The Reality Series Survivor Psychology Essay

This term paper consists of two sections. The first section provides three diagnostic summaries in accordance to three participants in the reality series Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. The diagnoses include hypotheses of mood disorders and Cluster B personalities which can not be confirmed without further evaluation and assessment of the studies. The second part discusses why Americans are fascinated by reality television and its potential dangers to viewers. Also discussed are the classic Cluster B personalities that many participants of reality shows seem to possess.

Keyword list:

Hantz, villain, heroes, Survivor, Essany, Pinsky, Geodon, Sugar, Coach, conduct disorder

Abnormal Psychology Term Paper:

Part One

This first portion of the term paper provides three diagnostic summaries of contestants whom displayed maladaptive behaviors on the reality television show Survivor: Heroes and Villains.

First Clinical Assessment

The subject of this first clinical assessment of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, is “Heroes” contestant Jessica “Sugar” Kiper. Sugar was the first contestant to be voted off the twentieth season of the show. She displayed emotions that ranged from crying fits, excessive energy, and flirtatious and provocative behavior. Many individuals on her team could not tolerate her negative and sometimes obnoxious characteristics. They felt she was a distraction to the team and she would potentially ruin their chances of succeeding in the game. She is twenty-nine years old and is supposedly employed as a pin-up model. She also claims she has some acting and singing credentials as well (As indicated on the Survivor Web site).

Axis I: Clinical Syndromes

Sugar displayed several crying fits when her team lost their first challenge. She seemed to take the loss personally, and was clearly bringing the team down with her dramatic behavior. She also had difficulty sleeping, and woke up her fellow contestants in the middle of the night with her robust energy. This uncontrollable oscillation between hyperthymia and dysthymia could be an indication of bipolar disorder. She may also be suffering from insomnia due to excess levels of energy as seen in mania. Further questioning of how frequent the symptoms occur and how it affects her level of functioning are needed to precisely indicate if she does actually suffer from a mood disorder. She did state however, in a Vegas radio interview, that she drinks many cups of coffee which may contribute to her intense energy (As indicated on the YouTube Website). But I speculate that she was not exposed to any caffeinated beverages throughout the show, which would rule this out as a probable cause of her behavior.

Axis II: Developmental and Personality Disorders

Sugar displays some characteristics of Histrionic Personality Disorder. She is overly flirtatious and acts provocatively towards her teammate Colby. In the first challenge her bra top fell off but she still continued the challenge and ran to the finishing line with her breast exposed for all to see without the attempt of possibly covering them with her hands. This to me seemed to be attention seeking behavior commonly seen in an individual with this personality disorder, or this may have been just an attempt to win the challenge without any concern of nudity exposure. Her theatrical displays of emotion seem to fit this personality disorder quite well. Further questioning is needed to undoubtedly suggest that this is the case.

Axis III: Physical Conditions

There is no indication of any physical conditions in Sugar. She looks like a healthy twenty-nine year old female. An extensive assessment is needed to provide more insight into Axis III.

Axis IV: Severity of Psychosocial Stressors

According to Sugar’s biography (2010) she is a pin-up model. She also states she has some acting and singing credential accomplishments as well. She lives in New York City with her dog, “Major P. Pants.” Sugar recently lost her father, who she describes as her hero, but states she isn’t letting that pain get in the way of her having fun on Survivor (Elly). The loss of her father could be a psychosocial stressor which contributes to the dysthymia symptoms she experiences. It is important to note that her attachment with her dog can be seen as a positive attribute in her life. Her supposed work as a pin-up model may allow her to receive the attention she is seeking if she is, indeed, suffering from Histrionic Personality Disorder. She wasn’t on Survivor long enough to conclude that the environment was a catalyst in her mental state

Axis V: Highest Level of Functioning

I would give Sugar a Global Assessment of Function of 80. She seems to be able to go about her daily life and participate in reality shows. She didn’t let the death of her dad bring her down as far as I know. She seemed to take the dismissal vote not too harsh and was practical about the whole idea. But what played out behind the cameras would provide better insight into this. She has a confidante in her pet dog which is a definite plus.


