Who needs “Survivor” host Jeff Probst? School of Management Professor Barry Nalebuff has spoken.
Nalebuff — who teaches courses on business strategy, decision analysis and game theory at SOM — studies the strategies people use to achieve goals. Now, he’s using his field of expertise to predict the winner of the hit reality television show “Survivor: The Australian Outback.”
His choices? “Colby, if he wins the immunity challenge [when there are three people left], otherwise Tina. Failing that, I’d choose Amber, who is a loser, but she’s less of a loser than Jerri,” he said.
Nalebuff, whom People Magazine interviewed on the topic of how to win at “Survivor,” said Colby, a custom-auto designer from Texas, is more well-liked than remaining Ogakor tribe team members.
“People like him more than Tina or Keith,” he said.
Survivor, which first aired on CBS in summer 2000, strands 16 good-looking but otherwise average Americans on an exotic location. Contestants were originally divided into two tribes — Kucha and Ogakor — and each week the tribe that lost the “immunity challenge” would vote one of its members off the show. Currently, the two tribes have merged into one group, Barramundi, and the game has become every man for himself as each week the united tribe votes off one of its members.
Nalebuff is predicting that this week an alliance of former Ogakor members will continue the trend of offing previous Kucha members.
“Next week, either Nick or Elizabeth,” Nalebuff said. “The week after that, either Elizabeth or Nick.”
He said Kucha member Rodger, a teacher from Kentucky, has a better chance of lasting longer than his old teammates because of his fishing ability.
The game ends with contestants who were previously voted off getting the chance to choose the winner from the two players who make it to the bitter end.
While “Survivor” allows players to use their strength and endurance to gain immunity from being voted off, the game essentially boils down to mind-games and manipulation tactics.
“On the one hand it’s real, because the winners go home with a million dollars,” Nalebuff said. “But it’s still a game, with the most critical nuance being that the people you backstab and double-cross are the ones who decide whether you’ll stay on.”
Nalebuff taught an undergraduate course called “Thinking Strategically” last year and is an expert on designing decision trees to identify the best way to achieve intended goals. Way back in 1991, former presidential candidate Al Gore asked Nalebuff to use game theory to help him develop a strategy to become the president of the United States. Nalebuff told him to pursue vice presidency with Clinton as a stepping stone to the presidency.
“Survivor,” Nalebuff said, is distinctive because there is no way for a person to win and make everyone happy at the same time.
“You can’t win cleanly,” he said. “To the most part, you have to be a loser to be a winner.”
He said the show is based on a fake ideal of cooperation.
“You want to cooperate with the team that will survive,” Nalebuff said. “But to win the million dollars, you have to double-cross and backstab your fellow collaborators, and that’s what makes the game both interesting and also insidious and evil and immoral.”
Nalebuff also offered his own concept for the next television show to jump on the reality bandwagon.
“It’ll be a corporate version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ meets ‘Survivor’,” he said.
His idea is for entrepreneurs with start-up ideas to come together and present their ideas to venture capitalists, consumers and people at home, who would evaluate the concepts. In the end, the winner would have received enough exposure to go public and make his or her business a success.
“You may think that ‘Survivor’ is about surviving, but it’s really about making celebrities,” Nalebuff said. “So instead of making someone worth 10 million, you can make a company worth a billion. The networks wouldn’t even have to pay anything — they could even get equity in these businesses.”