On Reality TV, Quitting Can be Winning Strategy

By Andy Dehnart
|  Friday, Dec 3, 2010  |  Updated 6:00 PM EDT
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On Reality TV, Quitting Can be Winning Strategy

CBS

No big deal for NaOnka and Purple Kelly to quit survivor.

Quitting on reality shows just isn't what it used to be. There's been a rash of quitting in recent weeks on competitive reality shows, and while the end result is always the same, quitting has less consequence than it used to.

For sure, if someone quits, they're out of the competition and no longer eligible for the prize. But their decisions don't seem to carry the same weight. In fact, it's almost celebrated.

On the Nov. 28 episode of "The Amazing Race," Nick quit in the middle of a task, deciding he was too exhausted to continue the task and/or berate his asthmatic girlfriend, who wanted to keep trying. Nick's punishment: a six-hour penalty. That's it.

On the surface, the Dec. 1 episode of "Survivor" seemed to treat quitting differently. At the reward challenge, not one but two contestants — NaOnka and Purple Kelly — announced they were leaving the game after suffering through another cold rainstorm.

 

Host Jeff Probst questioned ("With 11 days to go?") and challenged them ("You don't seem like a quitter," he told NaOnka). But he let them go.

 

Now, NaOnka and Kelly join the jury, just as they would have had they been voted out. They'll do media interviews and be talked about on Facebook and Twitter (and in pieces like this one). In fact, they may get more attention for being quitters — especially since they quit together — and got an entire episode that focused on their quitting.

While people in the episode may have condemned NaOnka and Kelly's decision to quit, this was nothing like 2003's "Survivor: Pearl Islands," when Osten Taylor threw in the towel and became the first player in the history of the game to do so.

Then, it was shocking and unbelievable. Like he did in Nicaragua, Probst questioned Osten's decision by asking everyone else to talk about why they weren't quitting. But back then, Probst got increasingly upset, asking Osten, "Have you wondered what the hell you're doing out here?" He later said, "No need to vote and waste anymore time" and told Osten go home.

This time, with NaOnka and Purple Kelly, he dragged out the event, turning it into spectacle instead of humiliation. Probst has seen other quitters since Osten, including some who gave up and let themselves be voted out instead of quitting outright, so perhaps he's become desensitized, like viewers have.

 

It's the norm
The stigma of quitting is nearly gone, and now it's become something you do to get attention, like the way fighting, drinking and hooking up on "The Real World" has become the norm instead of the rare exception.

A few weeks ago during "Top Chef: Just Desserts," someone quit. Then when another player left after having a breakdown, a previously eliminated contestant, Heather C., returned to the competition. But Heather quickly said that she, too, wanted to quit, although she was eliminated again before she had the chance. While other contestants scoffed at her for this, it wasn't shocking.

Perhaps that's because it's been done before, and now it's no big deal. Or perhaps it just doesn't seem as special anymore to be the one person selected from thousands — or even tens of thousands — of applicants to be on a reality competition.

There's no sense of responsibility or humility.

The benefits of quitting
For sure, sometimes quitting can be strategic, as it was during the season of "The Amazing Race" when Rob convinced other teams to also bypass a task, thus giving everyone the same consequence.

And on rare occasions, quitting is actually fortunate, like during "Survivor: All-Stars," when "Survivor: Amazon" winner Jenna Morasca left to be with her mother, who was fighting cancer, and arrived home just days before her mom died.

 

But most quitting is just giving up, a contestant realizing they just can't take the pressure. They think what they've seen on TV looks easy, and when faced with real-life mental, physical and emotional challenges — plus the physical and mental toll of being filmed constantly and subjected to the whims of the show's producers — they break down.

That makes it seem like people just aren't prepared for the challenge, or just can't manage to push themselves when they need to. "Survivor" may have had some harsh words for its quitters by letting them stay in the game as part of the jury and focusing an entire episode on their decision, the message is increasingly clear on reality TV: Quitters are rewarded.

During "Survivor: Nicaragua's" special quitter Tribal Council, 56-year-old Jane told Probst, "Life is not an easy ride for like 90 percent of the people out there, and with the economy the way it is right now, jobs are scarce. So if you don't have some sort of drive and determination to show an employer that you're better than somebody else, you're not going to get hired."

And then she delivered the most compelling argument of all about why it's ridiculous to quit a game that makes its players uncomfortable: "There's people out there that's a whole lot worse off than us right now, and they're not playing 'Survivor,' we are."

Andy Dehnart is a writer, TV critic and editor of reality blurred. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter .

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