Urban Tribes, Big Brother and Survivor

urban tribes2

Spoiler alert- if you don’t know the winner of big brother do not read this blog!!!

So if you guys didn’t know I really love strategic game shows like Survivor (well especially Survivor and watched Big Brother for the first time this year).  I find it fascinating to see how people work together and what rationale they use for different moves.  It’s a gimmicky social experiment but still a social experiment and I find it very entertaining and occasionally enlightening.

Well Big Brother just ended last night and Derrick had been dominant the entire game.  He had aligned himself closely with Victoria who was sweet but had done little strategically, and with Cody who had been more cutthroat throughout the game.

derrick and cody
Derrick and Cody

In the final HOH Cody had the choice whether to take Victoria who had almost no chance to win or Derrick who hadn’t been nominated once out of 55 times for the block and had been allied with almost everyone.  And he chose Derrick?

Why?  Cody could have won the 500k almost certainly but he chose his ally, his best friend in the game over a sure win.  Many in my RHAP patron group couldn’t believe it.  What a stupid move we all said!

The interesting thing is earlier this year in the fantastic Survivor Cagayan season we had almost the same situation unfold.  Kass had been an angry version of Victoria.  She had burned bridges with everyone and just been very unpleasant all season (I would go nuts with someone like her!). Then there was Woo who was a taikwondo instructor and his ally Tony who had played like a maniac all season building spy shacks, cutting alliance members and speaking in llama (probably my personal favorite survivor player ever).

Just like with Big Brother Woo, the calm, team player, won the final immunity challenge and had the chance to take Kass to the end and win a million dollars, and he chose Tony out of loyalty and respect.

woo and tony2
Tony and Woo

Both Cody and Woo said they felt their partners had ‘earned his spot in the finale’ and they’d rather lose to their friend than win to a nothing person. Seeing these two scenarios play out so close together had me thinking.

Is this just random or is there some kind of cultural reason that we value loyalty and friendship so much, even over money.  Or we value them when we are young and unmarried even over money.  Is there a connection?I could be overthinking it but here’s a thought.  I love the book Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters.  urban tribesWatters wrote an article for the New York Times that he then turned into a book about an experience he had at Burning Man.  He was there with his closest friends and as he headed towards the fireside he saw his friends and realized they were his whole life:

“It looked like home, that little encampment in the dust-home because these particular people were there waiting for me. And then I could see the scene in a different way- as an anthropologist might who was studying a group of great apes . It was almost dark now and I stopped 20 years away…

Certainly each of these people had a relationship with me, but they all had distinct relationships with each others.  There was a web of love affairs, friendships, rivalries, work partnerships, and shared homes.  Connect any 2 of these 25 people and you would find a history of hundreds of hours of conversation, secrets, gossip and all manner of insights into the world”

He goes on:”Maybe I had not been delaying growing up, my real life, but had been living it fully- sailing through my 20s and early 30s as a member of a functional urban tribe”

Now you might be thinking how can an urban tribe exist in a game show where people are voting people off the tribe?  Isn’t that counter-intuitive?  Yes, and no.

First of all, not everyone playing the game is used to living in an urban tribe environment but the young single (especially men) are, so they are perhaps most vulnerable to this type of attachment.  But aside from the votes,  which some like Woo and Cody are basically kept safe from, the dynamics of alliances and a tribe/house are near-perfect urban tribes.  They satisfy family roles, traditions, gossip, work (challenges), insight etc.

So if you are a young person who is used to living in an urban tribe environment like frat boy Cody or martial arts instructor Woo perhaps their choices at final 3 aren’t that surprising?  Both Tony and Derrick were very confident they would be picked so it didn’t seem to be a tough decision. It was that much a part of who they are to make the choice easy.

I am less an urban tribe dweller now I am 33 but there was a time when I fit the description and I ate up Watters book.  I felt like someone was finally telling me my life wasn’t a total waste of time because I was unmarried.  You should see my copy it is underlined and highlighted.  So, there is a time when I would have absolutely made the same choices as Cody and Woo.  In fact, I’m still a very loyal and friend-oriented single person so I might still do it today.

And people say ‘it’s only 39 days or 3 months’?  How can you get that kind of urban tribe bond in such a short period of time.  I actually find that completely believable.  On my mission I was isolated from my family and friends and there were people I would have cut off my arm for if they had asked me.  I would have done anything for them.  And most of the time I had only known them for a few weeks. My companions I had for 6-12 weeks and I was incredibly loyal to them (some I wanted to rip their head off but most I liked!).

In fact, when you are in that kind of intense experience the bonds form even faster, and I know if I was on an island somewhere you can bet I would form an urban tribe real quick that would be tough to severe for money.

I realize it is a game but I just think the culture of urban tribes has created a loyalty-over-all-else culture and I’m actually glad to see it.  It’s kind of refreshing in a way. Especially as a single girl, it is nice to know there are guys out there who put loyalty and friendship over money and success.  As a married woman I might want it differently but I don’t know?

Watters quotes a woman named Leah and she pretty much describes my life “I’ve grown a lot through my tribe.  I’ve found out more about myself, developed in areas I would not have if I weren’t involved with these people.  I now know what I want out of life or at least what I don’t want.  I know I will not settle for the wrong man or the wrong job. I have a strong source of support…I guess you could say I have found myself”

Now that I am in my 30s, some friends are gone and this type of close-knit bond is harder to find for daily support.  But fortunately I have my roommate and great friends who are there when I need them.  They are honestly more important to me than family as far as this type of support goes.

I could be completely wrong and an urban tribe mentality may have nothing to do with Cody or Woo’s choices but it seems probable.  I can at least imagine it influencing them.

What do you think of urban tribes?  Do you watch Survivor or Big Brother?  Did you watch these seasons?  What do you think?

In the end, friendship is everything to some of us (and seriously Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters is a great book!).

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