A complete biopsychosocial approach needs to be carried out in a full assessment of Sugar to conclude any of the findings. I would highly recommend she limit her intake of caffeine. If she does indeed meet the criteria for a mood disorder and/or personality disorder, I would suggest group or family therapy and possibly a regimen of psychotropic medication; in particular, mood stabilizing medications such as Depakote or lithium to stabilize her mood.

Second Clinical Assessment

The second clinical assessment discusses Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains contestant, Russell Hantz, who displays egocentric and manipulative behavior. He makes constant condescending remarks and invokes unreliable alliances within members of his team. He is intensely jealous of anyone he sees as a threat to his superiority.

Axis I: Clinical Syndromes

I would need further assessment and questioning to provide, if any, clinical syndromes that exist in Russell. I am specifically interested as to if he may have suffered from a conduct disorder or had conduct issues in his childhood, as this may provide a psychoanalytical theory for the development of the Anti-Social Personality Disorder finding in Axis II.

Axis II: Developmental and Personality Disorders

Russell seems to show symptoms of both Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-Social Personality Disorder. His narcissistic views of himself can be observed from the very first episode of the series. He stated, “I’m the best player of whoever played this game.” This egocentric statement suggests he has an overabundant sense of himself. He was thrown into a state of jealousy when Survivor contestant Boston Rob was able to start a fire for the team, and the fact that Rob was praised by fellow contestant Benjamin “Coach” Wade and he was not. He stated, “This is my mountain. I’m still King of the Hill.” Narcissists often feel threatened if their superiority isn’t recognized or if they feel their ego is threatened.

He shows signs of Anti Social Personality Disorder also. He made manipulative and deceitful alliance deals with both teammates, Danielle and Parvati, in the first episode of the series. He showed more manipulative behavior and disregard for his others teammates when Rob told the team in Episode Four that they should find an immunity idol up for grabs and get rid of it, but Russell secretly looks for the idol to better his chances of winning. He said of his team: They’re too dumb to walk down the beach. There are a bunch of idiots out here. Man, if I can find it I will become powerful in this game.” Rob had suspicions of Russell’s antics and asked teammate Sandra to look for Russell. She finally catches him in the act of looking for the idol piece, and he continues to do so even while the team is meditating. He does eventually find the immunity idol and hides it from his team.

He spoke to Rob as night fell and told him “I don’t want to be at your throat and you after mine. I need another clue to find the idol”; but he already obtained this piece. In a monologue, Hantz quickly continues saying “I don’t care how strong he is, or who he is. He’s threatening Russell Hantz! And when you do that you go!” Referring to himself in third person has the viewer perceiving that he thinks he is a deity of some sort, as most narcissists do. When Rob was eliminated in Episode Eight, Hantz was excited because he felt he was on top of the game stating, “He tried poor guy, gave it his all. Boston Rob has nothing on me to control this game. This is Russell Hantz, if you’re not with me than you’re against me.”

J.T. of the Heroes team decided to give his immunity idol to Russell to dismantle a total female alliance on the Villains side. He wrote him a note which he specifically mentioned Russell read in silence, but instead he proudly reads it to Parvati of his team. He laughs at J.T.’s poorly executed move. He stated, “How do you give the idol king to an idol? J.T. just handed me a million dollars! I guess he can afford it.” This “I am king attitude” is very typical in men with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. His manipulative nature and disregard for others is commonly seen in those with Anti Social Personality Disorder as well. If Hantz is truly a sociopath it would be interesting to know if he had conduct issues as a child. This would provide a psychodynamic theory for the development of APD in his adulthood.

Axis III: Physical Conditions

There are no known physical conditions worth noting in Russell. He is described as being only 5’6″ and 200 pounds (As indicated on the Survivor Web site). This would give him a BMI of 32.3, but this seems to be relatively high only due to his muscle mass. A thorough evaluation and assessment is needed to provide precise input into this Axis.

Axis IV: Severity of Psychosocial Stressors

Russell states he is a married man and has four children and currently resides in Dayton, Texas. He also states that he owns his own oil business which he supposedly built from scratch by working hard, speaking his mind and stepping on anyone who got in his way. Russell won’t apologize for his style of game play either saying, “I’m not going out there to make friends. I’m just not doing it. But everybody is going to think I’m their best friend, because I’m just such a lovable character” (As indicated on the Survivor Web site). On April 23, 2010 he was arrested at 2 A.M. on an assault charge of pushing someone to the ground (DeVault). This criminal behavior could be the result of the Anti Social Personality Disorder finding in Axis II. The stress from being on survivor didn’t seem to be a catalyst, for his maladaptive behaviors were persistent and unchanged from the start of the very first episode.

