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.
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 Josh 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!
On the other hand, another person who went into Survivor saying in pregame interviews that this podcast was his favorite was Dr. David Voce of Survivor 41. And he has said in postgame interviews that even though he was friends with Tiffany, he knew he couldn’t let that get in the way of potentially voting her out because of this very rule! Unfortunately for him, even though Tiffany was unaware of these rules at the time, she also knew that she couldn’t let friendship get in the way, so she was very keen to get rid of him, especially when she heard he’d mentioned her name! And since the women’s alliance was in control at the time, well, Voce unfortunately didn’t have a lot of time to show off the rest of his knowledge of these rules.
Another player in that tribe on Survivor 41 was Liana. Within the game, she definitely made some mistakes in a few of these rules but afterwards she wrote “A Love Letter to Survivor,” part of which discusses emotion in the game. She said:
Every player in the game has struggled with the balance between emotion and strategy. Few go into the game telling themselves to trust everyone and reveal all their secrets. Nonetheless, we are human and the game happens. We are starving, and hungry, and aqua dumping and sometimes we forget that the cut-throat nature of this amazing game has no room for values or emotion. Yet we bring all of this with us. Some of us are better at cutting it off than others, but the best players struggle with it. It’s the beauty of being human in an unforgiving game.
Everything she said there was both true and pertinent to this rule. Everyone in Survivor struggles with this question, some more than others. If you tell yourself you’re just playing a game and set emotions aside when you’re making your strategic decisions, you’re more likely to succeed. But not everybody can do it as well and as Liana noted, not everybody wants to do it when they are presented with the choice. And all of that is part of Survivor.
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!
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.