The Gottman Island Survival Game

While reading a marriage book, I came across an exercise about communication and being able to influence your spouse. Thought it would be interesting for people here to think about and maybe do with each other here or privately with their own spouse.


The Gottman Island Survival Game

Imagine yourself shipwrecked with your partner/the members of this forum on a tropical desert island. Gilligan and Ginger are nowhere in sight – the two of you/the members of this forum are the only survivors. You have no idea where you are. A storm appears to be on the way. You decide that you need to prepare to survive on this island for some time, and to find some way to ensure you can be spotted by a rescue party. There are a lot of items from the ship on the beach that could help you, but you can only carry ten items.

Step 1: Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider to be the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list below. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you. Give the most crucial item a 1, the next most important item a 2, and so on.

Ship’s Inventory:

  • Two changes of clothing
  • AM-FM and short-wave radio receiver
  • Ten gallons of water
  • Pots and pans
  • Matches
  • Shovel
  • Backpack
  • Toilet paper
  • Two tents
  • Two sleeping bags
  • Knife
  • Small life raft, with sail
  • Sunblock lotion
  • Cookstove and lantern
  • Long rope
  • Two walkie-talkie sender-receiver units
  • Freeze-dried food for seven days
  • One change of clothing
  • Bottle of whiskey
  • Flares
  • Compass
  • Regional aerial maps
  • Gun with six bullets
  • Fifty packages of condoms
  • First-aid kit with penicillin
  • Oxygen tanks

Step 2: Share your list with your partner/people here on the forum. Together come up with a consensus list of ten items. This means talking it over and working as a team to solve the problem. Both of you need to be influential in discussing your viewpoint and in making the final decisions.

Let’s all do this exercise. Pick your 10 items, list them down in the comments, and then discuss/convince/argue on why we should pick the various items. Let’s see if we can get down and agree with at least 7/10 items as a community if we all were together in this situation of being stuck on an island together.

(Ignore Step 3 if doing it here on the forum, but I’m leaving it in case you want to work with your spouse on your communication)

Step 3: Once you have compromised on a third list, it’s time to evaluate how the game went. Think about how effective you were at influencing your partner and how effective they were at influencing you. Did either of you try to dominate? Were you competitive? Ask yourself if you had fun. Did both of you work well as a team and feel included, or did you sulk, withdraw, express irritability/anger?


  • Comments (33)

    • 4

      survival islandThat was a creative and fun game. I just did it with my wife and here are our lists. The one on the left is mine, and the one on the right is hers.

      When we brought our lists together we realized that we had two different approaches, mine was to stay and hers was to leave. I was able to convince her that I had more survival knowledge and that leaving usually isn’t the best approach and we could be floating in the water for weeks and run out of supplies out there. We had a better chance of survival staying put. 

      After that we talked about water and I mentioned how even though we would try and find water on the island, there was no guaranteed source and it may take a while to find it, so the 10 gallons of water would buy us some time to find it. 

      She chose the compass and radio as fire starting methods. I said, well I actually read an article on The Prepared about trying to start a fire with a compass and they weren’t able to, so she changed her mind on that. And she was going to use the radio batteries and wiring to spark a fire because the matches would eventually run out. I said yes, but so would the charge on the batteries. We will keep our fire alive constantly and be feeding it so it never dies and we don’t run out of matches. So she decided on the matches too. 

      In the end, I was able to convince her to stay and go with my survival approach. She relied on my expertise in this area and we just decided to go with my list.

      Very fun mind game and it actually did help us to communicate and work things out. Neither of us was dominate or overbearing but I was just being firm that she should trust me on this.

      And as for using this towards our forum game, my submission to the game is my list there on the left. Feel free to ask me any questions about items.

      • 2

        Aside from the priority order, you and I have almost the same list. The only difference is that you include flares and I include the raft.

        I completely agree about sailing off into the sunset being a mistake. I think the raft is useful around the island, for fishing or for moving more easily around the edge of the island. But it’s also my last item by priorities.

        Why the flares? Is that intended mainly to signal a rescuer who is already close enough to see you, but might not be paying attention? Uncertain how much of a difference this makes, I’m tempted to trade in either the raft or the rope, but am not quite convinced.

      • 2

        I hadn’t thought about using the raft in other ways besides just getting off the island, but you bring up the good idea of easy travel around the island and fishing. 

        On the old Disney Swiss Family Robinson movie, they build a boat to travel around the island to explore. Plus being out on the ocean looking at the island gives you a different and I’d say a better perspective of the island and your situation.

        For example, using the image given up above, if you were out on a raft looking at the island this would be your perspective. You are able to see that it truly is an island, how large it is, and what resources you have. 


