Survivor kicked off its 33rd season with what I thought felt like a pretty good premiere. A lot of times, the first episode builds up a couple big characters and then ends with a really predictable boot. While the end did feel predictable, I felt like we received a decent intro on almost all the castaways while, at the same time, some big personalities emerged.
In the first season premiere for which I wrote this here column, I used social identity theory to discuss Second Chances. For the second season premiere, well, I used social identity theory with a little bit of ol’ priming to examine Kaoh Rong. My point? At the beginning of each season, at least lately when the show incorporates a clear theme, there’s a strong emphasis on making sure each tribe understands how to incorporate said theme into their group identity. And that happened here on MvGX, but not quite as much.
Let me explain. Usually when Survivor incorporates a theme, let’s say, beauty v. brain v. brawn, the castaways easily fit into a category. Even when a player doesn’t at all seemingly work within said categorization, the label is so enticing, the player can buy into it. I mean, everyone wants to be considered smart or strong or beautiful, right? But for a generational twist, it’s not all that easy.
What do I mean? Well, I think one of my favorite TV writers, Willa Paskin over at Slate, said it best when discussing Generation X on this season: They “are no longer winking and smoking and cracking caustic jokes in the corner; they are simply un-Millennials and old Americans who believe in the power of work.”
And this is the thing, when people hear Generation X, we think about Reality Bites and grunge music and a generation of folks who love irony. Now, according to Survivor, we’re all one step away from telling the youngsters about values and how to make America great again. According to Survivor, everything is a duality: There’s the young generation and the old one. It doesn’t matter that, for example, at least in theory, Generation X grew out of an abject hatred for the Baby Boom ideals. Everyone’s old now and wants those young ins with their flip phones, SnapFace and lack of a work ethic off their lawn.
But for Survivor to get that dynamic, they can’t just rely on desired group values emerging. Why? Those values aren’t real. So that means Jeff Probst needs to prime.
Remember priming from last year? It’s a mass communication theory (often used in psychology also) that argues that when you introduce one piece of information to someone, if that bit is made salient, it will impact how a person interprets the next piece of information that enters their brain.
For example, I’ve become obsessed with this study done out of Zurich. Basically, these researchers wanted to find out if being a Wall Street executive made you more likely to make risky choices or, if you were already that kind of person. So, the researchers made two groups of Wall Street executives. One group simply read some potentially risky situations and then reported how they would handle them. But the other group was primed with numerous innocuous questions telling them they were Wall Street executives. This prime made their occupations salient and forced them to think of themselves in this way while answering the questions about the potentially risky situations.
This is what Probst did early this episode. He started the season by telling the groups they had “two very different philosophical approaches to life.” Are we sure about that? I’m not. Then Probst tells the Millennials that “they don’t want to work” and Gen X that they “tore down the walls, (but) now you’re the old next to the heir apparent.”
This is priming. Each group might not at all feel this way, but Probst tells them this is their group. He’s making that info salient. And he does it over and over again like when the Millennials choose the chicken. It keeps happening. And you have to wonder if it affects how they act all season.
In this case, the priming may not have had a direct impact on Rachel’s ouster, but you do have to think it might have. Rachel clearly acted the most “Millennial” of any player, giving orders like she knew what she was doing (irrational confidence) and not making the social connections needed for later in the game (self-obsessed). Who knows? Even though David was clearly the worst castaway on that tribe for a variety of reasons, the Millennial-like Rachel goes home.
What I do know, though, is this priming could have a significant impact as we move forward, especially when a tribe swap comes. I’m excited. But let’s take a look at how I’m thinking about individual players now:
Gen X — Takali
Millennials — Vanua
And with that, I’m already excited for next week. I thought this episode predicted some promising things for the rest of the season. Let’s see.
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.