Survival of the Wicked

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USA HawaiiRecently, I watched the final episode of Survivor: Cagayan. The winner was Tony Vlachos, the wily policeman who lied and betrayed fellow tribe members throughout the course of the season. Not surprisingly, other cast members castigated him for not telling the truth, making promises that he never intended to keep, voting his comrades off the show, and betraying the trust and word he had given them. He swore fidelity on everything:  his wife, his child, and his badge. And he was lying the whole time.

Woo Hwang, his challenger, dedicated his approach to the principles of martial arts—honesty, loyalty, honor—and eventually lost. With the tribe as final jury, Woo’s decision to take Vlachos to the finals with him sealed his fate:  Vlachos beat him 8 to 1. I find it interesting—and maybe a little horrifying— that the tribe then rewarded Vlachos for the same behavior they had just berated him for. And what was his prize? $1,000,000.

What does this say about who we are as human beings? Why do we reward the “survivor” who lies, cheats, and betrays us? Even though we are aware that he did these things, we still give him the trophy for “playing the game the way it should be played.” Our belief at Healthy Companies is that who you are drives what you do. What does this say about who Tony Vlachos is?

It seems that in our world, we often see vast rewards go to leaders and companies who don’t play by the rules, don’t practice what they preach, lie and manipulate, with success. Perhaps more than ever, people distrust and disparage organizations and their representatives. Distrust such as this may ultimately provide Vlachos with his biggest challenge yet.

While he walked away with the money, he now needs to convince people that he has the integrity required to do his job effectively.  Many people are understandably uneasy about his return to law-enforcement. There are obvious questions about his credibility—if he could lie so easily and convincingly on television, could he do the same thing in his job? It’s a great question, and the fact it’s being asked (and why) tells us a lot about who Tony Vlachos is.

Survival is a messy “game,” for sure. But why try to merely survive when you can truly live? Living in this world takes a lot of effort, courage, and guts. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we win. Sometimes the rewards go to someone else for the wrong reasons. But if we are going to succeed and truly live passionately and compassionately, then we need to consistently be revitalizing ourselves as well as others and place our bricks on a solid, true foundation. Otherwise, everything will crumble.

It’s time to put a mirror up to ourselves and see what we are actually doing in our daily lives. In a society where liars, manipulators, and betrayers win, everybody loses. We undermine our collective integrity and the trust that is so critical to honest, healthy, principle-driven relationships. This time around, the wrong person was rewarded on Survivor. Vlachos’ win offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect and redefine what surviving is all about – living.


About the Author

Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen, Ph.D.

Bob Rosen is founder and CEO of The Healthy Leader and author of 8 best-selling leadership books, including Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World, a New York Times bestseller, and Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life, a Washington Post bestseller. At The Healthy Leader, we help develop leaders at all levels to improve their health, well-being, potential and performance.


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