I think we’re two-for-two so far this season. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember a two-episode opening as compelling as this one, at least not for a while. Of course, the last two dud seasons probably cloud my judgment.
When thinking about which theory to apply to this episode, it saddened me that social learning theory seemed the most appropriate. Why is that sad? Us mass communication folks liberally steal theories from places such as psychology, sociology, economics, political science and even other disciplines. Well, I consider myself more of a sociologist and here I am going back to psychology again. I’m betraying my roots.
Which brings us to Jeff Varner, who seemingly betrayed his roots as an “old school” player last week. But, as he told us at the beginning of this episode, he was trying to teach the old school players a lesson.
And this brings us to social learning theory. Basically, the idea of social learning theory is that we can learn by watching others do something. And we can also learn by seeing someone rewarded for their actions. So, really, what the authors of the theory argue is that we don’t just learn through behavior, through actually doing stuff, but also through simply watching others do stuff. And, many times, this type of learning is more powerful, especially compared to being simply told something.
The most famous social learning theory studies came in the early 1960s from Albert Bandura, a professor at Stanford University. Bandura conducted the iconic Bobo doll experiments. So Bandura used a group of children as his participants. He put them into groups. Some groups saw an adult being aggressive with the Bobo doll. Others saw the opposite. The kids who saw the aggression, were more likely to act aggressively toward the doll when they had their chance. Bandura and his team also manipulated rewards, meaning in some studies they provided (or didn’t provide) rewards to the adult. The idea, of course, was to show that people learn through observation, that they model their behavior after behavior they see rewarded in the real world.
That’s where Jeff Varner comes in. He could have simply told Terry, Kelly and Woo last episode (or in their pre-game chats), that they need to play aggressively and not in the same way they did the first time, that Survivor changed since the last time they put on a buff. According to Varner, he didn’t think that would work. So he resorted to hurting his own alliance to teach them.
So what did he do? He decided to teach them a lesson. He acted a certain way and he was rewarded by being on the right side of the numbers. His choice, Vytas, went home. His old alliance of Terry, Kelly and Woo saw this.
The first we see of Terry in this episode, he’s telling us he realizes now he needs to play a different game, that this isn’t Survivor of old. He needs to be more new school.
Why does he say this? Because he learned from Varner and because Varner received rewards for his behavior, Terry now, subconsciously, knows that he needs to model his behavior after Varner’s. We see a slightly similar confessional from Kelly saying the same thing. We don’t hear it from Woo (because Woo doesn’t ever really articulate strategy, unless it’s “Whoa, dude”), but his behavior in this episode indicates he learned from Varner also. And, of course, we see Terry actually comfort Abi. Terry seems like a good guy, so he was doing the decent thing, but he also told us, the viewers, that strategy involved. Terry using strategy! Stop the presses! And thank Jeff Varner.
You can also make the case that Varner taught Spencer. For example, Spencer came into the game saying he would have many personal conversations. But this episode we find out he didn’t do that and now he’s on the bottom. Spencer saw Varner have numerous personal conversations and Varner’s on the top. So, eventually, we see Spencer crying, promising to have conversations with everyone. He knew the proper behavior to succeed in that tribe, but didn’t actually do it until he saw someone else rewarded for it, and he saw himself reprimanded for behaving in the opposite manner. That’s social learning theory. He didn’t learn by doing. He learned by observing. Same with Terry and the rest of the “shelter people” alliance.
Next week we’ll see if these people who have changed behavior based on what they’ve learned actually continue the change. This tribe swap gives everyone an opportunity to fall back on old habits. Of course, with Jeff Varner still around, I don’t think anyone can get comfortable. Let’s see if he’s at the fulcrum of everything next week, too. If you can’t tell, I love me some Jeff Varner this season.
No more theory. Let’s get to the part of this here column that features a quick note about where I see each remaining contestant:
OK. Man, that’s it. Let’s do this again next week. Deal?
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.