In Survivor, as much we love the game, one of the unfortunate things that seems to happen on almost all seasons: Minorities targeted early. And when I say minorities, I don’t just mean diversity (which is absolutely true), but also age. Let’s be clear: Way too often, early votes are determined easily by castaways who just get rid of their non-white or older tribemates.
And, let’s face it, a 46-year-old woman like Reem is a distinct minority on today’s Survivor. Heck, at tribal Reem (loudly) proclaimed ageism was at play. And just writing that makes me feel old.
Too often in our world, though, people see this behavior and label castaways as racist or sexist. We’ve all seen those hot takes across the internet. But the way we stereotype is not a simple process.
That brings us to the first theoretical discussion surrounding the 38th season of Survivor. If, for some ridiculously dumb reason you’ve never read this column before: Welcome. And, oh yeah, what we do here is dissect the most recent episode of Survivor from a communication theory lens. My name’s Pat Ferrucci and I’m a media sociologist in the Department of Journalism at the University of Colorado. In my research and when teaching classes, I discuss the influences on journalism practice. In this here column, I kind of discuss the influences on Survivor practice. Why do contestants do what they do? A lot can be explained through communication theory.
Now that those introductions are out of the way, let’s talk about Reem and stereotypes. You see, it’s easy to say that the tribe was ageist and stereotyping Reem and that’s why she went home. It’s also easy to say Reem had a super bad week and deserved to go home. I would argue that both are true, but in ways a little more subtle.
I’m going to argue that Reem had a horrible week, but so did Wendy (due to her basically telling Wardog she wouldn’t go with the group) and Keith (who cannot swim) and Kelley (for just being a target and making too clear of a two-person alliance). But then when surveying the options, without even thinking about it, the Manu tribe settled on Reem because they think of her as old.
Here’s the thing, stereotyping is not just something we do or don’t do. Stereotyping is a two-part cognitive process. What I mean is that stereotyping is an actual psychological phenomenon, something that we can explain through understand the brain. I love the model proposed by Wisconsin psychology professor Patricia Devine: She theorizes that stereotyping is both automatic and controlled. I once did a TEDx talk about how journalists oftentimes stereotype athletes and how that impacts us. A lot of those points make sense here too.
Let’s apply this to Survivor. Most of the tribe is young. When they encounter Reem, automatically stereotypes about older women enter their brain. They cannot control this. Stereotypes are all around us and we can’t help that we know them. But then each castaway has a choice: Do they apply those stereotypes? That choice happens in milliseconds.
Essentially, I believe, because most of her tribemates are very young, they haven’t experienced first-hand many strong older women, so they applied stereotypes without thinking, even though that part of the stereotyping process is controlled. Basically, science tells us that the more we know about “others” and the more we’ve experienced people outside of our comfort zone, the less likely we are to apply stereotypes.
This week, Manu had some options, but because they applied stereotypes to Reem, and because she played badly, it was an easy choice. Were they ageist? Yes. Did Reem play horribly? Yes. Both can be true.
Anyway, that’s it. So let’s talk about first impressions of the players who remain in the actual game (not on an island like 20 feet away from other islands). OK, here we go:
- Rick: I thought Rick really came across well this last episode. He made people laugh, didn’t take himself too seriously and, judging by the interaction with Reem, looks to be trusted by all. That’s a good sign. He shouldn’t, though, liken himself to the Kool-Aid Man. That’s a person I argue should be jailed for breaking so many walls. Not to mention, it’s just a good thing that some dude is breaking into people’s houses to give their children what’s essentially a drug. Don’t be the Kool-Aid Man.
- David: Before the season, I thought David was in the best position of any returnee. Many disagreed. What do you all think now? Seriously, I still believe this. Kelley is a target, Aubry is already talked about as a target and anybody with a brain knows they have to eliminate Joe post merge.
- Wendy: I give Wendy all the credit in the world for sticking to her guns and not voting for Reem. That’s probably a good quality for a friend or something, but in Survivor? Nope. Bad idea. Go with the flow at the beginning. Remember the mantra of Sandra.
- Lauren: I think Lauren played decently this first week, essentially procuring a meat shield in Kelley. However, nothing she did this week gives me any hope she’ll able to lead or mastermind something enough to ever win this game.
- Chris: Let me be honest: When writing up these blurbs, I had to Google Chris since I had no idea who he is and no memory of him. Let me be even more honest, even after I saw a photo of him, I still had no memory of him. Sorry, Chris.
- Keith: I’m going to continue to point out that Keith is 19. I simply don’t think he has the life experience or maturation to win this game in 2019. However, the way he played the whole Reem confrontation with Rick impressed me. Good job, man.
- Kelley: I’m happy that Kelley acknowledged her weaknesses this episode. As pointed out by Stephen Fishbach and implied by me in my preview, Kelley’s prior game skills have been overrated by impressive utilizations of advantages. She’s super smart and athletic and good at using immunity idols, but those characteristics mask the fact that she’s been not so good at making the actual connections needed to win this game. The first step in getting better, of course, is admitting you have a problems. Kelley did that.
- Wardog: Oh, the Wardog. I haven’t read many recaps of the episode yet, but man, how come nobody is talking about his interaction with Wendy? That was bad. You can’t just say, “Get away from me so I can strategize about you without you.” I mean, I get that Wendy is in trouble and has to deal with it, but that sentiment shown by Wardog was not so good. With that said, I think he came across better than I expected this week.
- Joe: Was there any surprise at all with Joe? The dude might be the best ever to play this game from a physical and, um, survival standpoint. He’s a god out there, basically. But no matter the season, he can’t help himself. I guess his best bet is to just be so damn good, his tribe never goes to tribal. Then he can win every single individual immunity. I truly believe that’s the only way he can win.
- Victoria: Here’s another person I don’t really remember. At least when I Googled her photo, I vaguely remember her on the episode. But I don’t remember what she did. At all. It figures that Ryan ranked her second in the fantasy draft. He probably plays Fortnite with her.
- Aubry: I gotta say, for the three-time player, Aubry still kind of looked awkward out there. Compare her to David, who seemed to revel in the earned knowledge he brings to the game. Aubry, not so much. And her intentional playing down of her skills probably isn’t a good thing.
- Ron: Now that Ron found an advantage, I hope he uses it to surprise “people by making really unique moments for them.” I’m sorry everyone: I’m simply not going to get over that line. I find it amazingly hilarious, sweet and creepy all at the same time.
- Julia: To me, I think Julia looked good this episode. She seemed to be a part of all conversations around camp and that’s a good start.
- Eric: I have to say, my certainly doomed Winner Pick™ really looked good this episode. I feared he could be a bland physical threat who cared little for strategy, but his targeting of Aubry and overall awareness of the game left me feeling good about the pick. For this week, anyway.
- Aurora: Where did all the crazy go? Preseason, Aurora hyped herself up as someone who will take no poop and say whatever. Yet, she kind of just faded into the background this week.
- Julie: Ok, so here’s what I know: Julie pissed in Central Park once and that’s her outdoor experience in a nutshell. Before I moved to the Midwest, I could somewhat relate. And, yes, I too have pissed in Central Park. But, here’s what I don’t know: What kind of toys does Julie make? Answer the question, Julie. America needs to know.
- Gavin: The Fortnite king with an amazingly colorful seemingly incongruous tattoo had a good week. But what happens when he goes through withdrawals from no Fortnite. Or what about a challenge that aggravates his probable Fortnite-responsible injuries?
OK, that’s all I got. Let’s hope this second episode stays strong and we finally start to understand the Edge of Extinction. Or that other island a few feet from the main camps. Whatever.
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.