Axis V: Highest Level of Functioning

I give Russell a Global Assessment rating of 65, only because of the recent arrest he had. This behavior may be affecting those around him. He seems functional enough to be on a show so I do not believe his daily functioning is an issue, but his behavior towards others certainly is. If this pathological behavior continues he will most likely find himself in further incarcerations.


The findings in this diagnostic summary are indefinite until a thorough assessment is carried out. The use of diathesis-stress model can provide insight into what may be inflicting Russell and exactly why. NPD and APD are extremely difficult to treat. NPD patients may feel their therapists and doctors are inferior to them and often dissolve the treatment. ADP patients are quite manipulative towards their care givers. I would recommend Russell take part in some anger management classes to address his violent behavior. I would not rule out therapy completely, but I would suggest that the care-giver be aware of signs of manipulation and deceit prior to treatment. The use of anti-psychotic drugs, such as Geodon or Seroquel may alleviate any psychotic episodes in the patient if they do exist. Occasional testing of blood glucose levels should be performed if neuroleptics are used since atypical anti-psychotics have the potential to increase one’s risk of developing diabetes.

Third Clinical Assessment

The patient discussed in this third clinical assessment is Benjamin “Coach” Wade. This villain on Survivor showed periods of highly egotistical cognition and behavior, but at the same time he developed depressive symptoms when his ego suffered any scrutiny from his fellow teammates. He had several crying episodes which seemed to be carried out as a means of gathering sympathy, or perhaps because people didn’t view him to be as great as he sees himself. He was flirtatious towards his teammate Jerri, but it subsided as the episodes expanded.

Axis I: Clinical Syndromes

Coach seems to be suffering from self-esteem issues and depressive episodes when he isn’t praised on his work ethic. During tribal council in Episode 3, Sandra called out Coach for being lazy. Coach stated to his teammate Tyson, “What did I do to deserve what Sandra said tonight?” He eventually was sobbing over the ordeal and threatened to quit the game. He had to be spoken to by Boston Rob to keep his mentality together. In Episode 8 he called Russell a bully, but this seemed almost childlike in nature. This could possibly indicate Coach may have been bullied as a youngster, but this is unknown without further assessment. He started a flirtatious relationship with his teammate Jerry, but it quickly subsided with each passing episode. Perhaps he felt she was not good enough for him, which is common in those with the findings in Axis II; of course, further questioning is necessary to conclude this.

Axis II: Developmental and Personality Disorders

During a discussion with his teammate Tyson, in regards to Sandra’s criticism, Coach made many statements which sounded quite narcissistic. He stated, “There’s never been someone like me out here and there’s not going to be anyone like me again.” He added, “I did noble things out here and I look ignoble. I don’t need it. I’m the man and don’t need anyone out here to tell me or validate that.” Coach sounds like a typical narcissist as they tend to subconsciously have a low self-esteem, but externally put up a façade as a superior being. He further stated he is sensitive, but concludes that: “I’m a legend. One of a kind! Last of the Mohegan’s! King Arthur! Nobody out here has what I have.” This overindulgence of self worth is critical in making a diagnosis for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He also may be suffering from Anti Social Personality disorder if he is truly involved in manipulative criminal behavior mentioned in Axis IV, but their isn’t sufficient evidence to adequately suggest so.

Axis III: Physical Conditions

According to Coach (2010) he was bitten by a piranha in his right hand but it is still fully functional. He is in good shape but states he had lymphatic cancer a few years back that he fully recovered from (As indicated on the YouTube Website). If he did in fact suffer a battle with cancer, the mental anguish of the disease may have contributed to his psychopathological behavior A full medical evaluation is necessary to conclude reliable findings in this Axis.

