Before we start this here column, can we have a moment? A moment of silence for Eric, my Winner Pick™?
While I thought the old Lesu might pull off a blindside this week, I really believed Ron would be the one heading home. Unfortunately, Eric took the fall and, once again, my Winner Pick™ did not go far. Now, Eric could come back from Extinction, but he ain’t winning. Let’s be honest.
Eric is now staying at Extinction, but I don’t think we really want to analyze the strategy behind the move that eliminated him for three reasons. First, we’re never really given a glimpse into strategy this season. Second, it was a super dumb move for the Kama 6 to split this early; they should have waited at least one more vote. And, third, what went on with Devens is far more interesting.
This week, as we turn to theory, let’s delve into some economics. Now, most of us probably think of economics as the study of money, or capital. But since really the days of Adam Smith, a small branch of microeconomics deals with what we call behavioral economics. For example, you may have heard of rational choice theory, which essentially argues we can understand the way society operates by examining how individuals make choices … since we all make choices that benefit us.
Really, when we’re talking about behavioral economics, we’re melding economics and psychology, two social science disciplines. Behavioral economics helps us understand the psychology behind how people make economic decisions. And what’s Survivor but a series of economic decisions?
So this week, we’re going to talk about the theory of sunk cost, or the sunk cost fallacy. Most of us have heard the term “sunk cost” before, but do we know how it drives decisions?
Let’s take sports for example since teams make these mistakes all the time. So you’re the Angels and you pay Albert Pujols a bajillion dollars a year to produce at a rate way worse than average. In fact, over the last couple seasons, he’s been worth negative value. But the Angels refuse to cut him or stop playing him because they’re on the hook for so much money. That’s an example of a bad decision. Albert Pujols is a sunk cost; the Angels need to pay him regardless. The team continues playing him since they’re paying him, but it would make more sense to cut him and get more production out of a minimum-salary player.
A sunk cost, then, is something that’s already been paid for is not giving us any value, but we continue to use it or let it guide decision-making simply because we paid for it. Another example? Most things we buy are for convenience. If I buy a vacuum cleaner for $1,000, bring it home and it after a year, it stops working well, I might keep using it because I paid so damn much for it. Yet, I’m wasting a lot of my time vacuuming with the crappy thing. I could go buy another vacuum and save a whole lot of time. That expensive vacuum is a sunk cost.
Does this make sense?
What does this have to do with Survivor and Devens? Well, Devens had a choice this episode: He could either be on the bottom of the Kama alliance or flip back to Lesu. I would argue this is an economic decision and one must put the past in the past and not let it affect future behavior (too much). Now, of course what happens in the past is contextual information that someone should use when making future decisions, but to let something that already happened completely dictate future decisions is short sighted. Let the sunk cost go.
In his conversation with Wardog, Devens refused to listen to reason because of things that already happened. He couldn’t see how his best decision moving forward was to get past previous votes and understand the best decision for him (and the rest of Lesu) was to get the band back together. Treat the past as a sunk cost.
And that’s the key with Survivor: If we treat every decision as an economic one, a decision meant to get someone closer to $1 million, then we have to think of every decision as a singular one, informed by the past but always an independent decision. Devens didn’t do that this week and I wonder if it’s his game.
Let’s take a look at where I think everyone stands:
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.