        But if you were just on foot on the island, this would be your perspective – 


    • 2

      I would focus on getting off the island and every method of rescue is going toward my 10 items.

      1. AM-FM radio to listen in if any sort of rescue is on it’s way
      2. Matches to create a signal fire
      3. Raft with sail to get off the island Castaway style
      4. Walkie talkies to try various frequencies to call for help if a ship is passing by
      5. Flares to signal for help and identify location
      6. Compass to know where to sail to
      7. Maps to work with the compass
      8. Gun to shoot loud shots in the air to be heard
      9. Tents contain shelter but can be gutted for rope, netting, water collection, signalling
      10. Freeze dried food to fuel the escape
      • 4

        Part of the story is that you don’t know where you are. The map and compass don’t really change that.

        Totally valid to put more emphasis on attracting attention. I think that sailing away from the island is much more dangerous than staying on the island, unless you know that you’ll find land within 10 miles in a specific direction.

    • 3

      Without looking at any answers I came up with;

      First l-aid kit with penicillin
      Regional area maps
      Two walkie-talkie sender receiver units
      Freeze-dried food for 7 days
      Pots and pans
      Two tents

      • 3

        Normally I would consider a map very important, except the story says “You have no idea where you are.” Without a starting point, I’m not sure how to make good use of the map or compass.

        Other items you chose that I didn’t are walkie talkies and flares. Walkie talkies are definitely useful for coordinating with your partner. I was hesitant to choose this because of battery life, but it sure would be nice to be able to communicate long distance. Flares are good for signaling if a potential rescuer comes close enough for you to see them, but hasn’t noticed you. I was conflicted about including this one due to unknown odds that this situation would come up.

        Items I chose that you didn’t:

        1. Water – Might not matter if you find a stream or spring in the first day, or might matter a lot if you don’t. I chose not to take that risk.
        2. Sleeping bag – Warmth is important if the nights are cold. Do you have alternative plans for how to deal with this?
        3. Rope – This is useful for building and hauling but not a necessity.
        4. Raft – This is useful for fishing and perhaps for traveling around the island. Not a necessity but I think very helpful.

        I’d consider trading in the rope or raft for those flares – tough call there. I’m also conflicted about the walkie talkies, which would be great before they ran out of batteries. If we’re going to be partners, please reconsider the map and compass, because I don’t think we’d get any use out of them.

        Thoughts on any of this?

      • 3

        After reading how the raft can be used even when the approach is to stay, I’m thinking raft is a good idea.

        I too thought with walkie talkies would have limited battery life, but my thought is if we needed to be separated and you get injured then you could let your partner know. Granted it would have to be turned in briefly in intervals in this approach.

        and good points about the maps, especially since I’m planning on staying.

        flares would be used to signal any air or sea craft that pass by.

        water, yeah good point. I was assuming I could get water but considering how vital to life it is you have a good point.

        Ok I’ll trade the maps and compass for the raft and water.

      • 2

        “Ok I’ll trade the maps and compass for the raft and water.”

        You should get an award for being the first person, after a week of discussion, to actually change your mind about an item based on what someone else said! That’s critical in a game that’s all about discussing and coming to agreement on a team list. 😀

        Most of us started out agreeing on 60-80% of the items. If we can all express what we were thinking about the items we disagree on, and be open to considering alternatives, we should be able to put together a team list that we can all accept. I’ll put some more effort into that this weekend.

    • 3
      1. knife – Important tool for building other things from local plants.
      2. matches – Fire is life. Primitive fire starting is very difficult.
      3. 7 days food – We will find food, but a backup supply of food will help us perform better in between foraged meals.
      4. 10 gallons water – We will find water on island, but no guarantee how quickly. The containers will also be valuable later.
      5. 2 tents – Storm on the way. We can build a shelter, but it’s hard to match the water protection of a tent. The tent also protects us from bugs.
      6. 2 sleeping bags – Even in tropics, nights can be very cold.
      7. First aid – Necessary for cuts, food poisoning, and other accidents that are much more common without the protections of civilization.
      8. rope – Useful for building other things such as backpack, raft, bridge, or sled. Low priority because we can get by without any of these things.
      9. pots/pans – Useful for carrying and decontaminating water, and maybe preparing food. Low priority because all these things can be done without it.
      10. raft w/ sail – Useful both for fishing further from shore and for traveling around the edge of the island with lower risk of injury than through the inland jungle. We could build a boat from scratch, but it’s several days of work that it would be nice to avoid.

      None of the items seem like they would make a huge difference on the getting rescued side, so I didn’t choose any items based on that goal. (Replace shortwave receiver with shortwave transceiver and I would definitely choose that.) We’ll probably make a big sign on the beach out of rocks and anything colorful we can find.

