On last night’s episode of Survivor, two of the remaining players quit the game. The players, Kelly Shinn and NaOnka Mixon (pictured), are being widely scorned in the blogosphere. Since Survivor is a show about dealing with harsh circumstances, it’s usually expected that anyone who comes on the show knows what they will be dealing with: lack of food, harsh weather, and the like. As Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnart points out, because of the way Survivor‘s contract is worded, Kelly and NaOnka will still be given spots on the show’s jury (the group of finalists who vote for the ultimate winner) despite quitting, and they will still get to to stay at a luxury hotel along with the other recently-voted-off candidates. There have been other Survivor contestants who have quit on previous seasons to face similar scorn and disdain, with a notable exception being Jenna Morasca, who returned for an all-stars season only to leave when her mother’s cancer took a turn for the worse. (Jenna, who had won her season of Survivor, got home just in time to be with her mother when she passed away.)
While NaOnka and Kelly are the most recent reality show quitters, they’re in quite considerable company. On my own favorite trashy show, Jersey Shore, Angelina Pivarnick became the cast member who missed out on fame when she quit during the first episodes of season one. Hilariously, she quit the show to be with her then-boyfriend, who was married. She also refused to take part in the cast job, saying “I’m a bartender. I do great things.” When Angelina returned for the show’s second season, many viewers – myself included – were angered by the decision, saying that Angelina had already had her chance to be on the show and when she quit she relinquished her claim to the fame and success that the rest of the cast got. Sure enough, the rest of the Jersey Shore cast hated Angelina, and she ended up quitting – again. The second time, she made no pretense that it was about love. It was because no one else liked her.
There are many reality show cliches – “I’m not here to make friends” and “People don’t like me because they’re jealous” – being among my favorite overused quotes. But another realityism is the ever-pervasive “not here for the right reasons.” Despite the fact that they were all cast on the same show, one way that reality contestants try to psych each other out in the social part of the game (this is especially popular on The Bachelor, which doesn’t have Survivor-style physical challenges that can be used to deem a person’s value to a team) is to claim that someone is on the show for the ‘wrong reasons.’ While it seems like being on a reality show in order to be famous for seven or eight minutes is the only proper reason to go on said program, it’s often hurled as an insult or way to claim that Tawny or Kendall or Brandee doesn’t love [insert name of Bachelor] enough. On a show like Jersey Shore, where the cast members ended up becoming famous and making big salaries from the network, saying that Angelina didn’t deserve to be on the show was a way to say that she didn’t deserve any of the benefits that came about when Jersey Shore became a hit, as she didn’t contribute much to the show.
While America generally has a negative attitude toward people who quit (note the heroic even-if-you-lose-you-don’t-give-up narratives in movies from Cool Runnings to Rocky), I feel that quitting occasionally has its merits. Yes, it’s stupid to give up on a reality show because you want to run home to your married boyfriend, but I didn’t miss Angelina when she left. Does breaking up with someone you know is wrong for you count as quitting, or does it count as recognizing that you have to make a difficult-but-ultimately right-for-you decision? Does quitting a job that makes you stressed out and miserable mean you should be criticized for wanting your sanity back? Yeah, it’s lame that Kelly and NaOnka quit Survivor because they couldn’t hack it anymore, but doesn’t that work out great for the other contestants, who now get to advance further in the game and not risk being voted out in place of someone who didn’t want to be on the show anymore? One person’s quitting is another person’s important moment of self-actualization.