I’ve been doing a little thinking about Survivor: Ghost Island. Now that I’ve written my preview, I’ve listened to several podcasts and read plenty about the season. But nobody seems to mention something that I think is pretty important.
If you’ve been reading this here column since the beginning, you know that I tend to apply theories of social identity or priming really early on each season. If you haven’t read this here column before, welcome. I apply theories from disciplines such as communication, mass communication, sociology, psychology and organizational communication to help us understand why what happened on each episode happened. And I almost always start out with social identity or priming because Survivor producers often explicitly apply these theories in forming tribes. By calling a tribe “brains” or something, you’re forming, or reinforcing, someone’s identity. By calling a bunch of mostly mediocre players “game changers,” you’re priming them to think about Big Moves™.
But back in the middle years of Survivor, this type of stuff rarely happened. And that’s what I think people are missing about Ghost Island: Not since Season 19 (Survivor: Samoa) and the first incarnation of Russell Hantz have producers simply put the castaways into two tribes without adding some generic labels like “white collar” or biological labels such as “female.” This is almost classic Survivor, a season of good players who’ve mostly been fans of the show on a season whose theme is about the place it’s being filmed (sort of in this case).
That’s kind of cool, don’t you think? When Samoa aired, I was still a music critic living in potentially the most underrated city in America. And Russell Hantz was just an unorthodox, potentially really good player and not some creepy weird dude with horrid relatives.
But, alas, we’re not here to reminisce about the end of The Aughts. We’re here to talk theory and understand why, potentially, Gonzalez and Jacob received the unceremonious boot from their fellow tribemates. And to figure that out, I’m going to return to organizational theory and the great Gareth Morgan, a Canadian professor best known for his work surrounding organizational culture. Basically, Morgan, like many sociologists and business researchers, does a lot of work trying to understand why organizations are successful and why they fail.
Morgan published an incredibly influential book titled Images of Organizationback in 1986. In the book, he used metaphors to describe some types of successful organizations. We’ve probably all worked for a variety of organizations, so we know there isn’t one type that succeeds and one type that fails. So much is dependent on the type of organization and, really, many other facets. But I always think of Morgan’s most simplistic metaphor, the organization as machine, when I think about Survivor’s early game.
The metaphor of “organizations as machines” sees an organization as “a pattern of precisely defined jobs organized in a hierarchal manner through which precisely defined lines of command or communication exists” (page 24). This theory does not factor in the feelings or decisions of workers very much, but looks at them as simple cogs that do their clearly defined jobs, which all work together for the overall goal. This type of organization sometimes dehumanizes employees.
And that’s the early game of Survivor, right? We’re talking about tribes trying to succeed at the important stuff such as making a shelter, figuring out chores and winning challenges. The people that often get the boot early are broken parts in the machine. We always see lazy people, folks bad at challenges and, especially, people who stick out go home.
On this week’s two episodes, we saw Gonzalez trying to play the game way too early. The tribe is just trying to robotically accomplish early goals, not strategize too openly. She did that and put a target on herself. Same with Jacob. He talked too much. He became a full-fledged human and not a cog in the wheel.
We saw this on the other tribe with Domenick early on. He spoke out. He made himself an autonomous human, someone not part of the machine. And he would have received an exit, I think, if his tribe lost the first challenge.
In general, the best way to make the merge, I think, is to be cog in the wheel, to be part of the machine. You don’t want to stick out for any reason. Just be one of the guys and start making moves post merge. Make sense?
OK, well that’s enough theory. Let’s take a look at what I think of each remaining player after 120 minutes.
OK, well that’s it for me this week. Let’s talk some theory again after next episode. I hope everyone enjoys a good week.
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.