Home > Brian's Blogs > Is It Acceptable to Lie in Survivor?

Is It Acceptable to Lie in Survivor?

The CBS hit reality show Survivor finished its 15th season last night. Todd, the “schemer” of the show, won the one-million dollar prize for his efforts. Todd secured his million by lying, deceiving, and scheming against the other contestants…and he is by no means the first one to win in this manner. But this raises an interesting question: is it acceptable to lie in Survivor?

Let’s analyze this question from an ethics point of view. One theory of ethics is called “deontological.” This theory of ethics believes that an action is right or wrong in and of itself, regardless of the consequences. In the case of lying, the deontologist believes that the act of lying is wrong. The Christian deontologist believes the act of lying is wrong because God has proclaimed the act of lying wrong.

For the Christian deontologist, lying is always a sin. Therefore, a lie is wrong if it hurts and individual or even if it benefits another individual (think of hiding a Jewish family during WWII and lying to the Nazis about it).

Another theory of ethics is called “consequentialist.” This theory of ethics believes that the rightness or wrongness of an action is based upon its consequences. In the case of lying, the consequentialist believes that lying may be right if it produces the right consequences. The Christian consequentialist (of which there are many) believes that lying is acceptable if it brings about a greater good according to God’s law.

For the Christian consequentialist, the ethics of lying depends upon the consequences. Therefore, a lie that hurts another person is wrong. But a lie that benefits another person is acceptable (think of hiding a Jewish family during WWII and lying to the Nazis about it). This lie is deemed acceptable because it fulfills God’s command to love one another and preserve life.

So how does all this fit into Survivor? Obviously the answer depends upon your theory of ethics. But is there a third category? Is it possible at times to suspend ethics if everyone around you agrees to suspend ethics?

Think about a card game. Many games require the player to maintain a “poker face.” Is this deceit? On one hand, maybe. But on the other hand, what if everyone at the table implicitly or explicitly agrees that a poker face is part of the game. Does this make lying acceptable?

What about literature? When we read certain genres of literature, the author and the reader enter into an implicit agreement that certain rules of truth may be suspended. For example, the author may use fiction, hyperbole, figures of speech, etc.  Does this make lying acceptable?

The slogan of Survivor is “Out Wit…Out Last…Out Play.” Everyone entering Survivor agrees to these rules. And now that Survivor has been around for 7+ years, everyone knows that deceit is a part of the game. But since everyone agrees with these rules in advance, does lying become acceptable during the game?

I’m not stating an opinion…just asking the question.  I hope to hear some responses.

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  1. December 17, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Digression: Is the American connotation of lying the same as the biblical one? For instance, was Rahab’s lie a sin? Or, the Egyptian Midwives lie a sin?

  2. brianmcl
    December 17, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Here is the more important question…what would Rahab do if she were on Survivor?

  3. December 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    She’d probably strangle someone with a red cord.

  4. jvan
    December 18, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Depends on whether all deception is lying. The Bible is filled with several OT examples of God ordered stratagem or subterfuge. I Samuel 16 is a “Survivor” moment if I ever saw one.

  5. Brian McLaughlin
    December 18, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Back to Chris and Jeff: what is the difference between deception and lying? Both of you seem to be saying that there are situations in which it is acceptable to deceive and lie, so you would be comfortable with lying on Survivor. Is that true? If so, is that situational ethics?

  6. jvan
    December 18, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I believe deceiving and lying are not by default the same thing. Would I be comfortable lying to a direct question? No. Would I be comfortable letting someone think I was part of their alliance, because I hung out with them or encouraged them? Yes

    The more interesting question that neither Chris nor I have answered though is can one suspend their Christian values for a game? Or if you want to broaden the discussion, what about an actor who is a Christian taking the role of a killer or rapist?

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