I’m going to focus on the first immunity challenge (though the second challenge certainly had interesting issues too). The players had to endure standing on two-inch-wide ledges attached to poles while holding horizontal beams behind their heads. The best way to picture this is to imagine the players being crucified. Did the producers ever consider they were making the players look like a row of Jesuses (Jesi)? And the winner was named “Christian”! Metaphors on top of metaphors. He should have said: “My Jeff, my Jeff, why have you forsaken me?”
The challenge eventually came down to Alec and Christian, who spent 5½ hours there. It looked pretty brutal. Most players didn’t even last an hour. Third-place Gabby lasted 2½ hours. At the 5½-hour mark, Alec tried to guilt Christian into stepping off, saying: “You’re safe. I’m not.” Alec knew that most of the others were planning to vote him out next, so this immunity challenge was his only hope. Christian countered that he knew that, but this could be his only chance to win an immunity challenge.
Did Alec have a moral point? Pragmatically considering the rules of Survivor, it was an odd request. Christian and Alec weren’t allies, so why should Alec expect Christian to make a sacrifice for him? Alec should have known that Christian wanted to vote him out too. This wasn’t a literal matter of life-or-death, and Survivor is ultimately a game of individuals.
However, I think moral decisions are usually grounded in emotions. As the philosopher Jesse Prinz has written: “…emotions are not merely correlated with moral judgments but they are also, in some sense, both necessary and sufficient.” To convince people that an action is right or wrong, you generally have to find some part of the action about which you both share the same gut moral judgement. Once you do that, then you can build a rational argument on that emotional foundation, to show that your position is the best way to fulfill that gut moral judgement. (For the record, a lot of philosophers, like Plato, disagree with this.)
For example, imagine that you want to spend some money to improve a park, but your opponent wants to spend the money to improve a school. If you just frame your argument in terms of trees being pretty, you probably won’t convince your opponent. But if you establish that you both think it’s important to help kids, then you can argue that kids benefit from being able to play in a good park. That might give you a better chance of winning the debate.
Considering this, Alec made a wise strategic decision to frame his request as a moral one. If he made it a rational request, trying to bargain with Christian, then I don’t think it would have even had a chance, because the best practical move for Christian’s game was to win immunity. However, if Alec could poke at some non-rational feeling inside Christian to have mercy on him, then he could maybe build a rational argument on top of that.
Interestingly, Christian’s response wasn’t really a rebuttal of Alec’s moral request. A rebuttal might have pointed out that Alec didn’t deserve mercy because Alec had never been very merciful himself. In fact, Alec had already indirectly betrayed Christian a couple times. Also, Survivor isn’t a game of mercy. This argument might have severely damaged Christian’s relationship with Alec, though, since people generally don’t like to be told that their gut moral judgements are inherently wrong.
Instead, Christian made his own moral request. He appealed for Alec’s understanding that he might never have another chance to win an immunity challenge. He was poking for a gut feeling inside Alec that it was fair to let Christian win one. That was a smart move, because now Alec might think of his loss as being fair instead of as something being unfairly taken from him. That will probably make Alec more likely to choose Christian in the final round. Although honestly, after 5½ hours on those poles, I don’t think Christian was being calculating. I think he was just being unfiltered after reaching the limits of his physical endurance.
As a final unrelated point, it looks like I was wrong about a secret Alec-and-Kara alliance with the Davids in Episode 9. That means Carl and the other Davids had a silly level of overconfidence about their tribal council win. They messed up the vote-steal, because Dan wouldn’t have played his idol if they hadn’t revealed the vote-steal beforehand. Plus, Carl claimed in an Entertainment Weekly interview that he and the Davids guessed that Dan had an idol based on evidence that I think was pretty shaky. They were right, but based on their “evidence”, that was mostly just luck. They also definitely had no evidence that Dan would play his idol. So overall their win had very little to do with skill.