Why People Love Underdogs… and Hate Villains

Last year I wrote a post about British singing sensation Susan Boyle called Why Does the World Love an Underdog?

It wasn’t picking on Susan — it was pointing out limiting patterns many people have, and why we need to provide value in order to receive it — but it caused quite an uproar from Susan fans who took it personally, and don’t understand the personal-development lessons that Barry and I offer by dissecting trends and actions.

(This blog is written by me, whereas our LWL blog has been written by both of us, but make no mistake… I discuss a lot of thoughts and feelings with Barry before writing posts like this, so parts of him are here too.)

Don’t go to that post looking for the flames, though, because most of them weren’t approved. I always welcome intelligent commentary, but not things without substance, like, “You’re evil! Susan rules!”

Again, I think Susan has a great singing voice — not my taste, but she’s certainly talented.

As for the winner of this season’s Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, I can’t say the same thing. What it proves is that some people still love underdogs, and can’t stand villains…

This is Thursday, and for the first time in awhile, Barry and I won’t be watching Survivor. I know, it seems like a pretty pedestrian viewing choice at first, but it’s a fascinating look at human nature and psychology (and yes, I “get” that “reality shows” aren’t “real”… that doesn’t take anything from the fact that, even if some things are set up, real human emotions and relations come into play).

I remember watching the first season of Survivor a decade ago, but I never watched again until we stumbled onto Samoa (Season 19) last summer, saw 37-year-old oil services company owner Russell Hantz mouthing off about what he was going to do, and then experienced him actually doing it.

Hey, ya gotta respect someone who does what he says, cocky or not! He really makes the show interesting with his scheming.

He also revealed his belief that he could control his competitors’ thoughts by controlling their feelings… something that anyone who’s studied metaphysics knows to be true.

That’s why, when we found out he was going to be on Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20), we had to watch that too.

If you didn’t follow it, the first time around he made it to the end, but lost to a soft-spoken girl (26-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep Natalie White) who had been riding his coattails in an alliance.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Dalton Ross described the fiasco this way:

“You may not like Russell. You may consider him cocky, sneaky, and lots of other things. But he OWNED this game, and he owned the final Tribal Council as well. Natalie’s opening speech to the jury contained NOT ONE SINGLE REFERENCE to anything she did well in the entire game, just that it was ”the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Hey, hand her the million then! Later, she talked about how her big strategy was to NOT be aggressive. That was her strategy!!! Don’t do anything. Again, hand her the million!”

Yeah… that was our first clue that people don’t like anybody who makes them uncomfortable, rocks the boat, or dares to be different from what “the crowd” dictates. They voted for Natalie over Russell because she didn’t ruffle any feathers, and Russell definitely did. People like to believe that being “nice” is better than being ambitious, and it showed in that vote.

But no matter how much you like to watch the cheerleaders, you can’t say they’re the true winners of the game. The guys getting dirty on the field are the ones who get the Superbowl rings, and in this case, that was Russell.

Pundits, bloggers and commentators observed that he played a good strategic game, but a poor social game.

“Reality” Steve Carbone, for instance (the guy who repeatedly reveals “secrets” and outcomes from The Bachelor franchise, well before they air), made this comment partway through the season, in formulating his prediction of who would (or wouldn’t) win:

“Essentially, Russell has made no friends along the way, doesn’t care who he pisses off, and doesn’t care who he lies to. That’s great to get you to the end, but when it’s those people that have to turn around and vote for you, most are vindictive enough if you didn’t give them a hug or ask them about their family life back home, to not write your name down…

So in closing, do I want to see Russell win? Yes. Has Russell been the best player we’ve seen on this show? Yes. Will Russell win? I doubt it.”

He was astutely basing that on an interview from ousted player Monica, who may have been the first to publicly say that Russell wasn’t playing a very smart social game.

But that’s not really true; he may have angered and annoyed others through game-driven lies and deception, but face-to-face he seems very likable and convincing. In other words, he played a good social game, in my opinion:

It’s not his social skills that were lacking so much as others’ social skills… meaning, they couldn’t see the wolf under the sheep’s clothing.

I know, we’re not supposed to give a schemer credit. It’s “not right,” right?

But Russell wasn’t scamming old ladies out of their life savings. He was just playing a game, and playing it by the rules, which are basically the show’s tagline: “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”

And the general public, who had been able to watch the show from arms-length and not be emotionally involved with players, could see that Russell was a far better player than Natalie. In fact, they voted him Sprint Player of the Game.

