We live in some strange times. Every time I read the news – which as a journalism professor is kind of my job – I get frustrated. It’s fundamentally amazing to me how hypocritical our leaders and citizens can be on a literally everyday basis.
But it’s also frustrating in Survivor. Admit it: Is there anything more frustrating when watching Survivor than seeing castaways criticizing others while doing the exact same thing themselves? OK, yeah, maybe only reward challenges involving pulling marbles out of a pouch are more annoying. But besides that? Nope.
You know where I’m going here: Holy crap, the hypocrisy of basically everyone out there except Mike and maybe Ryan. We saw Lauren, Devon and Ashley get upset with Ben because he flipped on them. Of course, he did this after overhearing them talk about him. And we the audience know these folks have been thinking about turning on Ben for days. On the other side, Chrissy almost weekly provides a masterclass in hypocrisy whenever she doesn’t have power.
Now, in everyone’s defense, we’ve seen the game turn a bit more personal than usual this season, but how can castaways – and people in general – act so strongly about certain actions when they’re doing the same things? Don’t they realize how dumb they look?
The answer is no, they don’t understand they’re being hypocritical. And this brings us to our theory this week: self-justification theory.
The theory has been around for a while but was furthered early this century by some European social psychologists; it basically builds on the idea of cognitive dissonance, which we’ve talked about before. In essence, this theory describes the mental gymnastics people’s brains compete in when they’re being hypocritical.
Fundamentally, when we display hypocritical behavior or beliefs, it’s because we’ve gone through either an internal or external self-justification process. International self-justification happens when a person simply convinces themselves something is not right. We see this all the time in politics. For example, people who believe Al Franken was right to announce his resignation but believe Donald Trump or Roy Moore are different. They’ve convinced themselves, despite tons of evidence, that Trump and Moore are innocent. Another example would be someone who continues smoking because they’ve convinced themselves science is wrong and smoking isn’t bad for them.
I would assume it’s internal self-justification that frustrates most of us. What happens on Survivor most of the time, I believe, is external self-justification. This is when people excuse their own behavior and think of it slightly differently.
Here’s where we get to this episode. Chrissy clearly lies in this game. We’ve seen her do it a hundred times. Yet, when Ben lies to her, he’s a horrible person. Why? Because she justifies her lies “as part of the game” but Ben got too personal when he was “smug.” Those are mental gymnastics. We saw the same thing with Lauren, Ashley and, to a lesser extent, Devon. They talked about eliminating Ben several times. In their minds, that’s OK because they “wouldn’t” have done it right then. But Ben actually making the move is different.
In the end, this is another theory that scientifically explains what we already know: People need to make excuses to act hypocritically with a seemingly clear conscience. We see it all the time on Survivor. My favorite example is how lying is always cool, but when you swear on your kids or something, it’s totally different. Heck, we even saw Joe needle Ben this way this season with the whole “swear on the Marine” thing.
Hopefully, though, this season – which keeps getting better – ends with a jury that won’t be hypocritical. I take back what I wrote above: The only thing more frustrating than a challenge revolving around picking marbles out of a pouch is a hypocritical jury.
OK, going into the final six, here’s what I’m thinking:
You know, no matter what happens, we’re getting an awesome final five. I'm excited.
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.