Axis IV: Severity of Psychosocial Stressors

Coach (2010) states that he is the head women’s soccer coach at the Southwest Baptist University in Missouri. But he was allegedly fired from his position because he reported to the school he worked for, that he was leaving to go for “cancer tests” when he was on this season Survivor (Hinds). He is called “Coach Wade,” but he also goes by “Maestro” supposedly due to his role as an artistic director and conductor of a California symphony orchestra. He states he is a skilled musician who was traveling the world playing the trumpet before most kids could spell. He states he set the world record for the longest solo kayak expedition on the ocean (6,132 miles), but there is no record of this and could be an exaggeration as the result of NPD (As indicated on the Survivor Web site).

He likes to control the environment around him. The most shocking claim that has been reported is that Ben Wade has an auction on eBay and is claiming that all proceeds from a “win a date with coach” auction will be donated to kids that have cancer. The bidding starts at $5,000 and the eBay auction states, “This is for real and for the kids that have Cancer and need your HELP NOW!” No charity is listed however, which makes one wonder if the money will indeed reach its intended destination (Hinds). If manipulative criminal behavior is persistent in Coach, Anti Social Personality Disorder should be more addressed in Axis II. He seemed to be in some distress as the game carried on, but he took his cut from Survivor quite well in front of the cameras; but what occurred behind the scenes was not viewable and could provide further insight into the axes.

He also mentioned his ego was driven at the young age of fifteen when he was drawn into written publications for his musical ability (As indicated on the YouTube Web site). This could, indeed, be a fabrication, but it does support the probable necessity for psychodynamic therapy mentioned in the conclusion of this assessment.

Axis V: Highest Level of Functioning

I would give Coach a 70 in Global Assessment of Functioning. Though he does seem disturbed by criticism and has the tendency to lie, he can confide in others (Rob) for a better perception or outlook on things. He seems to be physically active in real life which is exceptional for proper psychological and physiological health. A thorough assessment is needed to give a proper rating in this Axis.


A thorough and extensive assessment and evaluation is necessary to conclude any of the findings in the axes. If after consultation he does indeed have a depressive disorder and/ or NPD he should seek psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral therapy for alleviation of symptoms. If a partial-response is acquired in depressive symptoms, the addition of an anti-depressant, preferably an SRI or SNRI, may be necessary for a potential full response to treatment.

Abnormal Psychology Term Paper:

Part Two

This second part of the term paper discusses the reasons why Americans love reality shows. It also analyzes if there are common characteristics within the participants.

Reality Television Analysis

To state that Americans have a fascination with reality television is an overall understatement. For example, American Idol has attracted over 50% of the market share, indicating that over 50% of television viewers tuned in to watch the show. Other examples of how reality TV has been doing statistically can be found in some audience favorites such as Survivor. Annette Hill highlights that in 2000, Survivor aired to 27 million viewers. Since that time period, shows such as Joe Millionaire, Survivor II and American Idol consistently beat out popular shows in the same time slot; this included Friends and other network favorites like CSI. Reality television has even continued to beat out other shows during prime time hours, earning more viewers than the Academy Awards received just a few years ago (As indicated on the JobMonkey Web site).

One report indicates that for girls ages 12 – 17 years old, 3 out of 4 of their favorite television shows were reality TV shows. The trend is certainly growing worldwide as network executives are taking advantage of the fact that high ratings mean high advertising revenues. Now Latin American Idol, Brazil’s Next Top Model, and other overseas versions of popular shows in the United States are emerging every day. Statistically, reality television has been on a sharp rise. Whether that rise will continue, no one knows. However, there is sure to be a long withstanding relationship with reality television and its popularity among audiences (As indicated on the JobMonkey Web site).

Reality television, in fact, has emerged as the veritable junk-food equivalent of our daily entertainment consumption. Simply put, it’s addictive, easy to digest, and usually devoid of any significant nourishment. Yet just like the drive-through that beckons our appetite on a steadily recurring basis, reality television has more than enough fanatics to perpetuate its existence, conceivably, for generations to come. The popularity of reality television signifies a workable marriage of convenience and contentment between networks and viewers. The vast majority of television audiences desire brainless and flashy entertainment which reality television provides (Essany, 2008, pp. 1-2).

