For this episode, I’m mostly interested in the jacket controversy. To summarize, the Jabeni tribe was going to tribal council. Natalie wanted to vote out Lyrsa, but Angelina wanted to first steal Lyrsa’s jacket (her personal jacket that she’d brought to the island). So Angelina asked Natalie to do her “dirty work” and get the jacket. Natalie agreed and asked Nick to steal Lyrsa’s jacket, because he was Lyrsa’s friend. When he refused, she asked for his jacket. When he said no to that too, Natalie asked him: “So is the jacket worth a million?” Nick got very upset and replied: “Are you trying to bully me or something?” The tension over this boiled very hot all the way through tribal council and I assume after as well.
There are a few things to examine here. First, why did Natalie and Angelina’s behavior bother me so much ethically? Natalie later said that she was just “negotiating”, and exchanging favors for votes is one of the central parts of Survivor. This time it seemed to go too far, but why? (And not just because Natalie looked like a mafia thug by saying she only “implied” that she would exchange Nick’s jacket for a vote. “What a nice restaurant you have here. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”)
I think my distaste is mostly because the jacket belongs to Lyrsa outside the scope of the game. If the show had provided the jacket, it would have been okay for Natalie to ask for it. For example, if you play Monopoly and ask for someone’s railroad in exchange for Park Avenue, almost no one would mind. Offering a free dinner, though, would likely seem unfair to the other players, because it would bring in things from the world outside the game, with all the associated advantages and consequences. Similarly, if you’re playing golf and want to take another tee shot, you might tell your opponent that you’ll let him take a second tee shot later in the game too. Sticklers for the rules might object, but they probably wouldn’t see it as corrupt or immoral (as long as the game is casual). On the other hand, if you want to take another tee shot and offer your opponent $100, that would probably seem corrupt even in a casual game, because it uses something of value from outside the scope of the game.
When people join a game, they usually assume that it will be mostly self-contained. Otherwise, the ostensible point of the game would be largely removed, since the status of people in the game would often be decided by their status outside the game. Why play cards with someone who just pays everyone to lose (except maybe to earn some easy money)? The outcome would be predetermined and going through the motions of playing would become superfluous. This is one reason why many people dislike the New York Yankees, Golden State Warriors, and other sports teams with so much money that they can buy their way into championships. It’s still allowed for them to do this, since professional sports are in the business of profit, but leagues frequently enact rules that restrict the ability of rich teams to always dominate. These rules acknowledge that money can corrode the competitive spirit of the game. Drawing from evolutionary and biological theories, the philosopher Catherine Wilson has written that “the reduction of advantage and the prevention of ‘transitive’ harms to the weak are ancient and universal features of what are agreed to be moral codes.”
As a side point that I might examine further in another entry, what if someone on Survivor asked for sex in exchange for a vote? What if someone offered sex? Even though sex isn’t something from “outside” the game, it’s so fraught with emotion that it seems to fall into its own category of morality.
Also, as a last note, how does Angelina expect to go back to her job in the real world and expect people to trust her? She tried to steal someone’s jacket, was too cowardly to do it herself so convinced someone else to do her “dirty work”, then threw her dirty worker under the bus at tribal council. Oh, and she’s vegetarian, which seems odd to me considering all this. I might get into that in a future entry.