Skilled Yet Unlucky vs. Lucky Yet Unskilled

Skilled Yet Unlucky vs. Lucky Yet Unskilled

|how.odious| Year Two: DAY NINETY-ONE

2017 January 20, 2017 [Friday]

Friday Feature

“‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” Part II / X

[Read Part I]

While watching an episode of the Food Network show, Chopped, a small sort of understanding befell me. For those who have not seen the show, Chopped, it is a reality-TV cooking competition wherein four contestants are presented with a basket of unknown ingredients with which to make an appetizer, entree and dessert, and at the end of each course, someone gets “Chopped” from the competition by a panel of judges. The last person standing, as it were, wins [usually but not always because there are special episodes when more or different prizes are awarded] $10,000. Despite personal opinion, it is quite popular with 433 episodes to date since 2009 (Lea, 2009-Present). Personally, the show does little to nothing for me except that, in general, I thoroughly enjoy watching people talk about themselves. Also, throughout the show, the contestants participate in talking-heads, which are even more entertaining in the sense that there’s the guarantee that at least one of them will say something really stupid at least once during the episode. But that’s neither here nor there.

My point, thus, is that there’s something oddly satisfying about the show, and it’s continued “success” on air. I never really understood what that appeal was and is until I started my little research project into self-victimization (Weber, 2013), of which this little ditty here is Part II [read Part I to gain further insight as to how I landed here]. Through the desire to understand self-victimization, I learned about Julian B. Rotter’s “Locus of control” (Weber, 2013). And then, through this past week’s reading, I learned about Rotter’s Social Learning Theory (Mearns, 2016). Let me simply interject here that there exists a, what’s the word?, plethora of information and writings by Rotter, and I have only scratched the surface, so for all of you real scientists/writers out there, please be patient. *sigh. Okay, so it’s hard to fully understand the impetus behind a person’s self-victimization without understanding Rotter’s social learning theory (Rotter, 1966). Thus, I have spent the past week trying to get a grasp, however small, of Rotter’s Theory.


According to Jack Mearns, whose “Overview of Theory” I found and read online [because I have no access to research materials in English here in Seoul], Rotter’s social learning theory depends upon four parts:

Behavior Potential – … the likelihood of engaging in a particular behavior in a specific situation.

Expectancy – … the subjective probability that a given behavior will lead to a particular outcome, or reinforcer.

Reinforcement Value – … another name for the outcomes of our behavior.

Psychological Situation – … Rotter’s idea that each individual’s experience of the environment is unique.

(Mearns, 2016)

Basically, according to Mearns, Rotter’s Theory determines “that personality represents an interaction of the individual with his or her environment” (Mearns, 2016). Each of the above four parts ascertain how a person’s personality will be enacted during any given situation. Furthermore, “Rotter conceives of people in an optimistic way. He sees them as being drawn forward by their goals … rather than just avoiding punishment” (Mearns, 2016). What does any of this have to do with the reality-TV show, Chopped? Well, I’ll get there eventually.

First, however, each of the four parts of Rotter’s social learning theory rest upon an understanding of “Generalized Expectancies” (Rotter, 1966). Understanding Generalized Expectancies then sheds light on the Internal/External perceptions that drive the way we construe the treatment by others in any given situation. This then, of course, is the crux of Rotter’s “Locus of control,” which may or may not fuel a person’s self-victimization (Weber, 2013). *phew. So, for today, let’s start from the beginning and I’ll only attempt to convey an introductory-level understanding of the idea behind Generalized Expectancies.

Okay, so, the way I understand it, according to Mearns’ overview, Rotter’s social learning theory suggests that any person can behave in any number of ways, but each individual cannot necessarily behave in any conceivable way [Behavior Potential]. The decision to enact either A or B behavior is driven by what the person perceives as a possible result: If I do A, then X will happen; if I do B, then Y will happen [Expectancy]. Thus, after a person decides in which way to behave, the consequence of that decision is either received and responded to in a positive (aligns with the expected perception) or negative (refutes the expected perception) way [Reinforcement Value]. Finally, a person cannot forget that all of this behavior stems from a subjective opinion of one’s surroundings [Psychological Situation] (Mearns, 2013).

The keystone for all of this enacted behavior seems to me to be the Expectancy portion of Rotter’s Theory. When a person decides whichever behavior to enact, that decision seems to rest solely on the perceived potential result of that action, and then whether or not that action is lauded or condemned becomes the driving force for the next set of actions. According to Rotter, this tension, this “interaction of the individual and his or her environment” defines a person’s personality. Thus, a person’s Expectancy becomes the impetus of all behavior.


Rotter, therefore, determines that there is a scale upon which a person’s “characteristic differences” fall whereupon a person believes that the result of their action is “chance determined versus skill determined” (Rotter, 1966, p.2). I think that this is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll try my best to put it into my own words. When a person decides to act but fails, that person can either believe his/her failure was due to forces beyond his/her own jurisdiction, or that same person can believe the result was due to his/her own doing. This is not an either/or situation; it’s a convoluted mix of the two with one being slightly stronger within the mind of the believer during any given situation. Now that perhaps a thin foundation has been laid thus far, what’s the point?

A quote:

From social learning theory one would anticipate that the more clearly and uniformly a situation is labeled as skill or luck determined, in a given culture, the lesser the role such a generalized expectancy would play in determining individual differences in behavior (Rotter, 1966, p. 2).

