In a way, I’m almost happy for J.T. He needed to get out of this game before he did even more damage to his Survivor reputation.
Think about it.
Whenever we discuss the best Survivor winners of all time, oh sure, people talk about Parvati, Sandra and Boston Rob, but they are the exception. Many also mention folks like Kim, Yul, Earl, and Brian. What do those four have in common? They only played once and thus far haven’t messed up their reputations.
I mean, think about it: If Kim came back next season, there’s virtually no way she’d leave the game with a reputation better than the one she owns now.
If J.T. never came back for Heroes vs. Villains or this season, we’d probably have him on that list of great players. Heck, speaking of HvV, think about the hit Tom Westman took … and he didn’t even play that badly.
Let’s be real: J.T.’s second and third seasons were awful. You can defend some of his moves here and there, but, overall, he basically looks like someone perfect to play Survivor in the mid and early years, but not so much since the game’s evolved.
But how can we explain this week’s move? I mean, he found an idol because he knew he was at the bottom. Then he goes to tribal so confident he doesn’t even take the idol?
It almost seems crazy.
Heck, when Mana won the immunity challenge, I got a little excited because I thought it meant an idol was definitely being played at tribal, regardless of what tribe went. Boy was I wrong.
How do we explain J.T.’s seemingly unexplainable actions? Let’s talk about social comparison theory.
Coined by the fifth most-cited psychologist of the 20th century, Leon Festinger, social comparison theory is from the world of social psychology. Festinger, as you can probably tell from the fifth most cited thing, is a legend in social psychology. He trained under Kurt Lewin at Iowa before spending a lot of his career at MIT.
Even though I mostly study mass communication, the Lewin-Festinger connection should give you an idea of how it all goes together. Lewin is credited with inventing gatekeeping theory, which, in the world of journalism scholarship, is one of the more commonly studied things.
Let’s get back to social comparison theory. It is, fundamentally, about the idea that we all want an accurate evaluation of ourselves (except Debbie, of course). And the way with which we gain this accurate evaluation, or self-awareness, is by comparing ourselves to others.
For example, let’s say that I want a good idea of how I am as a professor. Of course, I would want to know this. But the only way I can figure this out is to compare myself to others. How else would I do it? So through those comparisons, I start to understand myself; I start to get an accurate evaluation of myself; I become more self-aware.
Over time, of course, scholars have built on this theory. One such person is Thomas Wills, a professor at Hawaii (please note that I hope to one day wear a lei in a faculty photo). Wills contributed the idea of downward comparison.
This is when we purposefully, though maybe not knowingly, compare ourselves to people or a group we consider worse off just to feel better about themselves. You’ve probably noticed you’ve done this yourself. When trying to rationalize a behavior you know is not good, you say something like, “Well, it’s not as bad as Bob” or whoever. You purposely compare yourself to someone worse instead of someone more ideal.
And that’s what J.T. did here. He wanted to feel better about himself in the game. He knew he messed up with the Malcolm tribal.
So what did he do? He tried to gain an accurate self-evaluation by looking downward (at least in his mind) to Michaela. Once he did this, he just focused on what he believed were Michaela’s negative attributes and used them to make an incorrect evaluation of his own place in the tribe. Once he convinced himself he was in a better spot than Michaela, J.T. got confident enough to leave the idol at camp.
Dumb. But explainable when you think about it. Nobody wants to believe they’re in the worst spot. Of course, the problem with J.T.’s line of thinking is that Survivor is not rational. Theories work in rational ways, mostly. They explain. J.T. might have been right that he was a better tribemate than Michaela, but that doesn’t matter because people are playing both a tribal and individual game.
Anyway, that’s all the theory for this week. Here are my thoughts on the castaways remaining:
It looks like we’re going to get another tribe swap next week. As usual, that could totally transform the game. You might argue this is too soon for another one, but I’m bored with this only because it might make the current members of Tavua actually have to play the game again.
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.