      BTW, choosing 10 items in this situation feels really weird. If we were really trying to leave the boat behind in one trip, we’d start with the backpack, load all the small things into it, and then think harder about which large items to bring. There’s no way we’d end up bringing all 10 gallons of water, because that’s just ridiculously heavy. Maybe take one gallon of water and come back for the rest later. 🙂

      • 2

        Here’s my list:

        1 Tents – there’s a storm coming so I want shelter and I probably don’t have time to build one from scratch!

        2 Matches – I need some way to keep warm, boil water and cook any wild food I find.

        3 Knife – I’m hoping this is a decent bush craft knife that I can use for multiple purposes and not just from the silverware drawer😉

        4 Water – while I know water is essential I’m on the fence a little with this as it would depend on the circumstances of the time. Is this a single 10 gallon container in which case, how am I going to move it? Do I need to move it? Is it far enough up the beach that it may survive the storm? Is it obvious there is a fresh water source nearby? 

        5 Compass – so I can navigate my way around the island and find my way back to base!

        6 Food rations for 7 days – my plan would be to try and supplement this so they would last longer but who knows what’s on the island? 

        7 the sleeping bags – this was a toss up with the changes of clothes but I decided if I had the sleeping bags I could dry clothes while I slept

        8 Backpack – because it’s useful for foraging or carrying things over distance but it was nearly the rope!

        9 FAK – because it makes sense

        10 Liferaft – Liferafts are designed  to be easily seen, they should also contain additional rations, water, first aid and flares 😉 maybe this one’s are strewn over the beach but maybe they aren’t! In my mind this is shelter, supplies and an SOS flag all in one!

        In reality though I would probably empty the backpack (if it had stuff in it) put as many useful items as possible in it and grab a tent in each hand and get up above the high water line. I’d probably use the long rope to tie up the liferaft so it didn’t float away, then make shuttle runs above the HWL with as much of the rest as possible! The last things I’d try and move would be the oxygen tanks and radio receiver. Not sure the receiver has a power source and while I’m sure Hollywood would have you connect it the 2 way radio to summon help that’s not in my skill set!

        I also don’t hold with the ‘not knowing where you are’, unless you’re not interested in where you travel! You’d know where you departed from, how many days you’ve been afloat and what direction you were going.Yes you’re off course but If you left Gran Canaria 2 days ago you aren’t going to be in Indonesia. You may not know EXACTLY where you are but you’ll have a rough idea and the aerial maps may help if you the island has any distinguishing features although whether that is a help or comfort is probably debatable! 

      • 2

        Compared to my list you traded pots/pans and rope for compass and backpack.

        You mentioned considering rope rather than backpack. Much as I love a good backpack (mine is Osprey 60), you can make a decent backpack from rope and branches and have lots of rope left over. With limited items, I prefer an item that lets me build other items.

        Compass is only for precision. We already get sufficient sense of direction from the sun, which rises in the east and sets in the west. The pots/pans aren’t necessary, but do help a lot with cooking and boiling water.

         I accept your interpretation, that we at least know roughly where we are. In that case the maps are more tempting. If we can figure out which island we’re on, sailing to land becomes a possibility. Do you think it’s worth trading the pots or compass for the maps?

      • 1

        I had considered the pots and pans and again it’s a situation thing; I could use the pans to collect rain water during the storm and possibly for cooking but I have food for 7 days and 10 days of potable water if I’m not rescued by then I may regret not having the pans😅but necessity is the mother of invention! 

        The rope could be improvised with the right vegetation. I’ve made nettle rope before at a living history museum. Equally I could probably improvise a bag but I’m thinking I may be hiking through difficult territory and a decent backpack is going to reduce strain! But maybe it’s not an osprey 60 – maybe is rainbow shimmer fashion backpack used to carry someone’s chihuahua for instagram purposes 😱 (in which case I’m taking the pans😂)

        I will be keeping the compass though! Yes the sun rises in the east and sets in the west but how dense is the vegetation? How about when the sky is overcast? Or you get caught in the half light?  I generally have a good sense of direction but I’m not prepared to rely on it in this situation. I know how easy it is to become disoriented if you’re hungry or dehydrated so the compass stays! 

        If natural navigation interests you, Eric, you may enjoy Tristan Goodley’s books. 

        I’m not sure the maps are going to be much help unless you’re close enough to make a successful crossing to safety. Given that my only transport option is a liferaft with a sail, I’m going to be at the mercy of both wind and current and my presumably much better equipped boat/ship failed I’m not sure if I’m risking that?  They may be able to tell you which direction help is likely to come from?

