Well, in theory... Pat Ferrucci's S34 recaps

Sarah revolts against dominance


Each season besides this one, I’ve structured my first column around the idea of social identity theory. Fundamentally, social identity theory explains how groups are formed. And, usually, in Survivor lately, producers form groups (tribes) based on some kind of social characteristic such as brains, or Generation X, or white collar.


As people, we’re part of numerous social groups. In fact, most social psychology scholars would argue that, as humans, we crave social categorization. Basically, we join or form numerous groups in our lives. Sometimes these groups form on the basis of occupation, some on gender, some on hobbies, some on religion, some on sports fandom …. You get the point. These aren’t official groups. These are just assemblages of people that we socialize with; we simply usually socialize with people who have something in common with us.


But, and this is a big but, once a group is formed, there are still intergroup dynamics involved. Just think about a group of friends you hang out with often: There’s someone on the bottom of that group, right?


Doesn’t that sound like an alliance?


It’s been mentioned and discussed by Survivor blogs and podcasts forever, but for an alliance to work, everyone must feel like they are at the top. And that’s why today we’re going to talk about social dominance theory.


While it sounds more ominous than it is, social dominance theory (SDT) just describes how successful groups stay together. Developed by Harvard professor Jim Sidanius and University of Connecticut professor Felicia Pratto, SDT at its most basic application, argues that all groups have hierarchies. And, think about it, of course they do. Nothing is truly democratic, with everyone having the same voice. All groups have leaders, even unofficially. And all groups have people on the bottom. Just like an alliance. Just like a group of friends.


Like Survivor, these hierarchies described by SDT are not merit-based. A common myth (heck, the American dream) concerning life is based on this false assumption of a meritocracy, that if we work hard and earn something, we’ll get it. But that’s not how group dynamics work. In fact, I would argue, Survivor’s final tribal council may be a meritocracy (sometimes), but the actual game is sometimes the opposite: If someone does really well, it just makes them more vulnerable.


Sarah and Aubry


For a group to keep functioning optimally, it needs the perceived hierarchy to be fair and equitable.


SDT is a lot more complicated and nuanced than I’m giving it credit for, but it makes a lot of sense when thinking about this week (or many weeks). We saw a core alliance of six that could stay together. Of those six, really, any of them would have a compelling narrative at final tribal. And once they got to six, any could have conceivably made a Big Move™ to bolster their resume.


But, and this is a big but again, everyone in the alliance must believe they’re at or near the top of the hierarchy. And we saw this with Sarah: She was ready to flip immediately when she thought she was at the bottom and then, after speaking with Sierra and getting a final three deal, she almost stayed put.


Intergroup dynamics are hard. I mean, any of us who work in an office can see that. But think about 11 people on an island vying for $1 million and knowing everyone is out to get them: You’re going to be truly cynical about your place in a hierarchy at all times. And the main alliance didn’t make Sarah feel nominally included and that kind of screwed them over (for now).


OK, that’s it for me. Here’s where I see every player right now. Have a great week.


Maku Maku

Maku Maku


  • Michaela — At this point, Michaela’s basically comic relief. I mean, think about it: People think so little of her they’re not even picking her for challenges. That’s her strength. Exit interviews tell us nobody (besides maybe Debbie) thinks much of her. She’s a goat right now. But I bet nobody takes her to the end.    


  • Sierra — In a normal season, Sierra would be an easy boot prediction for next week. But we know that’s not happening. As our fearless leader, Jeff, wrote this week: Sarah’s playing like Tony and I bet she thinks she can move fluidly between “alliances” without consequence. I think she does this week, but she might not get an end result like Tony.


  • Tai — Another week, another tribal and another time Tai faces no danger whatsoever. Think about it: We’re down to 10 and Tai is always an immunity threat with two idols in his pocket. He can choose to shake up the game at some point or he can just sit back, use his idols for himself and basically coast to final five at least. If Tai can somehow present himself well at final tribal (a huge if), he can win this thing.  


  • Aubry — I loved Aubry’s “go f*** yourself” comment about Debbie. Forget her overconfidence about her alliance, but Debbie’s ego really came out in that moment with Aubry. We know that Aubry’s a smart player and Debbie so underestimated her. Here’s hoping we have at least a few more weeks with Aubry.   


  • Cirie — Sarah may get more credit from some fans, but I think most of us know Cirie and Aubry deserve the lion’s share of the credit for getting Sarah to flip. That hammock conversation was masterful. It was a class in how to play Survivor.       


  • Andrea — While she was spared this week and is a very good player, I have a feeling Andrea goes home this week. She doesn’t have any strong connections and is a known threat. That’s not a good combo, you know.    


  • Troyzan — Still staying under the radar. That’s kind of amazing for a dude who calls himself Troyzan. When I eventually go on the show and ask Probst to call me Mr. Awesome, we’ll see if I can also effectively play under the radar.   


  • Brad — You know, pre-merge, the show was all about Brad. Even at the merge feast, we were treated to a whole lot of Brad. But since then, we’ve seen very little from him. Producers wanted us to think he was at the center of every vote until, now all of a sudden, he’s not. Maybe we’re getting a stealth Winner’s Edit™?  I mean, Brad got credit for a lot of great moves and didn’t for the moves that eventually led to Sarah flipping. Could make sense?


  • Sarah — Sorry, that still wasn’t playing like a criminal. A few weeks ago, I was called crazy for saying Sarah looked to be getting a Winner’s Edit™. I’m not sure I was right, but things are certainly looking good for her after last episode. Now, for next episode? I’m not sure. My gut tells me Sarah flipped two votes early. She should have waited till nine.


  • Zeke — Honestly, while I have way more faith in Zeke’s gameplay, I feel like he’s in the same spot as Michaela right now. I think Zeke’s a vote, but really not a threat to win. His move on Andrea that didn’t work will be vividly remembered by the jury (especially if Andrea is on it). I hope I’m wrong, but …


And that’s it for this week, my friends. It looks like we’re going to see some alliance-shifting from here on out, so while many of the great players are gone, at least the season isn’t predictable, right?


Pat Ferrucci Survivor 31 recapsPat 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.