The theme for Season 37 is “David vs. Goliath”. Successful people who started at the bottom and clawed their way up versus successful people who started at the top and stayed there. (Apologies to anyone who’s still at the bottom. Maybe next season.) There are definitely conflicting ideas about the meaning of success, but for this blog entry let’s assume that it means achieving one’s goals, whatever those goals happen to be.
At first glance, it might seem odd that anyone would agree to be portrayed as a David, since it implies weakness. The Davids are admitting there were times when they could not achieve their goals. Since there’s now precedent for their failure, other people might find it easy to imagine them also failing in the future. Wouldn’t most people feel better about themselves by thinking they were inherently strong and able, without even the possibility of failure? (Of course, it might help that the producers of “Survivor” have a theme and contestants need to follow along if they want to play.)
Yet a significant percentage of people (both inside and outside “Survivor”) seem to prefer thinking of themselves as Davids. I think this is partially connected to differing opinions of strength. A David might think that a Goliath only wins because his abilities have never been seriously tested. In contrast, a David has been tested. A David has been thwarted in his goals by powerful forces, yet has overcome those forces through inner resources of strength that are his “true” nature. He can then feel that he earned his success. The Goliaths don’t know whether they could survive a comparable threat (and the Davids likely doubt it).
Another possible reason for why so many people want to feel like Davids might be that human minds are extremely limited. Almost everyone, no matter how powerful and smart they appear on the surface, seems to feel confused sometimes. As philosophers such as David Hume, Karl Popper, Socrates, and many others have pointed out, certainty is an illusion, yet we tend to believe that “other people” know what’s going on. Often we conclude that these knowledgeable and powerful “other people” are the source of our troubles. Being a David means that you might feel overwhelmed by troubles now, but some day your strength will shine through and you will confidently join the ranks of the mythical confident and powerful people yourself. If for no other reason, most people have felt this frustration of being thwarted simply from being children. Children literally are smaller and weaker than the giant adults around them. It’s a rare person who has not experienced the childhood desire to do something that seems important, only to be stopped by adults with more power who say that it’s forbidden.
The desire to be a David can be so strong that it takes contradictory forms in a society. We often see this with the political divide between right and left. In the United States, the right often portrays itself as the scrappy real Americans fighting a cabal of rich liberal elites and arrogant academics. In contrast, the left often portrays itself as a coalition of oppressed and/or sensitive souls fighting against the cold power of racism, sexism, and entrenched wealth. But they can’t both be the underdogs all the time. So who is correct? Both sides and neither side. It depends on perspective.
I’m not really writing anything new here, but we can see the fluid nature of David and Goliath on “Survivor” too. One of the Davids is a young robotics scientist. He’s obviously extremely intelligent and has achieved great success at an early age. Does he really count as a David? One of the Goliaths lost a hundred pounds on his way to becoming a SWAT officer. He could easily be portrayed as a David because he overcame his lack of physical fitness. There’s not much difference in physical attractiveness between the Davids and Goliaths either. (Hey, Survivor wants to put the David tribe in swimsuits too.)
On to the first episode!