Lessons from reality TV
I was recently laid low, having caught one of the many flu variants that seem to be going around.
On the downside, I was forced to break from keeping up with what was happening in the digital world – although ChatGTP appears to be dominating the headlines still (I told you AI was coming to eat our lunch). On the upside, it gave me an excellent opportunity to catch up on some serious TV watching.
If you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend Dopesick (absolutely shocking), The White Lotus (lols) and Andor.
One of the programmes that I binged was a reality TV show called The Traitors. The premise is quite simple. A group of people have to compete with each other to win money. They also have to collaborate in challenges to win cash that became the prize fund.
From the starting line-up of 22, the producers chose three traitors. The job of these traitors was to “murder” one of the group daily. The three knew who the others were, but the rest had no idea, and at the end of every day, the group met around a round table to discuss and vote out who they thought was a traitor.
Overall, the folks involved seemed like a good cross-section of society; the producers had done an excellent job of avoiding the self-promoting archetypes seen in so much of reality TV.
It was then fascinating to watch as the traitors got to work. As well as “murder”, they quickly looked at ways to deflect attention, lie and ensure that they did not find themselves discovered. In practice, innocent non-traitors often found themselves in the hot seat, justifying themselves and, in many cases, being voted out.
Watching the dynamics of the group was fascinating, and a few things stood out.
For what seemed relatively innocuous reasons, an individual would often be singled out and find themselves in what amounted to a pile-on. For instance, at the first “roundtable”, someone suggested a toast. Everyone raised their glasses except for one person. This was noticed by someone else and deemed odd behaviour. This became a major topic of conversation within the group (excluding the offending person) and seized upon as the mark of a traitor. Everything the person then did became a validation of their treacherous ways. (This reminded me of a psychology experiment in which students purposefully got themselves sectioned by displaying textbook mental illness symptoms. Once in the institution, they behaved normally. However, everything they did, including innocuous activities such as keeping diaries, was seen as further proof of their mental illnesses.)
Except as the viewer, we had seen why the person had not joined in. She was an amputee with no hand on the side where her glass had been placed. This poor person was doomed when it came to voting on who the traitor might be. Even when she pointed out her impediment before the vote had started, people’s attitudes had become so fixed that they found it impossible to change their minds. This is reminiscent of social media, where tiny sparks can quickly turn into big flames without much (or any) substance. Social media has no room for nuance. People often have definite ideas based on spurious reasons that then get amplified by others who agree with that perspective. And like the traitors, where one action condemned a person for what was patently (to the viewer) a completely understandable and justifiable reason, often these perspectives are wrong. Discourse, listening to others’ views and, most importantly, being open-minded must be encouraged. It is one of the reasons I love podcasts. Podcasts are a long-form medium that enables a platform for people to put across a perspective and for the listener to have time to absorb what they are hearing and evolve their viewpoints. One of my resolutions for 2023 is less social media and more podcasts!
Returning to The Traitors, I found some other things fascinating.
It was amazing how quickly friendships were made and cliques formed. These cliques became deep very rapidly and became instruments for the traitors to deflect attention away from themselves in classic ‘us vs them’ situations. Cliques developed narratives, and these narratives became incredibly easy for the traitors to subvert, which brings me to the final observation – people are terrible at spotting lies. By manipulating those around them and lying, the traitors survived for quite some time. Despite others saying how good they were at spotting people telling untruths, we saw just how bad we really are.
I often ponder why we are so susceptible to hyperbole, particularly in fintech, where we get caught up in the excitement of what we are told is the next great thing or what could be the solution to the x, y or z problem. Despite what our heads are telling us, we let our hearts rule. The Traitors demonstrates how easy it is to manipulate and be manipulated.
The true secret to the success of the traitors in the show was picking on oddities, amplifying them and encouraging others to get involved. For me, the big lesson was we might not be correct or justified in our thinking as much as we think. And the more those around us seem to validate our position, the more we need to step back and think about an alternative view!
About the author
Dave Wallace is a user experience and marketing professional who has spent the last 25 years helping financial services companies design, launch and evolve digital customer experiences.
He is a passionate customer advocate and champion and a successful entrepreneur.
Follow him on Twitter at @davejvwallace and connect with him on LinkedIn.