So Extinction Island reemerged after being missing last episode, but unlike every other time, there was almost nothing about its social dynamics. Wardog has also been significantly missing since getting voted out. This is strange, since not only was he a prominent player in almost every episode, but all the previous players on Extinction Island got some screen time for reflection after arrival. Except Wardog. Did he finally reveal Jeff Probst’s birth in a CIA laboratory and had to be censored?
Before playing Survivor, players have to schizophrenically write letters to “themselves” about the upcoming game. This week, the players on Extinction Island were given back their letters, so they could look dramatically pensive as they read them. This lead to some strange moments. For example, Julia said that she “never would have realized” some of the encouraging things that she’d written to herself. But she’s the one who wrote them, so doesn’t that mean that she did realize them? What is going on here?
First, I suspect that Julia is actually just kind of babbling after several weeks of exhaustion and food deprivation. However, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. She might mean that she’s realizing the truth of her own letter on a different level now.
This is similar to my blog entry for Episode 6, where I discussed rationalizations. However, in that case, one part of the brain was concealing an embarrassing truth from another part of the brain. In this case, part of the mind has accepted a relatively broad belief, but is still using old beliefs in specific circumstances. People can often recognize the theoretical goodness or badness of statements when they’re abstracted, yet fail to apply those statements when they intersect with their daily lives.
For example, during the founding of the United States, I think many Americans liked the concept that “all men are created equal” because it sounded nice. However, most of them still applied the belief that “NOT all men are created equal” in specific circumstances (such as slavery). They had not been able to make the connection between the nice statement and their real lives. But because they at least recognized the pleasing morality of “all men are created equal”, future generations of Americans were able to examine that phrase in greater depth and realize how it should change our society.
In a similar way, the players on Extinction Island had written a lot of platitudes to themselves about trying hard and being tough, because platitudes sound nice. Their minds could recognize the aesthetic value of the platitudes, but until the players were actually deep inside the trials and privations of the game, the truth of the platitudes had not hit them in their bones.
Philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Plato were so struck by the aesthetic quality of some morality that they found literal parallels between the beautiful and the good. Other people like William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche were very dubious about the connection between beauty and goodness. Also, as in Episode 6, this kind of thinking can lead to rationalizations, when people “realize” that the platitudes they wrote before let them off the hook from doing the right thing.
Another possible way to view the situation is that when the players wrote their letters, they were creating mythologies to explore at a later date. They were finding vague linguistic expressions for subconscious concepts that were not ready to be analyzed thoroughly. In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell argued that what we now generally call “mythology” had filled this role for much of human history, creating legends to give shape and texture to ideas that are essentially inexpressible. In this episode of Survivor, instead of reading the Book of Job or the Epic of Gilgamesh, players were reading the Letter of Chris and the Epistle of Reem.