And we’re off. Another season of Survivor began last week and, I have to say, it seems promising so far because of the castaways we did meet.
For me, there two negatives stood out, though. First, with three tribes and only a one-hour premiere, I feel like I didn’t really get to know many of the castaways. With 90 minutes or, when we’re super lucky, 120 minutes, you just get more time with the tribes and, thus, get a much better feel of all the personalities. Editors did a decent job of showing us some people from each tribe, but there are still at least 10 castaways I have no idea about.
Second, the show’s editors have gotten more and more creative each year. They seem to have really mastered the art of crafting a narrative for the entire season. However, they’ve also gotten worse, I think, at giving us an accurate representation of the game. There’s more emphasis on surprising us than there is on showing us what happened. And I think the premiere illustrated that problem well. When Chrissy voted for Katrina, it made no sense. We as viewers saw absolutely nothing to inform that decision. To me, the priority was keeping us in suspense instead of showing the tribe’s actual unity. I know it may have made for a worse episode, but it would have better set us up for the rest of the season.
But enough with my opinions, you came here for the theory, so let’s do that. For three out of the previous four premieres, I’ve discussed social identity theory. And I’m going to do it again. I think it just makes perfect sense for when we first meet the castaways. Honestly, I thought for sure I would do something about the tribes and their names, but those actually didn’t matter this week. What we saw was a simple case of in-group, out-group bias.
Polish social psychologist Henri Tajfel first introduced social identity theory back in the 1970s. Then, British scholar John Turner added to the theory in the 1980s and now it’s one of the most common theories applied in the world of psychology and mass communication. SIT features many different facets and can applied in a handful of different manners, but I want to focus today on in-group, out-group bias.
Fundamentally, the theory explains how we as people form our own identities. Basically, each of us comes up with our identity through our memberships in various official and unofficial groups. It’s through this self-categorization that scholars can begin to explain behavior. Here’s the thing, though, this self-categorization can take all types of forms. For example, we know that most people’s identities are partly formed through gender, race, ethnicity, occupation and other groups. We, as people, belong to many of these groups. It’s not like this is an official designation, of course.
We can see how this played out this week on Survivor. Editors wanted us to think all of these different dynamics and strategy were at play before the first tribal. But, really, as is often the case in the early game of Survivor, this one was all about age. Simply, I believe Katrina got the boot not for any reason other than her age made her different. Not strength, not gender. Just age. I know Chrissy is the same age, so one of them was always going home.
Nobody wants to be the first person booted in a season. So people look for in-groups and automatically form out-group biases. What do I mean? Without even thinking about it, all the younger folks got together almost immediately. That’s not because they’re ageist or anything, just because they feel more comfortable with people like them. Think about whenever you enter a meeting with people you don’t know: Don’t you always sit down next to someone kind of like you?
So how does this play out on Survivor? Well, the younger people formed a group together and looked at the older women the same way. With in-group and out-group bias, people in the same group think of each other as similar but different. But they view the out-group as a homogenous group. That’s why it didn’t seem like the Heroes differentiated between Katrina and Chrissy at all. They were just the moms. Easy boots.
While producers and editors wanted us to think more happened over at Heroes camp, just know that’s not the case. I can almost guarantee you, as much as they want you to believe Alan might be in trouble or JP or Ashley, if Heroes lose again, Chrissy goes home. Simple as that.
OK, so what am I thinking about each castaway so far? Here goes:
- 1. Alan – Let’s be clear, Alan came across not as crazy, but as dumb. That might sound harsh and he might turn out to be really good at this game, but there is absolutely no good reason to do what he did with JP and Ashley. Want to split up a “power couple,” OK, go for it. Maybe telling Ben or others that he thought JP found an idol would have been a decent play, but Alan handled his situation horribly. Even if he somehow outlasts JP and/or Ashley, he now owns a reputation that will follow him throughout the game. Even Ben seemed a bit agitated.
- 2. Ben – I want to say Ben, more than anyone else in the premiere, came off the best. He handled Alan in a great way and, in the end, his tribe voted unanimously. That tells me Ben made the rest of his threesome—and Chrissy—come together. That’s good work. Ben also seems like a natural leader, which should serve him well with so many younger folks in the game.
