effective as that in HvV, we do hope that this season will proceed with the same intensity that made that one so watchable.

Sitting at the back of a helicopter: less cool-looking than Probst might hope

We'll refrain from giving a play-by-play recap of this episode- other blogs have you covered there. Instead, we'll try to dig into the more interesting aspects of what happened this week.

Fearing Russell and Worshiping Rob: the Power of the Framing Effect

By the time Redemption Island aired, most Survivor fans knew that Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz would be returning to the show. As a result, when Rob and Russell were brought out on the show, the big reveal wasn't really a surprise to the viewers, but was to the castaways.

What may be surprising is that the way in which this was done may have a huge impact on the game.

Incoming: a couple of major kinks to your strategy.

To understand why, it's important to recognize that the way people make decisions and think about situations is heavily dependent on context. This is known as the framing effect in psychology, and can result in people reacting in two very different ways when they are introduced to the same situation in different ways. In effect, how something is presented changes the reality of that thing to an individual!

In Redemption Island, the castaways are given some powerful cues by the introduction of Rob and Russell. The first person off of the helicopter is Rob- who generates a positive reaction from the castaways:

Seems fair to call this elation. Then, Russell steps off the chopper, and we get this:
Not quite the same reaction, is it?

Clearly, the castaways have a pre-existing notion of both Rob and Russell: Rob's entry into the game is seen as a positive thing, while Russell's is seen as a negative. But the true impact of the framing effect comes next. After playing up the experience of both players, Probst has the pair draw buffs to determine which tribe they will end up on.

Russell: Pulling your doom from this bag?
In the moments before the reveal, castaways have a moment to consider both possible realities: one in which they get Rob, and one in which they get Russell. Both sides imagine the latter as a horrible scenario. Of course, one team does get Russell, and they make a pretty good show of being okay with it. So why do we suggest that this might have a longer term impact on the game?

The key difference is for Ometepe, Rob's tribe, who have come to see Rob's presence on their tribe as an unambiguously good thing. By making Rob-or-Russell a gamble, the tribe has mentally attached value to 'winning' Rob. This may make them less likely to vote Rob out in the future.

It may sound far-fetched, but watch Natalie's confessional early on in the episode- she is excited about having Rob on the tribe and shudders at the idea that they could have had Russell. Even more telling is Ashley's response after Ometepe loses the first challenge: "I feel like we're letting Rob Down." If Rob had quietly been assigned to their tribe, would this reaction have been as strong? While Mr. Mariano has an incredible amount of charisma, we'd argue that his success in his tribe has been helped, in part, by the way his and Russell's introduction into the game was framed.
But hey, that winning smile probably hasn't hurt.
Russell, on the other hand...well, we won't be surprised if he goes to Redemption Island sooner than later. (But we also won't be surprised if he manages to avoid it!)

Bad Strategy or Bad Break? Kristina and the Hidden Immunity Idol

We have to admit that on first watching this episode, Kristina's Hidden Immunity Idol play seemed, to put it politely, foolish. Her plan to dominate the game at the outset had a couple of fatal flaws. First and foremost, with six votes on the outside of her alliance, she had to be confident that the rest of the tribe would vote as a bloc, and that she would be able to draw and nullify those votes using the idol. Assuming that this all played out and that she successfully removes Rob, her plan hits another major issue: even with Rob gone, her alliance of three would be facing down a now-angry group of five.

As Francesca wisely noted after hearing Kristina's plan, "If we do this tonight, everyone is going to be pissed off." Francesca hit upon a fundamental point of Game Theory- that you need to think ahead to where you want to be in the future, and reason back on how to get there. A one-time move that gets you ahead only to see you smashed in the next round gets you nowhere.

So what happened to Kristina? A case of Marty-itis?
Our "Marty Postulate": if other people "aren't playing the game", let them!
We're going to assume that Kristina isn't totally irrational, and that her Immunity Idol play was a move of calculated- if desperate- risk. We see hints in the edit that Kristina assumed her head was on the chopping block for the night, particularly after she asks Rob about the night's vote and gets no response. Her tight smile and shake of the head as the camera pans over to her seem to indicate that she feels Rob has left her with no choice. She decides to go forward with her plan to play the idol.

In this scenario, despite not having a clear path to victory at the next Tribal Council, Kristina is still making a valid move. She may have foreseen other possibilities opening up in a post-Rob Ometepe.

So the big Hidden Immunity Idol play may have been a necessary evil. Contrary to first impressions, it may have been a totally rational thing to do for her to do.
We're not sure we can say the same for allying with this guy.

- The Strategist


  1. Kristina and Francesca sealed their own fate by biting off more than they could chew and teaming up with the biggest loose cannon in the history of the show.

  2. I thought Kristina and Francesca would be among the stronger players this season, but they both made some truly idiotic moves: Kristina was trying too hard to be strategic and forgot abut common sense. And, Francesca, why would make yourself a target from the get-go by announcing Rob and Russell were sizing everyone up? And then, fueling the wrath of Phillip (who was in your own alliance!) on top of that? No wonder you got sent to the Island. Kristina will be next.