Lie about your job

if you can back it up

You land on the beach or you walk into the house and a new game begins. No one in there knows you or has ever heard of you. Resumes, degrees, and experience don’t matter. You can say you do whatever job you want. But should you?

In Survivor 46, Liz Wilcox took a unique approach and lied about being rich in order to reduce the target on her back, to get others to take her to the end of the game, and to have a big truth bomb to drop at final tribal council. Usually we see folks downplaying their profession on reality TV. Let’s explore when you should and shouldn’t be lying about your job if you’re going on a show.

The morals and ethics of regular life don’t exist the same way when you’re playing a strategy game. One of those generally accepted real life mores is that lying is bad. Now when you’re trying to win a bunch of money against strangers in a game, lying actually isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s one of the things that is well within your power. And the most common lie we hear almost every year on reality TV is about people’s professions.

Lying about your profession when you introduce yourself at the beginning of a game is a classic reality TV trope. This is a really good thing to do because first impressions are huge and a big part of the first impression is what you do with your days. People will make assumptions about your background, your income, who you are and what you are going to be like in the game based on those assumptions. It is a tool in your arsenal that you should consider using in games where no one knows each other.

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We have seen winner after winner lie about who they are and what they do. If people can use your careers as a reason to vote you out you have to lie about what you do. Let’s look at the examples of police officers, lawyers, and salespeople.

Derrick Levasseur famously lied about his background as a cop. He was able to keep this a secret for all 97 days of Big Brother 16 up until after the votes were cast for him to win and Julie revealed it. Being a cop is an obvious profession that you should lie about. You’ll likely have folks with strong opinions about law enforcement in the game and you simply don’t want your job to arouse any kind of emotion, positive or negative, in people. Also, if people think you’re in a job that might require you to go undercover, they’re probably going to think you’re a good liar too. True or not, that’s a bad perception to have.

Sarah Lacina and Tony Vlachos had the so-called Cops R Us alliance after Tony gave in and admitted that he wasn’t in construction. Sarah was honest about her profession, Tony wasn’t, and she was voted out first. The other side to this is that if you have the same profession as someone, it can be a real trust builder, as it was for them over multiple seasons.

Tony and Sarah in Survivor 40

Cops R Us would later dominate much of Winners at War (CBS)

If we’re talking about the law, let’s talk lawyers too. If you’re a lawyer, you should never say you’re a lawyer because again, it’s a profession that people have strong feelings about. Some people hate the idea of lawyers and generally if you’re using a lawyer, it’s not a good time (sorry to our lawyer subscribers). Also, lawyers often make a lot of money and people don’t usually want to award a huge sum of prize money to someone who doesn’t necessarily need it.

It’s something that Xavier Prather, and other Big Brother players I’ll mention soon know well. People come in with preconceived notions about these professions, especially if they don’t know anyone personally in them. Xavier lied about his profession and said he was a bartender before winning Big Brother 24.

It was great that he lied about what he did, but where he slightly erred was that his cover story was not believable. His fellow houseguests knew he went to sleep early and didn’t know how to make cocktails and they were onto him. When you tell a lie about your job, it’s best to focus on something that you know.

Now lying isn’t the right thing for everyone. Henry Nicholson on Australian Survivor (2017) told everyone he was a yoga instructor. He didn’t know any yoga and his fib was completely transparent especially when he was bold enough to lead a class for his tribe. He actually blew it by lying: his real job was as a “labourer”, doing heavy lifting and moving things. Henry, a super cerebral guy, could have told the truth and given off a dumb jock persona that could line up with how folks might perceive him based on first impressions. His threat level got to be too big, folks got suspicious, and he was an early merge boot. It was, however, quite funny to watch, and Henry did have the right idea to think about how his profession could be perceived. He constructed the yoga teacher persona to reduce his threat level, although he just didn’t have the research to corroborate his story.

