Survivor’s Dan and the Stupidity of the “I am who I am” Card…

Tonight’s Survivor Season 30 Finale was memorable for many reasons. The fire competition that went on and on. The animal comparisons. The right person winning. But what to me was most amazing came around 10:30 pm (EST). Many having seen the winner, perhaps, tuned out. Some like my mom will wake up tomorrow and watch on DVR; then turn it off at that point as well. But I hope everyone will make an effort to watch or re-watch the reunion show.

There Jeff Probst, who Boston Rob rightly twittered was the best host ever, called on the contestants to the carpet for a discussion of that person’s “eccentric” behavior during the match; as well as, negative comments made in the media about the show. As he often does, he wanted to give Dan the chance to air his grievances and in doing so gave the viewers a great teaching moment.

Admittedly with a crazy schedule, no DVR, and a move to a new city, I was in and out on the season. But even coming and going as I did I was aware of the propensity for Dan to make boneheaded comments. I was intrigued to see how he would handle life outside the game; and saddened to see his propensity for stupid to exist even when well-fed, and rested.

Throughout the game Dan made Forrest Gump look smart. But unlike Gump, there did not seem to be a lovable but socially inept persona underneath it all. The defining moment for me came when he told one female contestant that she was unlovable and the fact that she had no family proved it. OOPS. Turns out said contestant was from a home shattered by abuse. Dan claimed to not know this; but why say that, why go there, why, under any circumstance say it? He was also on record for using crude terms for another contestant’s mother. And on more than one occasion seemed to use terms for the feminine gender as put-downs and insults.

Here’s an interview with Probst about it all.

When confronted, Dan first played the “I was just edited wrong” card. To which Probst went all in with video showing that on at least one occasion the context Dan claimed was there was in fact an utter fabrication on his part.

Next, Dan played the ever popular “I am who I am; and you either like me or not” card. And this is where I want to push my chips all in, Probst style.

I hate, hate, hate, hate, the “I am who I am” card. With a passionate hatred that I reserve only for Hitler kind of hate. We’ve all said it. We’ve all thought it. But it is the absolute worst. I used to just fake smile and nod when I heard people say it; but now I just run away as fast as I can. If this is how you think, we’re not going to be besties or even some weird kind of frenemies.

Now, there is an appropriate usage for the phrase. Let me show you:

Friend: “Hey, Matt… you’re short.”

Me: “Well, I am who I am.”

Don’t get what I am saying, let’s go again.

Friend: “Hey, Matt… you’re a Heterosexual.”

Me: “Well, I am who I am.”

Or maybe we might do this little verbal dance.

Friend: “Hey, Matt, you’re an introvert.”

Me: “Well, I am who I am.”

As a statement of identity, I am who I am. I am short. I have given up being 6′ with long arms. I am who I am. I am attracted to women, that is not going to change. I am an introvert and even though I challenge myself to step out of my introvert comfort zone while at a party or when needed for a work function; I will never stop needing alone time; nor will ai ever stop being exhausted by being around people. I am who I am. I need to own those parts of me; and live them honestly, openly, and courageously. For parts of who I am that are fixed by nature, I am who I am and no one can change me; nor should they try.

Yet, this is not the way that people who use that phrase; use that phrase. We often use it when someone makes a critique of our moral beings. People who love to use sexist language (or racist language or act greedily or are self-absorbed, etc…) love to use that line when you call them on their language or behavior. I am who I am and you must accept me, and love me, and pat me on the back, and say I’m swell (or else).

I have known far too many smart people who act rashly without regard for others; and when challenged use that line. As if the idea of change and growth and maturity are an insult to mother nature, God, and their mothers. But change we must. Grow we must. Mature we must. OK, maybe we can stay in Dan-land believing that using shaming terms for women is a sign of their strength of character in our PC obsessed world. But that is not a good place to stay. Stay there and you will get stunted. Stay there and yes you will not change; but in not changing the world, your friends, your family may just pass you by,

“Oh, Uncle Dan is using sexist language again. Just ignore him,” they’ll say. “Move along, nothing to see here.”

And move along they will, leaving you stuck in your recliner wondering why the kids don’t visit anymore. That is not living. That is a slow, awkward, painful death.

So use those words if you must; but as they escape your mouth and you see me cringing in the corner; think about your life and your life choices. Are you saying this because you can’t change (even if you wanted to); or because you don’t want to change because your hate / greed / selfishness warms your dead heart; or because you have a blind-spot that you don’t want to deal with, because you know it will hurt.

My prayer is that you can say “Thank you for the sunshine you have brought into a dark corner of my life; please bear with me as I work to clean it up.” Maybe you can say “I am who I am; but I am willing to become who you hope I can become.”


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