obviously, we would all "prefer" to have the most chips when given a choice.
that said...the actual results of my final tables....I've done the best when I'm in the middle of the pack for most the final table. I'm pretty darned good at flying under the radar and taking my average stack at 9 players and keeping it average until about 3 or 4 players....then at that point when the final table is short handed with high blinds, so much depends having cards, getting lucky, holding up etc.
edit to add: also because I mostly play live tourneys that start in the evening, there is extra value to "climbing the ladder" with an average stack. Usually, by the time we reach 3 or 4 players it is like 3:00 in the morning, blinds are huge and we often chop the prizepool. You need roughly an average stack to be considered for an even chop, otherwise the big stacks will want to do an ICM chop (which actually favors the bigstacks and is unfair to the short stacks). Because of this I think it is too risky to "play for first" since chopping evenly 3 or 4 ways usually is roughly 2nd place money.