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It's Only a Game, Right?
Eric Pierce

If there is one thing that has been argued ad nauseam in regards to reality competition shows, it is whether or not shows like Survivor are primarily games or stories of human drama. After watching the finale of Survivor, it seems that Mark Burnett may have one of his strongest arguments to date that Survivor is more than a game. Not only did Ian choose to put off the game to mend friendships, he virtually forfeited one million dollars in order to do so. Purists, however, who liken a show like Survivor to a game of Beat the Clock played over a month in a jungle, would insist that it be recognized as a competition first, and as a drama second. Regardless of which viewpoint you may align with, it can most likely be agreed that a show like Survivor is, at least in parts, both.

This is where things become dangerous. On paper, any competition that you see on TV is nothing more than a board game, neatly packaged with rules, a board, pawns and some form of challenge that will determine who the winner is. It could be dice, trivia cards, a pencil and paper or even a lump of clay, but these things alone would never make good television. To give a great game concept the chance at being a great reality show, every reality competition has relied on one thing. They eliminated the pawns. They eliminated the thin veil of protection that sits on the board emotionless, and replaced it with the thinking, breathing, feeling human being that commanded it so effortlessly past Marvin Gardens.

If there is anything you should know about me it is that I am ruthless at Monopoly. I suspect that I am not alone. I play silently, speaking only when it is to my favor. I point out how malicious my opponents are when they block me. Then I proceed to rationalize how they forced my actions every time I block them. In short, I work it, and at the end of the day, I win more games for it. Do I feel guilty? No. After all, it's only a game.

Mind you, these are my friends, the people I care for, and I make it very clear that games and life are two separate worlds. They understand that. Now take away my luxuries (and no I don't mean my Donald Trump bobblehead). Replace my friends with strangers who don't know that I am genuinely a good person. Tell me that the game will last a month instead of two hours. Bring in video cameras exposing my every action to the outside world, especially the negative ones. Stir in a million dollars. Has the game changed? Severely. Will strategies change? Absolutely. Will I change?

That is the Survivor's dilemma. When your everyday life becomes a game, you don't get breathing room. You don't get to say, "We're still friends, but you landed on Boardwalk so pay me $2,000." More specifically, when you do say that, you've ripped a million dollars away from someone and their friends and family. You have potentially destroyed the funding for a college education. Either that or a filthy, exotic romp in Vegas. Regardless, the tribe has spoken.

As for me, I say one down and who knows how many more to go. I would play a game like Survivor for the thrill of competition, but I recognize that some people might choose up front or even during the game to play the game as if it is not Monopoly, but rather life. Regardless, everyone signed up for this and while I might give some leniency to people who go on shows during their first season, if you sign up for a reality show you know what you are getting yourself into. It's your choice whether to play the show as a game or as a life experience, but be aware that if you choose the latter you've given up your pawn and left yourself exposed. While it makes great television, can help you make alliances, and might even aid you in front of a jury, ultimately, leaving yourself exposed may cost you more than a million dollars.

Eric Pierce just got back from another killing in "Survivor: Atlantic City." Game tips can be offered by e-mailing him at


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