        The only other reason I would keep the maps would be to use the paper for drawing my own resources map of the island! 

      • 2

        I think we can make a 10 mile voyage in the life raft in a day, maybe 20 if we time it to have the wind at our backs. We should be able to see any land within 12 miles or so, which is close enough to our range, so I’m also not convinced that the map is worth it.

        It’s great that you can make rope in the jungle. When “Naked and Afraid” contestants do that, it’s great for shelter or clothing but not strong enough for snares or fishing, our most likely food sources past 7 days. With strong rope, we can catch food and make good load-bearing packs for both of us, similar to Alice frames. Do you think you can make jungle rope strong enough for snares and fishing? If so, we can drop the rope and pack, and free up a slot for another item, such as a pot or sun lotion. If not, choose the rope, and we’ll get two packs instead of one, extra options for food, and everything else that can be built with rope.

        I’ll miss the pot, but yes we can improvise around that. It’s main value is to quickly boil water and cook fish or stew. We’ll be doing a lot of both if rescue doesn’t come within 7 days. And that’s definitely the situation we should plan for, since most of the items we chose aren’t needed if we’re living off freeze dried food and bottled water.

      • 1

        That is cool that you’ve made some natural rope before sewknot. I do not have any experience with doing that is why I added rope to my list.  

        Our experience determines our item choices, which is why it will probably be impossible to come up with one master list. The 30 year veteran hunter will probably be less likely to choose the dehydrated food over the person who has no idea how to obtain food otherwise.

      • 2

        There doesn’t need to be a master list. The point of the game is to come up with a team list. Considering that most of us have 80% overlap in our starting lists, I think agreeing on a team strategy and gear is achievable.

        I’m on the team and can make decent packs for everyone, so better to take pack material (rope) rather than just one pack, and have material left over for fishing and snares. Sewknot is on the team and can make rope, so if he can address my concern about the strength of jungle-made rope then maybe we can skip the rope as well.

        I see the freeze dried food and bottled water as a valuable backup for days when the hunting/fishing doesn’t go well. Much as I’d like for help to arrive in a few days, I’d rather not bet my life on that, so replenishing our food supply seems important. I’m no veteran hunter, but stuck on an island with limited food reserves I’d learn ASAP.

      • 1

        That is true, I forgot that we are all stranded together and can pool our talents. 

        Alright, what is the group consensus on cannibalism if one person isn’t pulling their weight around camp? 😉 haha

      • 2

        In 11 years as a manager, I’ve only twice fired employees. On both occasions I exhausted all other options to help them become valuable members of the team. Firing someone is very harmful not only to that person, but also to the team that they leave behind. All this is even more true in a survival situation, in which all of our lives are on the line.

        I would try very hard to make it work as one tribe. If we can’t get along, we can consider amicable separation into smaller, cooperating tribes.

        For anyone who is married and wants to keep it that way, or who values any other kind of relationship, I highly recommend checking out Gottman. He created the game we’re playing now to help couples improve their relationships. A big part of relationship stability is how the couple argues. The game gives couples an opportunity to argue, to learn about their bad argument habits, and to develop better argument habits that strengthen their relationship rather than destroying it.

        Gottman Relationship Resources

    • 1

      While slightly off topic from the main selection of gear that this experiment is asking of us, just out of curiosity, some of the questions that would be going through my mind are what resources are on this little island? Clearly there is vegetation, but they could be absorbing water from deep in the ground and there may not be any clean potable drinking water for humans on the island. Are there bugs or animals that could be eaten? If so, how the heck did they get out here? 

      • 1

        “Clearly there is vegetation, but they could be absorbing water from deep in the ground and there may not be any clean potable drinking water for humans on the island.”

        Tree roots are typically not very deep. Whatever water they’re accessing, with a few feet of digging we can access as well. If you see from a distance that the trees grow taller on one part of the island, it’s a good bet that there’s a source of water there, which may or may not require digging.

        “Are there bugs or animals that could be eaten?”

        I’d start with the sea/beach animals like fish, crabs, clams, and snails. There’s most likely plenty of jungle critters as well, but there’s a much higher risk of injury or getting lost when going too far into the jungle.

        “If so, how the heck did they get out here?”

        Crabs, clams, fish, and birds can travel by their usual means. Insects can travel by bird. Insects and mammals can travel by flotsam or boat. None of these need to be common events, because once a species reaches the island they tend to stick around.

    • 4


      In hopes of coming up with a shared list for our team of five, I counted how many of us agreed on each individual item. There were exactly ten items that got 3, 4, or 5 votes. I think this list at least makes a good starting point for discussing which ten items our team will choose.

