Well, hello everyone. Welcome to another season of Well, in theory…. Even if I’m a week late, it’s great to be back. And while, like Jeff, I was mildly disappointed in the first episode of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, this week rocked.
For those of you new to this here column, let’s start with a little background. So my name’s Pat Ferrucci and I’m a professor over at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I’m in the College of Media, Communication and Information and, in the grand scheme of things, I research communication in some way or another. Mostly, I focus on journalism studies, the influences on news practices. In general, though, the theories all of us scholars of some form of communication utilize in our work translate to all kinds of social situations.
And that’s the thing with Survivor: While it’s a physical game, it all comes down to communication, be it verbal or nonverbal. That’s what this column analyzes. Each week I take a look at the action and try to dissect what happened using some theory often employed by communication researchers.
When you really boil it all down, a theory is just a way of explaining things. While everything that happens in life is, in some ways, unique, we’re humans and we act according to a whole host of factors that we don’t even understand or process cognitively. Theories can help us understand what we just saw.
Now, the original general systems theory is often credited to an Austrian biologist named Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a name that just screams “Austrian biologist.” For me, though, when I think of systems theory, I always go back to the conceptualization by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons.
Back when I was an undergrad and a sociology major, we were, um, forced to read parts of Parsons’ The Social System, an amazingly influential book that examines how societies function. The general idea is that societies – or organizations – do not function simply on their own, but they’re part of a much larger group of almost-interdependent entities. All of these entities exist with a suprasystem, and the system itself – the organization – is made up of a bunch of subsystems also.
The idea is that if any of these subsystems, which are part of the main system, or any of the systems that are part of the main suprasystem change, everything changes. If we think about, for example, Survivor itself as a system, well, then, the castaways, producers, island, Probst… these are all subsystems. Everything internal to the show Survivor could make up a subsystem. But the suprasystem would include things like CBS, television in general, sponsors, viewers… all these things are not part of Survivor, but if they changed, they would affect the show. Does this make sense?
So what does this have to do with this week’s episode? Well, you saw Elizabeth and Lyrsa utilize systems theory… even if we can bet they’ve probably never heard of it. They wanted to avoid Lyrsa’s elimination, so the obvious choice is Carl, but that would have killed the David tribe in terms of challenges.
But then Elizabeth noticed how Jessica had relationships with both Bi and Carl… and therefore Carl and Bi seemed close. You can think about that whole alliance of three as a system, with each of the three castaways as subsystems that interact to form the bigger system (in this case, the David tribe would be the suprasystem). So what does Elizabeth and Lyrsa come up with? Well, if they booted Carl, the alliance of two (Jessica and Bi) would still be there, because those two subsystems are more closely interrelated. But that’s because Jessica is keeping them together. If they ditch her, the entire system would break… they thought.
And that’s systems theory at its finest. You understand where the relationships are and you make decisions based on strengthening or weakening those. That’s what Elizabeth and Lyrsa accomplished this week.
That’s it for theory. Let’s take a look at what I’m thinking about each of the remaining castaways.
Carl: I don’t think this happened to be a particularly good week for Carl and, of course, the previews for next week bear that out. However, I really like how he’s playing so far, really working under the radar and making subtle moves.
Christian: Let’s be honest, there is nothing not to like about Christian so far. He’s put himself into a bunch of good relationships and he’s seemingly in the middle of every important conversation. Now, with that said, we’re two weeks in. I think that Christian’s penchant for, um, talking a lot is going to wear on some folks as we move forward. I’m not expecting a win or anything from Christian.
Bi: I have to admit, I’ve been really disappointed with Bi so far. I have high hopes for her considering, you know, she’s on my fantasy team and all. All we’ve seen from her is some disappointing moments in challenges and clichéd self-help proverbs at camp. It’s not doing anything for me.
Elizabeth: I totally underestimated Elizabeth in my original assessment of this season. I thought she’d be that quintessential loud player who never makes a move and is dragged to the end… you know, the Shambos or Denises of the world. That’s clearly the archetype producers were going for with Elizabeth. But, she’s already done more than Shambo or Denise ever did on their respective seasons. What a week for Elizabeth.
