The Psychology of Staying Alive Another Week

In my daily life, when I think about what it means to think about getting through one week and into the next, it’s usually in the context of how many donations are coming into our food bank, how heavy our client load is, or how I’m emotionally coping with the stresses of living away from home and serving with AmeriCorps. Once a week, however, I suspend all of those thoughts to focus on a different type of surviving. It’s the kind that I’m almost embarrassed to admit I care about. You know, the one that shows up on TV and has for 23 seasons prior. The original reality show that still claims to be authentic, whether viewers and fans buy in or not.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t watch Survivor because I think it’s reality. I watch it because I think that it’s fascinating to watch the interactions of people from all different backgrounds come together and try to survive each other. It’s Lord of the Flies with adults in a modern era. The setup for survivor is like a perfect psychology experiment without regulations that would normally govern rules of behavior. For 4-6 weeks you end up with a group of strangers from different ethnic, economic, class, cultural, religious, gender, and fitness backgrounds coming together to form relationships, work together, and compete for a personal goal. It really makes me wonder how many psychologists are working behind the scenes with that show. If I could find a thesis, a dissertation, or a book on the Psychology of Survivor, I’d totally read it.

This season, now a few weeks in, features yet another tropical home with two tribes of Americans each striving to gain 1 million dollars and the title of sole survivor. I already have found someone that I, and likely most of the viewers, extremely dislike, though the other players in the game haven’t figured out how evil he is yet. If you’re watching, you know who I’m talking about. He’s Mr. Country Club who’s utterly selfish, classist, racist, ageist, ableist and maybe even sexist too. I can’t believe that he managed to convince people to go along with his crazy schemes, including the one where he decided to convince his tribemates to give up tribal immunity in order to vote off a man that wanted gone for reasons that revealed ignorance, pettiness, and wild judgement based on prejudice. What makes everything worse is that he has blind followers, even a man who tells the world that he is “willing to be his bitch if it means I get to stay around.” Watching this play out, for all of the stupidity and utter selfishness of these contestants, I wonder…how do people grow up to be like that? I really don’t get it.

I admire the rare player like Matt who makes me want to believe in the good of humanity. But mostly, I watch because this is the closest I can come to vicariously traveling the world, and studying people at the same time. The contestants’ character, morals, and personalities come through as they work, live, and compete. It’s a pretty sweet gig, fighting for that million dollars, but it requires a lot of vulnerability and opens you up for a lot of criticism. Sure, players gotta play and haters gotta hate, but even with those things, Survivor still amazes me, all these seasons later.

(On a more inspirational note that has only the slightest tie to this post in that it’s a reality TV clip, check out this link that my mom sent me. It’s an inspirational story from the Australian X Factor that will bring tears to your eyes and make you remember that there are good things worth fighting for in this world.)