I’ll never forget the first season of Survivor. And not just because I was struck by the luminescent handsomeness of host Jeff Probst. What made the show truly compelling was the contestant’s two-pronged incentive for action: the good of the tribe versus self-preservation. Loyalty to your mates versus loyalty to ‘Numero Uno’. (People refer to themselves as ‘Numero Uno’, right?)
It’s one of the most primal inbuilt response-mechanisms that we animals – you and I – use for survival. And it’s not just the high stakes life-or-death type of survival but arbitrary day-to-day stuff too. Like the time one of those enormous unpredictable brown grasshoppers was lodging on the wall right next to my front door. There was no way inside except past that grasshopper. Upon setting eyes on the bug, my extremely sturdy 200cm-tall other half pushed me in front of him making me a human shield between he and the insect so as to ensure his own personal safety.
In the same way that I played sacrificial lamb to my boyfriend’s arthropod phobia, Survivor contestants will 99 per cent of the time throw their fellow tribes people to the lions (via the show’s evil system of progressive elimination) if it means saving themselves.
The instinctive desire for one’s individual welfare will almost always triumph over the common good. Especially in Survivor where a one million dollar paycheck is at stake.
In the show’s inaugural season, Survivor: Borneo, the [SPOILER ALERT] ultimate winner Richard Hatch had an almost impressive disregard for loyalty. And pants.
Using self-preservation as his motive and self-serving smarts as his vehicle, Richard strategically – and quite openly – aligned himself with whomever could ensure he made it through to the next round. In the final showdown between the two remaining survivors Richard came up against Kelly .
Kelly was part of a voting alliance with contestants Rudy and Sue as well as Richard. However, spurred by her own self-serving fears of elimination, Kelly started a bit of tactical mingling with contestants outside the alliance, leading to one of the most famous moments in reality television history:
In the final tribal council in which ousted contestants voted for the ultimate winner, Sue delivered her now-classic Rat-Snake Analogy speech:
Like Survivor, Australian politics is divided into two* tribes: the government and the coalition. Alliances are formed and broken; there are transgressions of loyalty and overt backstabbing; and, to put it in Survivor vernacular: some contestants will say anything in order to last one more round in the game.
Yesterday the Australian Labor Party‘s tribe was shaken up by the resignation of a key alliance member, Kevin Rudd, from his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rudd decided to resign after he felt he did not have the support of his fellow tribes person, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Here is how that happened:
According to the laws of the Rat-Snake Analogy this move was decidedly Snake-like.
Throwing his tenuous personal alliances out the window and abandoning the greater good of his struggling tribe, Kevin made the caucus-equivalent of throwing the Labor Party in front of an enormous unpredictable brown grasshopper.
Let’s face it, the Australian government has never looked so unstable. A professor of political science at Australian National University in Canberra told the New York Times that the acrimonious public showdown was a symptom of a “dysfunctional” government that was beginning to “implode.”
If the Australian Government was a tribe on Survivor, Kevin Rudd just cemented his role as the Richard.
Gillard’s response was unquestionably Sue-like, voicing obvious disappointment and calling out Kevin/Richard for going behind her back. In a statement she said, “I am disappointed that the concerns Mr. Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision,”
As they say in reality tv speak: she got ‘played’.
On Survivor Richard never got played! He slithered around dangerously, preying on the insecurities of the more vulnerable contestants, and overrode his loyalties to the tribe and any personal alliances when the time was right and it benefited him. The Snake Approach made a winner out of Richard, and only time will tell as to whether or not it will prove victorious for Kevin Rudd…
It certainly did for Julia Gillard.
She ‘went the Full Snake’ in 2010, when she challenged the prime ministership of Australia and won… Unfortunately, this textbook ‘Richard move’ only atrophied the reputation of the tribe. And with Julia/Richard’s questionable support in favour of a mandatory internet filter as well as her rejection of legalising same-sex marriage behind her, she quickly became the least popular person in the entire tribe.
You see, being The Snake can backfire.
Richard Hatch may have been the sole Survivor and through his Snake Approach he did take home the million dollar prize… but do you know what happened next? Old Richard failed to report that $1,000,000 in prize money on his Federal income tax returns, and old Richard was indicted for tax evasion and spent 51 months in a federal prison.
On Monday the future of the Labor federal government (Julia/Richard vs Kevin/Richard) will be decided by a leadership ballot of the Labor Caucus – ‘tribal council’ if you will – and then we’ll see who of these two self-preservation focused Snakes will be the ultimate Survivor.
I guess that just leaves us with The Rat.
Sue anointed Kelly ‘The Rat’ because instead of playing by her own strategy Kelly was a bit of a two-faced liar. Basically, she was a pliable tribes member. Someone who would say or do anything in order to survive. She never really crystalized her own agenda or tactics. Instead, she subbed in personal integrity for a lot of reactionary choices and decisions based on whatever made the majority of people around her satisfied.
Remind you of anyone?
*For the sake of relevance in the context of this article I refer to the ALP and Liberal Party as the two ‘tribes’.
Title Image by Scott Barbour via Getty