As has become tired convention on Survivor, most of the strategy and the players’ perspectives on it unfolded predictably. There were discussions of leadership and how taking it on is bad, the immediate alliance formation, the Russell Hantz, and socially adept hands subtly steering the ship. Sounds like the makings of another boring hum-drum season, right? Perhaps, except floating onto this island like the ghost of Survivor past is Mike Skupin. One of the originals, as Jeff Probst called him, Skupin has never seen this fast and furious gameplay (let’s hope it doesn’t reach Tokyo Drift proportions) which was apparent as he didn’t even feign excitement about his alliance. That reluctance and his subsequent confessional about it asks us a question that nu-strategists often forget (or never knew):
Is there a dichotomy between going with the game and going with your heart? There are three ways in which to approach this question.
1. Emotions are not a separate function from the brain. They do not emerge out of nowhere.
Actually, the complete opposite is true. I’m no psychologist and I’m not going to pretend to be, but I will say the following. Good emotional health is checking your emotional responses to see if they are in line with reality. For example, if you were to punch a guy who stole something you would likely feel something about having taken that action. If you felt bad about your action, maybe you didn’t feel the man deserved to be punched. It would then be important to ask yourself if he deserved to be punched, which is a two-fold question: A. What is the standard for someone deserving to be punched? B. Did this man meet this standard when you punched him?
The difficulty with emotional responses, and why they seem to come out of nowhere, is that the above process I’ve described is often automatized. It happens so quickly, because it is second nature, that we don’t realize it is happening. Thus it’s important when you feel very powerful emotions or are making very important decisions to take that step back and evaluate yourself because:
Emotions are a result of the ideas you hold and the way you see the world being applied to your immediate experiences.
2. Your heart should be in the game. If it’s not, don’t play.
I know, I know, it’s a cliché, but I’m not saying this from the perspective of “other people deserve a chance” or “care about winning.” What I mean is, don’t just care about playing, care about how you’re playing. You guessed it, just like emotions, how you play is a result of the ideas you hold about the game being applied to your immediate experience. Likewise, if you aren’t aware of it, your gameplay will be automatized and seemingly happen magically. This lack of self-awareness is what Zane tried to capitalize on unsuccessfully (Russell Hantz did so successfully). He thought everyone else would just operate off of trusting his charisma. Unfortunately for him, he was stuck on a tribe with a therapist who demonstrated what I’m talking about perfectly. Though she liked Zane, Denise knew there was more to his story and questioned her impression of him. It foiled his plan of being the only one who cared about how he was playing (rather than just getting ahead three more days).
3. If you play the game with emotional stability, you are more likely to do well.
Now let’s combine points one and two. Emotional stability means checking how you are feeling against yourself and reality. Strategic stability means the same thing. Imagine what would happen if you were keeping tabs on both of those while on the island. You’d be so much healthier than everyone else. Is that healthiness an advantage though? I’m tempted to say “yes, healthiness means you’re surviving,” but that would be begging the question. How does constantly making sure your emotions and strategies are in line with yourself and reality make you “healthy” in the game? Only you know what is best for you, what approach to take to challenges, what players will help you last longer. No one else can tell you that. In fact, quite the opposite—which gives us a deeper understanding of point two. Not only would Zane be more active than everyone else, he would be tipping the scales in a manner that favors him over everyone else. A better example is Chelsea in One World. She kept “going with the game” even when it contradicted what she knew to be right. Ultimately this came back to bite her majorly in the jury segment of the game. She didn’t keep who she thought was good around and the jury members held her accountable for it. In other words, Chelsea allowed the scales to be tipped in Kim’s favors. A “healthy” player will make sure his emotions and gameplay are in line because that is the only way HE can win.
Ultimately what makes Survivor so interesting is figuring out how the scale got tipped in the winner’s favor along the way. Sometimes the winner is a very healthy player (such as Kim, Boston Rob, Earl, or Tom) other times he is simply the least unhealthy remaining (such as Bob or Fabio or Danni). Every time it is a mix (even with the winners I have already named), but one truth remains. You can only win as YOU. That means the way you experienced and understood the game has to be considered the superior experience and understanding of the game that season, a fact that is concretized by the jury vote (and demonstrated in jury speeches such as Erik in Samoa and David Murphy in Redemption Island).
Skupin is flirting with disaster by holding this game/heart in his head because by doing so he is allowing RC’s experience and understanding of the game to hold supremacy over his. In other words, he is allowed her to tip the scales in her favor. Will this continue? I’m inclined to say no, as him being able to identify that his mind his going in two different directions (the ideas he holds are saying go with Lisa and his experience in this particular game is telling him to go with RC) means he will have to reconcile that split. Otherwise he’ll find himself on neither side very quickly. Boston Rob’s double blindsiding of Matt Elrod shows us how a player adept at tipping the scales in his favor understands the need to eliminate the confused immediately.
You can’t go with the game (that’s pragmatism) or your heart (that’s emotionalism). Winning takes both. Skupin might be on the path to realizing that, and it just might be the theme of the season.