All I need to know I learned from Survivor

By Jon Dunbar

A crowd of philosophy buffs and TV watchers were present at the University of Alberta’s Urban Lounge on Saturday for the first in a series of Philosophers Café gatherings, titled "The Philosophy of Survivor: a look at self-interest and morality."

Guest scholar Oliver Schulte and moderator Jennifer Welchman, both professors of philosophy, led the conversation in a cutthroat direction. Schulte began the discussion with a mock game of Survivor between three contestants. He explained his plan was to introduce the game into his class.

"[I wanted to] have the students play Survivor, and give them better grades the longer they survive," said Schulte.

The option to participate in the game will be given in Schulte’s course, Philosophy 325: Risk, Choice, and Rationality.

"In Phys Ed they have sports and students are graded on their ability," Schulte reasoned. "If Rudy had taken this course, he would have walked away with the million dollars."

Schulte said he is in the process of gaining approval to run the activity, which he said would take place over the Internet out of necessity.

"People didn’t watch Survivor the same way they watch the Olympics," Schulte said. "Our fascination with it is wondering about ourselves."
Schulte asked attendees to consider three questions: What’s so bad about Richard, who relied on alliance forming, just because he tried to win the money; which islander did they think they would have been most like; and who on the island had the best strategy?

According to Schulte, viewers had no problem drawing conclusions about Richard.

"[He was a] bad scheming person, [and] Richard was phenomenally unpopular," said Schulte.

He contrasted Richard with the seemingly virtuous Gretchen and Greg.

"Gretchen could not detach herself emotionally like Richard could," Schulte said. "Virtues are their own reward but nice guys finish last."

One participant quoted a survey that said 52 per cent of the viewers would have done exactly what Richard did. As Welchman remarked, Richard maintained, "Wait, I’m not a bad person, it’s a game."

Another participant remarked that there was a second theme to the show:
"This is the way corporate America works."

"The rules of the game, or the market economy, influence the way we act," said another participant.

"Survivor seems to capture something about life more broadly," Welchman said.

For more information visit

Leave a comment