Apparently, Americans love drama. The new “escaping” reality means to escape your own life and live through someone else’s reality. You can watch as a marriage falls apart, you can cry with the parent who is losing their child to a drug addiction, and you can celebrate with the mother of two who just lost 100 pounds; every story is relatable or can be sympathized with. And while some American’s watch and empathize, others seem to get lost in the “fantasy” of reality. We see things on television that we have never done, or would never do, and so we are fascinated (Rains).

Pinsky (2009) says a toxic new form of narcissism is being stoked by the media. In his latest book, “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America,” he diagnoses today’s obsession with fame as a potential public health issue. The book incorporates a 2006 study conducted by Pinsky and his co-author, S. Mark Young, in which they subjected 200 celebrities to a standard psychological test-the Narcissism Personality Inventory-and found that celebrities were 17 percent more narcissistic than the average person, with reality-TV stars being worst of all. Narcissistic celebrities aren’t exactly news, but this newer variety, according to Pinsky, is. It has been bred for years by casting directors screening for what are known as “Cluster B” personalities-those prone to histrionics, aggression, hyper sexuality, drug abuse- and auditioning for reality-TV shows. This emerging strain of super narcissism, Pinsky says, turns especially virulent in the world of social media, where young people, who are chasing an increasingly accessible kind of fame, begin to mirror the increasingly pathological behavior of their idols (Norris).

According to Pinsky (2009) our fascination with these newer narcissistic role models may seem a mere guilty pleasure, but, he argues, it is a reflection of the deep, primal chord they strike within us; the desire to emulate and then destroy our icons. It’s a kind of envious compulsion that tabloids have fed for decades and that new media now intensify with fast, cheap dopamine-blasting hits at the click of a remote (Norris). He argues that the media fails to acknowledge that celebrities are mentally ill when holding them up as role models, so everyday people have begun to emulate their unhealthy behavior. Pinsky (2009) is convinced that the producers of those shows carefully select contestants with psychological problems because they will bring extra drama to each show (As indicated on the Wired Web site).

Essany (2008) states that the casting needs for each reality show differ, yet the genre regurgitates similar qualities [or flaws] in cast members. These include personality, docility, attractiveness, athleticism, sense of humor, energy, likeability, intelligence, arrogance, strong sex appeal, naiveté, and emotiveness. He further adds that a good casting director can skillfully project how particular individuals will behave or react in myriad situations on camera. Knowing for example who “the emotional one” is, will help a casting director figure out how to best utilize an individual cast member for a specific objective he or she is trying to achieve with a particular segment or perhaps even a season-long storyline (p. 36).

Compelling evidence that supports the theory that reality television producers quite possibly cast those with maladaptive behaviors is the trend of participant suicides. Frequently referred to as the first U.S. casualty of reality television, 23-year old Najai Turpin, sustained a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound after losing a critical boxing match on The Contender, a sports reality series produced by Sylvester Stallone. A few years earlier, 34-year old Sinisa Savija, killed himself by jumping beneath a moving train after getting booted off a Swedish reality show called Expedition: Robinson. Savija’s widow said her late husband was struggling to cope with his nationally broadcast humiliation (p. 49).

Thirty-five year old Cheryl Kosewicz, a deputy district attorney in Reno, Nevada, took her own life in the summer of 2007 after being eliminated from the now-cancelled CBS reality series Pirate Master. In a MySpace message she wrote prior to her death, Cheryl revealed that the strain of the reality show had dismantled her relationship with her longtime boyfriend. An equally tragic fate befell 17-year-old May Carina Stephenson, who hung herself after four months of shooting The Colony in Australia. Having revealed herself as a lesbian on the popular reality series, Stephenson reportedly became withdrawn while in the glaring and invasive national spotlight (p. 49).

It is abundantly clear America has a clear infatuation with reality programming. It seems to draw in the lure of fantasy and allows one to escape from their everyday problems through the emphasis on participant dilemma. These typically narcissistic characteristics within the participants seem admirable to many viewers, causing such psychopathological behavior to become contagious to those who ingest it. The dangers of reality television are transparent with the significant amount of suicidal behavior in many of those who partake in it. One must think, “Is this really worth watching?” This multi-million dollar empire will be far from gone as long as major profits are continued to be reined in. Ultimately, the best advice one can possibly give to another is to stay away from this type of programming altogether.

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