Reality TV: Survivor

Many reality televisions shows are wonderful examples of how little people know about strategy. Though it is always cool to claim you don’t watch TV, I readily admit being a lifelong television devotee. My wife, who watches less television than I do, is the true addict in the family when it comes to Survivor. When the show debuted several years ago, I immediately saw it as a great laboratory for strategic theory. In the first Survivor, Richard Hatch emerged as the only competitor who had an inkling of strategy. My great disappointment over the years, the strategic thinking of contestants hasn’t advanced at all over the years despite seeing the mistakes of their predecessors made. This is especially evident in the current Survivor All-Stars where experienced survivors demonstrate that they haven’t grasped even the most basic elements of strategy. For example, Sun Tzu’s teaches that strength comes from the unity of a group, not its size. With this in mind, Survivor teams should always vote off the most divisive members first. If a member creates internal problems, losing a challenge to vote them off is the right strategy. Teams that follow this approach are always been more successful in the long run than teams that don’t. If a strong united team loses, they should not rely on politics to determine who is voted off, since politics is inherently divisive. Instead they should vote off the weakest member, since the strength of the team is what matters until the teams are merged. Survivor viewers know that this winning approach is seldom followed. Most teams start by creating political divisions. Quite literally, they are preparing to lose. When they do lose, the vote is usually political, creating further divisions. Often the strongest members are voted off, rather than the weakest, creating more opportunity for losses. Everyone on Survivor says that they have strategy, but the reality is that they don’t have a clue.