I have been a loyal watcher of Survivor since the very first season. In the 25 seasons I’ve been a fan, I have taken away many valuable life lessons, mostly by watching others either succeed or fail miserably at outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting their opposition. Here are a few in no particular order:

1. Don’t underestimate anyone. Some of the greatest “blindsides” of the game were the ideas of people who were the least likely to pose a dangerous threat. The most notable example happened on Survivor Marquesas, when the outsiders came from behind and decimated an arrogant alliance. (Side lesson: Pride is always a precursor to a freefall down the hole into humility. It’s a universal law.) This alliance did not have the numbers to take them out until the dominant alliance made it clear (in an elimination challenge, of all places)  that there was an established pecking order within the tribe. When the fringe members of the “top dog” alliance figured it out, they sided with the outcasts, most of whom did not even rate a mention. (One of these “outsiders” eventually won the entire thing, which just goes to show that no one can be counted out.)

2.Rapport does not equal friendship. There are a lot of kind people in the world. People who give everyone the benefit of the doubt. People who are quick to forgive, and slow to take offense. Even when these people experience betrayal, they see it as an opportunity for them to grow, rather than as a personal attack. However, this type is not as common. Many people are a combination of benevolence and selfishness (present company included), with a single-minded focus on their own agenda–regardless of the consequences to anyone else. Sometimes they will use other people to help them achieve their goals. They will say and do whatever is necessary to make a person trust them, and then turn on that person as soon as it is advantageous to do it. The victim of the betrayal will then be stuck wondering how someone who claimed to be a friend could stab them in the back so easily. The answer: Friends do not betray friends. If a person betrays your trust, that person is not a friend.

3. If you don’t work hard, people will talk about you. 

Every season of Survivor has featured the archetype of the “layabout”. (For some reason, most of them are black men. That is either racial type-casting or creative editing) One person who sits in the sun, while everyone else is working. Each time, they get called out by a fellow tribe mate for their laziness, usually to their detriment. (In other words, they get voted off the island) I heard it explained best on another reality show, The City. (Do not judge me) There are two main categories of workers: workhorses and show ponies. The show ponies look the part. They have the connections to be successful, and they do work, but they are inconsistent when it comes to quality. Workhorses just work. Their main focus isn’t on appearing to be a good worker, but on being a good worker. They are often the most grounded members of the tribe, and people want them around because they know that the workhorse will get the job done. The point is if you aren’t contributing in a substantial way, you’re dispensable.

Which brings me to lesson number 4…

4. Everyone is dispensable. 

Last year, I had a conversation with a coworker (and fellow Survivor buff–no pun intended) about that years’s season of Survivor. I explained that there’s one person who always believes he/she is essential to the success of the tribe, but when it comes down to it, everyone is dispensable. As a person, I am unique. There is no one on earth (that I know of) who is exactly like me. As a worker, I can be replaced tomorrow, and that’s just the way it is. It does not matter how strong, intelligent, and incomparable you are. You are replaceable. Thinking that you’re indispensable is always a harbinger of becoming a cast-off.  Be prepared.

5.Plan ahead. It seems like tired advice, but it still stands. Some of the most egregious errors in judgment are made by people who do not plan. (Or you know, make stupid plans, but that’s another story). For example, Russell Hantz had the potential to be one of the greatest Survivor competitors of all-time. He was dominant in most of the challenges. He had the “outwit” element of the game down pat, and he managed to align himself with enough people to secure his place in the final. What didn’t he prepare for? Those same people liking him enough to award him a million dollars. He burned a lot of bridges on the way to the top, and in the end, he lost to someone who made the right alliance, and managed to be likeable during the game.

6. Know your strengths. One of the best players in the entire game was “Boston” Rob Mariano. Rob was the complete package. He was strong enough to be good at physical challenges. He was smart enough to be great at mental challenges. He worked hard around the camp, and he was an excellent judge of character. He played up his strengths and acknowledged his weaknesses. Another thing that Boston Rob did right was that he never wavered. There was always an endgame, and he was always sure of which moves he wanted to make in the game and when he needed to make them. The other players were always sure of where he stood, but never enough to vote him off. He made it two the final two because he was a dominant competitor who knew all the right moves to make.

7. Know your limitations.  Do not try to play the hero when you know you have a limited skill set. If you are not capable of completing the task in challenges, defer to someone who can do it better than you.

8. Quit the grandstanding. It is one thing to be a fabulous leader. It is entirely another matter to be an oppressive tyrant. The best Survivor players are leaders who do not advertise how great they are at telling other people what to do. (At least, not in person. That is the reason the confessional cameras are there.) Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Power players are such because they exude an air of authority without resorting to tired intimidation tactics. They don’t have to.

9. A little self-awareness goes along way. It is admirable not to care what others think about you. However, it is also necessary to keep in mind that you still have to live with these people. Rather than referring to the unofficial leader of your tribe as an ‘idiot’; passive-aggressively bullying anyone whom you consider beneath you, engaging in two-faced gossip, and then feigning innocence and crying when someone confronts you about your behaviour, (I’m talking to you, Abi-Maria from Survivor Philippines) you should probably keep your mouth shut. The face you present to others will leave a lasting impression, so try to make it a good one.

10. Have fun. Life is always better with some humour added. Have fun whenever it is possible. Smile often. Be nice to people. Do not complain (much–if at all). As someone who has lived with the numbness of depression, I do not take my joy for granted. Life is too short to be bitter and cynical. There are a lot of excellent things about life, but a person who is continually looking for the flaws so they can pick them apart will not enjoy them. The majority of Survivor winners are genuinely kind, likeable people. Besides, it takes a lot more energy to be nasty than it does to be nice. Just be nice, already.




P.S. This is one of those, “I-hate-this” posts that I wrote about on Monday. I like it today.


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