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Wanda's Words of Wisdom – Survivor: Guatemala, Episode 7


by Wanda Shirk

The best thing that happened this week was that Yaxha won the reward challenge, and the worst thing was that they lost the immunity challenge. “Yaxha 2″ established themselves as the good guys of this season.

Before passing on to the characters and theme for this week’s short story, just a note about the challenges, once more. This is Survivor 11, so we’ve had 10 seasons with approximately 30 challenges per season — 15 episodes, each with an RC and an IC. That’s over 300 challenges by now. We might expect that we’d see lots of same-old, same-old, but instead, production keeps amazing us with their creativity. The rope-wrap game was in interesting new one, and the archaeological dig utilizing the Mayan ruins theme posed worthy physical and mental challenges for the teams. Great job, Production!

Nakum and Yaxha are now history. Next week we’ll see new buffs and find out the new tribe name. Now for the half-time analysis:

Nakum remains a lasting disappointment for having sided with Judd against Margaret, but I have smiles for Rafe, for his creativity with the card game made out of leaves, and for Lydia, for her lastingly memorable “Queen of Rock and Roll” performance. Dead at the bottom of every list is Judd, for his overall selfishness and especially for his performance at TC 6. Cindy and Jamie were disappointing this week, with their anti-social, party-pooping attitudes on Danni’s birthday. I’m all about choosing happiness! Put out the pouts and party! We should make life as much fun as possible, especially in the difficult circumstances of “mere survival” times, which we all have in life.

Yaxha won lots of points in my book for sharing their chocolate and their pool and for overall friendliness and good intra-and inter-tribal kindness and respect. Kudos to Bobby Jon for his “today is just about fellowship” attitude and to Danni for initiating the birthday party. Amy’s been a star all season, with strength and spirit that equal or exceed what folks loved about Steph in Palau, and it was sad to see her go. If Steph and Bobby Jon deserved a re-play, how about bringing back Amy and Brian next season?

But the ethical issues highlighted at tribal council were the heart and soul of this week’s episode. What makes Survivor really worth watching is that it’s worth pondering.

The toughest question in all of Survivor is not, as some suppose, whether deception is an ethically acceptable tool in the game. Fact is, it is, because this is a game. Every participant needs to understand that disguising one’s out-of-game identity (as Gary has chosen to do), disguising resources or the lack of them (like wearing a poker face in a card game), and bluffing (as is required in so many games, such as Balderdash, to name just one) are parts of the great game of Survivor. They involve calculated risks on the parts of those who utilize these tools, and as in any risk-taking, the greater the risk, the greater the potential gain — or loss. Every player needs to anticipate that deception could be part of an opponent’s game plan. Deception is a tough decision, ethically and strategically, but it’s not the toughest question.

The toughest question in Survivor is how to choose the person whose name you will write down to end his or her play. That is a team project which involves discussion and debate, give and take, consensus making, trade-offs, and heart-wrenching decision-making that seriously affects another person’s destiny. In the case of a tribal council like this one, right before the merge, it is a question on which approximately $20,000 hangs, as a person who is voted out will go on a wonderful vacation, but a person who stays and becomes part of the jury wins significant prize money. It’s not nickel and dime stuff.

The toughest question boils down to a painful decision of individual ethics. One ethic is total loyalty, what I call “Pick and Stick.” This was exemplified by Bobby Jon at tribal council this week. He said his vote was decided weeks earlier when alliances were made in the first days of the game. No further decisions needed to be made. As Robert Service wrote in “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” ” a promise made is a debt unpaid.” When Bobby Jon has given his word, that’s it.

But that is not the only possible ethic. The competing ethic says that a player of integrity must change his or her mind as the game unfolds, as people get to know more about each other, and as character and courage and spirit (or lack of same) are revealed in tribemates. This is a much tougher ethic. It requires continual thinking and reasoning, openness to new data, new facts, understanding, and re-assessing. It says that a day-one or day-two alliance might have not have been the best, that someone who is truly deserving might not have gotten a fair shake in the quick alliances of the opening days, and that integrity means changing your mind.

Early alliances are invariably critical to long-term success in Survivor. Tom, Katie, and Ian cemented their loyalty on day two in Palau and went to the end with it. After fumbling the first challenge, Chris might have been out of Vanuatu at the first tribal council, but he was secure because he made alliances “as soon as I hit the beach,” he said, and he won the whole game. In Vanuatu, we watched the tribal elders, the wise persons of their respective tribes, Scout and Sarge, both struggle with “Pick and Stick” vs. re-evaluating and considering someone outside the original alliance as being more worthy of staying than someone in the original alliance. Both Scout and Sarge stuck to their initial ethic, which was loyalty to a promise, but we watched them wrestle mentally with the ethic of re-evaluating.

I’m reminded of the book The Outsiders, which almost every high schooler has read in the last forty years. In the game of Survivor, the first two days often establish the initial in-crowd, the “Socs” (short for “socials,” the top-tier group in S.E. Hinton’s novel). Amy was strong of body and spirit, and she ultimately won the respect of everyone in her tribe and everyone in the tv audience, but like Ponyboy in The Outsiders or Coby and Caryn on Koror, there was always the awareness that if you weren’t a Soc, there was a glass ceiling for you, and there was no way you could make F4, or in Amy’s case, even make the jury. (Coby was fortunate to make the jury because Koror never lost an immunity challenge.)

I guess there are three ways to play the game. You can have the loyalty or “Pick and Stick” ethic, and if you are lucky enough to be in the alliance that dominates, you will make the final four. You can have the ethic of constant re-evaluation, and you will be seen as dangerous and untrustworthy and will be voted off. (I hear Caesar saying to Mark Antony, “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much! Such men are dangerous!”) Or you can play with no ethic at all, just the “whatever works for me” plan, which is ultimately what Survivor is all about.

Besides singing on the boat before we got to the island in Palau, I made a 30-second speech exhorting my tribe-mates to “Make friends, not alliances!” the first two days. I personally wanted time to get to know people before committing myself to an alliance. I had a “Bond of the Best” strategy which I had written about in great detail, but I wanted a little time to talk with people and know their hearts and their characters before making promises. I often reflect that perhaps I would have been picked in the third-morning pick-em game if I had jumped into the alliance game sooner, but I had held back to get to know people and to see who I would be with when the tribes were formed. Making early alliances and sticking with them appears to be essential to success.

It’s a tough game to play, especially for a person who thinks and who cares about other people.

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