Great point, Iltarion about Amanda being at the center of the alliance but I think you are overestimating it just a bit. JT, Tom and Cirie all realized they had to talk to Amanda for 1 reason: She held THREE votes. James and Rupert are dumb at strategy and they both know it. Rupert's game has always been tagging along with a smarter woman: 1st Sandra, next JLew (good grief!) and now Amanda. James is still holding on to the same apple even if it's rotten by now. So Amanda's smarter than Rupert and James but does it make her smart? More like 1 half-wit sharing a brain with two stumps (I couldn't quite make Cesternino's quotes fit in but it's close enough).
Amanda was controlling a section of the tribe, she was not the center of gravity. JT and Cirie were the ones struggling to grab that center of gravity.
You write: "A key part of any strategy, whether it be in business, war, or a game of chess, is to put yourself in the right position. Amanda is as good as anyone in doing that."
Amanda has been very good at that, I agree. As a player, I put her miles ahead of Stephenie for example. Amanda's stronger and smarter. But I'd point out that Katie Gallagher and Dreamz put themselves in the right positions but with no chances of winning (I'd add Clay but the angry leprechaun came only 1 vote short). So the key part of any strategy is to know how to finish.
Before you say Cirie doesn't know how to finish, I'll remind you that she would have won EI if she had won the fire challenge (she was VERY close) and she had S16 wrapped up until Jeff said: "No F3 for you, we do F2".
As for what Tom thought of Amanda, we heard what he said when he voted Cirie: “Loveliest person but you are way too good at wrapping some of these really weak minds around your little finger.” Really weak minds...