- 3. JP – Well, my preseason Winner Pick™ survived the first episode. I mean, that’s like winning the lottery. Congrats, JP. Even though you had to get naked, you ended up keeping the Ferrucci Curse at bay for at least a week. Here’s hoping, for my sake and no other, that JP continues to stay in the game. I mean, I need a Winner Pick™ to at least make the jury once. Throw a dude a bone.
- 4. Chrissy – While some might say Chrissy is in a better place now than we may have thought in the middle of the episode… all because she voted with the group… I’m going to disagree. For Chrissy’s long-term potential, I would have liked to see a move. Now, I think, she’s just waiting to be voted off. Oh sure, a tribal shakeup, which will surely happen soon, could keep her in the game for a while, but I think her play shows she’s not winning anything.
- 5. Ashley – I don’t like Ashley’s chances for winning this game. While JP reacted to Alan’s ridiculousness with a perfect mixture of conformity and humor, Ashley rolled her eyes one too many times and talked about it too much to people not necessarily aligned with her. I’m not sure this strategy will serve her well as the game continues.
- 1. Patrick – OK, so the previews for next week make me excited to see just how out-there Patrick acts, but, as of right now, I don’t have a good read on him. In fact, his entire tribe besides Ryan received so little screen time, I don’t know what to think. Patrick feels, to me, goofy enough not to be an immediate target if the Hustlers ever end up at tribal. But might he be second on the chopping block? Yep. I think so.
- 2. Ali – Ali impressed me this week. Again, I barely got to see her, but I think editors portrayed her in a way that makes us think she’s perceptive, but also ready to play the game. Unlike Ryan on this tribe, for example, she seems to playing under the radar, which is supremely important during the early game of Survivor.
- 3. Simone – I wish I could say something here, but I’m not sure Simone is actually on the island. Did she miss her chopper?
- 4. Devon – I liked how eager Devon seemed to pair up with Ryan, but I didn’t like how we saw him make no other connections. Devon seems happy to be out there, but maybe not in it to win it, if you know what I mean.
- 5. Lauren – You know, I talked a lot about social identity theory at the top of this here column. My gut tells me if the Hustlers head to tribal, simply due to Lauren being a bit older and more outwardly in control, I think she goes home. I hope I’m wrong though because we don’t see players like Lauren much on Survivor any more ... that kind of mid-30s alpha personality.
- 6. Ryan – What to say about Ryan? He played his advantage perfectly and I don’t think he’s going to be able to stay under the radar at all in this game. He could be an early target. He just comes across too much as scheming too me. Let’s hope I’m wrong because I think he’ll be a seriously entertaining castaway.
- 1. Jessica – Did we really get anything from Jessica other than she thinks, like the rest of America, that Cole is a good-looking dude? I don’t think so. With this tribe, besides Mike and Joe, I honestly have no idea.
- 2. Roark – I’m not sure if my preseason crush arrived on the island yet, either. Clearly, she and Simone missed their transport and will hopefully show up on this week’s episode.
- 3. Cole – Oh, Cole, you’ve been objectified this week and it looks like it’ll happen again next week. Poor you. In all seriousness, Cole seems like a triple threat, but he’s going stand out as such and that might not be great at the beginning.
- 4. Joe – Joe, you proved every single stereotype correct. You’re not going to win this game bullying people. Let’s hope this dude gets the boot the first time the Healers head to tribal. Of course, he could be quite the entertaining character and maybe the beginning here showed him in a poor light? We’ll see.
- 5. Desi – My fellow assistant professor didn’t receive much screen time, but, you know, she impressed me more than I thought she would. Desi might just be good enough at reading people?
- 6. Mike – I have to say, Mike didn’t make himself as inconspicuous as he needed to when searching for that idol. At the beginning of the episode, I had high hopes for Mike. By the end, when Joe is outwitting him in some way, I thought, I’m not sure if Mike can pull this out. In reality, Mike seems like a first boot in this tribe. Here’s hoping that’s wrong. My fantasy team needs some numbers, man.
OK, that’s it for this week. I know there were some positives and negatives for this episode, but I’m optimistic. I’m thinking we’re in for a good season. Nobody tell me otherwise. OK? Let’s talk in the comments and I’ll see you right here after next episode. Have a great few days.
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.