Second time around, Russell made it to the end again, and lost to a woman (35-year-old military wife Sandra Diaz-Twine) who, again, played the game by doing basically nothing. She’s the first person to have won Survivor twice, but she’s never won a single challenge.

The only strategy she said she had was to get rid of Russell, but she never actually did that. And her social skills were abrasive at times, confrontational at times, and just wishy-washy at others. She pretended to be tough, but voted for whoever Russell suggested… really just playing it safe.

When asked if Sandra, having won twice, was the best player ever, Russell pointed out how she was a loser socially, physically and strategically. Then he said sarcastically, “Let’s reward her for her failures.”

Yup… people love to reward others for failures and mediocrity, because it makes them feel better about their own failures and average existence.

A comment on Russell’s Facebook fan page sums it up:

“That is f%&*ed! The LEAST deserving person winning has really destroyed this show for me. If Parvati had won, well at least she actually had some part to play in the game. Sandra did NOTHING!!! Pathetic. :(“

Even Survivor host Jeff Probst says he wouldn’t have voted for Sandra to win:

“I’m not going to argue whether Sandra should have won or not.  I’ve learned from last season that it’s a bit pointless.  The jury is in charge and the jury made their decision.

Having said that… I will go on record and say that I would have voted for Parvati.  No question.”

Is Sandra “The Susan Boyle of Survivor”… winning because she’s the underdog, and most relatable to the average person?

After all, she’s a street-tough everywoman, and the only female who didn’t run around in a skimpy string bikini (or just panties) all season. The two she beat out for the million bucks were 27-year-old flirtatious ex-model Parvati Shallow (yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s her real name) and, of course, Russell.

Now, here’s the thing: Sandra may not have even known this herself, because I never heard her say it. But she might not have had a complete lack of strategy after all. Her strategy may have actually been to be the underdog everywoman. She sure shared a lot of personal stories, like her mother dying and her husband fighting in Afghanistan, which made her come across as the victim-turned-survivor (literally, in real life).

But then, if she didn’t know that was her strategy, it really wasn’t a strategy… it was just her natural personality, featuring an ingrained desire for empathy, at work.

Here’s the other possibility: her strategy was to be the least-villainous “Villain” on the Heroes vs. Villains season. She might have talked tough, but she wimped out way too often. She didn’t act like a hero, but she tried to align with the Heroes. She was the least-threatening person left on the Villains team, and that’s why Russell seemed to just ignore her presence.

Hey, I always said that Russell should have had Sandra voted out long before, instead of focusing on scrawny little Courtney, who never made a move without Sandra’s say-so. Just like I learned in self-defense class many years ago, you always take out the leader of a gang.

But then, maybe Courtney would have won for being even less threatening than Sandra.

Look, I’m not saying Russell played flawlessly. In fact, he made a few key mistakes:

  • He didn’t display even an ounce of humility, right up to the reunion show.
  • He never quite understood the power of female bonding and “sisterhood”, or his own inability to manipulate women the same way he can manipulate other men (his strategy there is to pretty much treat females like dumber men).
  • He didn’t know that flirty girls often play men to get what they want by flashing smiles and body parts.
  • No matter how likable he can be one-on-one, that falls apart when he addresses or interacts with a group.
  • He thinks it’s okay to be a social outcast, and continuously says he doesn’t care if people hate him, which makes him even less likable to his teammates than he already was.

Once again, though, the people of America saw through it all, and voted Russell the Sprint Player of the Game.

So what can we glean from all this?

It looks to me that, while the masses love an underdog, and want to be around people that make them feel good, they can look at things more objectively when their emotions are removed from the situation.

People saw Susan Boyle sing her heart out, and got lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes. They felt the way they do at the end of a romantic comedy, when the girl-next-door finally wins the boy’s heart, because he realizes that what he wanted was right there under his nose the whole time.

But when the final vote came through on Britain’s Got Talent, weeks after those tears had dried up, she placed second.

And people may have gotten lumps in their throats when they heard Sandra talk about her family. But it wasn’t enough to make them overlook everyone’s strategies and pick her as the best player, even though the Survivor players did.

Those players voted out of spite, with a personal vendetta. Fourth-place Jerri Manthey, a 38-year-old actress, said it this way:

“You know, I voted for Parvati because she was my biggest competition physically, mentally, socially, I had to give her mad props for that. On the other side of that, I’m actually very happy that Sandra won if for no other reason than for the fact that Russell absolutely despises her. That’s what you get for taking Sandra in to the Final 3 and not me.”

