Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


I watched the Survivor finale tonight. It's one of the few reality shows I can get myself addicted to. I haven't watched all of the seasons, but whenever I start watching the first couple of episodes of any of them, I get drawn in and find myself watching the whole season. So I've seen maybe half of the seasons. This was probably the most compelling ending of any that I've seen, mostly (I think) because all of the contestants left as the game winded down seemed like real people, and reasonably bright people. There were no caricatures. There was no one who seemed like they weren't a thinking person. And maybe the credit for that goes to the editing room, where they take the hours and hours and hours of footage and condense it into merely hours. If so, then kudos to them. If not, then I think the producers did a great job this season of finding cast members who I personally liked. :)

The interesting twist tonight was that Ian, a 23-year-old dolphin trainer, basically sacrificed a spot in the final two (and likely a significantly-better-than-even chance at the million dollar prize) in order to leave with his integrity. Here's what happened: Ian, Tom (the eventual winner), and Katie (who finished second) had made a promise at the beginning of the game to take each other as far as they could go. Over the course of the 39 days, Ian and Tom became close, and Ian and Katie became close. The challenge Ian found himself in was that the game got mixed up with the relationships Ian formed. Ian and Katie had promised each other that if one of them won a reward challenge and got to choose someone to go with them, they would choose one another. On last week's episode, Ian won a reward challenge, but chose Tom to go with him. Strategically, this was (arguably) a smart move -- leaving Katie with the other 2 remaining players while he and Tom went on the reward would likely, Ian could have figured, lead the others to form an alliance to vote off Tom, Ian's biggest threat. If this happened, Ian would get to have Tom gone while at the same time avoid dirty hands. So, strategically, one could make the argument this was smart. But Katie took it (or at least played it) as a personal affront, because of Ian's promise to her. And Ian freaked out, because he valued his personal relationship with Katie and didn't want to lose it for the sake of the game. He apologized. Profusely. Groveled, in fact. But you could feel his pain -- or at least I could. The personal was getting confused with the game and he didn't know what to do. He was smart enough to know how to win the game, but didn't want to sacrifice the friendships he imagined he'd made, and didn't know how to play it. He was torn. It was riveting to watch, actually. You could see his internal struggle with what to do, what to say, how to save himself in both the game and in life. Because all along he'd played the game as "the nice guy," and if he lost that... you could sense that was bothering him more than the chance to win.

Now, this week, with 4 people left at the start, Ian started to strategize with the other 2 to vote Tom off if Tom didn't win immunity. Tom won immunity. And said he wouldn't vote Ian off, since they had their agreement. And Ian, who, even when he was trying to play the game ruthlessly, appeared completely unable to pull off lying about anything, said he was glad it wasn't he who had to make that decision, because it would have been hard. This bothered Tom, because Tom played it off as an easy decision -- they had an agreement, and he would stick to the agreement, no matter what. It came to light that Ian had been planning to vote Tom off had Tom not won immunity. Tom felt betrayed, personally. Again, the game and the personal were getting muddied. And, again, Ian didn't know how to save himself. He was just playing the game, but (and this may have been strategy all along) Tom and Katie were taking it as betrayal of friendship, and that's not what Ian wanted at all. So he found himself torn. How does he play the game but still maintain the relationships.

Now, really, I felt Ian's pain. Maybe it's just because he came across on TV as so genuine, so earnest, so well-intentioned, or maybe it was something in him that connected with me, but, really, I found this to be extraordinary television. Yeah, it's only a reality show, it's only a game, but you could tell Ian thought he'd made real friendships here, and felt like he was blowing it, that something was happening and the more he tried to play the game the less he liked the consequences and the less he was able to live with Tom and Katie feeling like he'd been lying to them.

What made this even neater to watch was that, from the omniscient perspective of the audience, we knew Tom and Katie really weren't doing anything different than Ian was -- they were strategizing, changing alliances, lying to people -- but they were just better at hiding it, and better at keeping it from interfering with the personal side of things. And because we saw this side of it, I found it hard to know whether Tom and Katie were being genuine or were just playing Ian, knowing it would get to him if they acted like this was ruining their friendship, and taking advantage of his innocence. And on some level surely they were playing him, but he just didn't seem to see it, and all he wanted was their approval.

So he gave up. He traded a chance at the final two for the returned respect of Tom and Katie. So they would know the friendship was more important than the game -- but, even more, so HE would know the friendship was more important than the game, and so he could live with himself in the end. It seems silly to give up a million dollars for this -- for friendship with two people who may have been playing you all along and who may not even be worth being friends with -- but you could sense his torment, and that if he'd won the money it would have made him wonder what kind of a person he was -- if he was really as good a person and as honest a person as he wanted to see himself as. The fact that someone on TV was wrestling with this -- that there could be a character on TV really feeling torment about this kind of stuff -- this is what made it compelling to watch. He was wrestling with his conscience, on the island of Palau, about the relationships formed on a reality show.

I feel like the response to him stepping out and giving up the chance at a million dollars will be negative from most of the people watching -- that he was stupid, naive, weak, whatever -- and that no way should he have done that. But I don't know. I see the desire to want to see yourself as a good person. I certainly want to see myself as a good person. And I try not to do things that conflict with that. And when I do, I feel bad about it. Even if I haven't really done anything bad, but just think maybe something I did could be interpreted that way, I feel really terrible and have a tremendous impulse to fix it. I guess to some extent we all do. I can see where Ian would have really had a hard time with himself if he'd felt like he'd betrayed people he saw as friends in order to win the money, and if he felt like he'd played the game without the integrity he saw himself having. And I'm not sure that isn't worth more than a million dollars (or at least whatever's left after taxes). Besides, to be on national TV as the villain, even a million-dollar villain, may not be as rewarding in the end as getting to come off as the nice guy, despite the money. So I totally understand what he did, and can't be sure I wouldn't have done the same thing in a similar situation.

I have a hunch he'll end up better off in the end -- endorsement opportunities and the like. But that may just be wishful thinking, as I hang on to the idea that good people should have good things happen to them. And he definitely came off as a good person in the end. Although maybe that was all strategy too...