Gabby: If I wrote a column last week, I would have really praised Gabby. This week? Not so much. That conversation between her and Christian in the sand really soured me on Gabby. Her neediness and lack of confidence don’t really foreshadow much goodness in a game where those two traits are, well, not good. I want to root for my almost-neighbor, but I’m not feeling it right now.
Davie: Man, what a pick for me. Are there many players doing a better job than Davie through two weeks? I don’t think so. With an idol in his pocket, my first overall draft pick is making me look good right now. I like it.
Lyrsa: Let’s be honest: While Lyrsa did a good job to move around votes this week and help save herself, she’s not long for this game. First, she is, from my eyes, clearly the worst castaway in challenges… besides Natalie but we don’t see her compete. But the bigger issue is she’s simply horrible hiding her emotions. She gets way too openly frustrated during challenges, which puts a target on her back because her tribemates notice her badness and, at the same, Lyrsa’s yelling at them. Not good. And, second, she’s just too obvious and over-confident. That never works for long in Survivor.
Nick: It looks like Pat’s medavac really did help Nick out more than anyone. Obviously, he would have gotten the boot, but, more importantly, he’s taken his new lease on life and seems to be really using it wisely. I don’t think all his alliance-making and naming will work out because someone’s bound to find out, but, right now, good stuff.
Natalia: I have to admit, Natalia’s been better than I would have thought, but I have a feeling gender roles are going to be her downfall. She’s aggressive and serious and that’s OK with folks if you’re a dude, but we live in a sexist world and those attributes might make her a target sooner than expected. However, I do love the three-woman alliance happening right now.
Natalie: I mean, what’s to say? I guess Natalie could stick around because she’s not a threat, but I haven’t seen such a bad social player in a while. At least in the past, when bad players are told they’re bad and a target, most try to change their game. Natalie just doubles down and disagrees with the 7,540 tribemates all telling her the same thing. She’s right, and they’re wrong. That’s not a good way to think. To quote her other tribemates, that’s a serious lack of self-awareness.
Jeremy: With pick 15, what a steal I got. I did not predict Jeremy to be a cross between Russell, Tony and Kelley. He’s playing a kinetic bold game, but he’s also really good socially, making connections with many. Plus, he’s just entertaining. Good stuff.
John: I like the way he tried to ingratiate himself to Natalie… and it seemed to go over better with her than when Jeremy did the same. However, I just still don’t think someone like John can win Survivor in the year 2018. Nope.
Kara: I think it’s hard to get a read on Kara right now. We’ll find out a lot over the next couple episodes. If she really is playing Dan, then, man, she’s awesome. But we’ll see. Out of the three women making what could be an awesome alliance, I have the least amount of faith in Kara… by far.
Angelina: It burns me to say this since Jeff ranked her No. 1 and I only put her at No. 2, but I think Angelina, over two weeks, looks the best out of everyone on the island. She’s smart, physical, making really good alliances and not creating any form of controversy. A lot of the Goliaths seem too overconfident, but not Angelina.
Alec: I mean, the haircut. Do I really need to say anything else? I know the whole, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” cliché is more often than not correct, but, in this case, that hair tells you everything you could ever need to know about Alec. Everything. Good job in the challenge though.
Alison: I want to like Alison, but she gives me a bad vibe. She lacks self-awareness, kind of like Natalie, but in a less obvious way. Think about the premiere, when Jeff was so obviously setting her up with the whole “did you overcome much” thing. She didn’t get it. She celebrates too hard at challenges. She’s super smart, but she lets everyone know it. And, of course, it’s interesting that the women did not include her in the alliance…
Dan: I mean, he’s on my fantasy team, so I should be rooting for him, but I just can’t root for people who come across this badly. Yes, he found an idol. But, of course, he wasn’t bright enough to hide said idol. And, of course, the whole thing with Kara is beyond stupid.
Mike: Well, he’s done much better than I thought so far and, of course, I’m rooting for him because I simply love The Good Girl. Go Mike.
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.