For this episode, I’d like to write about John’s mellow reaction to being voted out. He was the surprise choice after Davie used an immunity idol to save Christian, and Dan used an immunity idol to save Angelina. But when John’s name emerged from the pot, he mostly just made a smile of surprise and genially got up and walked out. In the post-tribal interview, he had no animosity to Christian for voting him out. (Especially since John himself was trying to vote out Christian.)
Why do some people get angry when they’re voted out and others don’t? It’s often considered more honorable or ethical to accept defeat graciously, but of course not everyone does that (or not even most people). I can’t make any judgements about John’s personality outside of Survivor. He’s a professional wrestler, so he’s probably well-practiced in masking his emotions for the camera. All I’m doing is thinking about the different public reactions that most people have when defeated.
At first glance, equanimity in the face of defeat doesn’t appear to be a good strategy for natural selection. Wouldn’t individuals who simply accept defeat end up winning less often than people who kick and struggle? So why would this behavior persist? On further examination, though, there can be benefits to taking defeat graciously.
First, it can save your life. In many animal species, fights for dominance often end with the winner allowing the loser to retreat without a death blow. Biologists generally agree this is because there’s too much risk for both individuals to continue the fight. Once the superior fighter is determined, the inferior fighter is likely to be killed if he keeps fighting, but if he retreats then he can live to fight another day. When the inferior fighter retreats, there is also little to be gained from the superior fighter chasing after him – he’s already won the rewards of the fight and might get severely wounded by the desperate loser trying to survive.
Second, a loser has to consider the social navigations that will happen after the fight. He has to consider whether the winner will now hold some control over his life, which means that he might do better if the winner likes him. Also, polite behavior can signal to others that he is a reliable and easy-going person to ally with in the future. These benefits can occur even if the loser dies, since his descendants might benefit from his good reputation.
Since the strategy of gracious losing can be seen in several other species (including our closest relatives), I think it’s likely that it simply continued into humanity from an ancestor species rather than developing in humans separately. Over time, as human culture became more complex and nuanced, this strategy acquired a variety of evaluative standards which became a system of honor and ethics.
That being said, an ill-tempered fuss can sometimes be a successful strategy too. It can signal to people that you’re a hard fighter who doesn’t give up until all avenues to victory are closed, which could make you a good ally. It can also make other people less likely to try defeating you, because they won’t want to deal with your complaining even if you lose. Thus, being a sore loser is a strategy that has also persisted in human society. One strategy is often seen as having more honor than the other, but honor and evolutionary success are not always in sync.
The sore-loser strategy is an example of how behavior isn’t necessarily ethical just because it has an evolutionary purpose. (The belief that behavior is acceptable or superior simply because it’s natural is known as the “naturalistic fallacy”.) Evolution is a system of compromise and survival, not a system of determining the optimal life for every individual. As the anthropologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal have written: “… social contracts, as rough compromises between competing agents, often with unequal powers and needs, may be unsatisfactory from a normative standpoint because they do not fully respect worth, value or rights.”
Also, just in brief, I’m interested in Angelina’s comment about sexism. In the previous episode, she proposed voting out Christian because she said he was a bigger threat than Elizabeth. However, the other Goliaths overruled Angelina and picked Elizabeth instead. Then in this episode, Mike made the same argument about Christian that Angelina had, but this time the Goliath men were on board with the idea. Angelina said her being a woman might have had something to do with that, and as of now I’m inclined to agree with her. Especially after Dan snapped at her when she was worrying about being a decoy vote. Based on the preview of next week’s episode, though, I think I might have more to say about this then.