Teaching Prisoners' Dilemma Strategies in Survivor: Reality Television in the IR Classroom


  • Prepared for Popular Culture and World Politics IV, University of Lapland, Nov. 24, 2011. Support for this research was provided by the Faculty of Social Science, University of Ottawa and the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada. Thanks are due also to my students, Peter Neufeld, and Feyisayo Oni, and for their critical review, and to the ISP editors and reviewers.

  • [Corrections added November 14, 2014 after original online publication. Grammatical changes have been made to this article to improve clarity.]


The reality television program Survivor is used as a teaching tool for presenting the prisoners' dilemma. Structural similarities between the format of reality television and game theory, rule-bound competitions with clear payoff, enable students to critically examine the strategies that contestants use, providing a clear pedagogical utility.