Survivor: Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast

January 22nd, 2010 Comments

Like many people, I was skeptical and somewhat disdainful of the so-called reality TV craze that hit the airwaves about 10 years ago.  These shows felt exploitive, voyeuristic, and boorish.

So, imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch a recorded episode of 60 Minutes, but due to a technical glitch (operator error!), I found myself watching an episode of Survivor.  And like watching a terrible car wreck, I couldn’t stop.  In fact, I watched it twice.  Ok, ok – I watched it three times – and then I went on to watch the rest of the season.

One thing I’ve never understood is hazing. Why do we make the new people jump through hoops, prove their worth, and humiliate themselves in ways that have nothing to do with the tasks at hand?  I understand that we want to test their mettle, but aren’t there better ways to do that, than to just have people perform silly tasks.  Trial by fire can be a good thing, but seriously – let’s make every effort count.

My initial interest in emergency services was to be a firefighter, but after I began running ambulance calls my passion to be a rescuer increased. The challenge of prehospital emergency medicine, the connection of working directly with people, and the satisfaction of doing a job well continued to draw me in.  I loved working as a private ambulance medic, but the wages and benefits were better in the fire service.

But despite the fact that fire emergencies only comprise 10% of the responses, and EMS calls are over 70% of the total responses, there seemed to be this incredible pressure for me to prove that I was a firefighter first – and foremost.  The only way I could reconcile this ideology, and hang onto any sense of sanity, was to realize that for some, tradition was more important than progress.

Season 4, Episode 3

There was something amazing about that episode of Survivor I accidentally watched. Not being familiar with the show, the format, or the rules – imagine my surprise when Hunter Ellis, a former US Navy F-18 fighter-pilot was voted off the island?  Here was a young man, who was better prepared to survive on an island than anyone else there – and they voted him off the island!

This is why I kept watching the show.  This is why I watched that episoFasterde three times.  I had to figure out why they voted that fighter jock off the island. What were they thinking?  Why would they remove the best qualified person there?

Hazing and bullying are kissing cousins – maybe even siblings. They really have no place in polite society and slowly the military, fraternities, and other organizations are eliminating formal hazing practices – that is good.  But it is the subtle, informal hazing that is more insidious and prevalent in our society – and in my opinion, that makes it more evil.  The cliques and clubs of the world form an unholy alliance that promotes exclusive alliances and a caste system..  Fear and mistrust motivate people to keep outsiders out and insiders in.  It is protectionist and unnecessary.

Hopefully Secret handshakes have gone the way of the horse and buggy, but elitist social norms, private jokes, shared stories, and unique verbiage, all serve to prevent newcomers from entering the club.  Unless a group is intentionally inclusive, they tend to be exclusive.  Rarely do we encounter groups that are welcoming, inviting, and accept us at face-value.  Usually we are asked to prove ourselves worthy to be accepted  Few of us will measure up – not because we aren’t motivated or skilled, but because we don’t know the rules.  This isn’t the way it should be.  This isn’t the way it has to be.

Voted Off?

OutcastThe goal of Survivor is to win. Survival, on Survivor, simply means to outplay, outlast, and outwit the other players. It doesn’t matter that one is former fighter pilot, trained in survival techniques, and probably has post-graduate education.  In fact, this advanced training and education may make one more of a threat than an asset.  In fact, as I watched the rest of Survivor, Season 4, I became increasingly convinced that being right, being smart, being knowledgeable – these were not assets.  Instead, these traits just made one stand out as a target.

I was amazed by the two people who made it to the final episode.  What they lacked in skill and intellect, they excelled in social prowess.  It was fascinating to watch the cunning of these two. They had schemed, planned, and back-stabbed their way to the finale.  And yet, the American public loved these people.


At the end of Season 2 4, it came down to two womenNelah, a Mormon, and Vecepia, a Christian from Portland.  The panel grilled them about their personal moral values – wondering how they reconciled those with the lies and scheming.  The Christian lady made a very impassioned speech.  Her claim?  It was just a game.  Of course there was a momentary gasp in the press.  Is $1 million just a game?  Can a Christian lie, for a game?  And is it a game if there is a million dollars at stake?  Either way, she won.

There comes a time in every person’s life when they must decide what is important, and what is worth dying for. It’s been said, that if a man won’t stand for something, he’ll fall for anything.

Usually the walls we erect to protect ourselves, are the very walls that keep others out.  This isn’t love – and it certainly isn’t right.  Let’s break down our personal and corporate walls – let’s learn how to be open and trusting.


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