How Survivor Teaches Us About Politics

While that might not be a precise title, it’s not far off.

In the annals of history – which is to say, about 13 years ago at this writing – the CBS television show premiered, and is generally credited with creating the reality television genre. What really happened, for those of you who weren’t watching at the time, was that 15 contestants demonstrated they had no idea what was happening, while one (Richard Hatch) promptly showed the world that he had no problem parading around in the buff and walking away with a million dollars.

Unfortunately, he soon forgot that he was being broadcast on television, and that everyone knew he won a million dollars, and the government would come looking for their cut. Eventually he would do some time for not paying taxes. In the meantime, the game would change. There are a few players (see Rob Mariano) who would use their skill at manipulation to win, but the vast majority simply hunkered down in voting blocs to try and ride out the game. For a more in-depth look at that (probably too in-depth), take a look over here.

In the intervening seasons, what we have seen is that people invariably cling to one another in alliances, and those alliances break the game into pieces where they get rid of people they don’t like for one reason or another. Typically another player talks to much or too little, or does too little work around camp, or even takes the lead too much around camp. Often, this strategy makes little to no sense at all, especially early in the game.

What most teams should be doing is keeping their team strong until the merge, because it will allow them to win challenges, and thus avoid tribal challenge and sending a team member – perhaps themselves – home. What most teams do is vote off the person most irritating at the moment. While I understand that putting up with someone who is irritating can be difficult for a few minutes as you stand in line at the grocery store, doing so for 24 hours a day on an island with no respite must be difficult indeed. But we’re talking a million dollars here.

Once the merge happens, of course, the strategy should change. You should then get rid of your biggest competition and you would want to keep around the most annoying people because they would be least likely to garner votes – unless of course you think the jury will vote for them (The Hatch Theorem). Generally this only applies if that person has played well and can vocalize that approach. For Boston Rob, it took him four tries to do it right. It may never happen again. In the most recent season (Caramoan), it seemed that Malcolm was going to play under the radar and before you knew it, his male alliance was on the bottom. Despite a fun move that shall go down in history with the Three Amigos council, he couldn’t pull it out at the end. It takes more than that. You need alliances, but you need strategy too.

This is where politics comes into play. In the real world, at just about every turn, there has been news of one sort or another surface at just about any time you turn around. When there are bombings or terrorist-like actions, the natural response is that we must clamp down on whatever caused those things to happen. Restrict access to guns. Don’t allow anyone to buy bombs (I don’t know if people are buying these at the bomb store, but whatever).

Now the news is a renewed call to close down the Guantanamo Bay facility, just because of what it represents. Look, I don’t mind the idea that something should close – maybe it should, maybe it shouldn’t. But to do so because of what it has done historically? Instead, these things should be done for rational reasons, like analyzing why you should make choices for your team, as opposed to irrational ones. Otherwise you just end up shooting yourself in the foot.