When I watch Survivor, I tend to root for the smart players, the super fans who act rationally. My guess why? Probably because I think I would play like them.
But, for some reason, when Panama first aired, I found myself rooting for Terry. Maybe it’s because he was from Connecticut and I lived in Connecticut at the time? Maybe it’s because Terry took on a clear underdog role that season? Maybe it’s because, beyond Cirie, I didn’t really find anyone playing like I would have? Not sure.
So even though this season I have plenty of people I’m rooting for, in one way or another, I still found myself with a soft spot for Terry, despite the fact that his social game stinks and I don’t think I’m very much like him at all. No matter what you think of him, though, it’s no fun that Terry’s second-chance season ended the way it did after, reportedly, it took so long and so many close calls before he made it back on. But, I think I speak for everyone when saying it’s so great that his son is now doing well.
But once the Terry story unfolded, Survivor still had a really great episode to deliver our way. And it’s an episode that I think is perfect for Edgar Schein’s theory of organizational culture. Schein is a retired MIT professor well known for his work in the field of organizational behavior. I have some hands-on experience with this theory, like I did with the first couple we discussed this season. A big chunk of my dissertation focused on how a digital newsroom’s organizational culture influenced how it operated.
Now, I’m well aware a tribe on Survivor is not technically an organization, but Schein might argue with that. And, I think, for the purpose of this exercise, I might too. The dictionary defines an organization as, “a company, business, club, etc., that is formed for a particular purpose.” When you think about it, a tribe in Survivor could fit that definition. And organizations almost always have some kind of hierarchical structure, some way of organizing that necessitates a leader.
As you can imagine, there are numerous different theories of organizational culture, theories that try to define how organizational culture develops and, specifically, what influences that development. Companies such as Google are famous for trying to create and manipulate a specific organizational culture. Heck, Hollywood made a mediocre movie celebrating Google’s culture.
And that’s where Schein comes in. What separates his theory from others, and why I personally believe his theory to be superior, comes from his focus on leadership. Most theories of organizational culture acknowledge the power of leadership on shaping the culture, but Schein basically argues that leadership is easily the most influential factor and that a good leader… or a bad leader… can really make a large difference on whether that organization prospers or fails. Most of the time we’re talking about businesses, but Schein does not make that distinction. Leadership could also determine, um, coincidentally, whether a tribe in Survivor prospers or not.
When we examine what went down this week on Ta Keo, it all leads back to leadership. For some reason, no matter what tribe he’s on or what year he’s playing in, Andrew Savage is the leader. At least in his own mind. But Savage always leads the same way, without thinking at all about what kind of leadership best fits the organization and its members. I kind of liken Savage to some awful football coach who doesn’t care what his players are good at, he’s just going to continue making them play the game “his way.” And that often leads to failure. You need the right personnel, of course.
Savage’s style of leadership directly led to Woo’s dismissal, which, of course, also put Savage in a worse position. Instead of trying to cultivate consensus and working with his tribemates to put together a plan for tribal, Savage simply dictated what would happen. He did not ask for input. He did not listen to ideas. He really didn’t even make sure everyone was OK with the plan. That’s never a good idea, especially with an organization like a tribe, one featuring people with like-minded goals, but not the exact same goal.
If Savage thought about the situation better, he may have left tribal council with Woo still in the game and Spencer long gone. But, instead, he upset Ciera, who in turn rebelled against his leadership and, in a sense, blindsided Savage almost as much as she blindsided Woo.
Organization theory scholars argue that ironclad leadership seldom brings strong, stable organizational culture. People need to feel like they have agency, meaning they need to feel like they have some power in how they do their job. They also like to feel like there is an open line of communication that allows them to participate in decision-making processes. It doesn’t matter if this is true, it just matters that people feel like it’s true. The best leaders make others feel wanted and needed. Savage didn’t lead like that. He led in an ironclad manner. It didn’t end well for him and, especially, for Woo.
What’s most odd about the whole situation is, I think, that this leadership style not only worsened the tribe’s organizational culture, but it made organizational members act in a way that was kind of against their best interests. Don’t you guys agree? I’ll explain in my thoughts about each player.
And, of course, that means we’re all done talking about Schein’s theory of organizational culture. Let’s move on to the remaining players:
And that’s all I got for now. Come back next week for another heaping helping of theoretical musings and bad jokes.
Pat Ferrucci started watching Survivor when episode two of Borneo first aired. He’s seen every episode since. Besides recapping here, he’ll be live-tweeting this season from the Mountain Time Zone. Why? Because nobody cares about the Mountain Time Zone except when they want to ski. Follow him @patferrucci for Survivor stuff and tweets about anything and everything that enters his feeble mind.