Before we begin this recap, we must take a moment to mourn the loss of my winner pick. Poor Monica, she didn’t speak for 600 straight episodes and then became a chatterbox at the beginning of this one.
I knew right away I did not predict the Survivor: Cambodia winner. I cried. Or not.
But enough with all that. I think I overestimated Monica’s game, she didn’t add anything so far this season and her vote-off will, honestly, only strengthen the season.
So let’s talk some theory.
Two weeks ago, Andy Baker, right on this here site, discussed the idea of “ego” and how it affected each player’s strategy. What Andy masterfully kind of explored is the way ethics always seem to play a large part in Survivor.
One of the main reasons I’ve loved this show for 30 seasons comes from the way I feel it really gets at the heart of the human condition better than any other reality program. Castaways ditch their real lives and all the creature comforts, relationships and responsibilities that come with those, and kind of have to amass new versions of all those things. Because those are kind of the essence of being a human.
Each season, when castaways try to find their footing in the game, we see them basically create a worldview for themselves, a manner in which they view the rules of the game and how to play it.
In mass communication research, especially journalism, we utilize various ethical theories constantly. It shouldn’t come as surprise that scholars look at journalism and ethics together, especially now, what with so many clear-cut issues and ethical lapses with heavy consequences or “news” networks or organizations aiming to distort reality all in the name of the almighty buck.
In Survivor, we constantly see contestants utilize ethical theories, even if they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. And it’s always different. In the game, I think most of us would agree that as long as you’re not breaking set rules, you’re playing ethically. But we know contestants don’t always feel that way.
We’ve seen players like Boston Rob in All-Stars and Russell Hantz in Samoa inarguably play great games, only to lose because jury members found their style of gameplay unethical. Or we’ve seen someone like Todd in China basically admit to playing the same type of game and get celebrated for it (partially because Amanda couldn’t speak at final tribal and partially because Todd made good relationships unlike like, say, Russell). But even think of a player like Sash in Nicaragua (or forget that season ever happened). Plenty of players just considered him completely unethical for many reasons never shown.
In the end, as Andy noted, everyone just wants to win. But contestants are judged based on how they play. And those judgments come from other contestants’ ethical viewpoints. No rules are broken, but ethics come into play. We see this in real life all the time. Think about politics. So much of the polarization in this country right now comes down to the ethical principles some people have versus what others think. Do we have a responsibility to others? Questions like that are always determined by an ethical philosophy … even if it’s not articulated.
And that’s what we saw last night at Bayon with Monica and Kimmi. Think about it: Monica showed trust in Kimmi by mentioning the possibility of an all-women alliance. She gave Kimmi more options. A rational player may not have agreed with Monica, but also wouldn’t have pushed her to be voted off since she was clearly an ally. Why would Kimmi want to boot someone she could clearly trust (even if she disagreed with her strategy)?
This is where ethics comes in. Kimmi is clearly playing the game, right now, with a utilitarian outlook. This is a theory from the 19th century ethicist Jeremy Bentham (most ethics theories are old and come from folks like Aristotle). Basically, the idea behind utilitarianism concerns the consequences of our actions. Someone who believes in this paradigm thinks that decisions should be made for the best of the whole. So if I subscribe to utilitarian beliefs, I want to make sure every decision I make is the one that results in the most positive outcome for the most amount of people.
Kimmi clearly illustrates utilitarian principles here. Even though keeping Monica might be best for Kimmi, she sees her alliance of Bayon as more important than just her singularly. She wants to do what’s best for the tribe and not just her. Now, you can argue that ditching Monica is good for Kimmi’s game, but I’m not sure I buy that at all. Kimmi did what’s best for the tribe. We’ve seen others play this way this season. Just think about Savage’s, um, savage attack on Stephen. He basically called Stephen a horrible waste of a human being because Stephen did something in the best interest of himself.
The irony in all of this is, of course, everyone on Survivor wants to win. Well, except all those non-Brian people who played in Thailand. But, again, we all rationalize our behavior somehow. Nobody wants to feel bad about choices, so we rationalize bad ones. But then some people just think more openly about themselves.
And that brings us to Monica. She clearly displayed principles of the theory of ethical egoism, again, a theory introduced by a 19th century philosopher, in this case, Henry Sidgwick. This theory basically states that we should do things in our own self interest. Now, there are many different ethical theories that deal with how people act in their own self interest. Some say it’s the only thing people can do; some say it’s the rational thing to do. Ethical egoism states that someone should not sacrifice their own self interest for the good of the group. And that’s Monica in this situation.
She could have gone along with the plan of ditching Kelly, because clearly that was the group’s consensus. But she believed that this move would hurt her. So she went to Kimmi. Unfortunately, Kimmi had more of a group mindset, one based on principles of utilitarianism, and that meant bye, bye Monica and bye, bye Pat’s winner pick.
Again, we see this all the time in Survivor. How often are people booted because the way they play the game differs from how others think they should? Or how someone will be admonished at final tribal for having the gall to try and win without breaking the rules. Or people will yell at Dreamz for, in a way, outsmarting Yau-Man when that same decision would be celebrated in a game of, say, poker. Even though very few people explicitly talk about ethical theories, that’s really what they’re getting at: “You have different ethical philosophies than I do.”
OK, no more getting ethical. Let’s get to some thoughts on the remaining players:
Let’s do this again next week, ok? We’ll talk theory and I won’t cry about Monica going home.
Pat Ferrucci started watching Survivor when episode two of Borneo first aired. He’s seen every episode since. Besides recapping here, he’ll be live-tweeting this season from the Mountain Time Zone. Why? Because nobody cares about the Mountain Time Zone except when they want to ski. Follow him @patferrucci for Survivor stuff and tweets about anything and everything that enters his feeble mind.