But just like a clerk told another Jerry on an episode of Seinfeld, “I don’t think you can return an item for spite… I’m afraid spite doesn’t fit into any of our conditions for a refund.”

And maybe spite shouldn’t fit into conditions for voting, either; but that would change the whole game of Survivor… not to mention our so-called democracy (which is another discussion for another day).

But I will say this: making choices based on spite or anger almost always leads to a bad decision, and results in carrying around the wrong type of energy to ever truly get what you want.

Rewarding ambition, creative thinking, and determination, on the other hand, paves the way for more of it in this world.

Keep Unwrapping the Mysteries of Life!

2 comments to “Why People Love Underdogs… and Hate Villains”
2 comments to “Why People Love Underdogs… and Hate Villains”
  1. The difference between me and a lot of people that go on that jury is I wouldn’t care if someone lied to me or backstabbed me to get farther in the game. If they were playing the best strategic game, I’d vote for them. However, most of those people on the jury take everything so personal and vote for who is the most likable of the three, rather than who played the game best. I think that sucks. To each their own on how they want to vote, but it’s obvious their vote for Sandra was more of a vote against Russell. And Parvati since they lumped her in with him.

    I just have a problem with Sandra winning twice having never won an immunity challenge and being horrible in all physical challenges. Guys like Colby and Boston Rob are great players. No one will ever take that away from them. Physically dominant in their respective seasons. Yet they’ve never won, and Sandra has playing twice and never won a challenge. I know there’s more to the game than the physical side, but I find something wrong with that.

    She’s not the greatest Survivor ever. I think at this point, because the dynamic of the show has changed so much, you have to break it down into:

    -Best Survivor of all the people who’ve won
    -Best Strategic Survivor player
    -Best Physical Survivor player

    You can’t lump everything into one category and say this person or that person is the best. It’s very easy to get far in the game by playing under the radar. If they had another All Star season and Sandra was on, even though she’s won twice, she still wouldn’t be a target on the first day. No one fears her. No one cares about her. Russell would be gone on Day 1 if he played again because EVERYONE has seen him play now. I think that says something about his game play vs. Sandra’s.

    I could go on forever about this, but I’ll stop.

  2. Why did Russell come in 3rd place? Because his jury despised him. Russell and all the rest knew they would eventually face the jury if they made it that far. Russell didn’t get it. He had to give them a reason to give him $1 million, and “Hey! I kicked all yo’ asses, so there!” is not a reason to give him the prize.

    Sure, he was astute at puzzles, finding hidden immunity, intimidation, coercion, manipulation, deception, etc. But what he truly failed at was to win people’s hearts when he was totally without resources or power. If I’m not mistaken, he did not garner a single vote from the final jury in two seasons. That should tell him something.

    When Russell has power, he wields that power better than anyone, but when he is stripped of that power, he has no charm, no humility, no redeeming personal attributes that would make anyone care whether he lived or died. Even during the season, he never even once faked trying to reach out as one human being to another. He never gave any hint of humanity, compassion, empathy, or sympathy. These are values that can move people when there is nothing else left. And much to his chagrin, Russell lost to people who had an abundance of like-able human traits that he clearly lacks.

    And just a thought on whether, as Russell suggests, America (the viewers) should have a vote. I say definitely not. This show is heavily edited, and the producers want to tell a dramatic compelling story, regardless of who wins. Consequently, the viewers are at the mercy of the producers, as we only get to see what they want us to see. The players, on the other hand, are eyewitnesses to all that occurs, with the exception of the camera interviews. They are in a much better position to choose the winner than the audience.

    [Heather’s REPLY]:

    You make some good points, but he did get two votes in the first season… and Jerri was very close to voting for him in H vs. V but says she changed her mind because she was looking for humility or an apology. She said the same went for JT.

    Also, I think he connected well one-on-one, like when interacting with Parvati near the beginning, Jerri, and even Coach. The reason people were debating whether to go with Russell or not in an alliance was that they didn’t know if he was sincere — only based on what others said, not their face-to-face interactions.

    As you say, it’s highly edited — so there may also have been more compassionate moments that we never saw.

    Russell might be cocky and lack humility (or at least, neglect to show any, as I pointed out in the article), but I just don’t see him as being completely heartless, no matter what he says when under the gun. I believe he really thought his track record should speak for itself without touchy-feely niceties — and he didn’t apologize because he played the pieces he felt needed to be moved at the time.

    After all, you don’t apologize for taking out your opponent’s Queen when the chess game is over, right? (Well, maybe if the chess pieces were voting, we’d have to take that into the strategy!) 😉

    Thanks for your comment!

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