Monday, April 12, 2010

Basic Multiplayer Strategy (As Seen On 'The Amazing Race'!)

I don't normally talk much about 'The Amazing Race', because if it's a weekly play-by-play you want, the folks at TV Without Pity can do it better than I can. And if it's a sort of pithy "lessons learned" type of post, well...most of the time there's not a lot to learn from 'The Amazing Race', because unlike a lot of other reality shows, the strategy is pretty elementary. (This is because it's an actual competition, and not just an excuse to get people to bicker.) For the most part, you do the tasks as quickly as possible, you haul your butt from place to place, and you try not to do stupid things. There's not much opportunity to screw over other racers, and almost no deliberate opportunities to do so. (Stealing their taxi when yours drives off might be a cunning move, but it's not like you can set it up.)

But there's one big exception to that, and we saw a pretty significant example of it last night. The U-Turn is the one major, officially sanctioned "FUBAR another team" opportunity, available about twice a race and usually sufficient to knock whoever gets U-Turned out of the running. (For those of you who don't watch 'The Amazing Race'...every leg of the race, teams perform a Detour, a task they do together and must complete to move on. There are always two options for a Detour; teams choose which one to do, and can switch tasks with no penalty save the time they've already lost by trying the first task. If you get U-Turned, you must perform both options on the Detour before being allowed to move on. This is significant, especially since Detours are usually designed so that one option is easier than the other.)

(The option that is easier may not be the one that looks easier, which is where the fun starts.)

Last night, there were five teams remaining in the race. Jet and Cord, apparently their real names, had won three of the nine legs. Louie and Michael, two New York cops, had won three as well. Dan and Jordan, Brent and Caite, and Brandy and Carol, the three remaining teams, had not won a leg between them. Brent and Caite arrived at the U-Turn first (Dan and Jordan got to skip the Detour and the U-Turn by completing a special challenge called a Fast Forward) and U-Turned...

We'll pause here. Who would be the best to U-Turn, simply from the point of view of generic multiplayer gaming strategy? Obviously, it's between Louie and Michael, and Jet and Cord. Louie and Michael had made an informal alliance with Brent and Caite, which would ordinarily be a point in their favor...but this is the Amazing Race, and there really aren't many opportunities to help another team any more than there are to hinder them. However, it's worth remembering that Louie and Michael won their legs back-to-back-to-back, benefiting a little from the head start that the first team sometimes gets. Jet and Cord might be the stronger racers overall, and Brent and Caite knew that they were having difficulty with the Detour.

So who did Brent and Caite pick? Carol and Brandy. Why? Two reasons: One, Louie and Michael suggested it. They had insisted over the past several legs that Carol and Brandy were major threats and needed to be U-Turned at the next opportunity. And two, Caite heard from Dan and Jordan that Carol and Brandy made a disparaging remark about her in the airport on the first leg. (And dear god, just typing that sentence temporarily turned me into a twelve-year-old girl.)

Obviously, this is epic fail on everyone's part. To start with, Brent and Caite get a spectacular, multi-generational epic fail. We're talking the "Roots" of fail, here. What's the most elementary multiplayer strategy there is, the first thing you learn when playing a multiplayer game? If Player A says to you that Player B is a major threat and you need to help them out by devoting all your resources to knocking Player B out of the game, then if you listen to them, it is a virtual guarantee that the last thing you will see is Player A's smiling face as they take all the marbles. Brent and Caite got played like a harmonica.

And their second motive makes their first motive look downright smart. This is a race with a million dollar prize at the end, not junior high. You take out the racer with the best chance of beating you, not the one who was mean to you back in Los Angeles.

Which is not to say that Louie and Michael were brain trusts, here. Yes, they accomplished their primary goal--making sure that Brent and Caite never got to thinking about how much better their shot at winning would be if Louie and Michael weren't around anymore--but they had a chance to manipulate someone into taking out their biggest remaining threat, Jet and Cord, and instead they tricked them into getting rid of a team they'd beaten on four of the last five legs. Admittedly, Caite was more likely to listen to tales of how the mean lesbians said nasty things about her tiara, but still, when dealing with marks as gullible as those two, you can probably go for the gusto.

So now there are four teams. Soon there will be three, then one million dollar winner and two runner-ups. My guess? In three weeks' time, Brent and Caite and Louie and Michael will wish they'd U-Turned Jet and Cord when they had the chance.


Michael Hoskin said...

I welcome your prediction because it's the only scenario in the final leg that would make me happy.

I don't think elminating Carol & Brandy was entirely worthless; those two put a target on their backs by their behavior. Future teams watching this at home will hopefully learn a valuable lesson: don't unnecessarily aggravate your opposition or it will come back to bite you.

Jet & Cord and Dan & Jordan have both tried to follow the best strategy this season - stay off people's radar, avoid alliances & antagonisms and just get on with the race.

LurkerWithout said...

I think even without the overheard comment or the suggestion Carol & Brandy still would have been hit by it. I mean it was "anonymous" that no one liked them after all...