When we think about the intersection of ethics and the game of Survivor, it’s always a little complicated and individual. What I mean is that through the years, we’ve clearly seen how differing people enact differing ethical codes when playing.
For the most famous example, we only need to look to Survivor: Pearl Islands and the legendary moment of Johnny Fairplay and his dead grandma. We’ve also seen folks such as Tony swear on their children. And, of course, we’ve seen players who think these actions were so wrong, reprehensible and very much out of bounds.
And this is what I mean by individualized ethics on Survivor. Each and every castaway arrives in the game with a different list of what they won’t do and what they will do to win the game. But that’s kind of obvious, right? What I think is more interesting is how each player must present one ethical framework, but really play another one.
What do I mean?
Well, everyone wants to win Survivor, right? (Besides that one frustrating as hell dude on Marquesas, I guess.) But anyway, that’s common sense too, right? Everyone wants to win. Duh. But people can’t play that way. Everyone needs to play to win, but they need to look like they’re playing for the betterment of the tribe or their alliance. Especially at first.
What this means is that while all players fundamentally subscribe to the normative ethical theory of ethical egoism, they can’t be too transparent about it. Even though everyone knows! They have to present the theory of utilitarianism. That’s where it becomes tricky.
You see, ethical egoism is the theory that says the best way to enact ethics is to always do what’s in your own self-interest. And, of course, that’s what Survivor contestants do. But they have to be careful. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that says one should always do the thing that helps the largest amount of people. That’s what they need to look they’re doing.
And, I think, this brings us to Ryan’s decision this week. Obviously, he thought the best decision for him consisted of giving Roark the boot. That’s the ethical egoism-inspired decision. But Ryan’s longest-lasting alliance was with Ali and, in some ways, the rest of the Hustlers. Giving Chrissy the proverbial boot would have been the utilitarian thing to do.
Herein lies Ryan’s mistake. As always, the best move is to do the thing aligned with egoism while making it seem like you’re being utilitarian. That’s why not telling Ali was dumb. Oh sure, he can fix the relationship in the short term – and I expect he will – but never in the long term. Ali will always now be closer with someone else. She will not trust Ryan to the end.
Why oh why didn’t Ryan tell Ali what he planned to do? He had the votes either way. Not telling Ali could only end up badly. It’s just dumb. And coming from a guy who’s been anything but dumb, it just seems weird.
All Ryan had to do was pitch something about needing to break up the Healers. There’s no rational reason to vote off all Heroes. And that was Ryan’s play, but he didn’t make it and now his ethical framework was exposed to everyone. Before they knew, but there wasn’t proof. Now they know with proof. And that’s bad for Ryan.
OK, that’s all for this week. Here’s where all the remaining players sit, in my mind:
In my opinion, this season is finally picking up some steam. These last couple episodes really worked. Woo hoo! That might mean a really good end-season run. Here’s hoping. In the meantime, I’ll talk to you all next week.
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.