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The Buffington Post: Corinne’s Last Gambit

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Well, Loyal Blog Readers, it happened. We’ve had our Merge Day. Merge Day is always my favorite episode of every season. They bring chaos. Alliances crumble. Players start to turn on their own like starving lions. Anything can happen, and ANYONE can go home. It’s the last great free-for-all in most seasons. Once a Merge Day has unfolded, the dice are cast. Make no mistake; the ultimate winner of this game was crowned tonight.

But unfortunately, a loser was crowned also. And this time, it was Corinne who got outplayed and gunned down. Corinne, who was supposed to be wrapped safe and warm beneath the protective bubble of Steath R Us. How did this happen?

Well, partially Corinne simply outplayed herself, but I think it is also true that she was the victim of conspiring events. Chaotic elements swept through this newborn Enil Edam tribe. Sometimes the world just isn’t on your side.

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When Galu turned on Erik in Survivor: Samoa, we all thought they got outplayed by Russell Hantz.

Before we get to that, though—let’s back up for a moment and take this Merge Day within its proper historical context. The history of the game seems now to suggest that merging with a significant numbers advantage is really bad mojo in Survivor. When Galu turned on Erik in Survivor: Samoa, we all thought they got outplayed by Russell Hantz. When Tandang turned on RC Saint-Amour we laid the blunder at the feet of Abi and Pete. But here we are again, and this time it’s a tribe of experienced returning players repeating the behavior. Yet another massive alliance has turned firstly on one of its own, leaving the sacrificial lambs unscathed upon the altar. I don’t believe in coincidences. Patterns repeat for a reason. So what the heck is going on here?

Perhaps the answer lies in that most fundamental law of economics: people, and Survivor players, respond to incentives. Merge Day is one of the last real chances in the game for a significant power play. All bets are off. When Merge Day hits, you do whatever you have to do to wrestle control of the game. And more often than not, it seems, that involves kicking out someone ahead of you in your own alliance—especially when you believe you can always take out the minority guys later.

The problem with this school of thought, though, is that turning on one of your own so quickly throws the rest of your former alliance into disarray. The unity and collective will it would have required to pick off those little guys begins to dissipate. None of the Favorites should feel safe anymore. Fortune now smiles on the Fans. They may find a second wind, and come back with a vengeance.

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Corinne made the best possible move.

So Corinne went out this time, and that’s sad for her, but I don’t actually think this is completely her fault. I happen to believe a member of Stealth R Us was going home tonight no matter what. Powerful forces were acting upon this Tribal Council. The temptation to pull off a blindside was overwhelming. The only question left was whose neck would be the one sticking out just a little too far?

No doubt many of you out there in RHAP Nation will not agree with me on this. Probably many of you think that Corinne slit her own throat tonight. She made her move too fast, and she was too obvious. She got what she deserved. And perhaps those are all fair points. But I don’t agree. I believe that Corinne made the best possible move she could have to improve her lot, and if I’d been in her shoes, I’d have done the same damn thing. Believe it.

The way I see it, Corinne had to make her move tonight, or not at all. There’s no way Phillip was ever planning to take Corinne beyond 8th place in this game, and she knew it. It’s unlikely she’d have been able to summon the political capital to take him out at that point—especially not without the help of Michael, Reynold, and Eddie. Corinne had two choices—lay down and die, or stand up and fight. I respect a Survivor player who can identify her opportunity and take decisive action—even if it fails.

But it could have succeeded—and that’s perhaps what’s frustrating about Survivor, and about life. Chaos can lay waste to even the best plans. Because here’s the kicker: Corinne correctly identified a winning configuration of votes which would have placed her in the most ideal possible position. Given her strong rapport with Malcolm, and her total control over Michael, she was uniquely positioned as the flywheel of this new underdog alliance. If Sherri had gone home tonight, Corinne could have won the game. Sometimes even Survivor comes down to just a game of playing the odds, and I thought this was an intelligent gambit to take. There was just one tragic flaw in Corinne’s plan—it had too many moving parts.

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People like to feel safe, and that’s a powerful motivator on Merge Day.

People like to feel safe, and that’s a powerful motivator on Merge Day. When players are thrust suddenly into a radically new and more competitive environment, they want to retreat into the safety of their alliance. Exposure is dangerous. We’re not sure where the numbers truly lie yet. And Dawn made the rational decision from her perspective, given this environment. She ran to Phillip and tattled. Corinne made one blunder in the execution of her gambit, and that was it. She should have recognized that, while flipping was the best move for her, it was NOT the best for Dawn.

The Platinum Rule is the most important rule for a good Survivor player. Never forget what’s best for the other person. Whoever you happen to be talking to at any given moment in Survivor is viewing you as a stepping stone for their path to the money. Dawn doesn’t want to play Corinne’s game. Dawn wants to play DAWN’S game. Corinne’s job in that situation was to convince Dawn, wrongfully, that she was the one in control.

And Corinne should have known that. She’s been in sales. The value pitch is always oriented to the customer’s perspective. We cannot successfully control what others will do. We can only convince them to choose the path most advantageous for us. And from Dawn’s perspective, Corinne’s version of the game was too chaotic and involved too many competing alliances. Dawn could not see how this scenario would bring her a greater level of control over her fate in the game. So Dawn did the smart thing—indeed, the only rational thing. She squashed it.

And that’s a shame, speaking from a viewer’s perspective. I liked the strategic possibilities of Corinne’s game more than I like the Stealth R Us game. There are fewer options now. The field of possible outcomes is narrowing. Our winner is coming into focus, and will become visible in the coming weeks. This game, I believe, will be solved long before Final 5.

So a very exciting Merge Day begets a lackluster post-merge playing field. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t.

How do you feel, Loyal Blog Readers? Where does this Merge Day rank for you, all time? Am I going too soft on Corinne?  I love your feedback, and your discussions. Share your thoughts!

And stay tuned for plenty more Survivor analysis from the rest of our esteemed team of bloggers, with new columns up almost every day!

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