I want to focus this week on how Kara turned against Dan, with whom she’d been in a flirtatious showmance. Kara’s feelings for Dan had been dimming as she noticed his difficulty in controlling his emotions. In Episode 7, he threw a tantrum over being targeted by Elizabeth, even though he wasn’t really at risk. In this episode, he sulked and made enemies after using an idol to save Angelina at tribal council. In contrast, Kara had been at real risk in her previous tribe after her ally Natalia was voted out, but she’d kept her cool and survived. Also, not only had Kara lost trust in Dan, she saw that other people had lost trust in him, which made him a liability for her.
However, Kara didn’t just decide to break off her showmance with Dan. She proactively betrayed Dan as a way to create a new alliance. (I remember thinking in Episode 7 that Dan was setting himself up for a blindside by telling Kara about his idols.) She told people about Dan’s idols and suggested voting him out because his trust in her made him an easy target.
This being a blog about Survivor and Philosophy, my question is: Were Kara’s actions ethical?
As I also examined in Episode 5, there are two contexts here: the “real” world and the Survivor world. It seems relatively uncontroversial to say that most people would find Kara’s actions unethical in the real world. To betray a lover for material gain, especially by trading that betrayal to others in exchange for power – we could get into a discussion about what exactly makes that unethical, but I think it’s a rare person who would approve of such behavior.
Therefore, it seems more interesting to discuss whether Kara’s actions are ethical within the parameters of the game. First of all, Survivor is a game largely built on deceit. The best players are often those who most convincingly lie and betray. This is a well-known fact among the players going into the game. If Survivor were a game explicitly based on trust and Kara were deciding to throw those accepted ethics out the window, then we might be able to easily condemn her betrayal of Dan, but that’s not the case. Dan’s trust in Kara is a valuable potential asset for her to trade with other players, so the conventions of Survivor would seem to encourage her to use it.
Then again, although only one person can technically win Survivor, a showmance couple could get to the final round together. I’ve read that the producers heavily discourage players from making pacts to split the winnings, but that seems hard to enforce with a romantic couple, since they would be spending so much time together after the game. Therefore, it’s not delusional for two people who are truly affectionate to plan to never betray each other for the entire game.
However, I wasn’t completely telling the truth above when I said there were two contexts. As much as we and the players say that Survivor isn’t the “real” world, of course it actually is. When a hitman tells his victim “it’s not personal, it’s only business”, that seems cold because we know that people’s lives are personal. Being able to totally separate these things is a proof of brutality.
Romantic attraction doesn’t seem like an emotion that can be fully isolated within the parameters of the game. If Dan had true feelings for Kara, then they were probably tapping into a hope that their relationship could exist after the game as well. So when Kara used that hope as a bargaining chip, then she was breaking the ethical quarantine of the game. She was doing something that had “real-world” implications, and thus she should be judged at least partially by real-world ethics.
But what if one person in a couple has become a liability? Kara only betrayed Dan after it became clear that he was hurting her game. If Dan hadn’t been hurting her game and she had betrayed him so proactively, then it might be easier to judge her badly, but the ethics of leaving a harmful partner are very circumstantial. Still, Kara could have broken off the showmance without using Dan’s trust to buy alliances with other players. She didn’t have to be the mastermind of betraying him. Also, Dan wasn’t hurting her game on purpose. So I lean toward saying that although Kara was right (and smart) to end the showmance, it was mildly unethical for her to weaponize his affection against him. However, since deceit is so ingrained with Survivor, I’m sympathetic to counter-arguments.
By the way, since Alec and Kara voted for Angelina instead of Christian, I suspect they did join forces with the Davids. I think that’s why the Davids stole Alison’s vote, because she wasn’t on board with their plan like Alec and Kara. I also think Kara told the Davids about Dan’s idol. How else would Carl have known to put down Dan’s name for his idol nullifier? (Then again, I’m also wrong a lot.)