      5 matches
      5 food – one week
      5 two tents
      4 knife
      4 water – 10 gal
      4 first aid
      4 raft
      3 two sleeping bags
      3 pots/pans
      3 flares

      And here are the remaining items that one or two people had selected.

      2 rope
      2 two walkie talkies
      2 compass
      1 backpack
      1 radio
      1 map
      1 gun

      What does everyone think about this? Are we ready to start our survival challenge with the items that got 3 votes or more? Anyone want to make a case for swapping out one of those items?

      • 2

        Great job compiling those lists. Although it is different than the list I came up with and the focus of getting off the island, you all have made compelling arguments and I will go with the group majority.

        Although I do vote for the addition of the rope. Maybe we can get rid of the flares? I know sewknot can make some, but rope is such a great construction tool to make traps, shelters, and more. What are everyone’s thoughts. Rope vs. Flares?

      • 1

        I definitely value the rope a lot for construction, especially for traps and fishing line, and would gladly trade in the flares. That substitution would bring us exactly to my own list.

        Here are a few other items I’d be willing to trade for the rope if others feel strongly about the flares:

        • pots/pans
        • raft

        Olly, you noted that the two tents likely contain some rope that we could use. I’m not sure how much rope that would be, or how much it should affect whether we choose rope as a separate item. (My tent doesn’t have any rope in it, but I don’t know what’s typical.)

      • 1

        BTW, I think it’s a very good sign that there was so much agreement between the original lists we all made. We’re roughly on the same page about survival strategy. I’d also be more than satisfied with the list above based on number of votes. Rope is very useful but not necessary. And maybe I’m underestimating how much those flares increase our odds of being rescued.

        Hoping to hear what a few others think on this.

      • 1

        We’re back to the question of what exactly we have; I’m understand the idea of having the flares but you’d want to be fairly certain that someone is going to see them when you set them off. Handheld flares require gloves and a line of sight. Equally if you only have 1 rocket flare you want to be certain it’s going to be seen. I’m happy to swap the flares for the rope! 

      • 1

        Thanks for weighing in on the flares, sewknot. Are you otherwise okay with the proposed group list? Any other changes you think we should consider?

      • 2

        After retallying with Olly’s adjusted preferences, our alignment is even closer. Rope and flare have switched places due to a one point change in each.

        Here are the top 10:

        5 matches
        5 food – one week
        5 two tents
        5 knife
        5 water – 10 gal
        5 first aid
        4 raft
        4 two sleeping bags
        4 pots/pans
        3 rope

        And here are the runner ups:

        2 flares
        1 two walkie talkies
        1 compass
        1 backpack

        Remember, “voting” is just a way for getting a feeling for where we stand as a group. We’re still trying to discuss and decide as a group, not just vote on it.

        The flare vs rope decision is very close and hasn’t gotten much discussion. I’ve already made the case for rope. Anyone want to make a case for the value of flares? Also, if we do choose flares, what items would you consider giving up to make room for them?

      • 2

        The list looks great! If we knew what type of flare it was then it may have more weight on our decision. I am imagining that it would be the pistol type of flare rather than the stick of dynamite road flare. Besides signalling for help, it could be used to scare off wild animals or start a fire if necessary. But those needs are met in other items like banging pots and pans and the matches. I think the list looks great! We would do a good job at surviving as a group since we are all somewhat similar in mind.

      • 2

        I think the main purpose of the flare is to get attention from potential rescuers. Pistol flares are great for that. I just feel that each slot is precious, and we’re better off finding workarounds for signaling rescuers.

        My main suggestion for signaling rescuers would be a signal fire. Have a huge pile of tinder sitting on the beach, ready to be quickly lit if we see a boat or plane. Mix fast burning tinder with smoke generating fuel such as pine so that it can quickly produce a huge amount of smoke.

        We can also make bull roarers that can be used both for attracting attention from rescuers, and also for communicating to each other when out scouting. I’ve only seen these on Crocadile Dundee, and never made or used them, but it looks like something we could pull off after we stabilize our food/water/shelter situation.


        @EzlyAmuzzed Are you satisfied with the proposed team list? Any issues you want to raise first?

      • 1

        I’ve never heard of a bullroarer, so I better watch Crocodile Dundee again. haha They do sound pretty distinct and not something you would experience naturally in the wild, so it would attract those looking for you.

      • 2

        It was in Crocadile Dundee 2. Dundee says he needs to go make a phone call, and he pulls out his bullroarer.

      • 1
      • 1

        @EzlyAmuzzed Are you satisfied with the proposed team list? Any suggested changes or other ideas to raise?