My friend and former student Kim, who blogs at The Small Pond (and is especially good these days on Hawaiian politics), commented on another post that Sun Tzu has popped up on the US TV show, "Survivor: China." She blogs it here.
So, can Sun Tzu be adapted to reality TV? Sure, why not? He gets adapted to just about everything else. To the extent that the game is a competition, the strategic insights of the Art of War can apply there as well as anywhere. When I taught the book in a class last January, one student wrote a paper that applied it to dating!
I don't know much about the whole Survivor thing, but I imagine that one aspect of it would make for a somewhat complex application of Sun Tzu: ultimately, Survivor is a Hobbesian context, a "war" of all against all, as each contestant looks out primarily for his or her self-interest. Alliances and teams are, therefore, very transitory. A strategic decision that assumes that a certain individual is with you might turn out to be costly if and when that person turns against you. This is not quite the circumstance that Sun Tzu was assuming (he was dealing with relatively stable military organizations: he knew who was on his side and who, generally, was against him. His own soldiers were not likely to turn on him). This would make the "ground" aspect of the book especially important - i.e. being constantly aware of immediate surroundings and conditions.
While I would like to avoid the orientalist "exotic China" thing, I can imagine the immediate relevance of Sun Tzu to reality TV:
- war is all about deception;
- the most effective engagement is the one that is not fought (i.e. the initial deployment and shape of one's "force" is sufficient to deter or scare off the enemy).
- the best strategy is to attach the other's strategy.
- use spies.
- be meticulous in planning and preparation.
- know that there are some battles that should not be fought.
I'm not going to watch (I never have been interested in the whole reality TV thing, except how it has moved to China in ways that apparently scare the government there), so someone out there can tell me if Sun Tzu is more than just a ornament in this case.