More Than Money
Issue #31

The Everyday Ethics of Wealth

Table of Contents

“Outwit, Outplay, Outlast”

By Amber Brkich
With Valentine Brkich

I still remember the very moment I was chosen to be on CBS’s Survivor—The Australian Outback . It was just too unbelievable to comprehend. My life was about to drastically change and I was terrified! Was I up for the challenge? How would this affect my family? My mind was racing. But I never once thought that appearing on the show would be an ethical struggle for me. As it turned out, there were more ethical choices to make than I thought.

Everyone knows that Survivor is all about strategy. The show’s motto is “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast,” and that’s exactly what it takes. To win the $1,000,000 prize you have to think and play smart, or else you’re “off the island,” as they say. As America has seen with every installment of this reality show, there is always a certain amount of lying, deception, and back-stabbing among the 16 contestants. Some see it as an ethical struggle—should I play fair and be honest, or should I do whatever it takes to win the big bucks? (Some see the show itself as unethical because they believe it exploits the baser instincts of both contestants and viewers, but I think people take the show too seriously. They forget that there are hundreds of hours of footage that are not shown in the final cut, so what really happens out there can get distorted. Besides, I tried out for the show for myself alone. I didn’t care what people thought; I did it for the adventure.)

Some contestants take the high road, saying they don’t want to compromise their integrity and go against their word. In real life, that is a great way to live. On Survivor , however, it’s a great way to get an early exit from the show! This is a game. The people on the show are the contestants. The idea of the game is to win the money.

At first, I got a little caught up in all the excitement; I even planned to be mean and conniving because I wanted to win a million bucks. I thought, “I’ll never have to work again. I can retire at 22!” But I found out I’m not that kind of person. Even though it’s a game, these were real people playing the game—which I realized when I met the other contestants. I thought, “Wait—I can’t lie to her. I can’t be mean to him. I can’t betray her.” I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That was the moment my strategy changed. That was when I decided just to try my best to get along with everyone.

Since I had gone on the show to have an adventure, I wanted to make it last as long as I could (which turned out to be 33 days). Because I didn’t cause a lot of problems or controversy, I wasn’t given as much air time as some of the other contestants. But I didn’t care. I had told myself that I would be me, no matter what.

The day after I was booted off the show I was in New York for my media appearances, including CBS’s The Early Show . While I was there, Playboy magazine contacted me through a CBS employee and said that they were interested in setting up a meeting. “Wow, I thought… Playboy ! Who would ever think that I would be approached by Playboy ?” I told them I’d have to think about it, which I did for about a week.

I admit that I did consider what it would be like to have all the quick money I would make if I accepted the offer. In the end, though, I knew that doing it wouldn’t be the right decision for me. I didn’t want to, and I think that’s reason enough. I just wasn’t comfortable with the whole world seeing me in my birthday suit.

I heard that Playboy was kind of surprised when I declined to meet with them even before they had made me an offer. But, to be honest, I was a little afraid that I might be tempted to say yes and I didn’t want to know what the offer would be. So I guess part of my “decision-making strategy” was to remove too much of the temptation before it happened, by not getting more information about what I would be giving up if I didn’t accept the offer. I’ve never regretted my decision.

Since then, I’ve turned down several movie scripts, photo opportunities, appearance requests, and more than a dozen offers from talent and modeling agencies because they didn’t “feel right” to me. But I’ve also said yes to a lot of other offers that turned out to be great experiences, like posing for Stuff magazine, helping dozens of charities raise money, and throwing out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirate’s game.

What is my secret method for making the right decision for me?—ME! I only go with something if I have a good gut feeling about it. I know who I am and that’s all I need to make the decision that’s right for me.

Amber Brkich was a contestant on the CBS hit show, Survivor. Currently, she is appearing at charity events, auditioning for television work, and seeking employment in the public relations field.

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