Henry from Australian Survivor 2017

Henry’s lie might not have been great strategy, but it was entertaining (10Play)

What you shouldn’t do is say you do a profession that you don’t have experience in or that you can’t back up. When I was on Big Brother, I figured that people would assume that I did something nerdy, based on my looks. For those reasons I didn’t lie about my nerdy job. It wouldn’t have been believable. And that’s the thing: the lies you tell have to make sense. Henry had the looks and dress of a yoga teacher, but not the research or life experience.

In BB25, Michael Bruner and Joseph Abdin, two lawyers, both told believable job lies. Each player chose to say they did a job that they had familiarity with: Michael as an escape room worker and Joseph as a personal trainer. You just need to have more info about your fake job than the other players and Michael and Joseph absolutely knew the most about escape rooms and the gym, respectively, than the other houseguests. They had both actually done the jobs in the past so it was easy to maintain their lies throughout the game.

As I’m selling you on lying about your job, sales is another profession that proves the point. Justine Brennan was targeted in Survivor 43 for being in sales. In these games where your first impression is so important, reducing risk around what people think of you based on your profession is crucial. Now the kind of sales she does is highly consultative and involves more project management than sleaze, but the perception was there and others took advantage of it.

Justine from Survivor 43

Justine was in consultative cybersecurity, not the used-car sales stereotype (CBS)

Funny enough, the person who targeted her for being in sales was the king of the elevator pitch, elevator salesman, Cody Assenmacher. Part of the balance of these games is that you want to be persuasive but you don’t want anyone to know how persuasive you are. By lying about his profession, Cody was able to use the perception of the very thing he does to take out Justine, and he ended up almost making it to the finale.

There are some ridiculous approaches to the profession lie too. On Survivor Nicaragua, Marty Piombo told Fabio that he was a chess grandmaster, which seemed to make Fabio want to work with him. This was another funny lie, and one that worked well with his audience. Liz’s approach in 46 falls into line with Marty’s bizarre lie. If you make a lot of money or if the prize money wouldn’t change your life, conventional wisdom is that you should be hiding your wealth. What’s so fascinating about Liz’s approach is that she deliberately did the opposite.

The danger here is being the easy early vote. If Liz doesn’t need the money, everyone can get together and vote her out with a clear conscience because she’s already financially set. In a season where the jury valued where the winner would put their money, maybe if Liz made final tribal council, her big reveal could have turned the entire meta of lying about your profession upside down. It also could have been met with a bunch of shrugs: lying about a job works for first impressions but by the endgame, people know who you are.

This is in direct opposition to Charlie, who wasn’t lying about wanting to be a lawyer or going to Harvard. A number of jury members voted for who they thought needed the money more - which is their right - just as it was his right to selectively reveal or speak about parts of his life. Would he be better off saying he did something else? Hard to say. The good lie is the one you can maintain.

Some of these ideas aren’t that obvious. It all comes down to our buddy Omar Zaheer’s line in Survivor 42. “Tell a good lie, not a stupid lie.” If you’re going to hide your profession, make sure you can keep up the facade.

There aren’t actually a ton of examples of people being voted out for their job or losing a jury vote because they’re wealthy; however, a good ‘ol profession lie is one tool that you should absolutely consider using because your job is one of the many factors that can affect how people perceive you. Why not use it to your advantage?

There are many kinds of lies you can tell, in fact, you can say whatever you want about who you are and what you do, but if you’re setting foot on the beach, you should probably consider what kind of perception people have about your career and whether you could convince others that you’re something else…. although maybe not a yoga teacher.

-Kevin @ The Confessional

What are your profession lies that I didn’t mention? Vanessa Rousso? Gary Hogeboom? Kass McQuillen?

Who should lie about their profession that I didn’t mention? Poker players? Therapists? Celebrities? Doctors?

PS Want more reality TV content? Check out Rob’s thoughts on lying about your profession during Survivor 44 or Become a Rob Has a Podcast patron

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