A dun dun duh dah! We’ve come back to my whole fascination with Chopped and other reality-TV, game-show-type shows. What I believe Rotter to be saying in the above quote is this: If the world labels something as, “This is a game of chance,” then we know that we ought to feel excited or disappointed in our sheer luck, good fortune, or lack thereof, but more importantly, we know not to feel bad about ourselves because the game was a game of luck. If the world, however, labels something as, “This is a game of skill and wit,” we are overcome with feelings of personal ineptitude if we fail and gloating pride if we succeed.

Hence, Chopped, for Chopped is a game built and labeled as a game of chance AND skill. It’s the perfect egoic “out.” If a person gets “Chopped,” that person can tell him/herself that the basket ingredients got the better of them. If a person wins, that person can tell him/herself that he/she is the best thing since sliced bread. Such is the mass appeal and continued, seemingly bottomless, available contestants. The game of Chopped is specifically tailored to give each contestant exactly what he/she wants: No blame or personal responsibility if he/she wins because the game is set upon the unknown variables of the basket ingredients which serve the purpose of luck, yet all the credit if he/she wins because the game requires some level of cooking skills. Get it? It’s quite perfect really, and I’ve got to admit, I feel a bit stupid for not noticing, before all this research, the perfectly balanced egoic stroking that makes up all television game shows and reality-TV game shows.

And then it was at expressly this moment that I realized that there’s another game of chance AND skill that perhaps works as a better example because it’s combination of chance AND skill is perhaps, less apparent to the novice player, and that game is poker. I am only familiar with one variant of poker, and so that is the version I will use.

Texas Hold ‘Em [henceforth referred to simply as poker] is a fairly popular version of poker because of the nature of the betting rounds. There’s so much action that may be enacted as each player has three whole opportunities to bet before all of the cards are revealed, which means that there are four whole opportunities to best your opponent. The excitement of poker depends upon both skill AND luck. The interesting thing about poker is that on any given hand, skill can beat skill; skill can beat luck; luck can beat luck, and luck can beat skill. Once a certain [penultimate] level of poker is reached, there are no egoic “outs.” Sure, a person CAN win huge sums of money on sheer luck, and no amount of skill can predict exactly what cards an opponent holds. Skill, however, can get a pretty good sense of what cards an opponent holds and thus, will not lose all his/her chips on a stupid call on someone who potentially has the highest straight flush possible, etc., &c.

The way my brother so aptly puts it is that, “Sure, you can win with luck, but that means you’ve got to have the cards every hand. No one’s that lucky. Winning with skill means that you can win no matter what you’re dealt. Just having great cards isn’t necessarily what wins. Whoever gets the chips wins.” For those of you who are less familiar with the way that poker is played, I apologize if this example fails to resonate with you, but this is not a lesson in poker; it is a lesson in the way people behave. I mean, no one just sits down at a poker table and thinks, “I’m gonna get lucky today!” Oh wait … shit … never mind.


The every person understands poker as a game of luck, but like my brother says, you won’t actually win that often on sheer luck. But a person has to possess a little skill because there are rules by which the game is played. Nevertheless, I’d argue that the every person does not have a professional-level understanding of poker, and so, it is a game of luck. Thus, when the every person sits down to play a hand, the monetary loss or gain may be blamed on luck. The player cannot be praised nor blamed for his/her earnings or losses. It’s just luck! Therefore, to the every person, their outlook or generalized expectancy toward poker is “chance determined.”

For the professional or full-time poker player, however, poker is mostly about skill with a little luck here and there being welcome. A professional player, then, approaches poker with the generalized expectancy that winning is “skill determined.” Thus, when a professional player loses, he/she may feel badly about his/her own performance, but I’m sure there’s still a small resolution that an opponent got lucky. I, however, have yet to ever notice a single professional say it was just luck no matter the outcome.

These two examples, Chopped and Hold ‘Em, are, obviously, GAMES. Thus, we must delve into the real stuff, how all of this pertains to LIFE, not the game, but rather, your existence and ultimately, your role within it. The next step, however, is to create a bridge between how our perception of possible outcomes drives all of our action. Then, how do our actions create patterns of behavior that ultimately lead to the effect that every person has upon the others around them. But, of course, that is the end-all to this “‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” series. If the overall goal here is to get from Point A to Point D or even E, then my hope is that today, after a brief overview of how Points A thru D get us to Point E, I explored the distance between Points A and B, which revealed Point C.

As today’s conclusion, I’ve gained insight into all the little minutiae, according to Julian B. Rotter, that form the patterned actions we all know as each other’s personalities. That insight soon shed light on the way those actions are supported by positive/negative feedback, which is then perceived as either being a result of our innate competence or otherly forces of luck. Thus, here we are now, treading shallow waters within the understanding of Rotter’s theory that suggests that we are indeed creatures of constant give and take. The question that burns in my mind now is: Without the semblance of “best-ness,” is there, perhaps, a better approach to life and the interactions within?

[Read Part III]


Lea, L., Noll, D., and Krupat, M. (Executive Producers). (2009 January 13 – Present). Chopped. [Television series]. New York, N.Y.: Food Network.

Mearns, J. (2016). The Social Learning Theory of Julian B. Rotter. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from

Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80 (No. 1), 1-28.

Weber, J.P., PhD. (2013, December). Self-victimizing again?: there is relief for the persistently victimized.