So the Lesu tribe lost yet another immunity challenge, meaning the carnage there continues unabated. I suspect the producers knew this would happen when they gave one tribe a name that sounds like “lesser”. Maybe for the good of this season, Joe should just stage a benevolent coup against Jeff Probst and absorb Lesu into the Kama tribe.
There have been some rumblings online that the ending of this episode was too sad. The Lesu players were portrayed as grimly sitting in their shelter, not wanting to begin discussing for the fourth time in a row about voting someone out. In their confessional interviews, they talked about how they all liked each other and there was no easy pick this time. (Although they didn’t seem so cozy just the day before. David and Devens had been actively trying to vote out Wentworth. Is it really true that they’re now sad about voting her out?)
I sympathize with how some viewers wanted arguing and fireworks because they’re more fun to watch, but I think the editors made a good decision with this episode. The fun option is not always the best option in a work of art. Even though sadness isn’t enjoyable to experience personally, it’s an integral part of human life. This can make sadness satisfying to experience vicariously through works of art, even if the visceral feelings are unpleasant. I would argue that the majority of great dramatic works have sad endings. They stick in the mind and heart longer. I don’t think nearly as many people would love The Godfather if Michael didn’t turn evil or Vito didn’t die. The Great Gatsby still has loyal readers after almost a century because Gatsby doesn’t marry Daisy.
Aristotle said that the best tragedies arouse “pity and fear” in their audiences. And Survivor is a tragedy. Even though there are sometimes funny or heroic moments, the main plot line is 18 players trying to symbolically kill each other. Every episode ends with a player being voted out. Every episode is focused on players futilely struggling against their game deaths, like Oedipus or Antigone in ancient Greek tragic plays. Even though the last episode celebrates a winner, we also have to watch two other people lose that final vote. (Plus, depending on who you’re rooting for, the hero doesn’t always win.)
By “pity and fear”, Aristotle meant that a tragic audience should feel distress at the emotional pain of the characters and nervousness about suffering a similar fate. This is opposed to comedies where the audience might laugh at the emotional turmoil of characters, or heartwarmers where the audience might feel pity but not much nervousness because they know the pain will probably be overcome. Of course, comedies and heartwarmers can also be enjoyable and well-made, and Aristotle liked them too, but he just felt that different types of stories followed different rules.
I’m certainly not going to agree with all of Aristotle’s remarks on tragedy, but tragic audiences often do seem to want the unpleasant emotions of pity and fear. I could write an entire book (and many people have) about why most humans seem to savor unpleasant emotions in some of their works of art. I suspect it’s connected to how strong emotions, even unpleasant ones, make us feel engaged with life. Living through difficult times can be invigorating and a boost to the self-esteem. Works of art that probe distressing emotions allow us to feel the rush of “surviving” difficult times without having to face actual risks. They also allow us to contemplate some hard truths of life from a safe distance, which can give a pleasant feeling of wisdom.
I know he’s in the doghouse these days, but the comedian Louis CK had some interesting things to say about this (and considering that Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, eventually became a Nazi, the bar for bad behavior in philosophy is pretty high): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c.
Building on what CK says above, difficult emotions can also sharpen the feeling of pleasant emotions. If Survivor were nothing but fireworks in every episode, it might actually get a little boring. Although there could be variety in the types of arguing and backstabbing, our minds might start to hunger for something more similar to our actual lives. We might start to lose our Aristotelian fear, because the drama would seem too dissimilar to the ups and downs of our own lives.