Don’t Let Your Emotions Control You
One thing everybody should have known since way back in the second season is that this is a game, not a search for friendship. That much should have been clear even when Colby decided that his friendship with Tina was worth more than a million dollars. But some people still just don’t get it. This game is about winning a million dollars, period.
The people you are with are strangers. You are stuck with them for a bit over a month, but you never really have to see them again (well, other than fundraisers and parties and all-star seasons and various other post-reality show reality shows, but you know what I mean). So treat them as pawns in a game, not as potential friends for life.
In the first series, Sue thought she had a real friendship with Kelly, but she eventually saw through that. Those emotional bonds caused Sue to lose. The first series’ Sean, the last non-alliance member to be voted off, noted before his departure that these were the “most conniving bunch of people I’ve ever met.” He added, “there’s not an honest one in the bunch.” Finally, he said that they were “callous, cold, and duplicitous people.” He was right. And the most duplicitous of them won.
Friends are great, but this is a game show. Sure, sometimes a winner can still be a nice person – but in that case, they didn’t let such friendships interfere with their play. Heck, just look at San Juan del Sur’s Natalie Anderson! She was great friends with Baylor – but that didn’t stop Natalie from voting her off when it became necessary.
Of course, we’ve seen this numerous times in the past as well. Danni was friends with Rafe in Guatemala, but when the time came to choose friendship or money, she went with the money. And the same goes for Earl in Fiji, who had a good friendship with Yau-Man, but knew he had to vote him off. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in a cast like Millennials vs. Gen X where you can play the game hard and still be friends afterwards. If you’re not that lucky, well, at least you’ll have a million dollars to comfort you if you do it right.
Todd won China in part by paying strict attention to this rule. One thing he never, ever did was allow his emotions to control him. He came into Survivor knowing it was a game. He knew he was going to form relationships and have to vote those people out.
Parvati, of course, did an excellent job in this regard when she was in Micronesia. She had the added problem that she was not just friends in the game with some of the players, but friends outside the game! Ozzy thought that would keep him safe, but Parvati had her own strategy that didn’t involve helping out a friend. Malcolm found out the hard way that out-of-game friendships didn’t mean much when Sierra successfully targeted him in the combined Tribal Council on Game Changers.
A similar situation came about in the original Blood vs. Water. Aras thought he was set with his allies Tyson and Gervase. But friendship wasn’t going to stand in Tyson’s way – so he blindsided Aras and went on to win!
This is exactly the opposite of what happened to Ian in Palau. He made friends, especially with Tom and Katie. Eventually, they used that against him, whether as a strategy or just because they were upset. Katie repeatedly browbeat Ian into doing what she wanted him to do. And Ian simply could not live with the idea that he had disappointed Tom – so he gave up in the final immunity challenge and threw the game away. Just thinking about it still makes me ill.
In San Juan del Sur, we saw a combination of good and bad when it came to emotions. So many rewards were given away as if they would sway people. But when it came time to vote, they often put those thankful feelings aside. One time when that didn’t happen though was at the very end of the game. Natalie saved Jaclyn with the immunity idol. Then when it came time for Jaclyn to make a decision about who to take to the end, she couldn’t bring herself to turn on Natalie. I understand it’s a hard decision to make, but her only chance was to vote out Natalie. She couldn’t. She lost. Natalie won.
Tony was perhaps the best example of how to view this rule and I believe a key lies in how he views Survivor – as a game, which is how everybody should view it. We saw this come up a couple times. There was a debate between Tony and Jeremy on Winners at War about whether nine days was two weeks; Jeremy talked about it being work and Tony argued that it’s a game. And when Ben found the idol and tried to hide it, Tony said he thought they were good. Ben replied to say look what you did to me in the previous vote when he wasn’t in on it. Tony said they’re past that, it’s over and Ben responded that it was like four hours ago. Yes, exactly. To Tony, that was a game move in the past and it doesn’t matter if it was just a few minutes ago, it’s gone. He said in one postgame interview that we never saw him mad because how can he be mad when he’s playing a game? He added in another that a lot of people can’t separate the emotional element from the game, but he has no problem doing that because it’s just a game.
As part of it being just a game, Tony also told Mike Bloom that people “just believe in me because I was real at the moment I’m talking to them. My feelings are real. So people have to believe me because it’s so genuine while I’m talking to them. But ten minutes later, if I’m back into game mode, I don’t care what I just did to you. If you have to go, you have to go.” This isn’t to say Tony has no feelings. Indeed, Ben said in his Jury Speaks video that it emotionally hurt Tony to vote out people he got close with. Tony cried a lot in that season and didn’t like to hurt people. It’s fine to have emotions, but as Tony said when voting out Jeremy, “I have to put my emotions aside and play the game.”
It’s not enough to just know these rules – you need to be able to execute them as well. An example of that came when we saw Desi in HHH. She definitely knew and understood the rules, and even said in pregame press that this podcast was her favorite! But when she got into the game, she couldn’t change her emotional state to fully implement them by lying, scheming, and plotting and leaving her emotions behind. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. As Jeff Probst told Wigler about Survivor before HHH, “I guess what I’m saying is it would be helpful if you’re a sociopath.” I’ve been saying essentially that for years now!
There is also the negative side of emotion – anger and dislike. We’ve seen this play a role from the very beginning – whether it was Sue, Lex, Brandon, Ghandia, Andrew on Pearl Islands (who was more mad at the producers for the Outcast twist than anything), and so on.
Compare that to somebody we all know who maybe was stuck with a guy who was forcing him to be a firewood bitch in the Amazon. Did he get angry and do something stupid? No, he played strategically. Even later in the game, I remember how surprised I was that despite being verbally attacked by Jenna and Heidi, Rob put that aside when he realized that Christy’s vote was unreliable, and he approached them with a new plan.
Looking at Natalie Anderson once again, we know how angry she was when her supposed alliance voted off Jeremy. But she kept that bottled up inside and worked with them so she could stick around and get her ultimate revenge.
Another good recent example was when the Cagayan Brains tribe actually kept my fellow University of Illinois Engineering alumnus J’Tia even after she’d dumped the rice. Sure, they were angry with her – and with good reason – but they put that aside for a little while to make a strategic vote instead. Of course, J’Tia should have controlled her own anger and not done something so stupid that would make people want to vote her out!
I apparently also need to add back in an old addendum from the very early days that I had taken out of the rules because I thought it was so obvious. I had said that as a side note necessitated by Survivor 2, I guess I should add that you shouldn’t form emotional bonds with any animals, either – especially if they will be food. This was one of the reasons Kimmi ended up losing, though certainly not the only one. With the actions of Extinction Island’s Wendy when it came to the chickens, it seems some players need reminding of this. I guess if your only goal is to temporarily save a few chickens’ lives instead of winning the game, you have the right to make that choice. But then we have to wonder why you are even on Survivor.
Contestants need to achieve the proper balance and remain objective. This is a game. You wouldn’t allow emotion to rule in a game of Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, so don’t do it when a million dollars are on the line.