The triumph of the self-aware

by Rob Horning

28 April 2006


I promise to keep my reality-TV bogging to a minimum, but last night’s episode of Survivor was extremely satisfying, underscoring what for me is the greatest pleasure of the show: watching people who have no awareness of how others see them fail. In this case, one of the most appealing Survivor contestants, Cirie, executed an intricate two-stage plot to see to it that Courtney, an irritating self-satisfied faux hippie of the most egregious sort (her shining moment came when she offered to sing sensei Bruce a song, he replies desperately, “Please don’t” and she starts singing anyway) was voted off. To accomplish this Cirie had to understand perfectly everyone’s state of mind, how everyone viewed the situation in the camp and the upcoming vote, and what all of their long-term strategies appeared to be, then know exactly how to manage the reactions of every single other person, telling two distinct lies to two different groups and securing the crucial vote by making the stupidest person still left understand the rationale behind her plan in all its complexity (it wasn’t quantum physics, but it was much more complicated than the usual Survivor schemes). It was a tour de force for Cirie and the show’s editors.

In real life, people who are totally self-involved and utterly ignorant of how they are perceived often seem to do quite well; their ignorance is hardly a hinderance and may in fact imbue them with an air of confidence that persuades others to look past their obvious shortsightedness. These people are usually the loudest and most demanding, and many simply find it easier to manage them by giving them what they want rather than inciting the confrontation necessary to make them see how ridiculously selfish they are being. Their cluelessness about their own boorishness becomes a bargaining advantage, because no one wants to take on the embarrassing task of disenchanting them with themselves. So it’s great escapist, vicarious fun to see that disenchantment happen on TV, accompanied with a sullen exit speech about how they are stunned and never saw it coming. Of course you didn’t, Courtney, you wouldn’t notice a thing happening outside the circumference of your incredibly lame fire dancing.

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