GUEST APPEARANCE FROM A REAL-LIFE SURVIVOR
And in Morgan’s class, the MBAs are having fun while developing skills. Their reward for finishing the second rendition of Survivor: Game Theory is a visit from a real-life Survivor. Before retirement, Yau-Man Chan was the chief technology officer for U.C. Berkeley’s College of Chemistry. But more important for this particular moment, he’s a two-time participant in Survivor. Chan was a fourth-place finisher in Survivor: Fiji in 2007 and was brought back for Survivor: Micronesia, where he was third to be voted off.
At the end of the class, Morgan introduces Chan to robust applause and oohs and aahs. “Just so you know, that’s very stingy,” Chan announced, referencing the $100 prize for each winning teammate. On the TV show, he points out, “First prize gets $1 million.”
“The DVD’s out by the way and I’m on the cover,” Chan adds to laughter. “But because I don’t get any residual, don’t buy it, go download it.”
PHYSICS BEATS OUT BRUTE STRENGTH
Chan, who doesn’t have the physique of a “typical” Survivor, was invited to drive home the final lesson of strategically changing a game to your advantage. “The first day we got to the beach and I thought, ‘Oh no, everyone is half my age and twice my size,'” he recalls. “Pound for pound, there is no way I could compete with them.”
But Chan had his own way to compete. He grew up in Malaysian Borneo. While many other contestants have never had to make a fire for each meal, Chan was a fire guru. “The flora and climate was very much what I grew up with, so I knew what to do,” Chan continues, adding that the first-ever Survivor actually took place in his home country. “And so by providing for them and doing other things for them, I was able to get through.”
On his first season, Chan, who was originally a physics major, used intellect and wit over brute strength to win the bow-and-arrow and javelin-throw competitions. “If you watch the episode, you can see the guys on the sidelines making fun of me,” Chan says. But Chan got the last laugh. Many of the throws were still falling short of the target.
“So I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do a running start,” Chan remembers. “Even when you’re a champion javelin thrower, it’s hard to be accurate when you do a running throw.” So Chan did a running start and he won. For the bow and arrow, instead of shooting the arrow, Chan lobbed it. And he won again. Chan was changing the game.
“I hope you all realize how important it was for Chan to change the game into his advantage,” Morgan interjects from within the audience.
‘YOU, AS A GROUP, CAN LITERALLY TAKE PAIN AWAY’
And then Chan ties it all together. “The women,” he begins, “they are the best players. Because they listen and relate and they win the social game.”
Empathy is the first lesson Morgan reminds his class of in the waning moments of the class. And it’s evident the students have gained more than an understanding of game theory and strategy. They’ve cemented a bond with the quirky professor and picked up a lesson on what it’s like to view the world from the eyes of another.
“Some of you know I suffer from a chronic illness and have pain the majority of my life,” Morgan admits at the end of class. “Your energy brings me joy and excitement. There are many times I’ve walked into this class sore and with fever and it is really remarkable. I achieve a flow state in this class so often. I don’t hurt. You, as a group, can literally take pain away. That is a truly remarkable gift.”