How success is gained in various industries is something that most of us folks who study a particular industry research occasionally. For example, in journalism, it’s super important to understand how individual journalists or specific media organizations define success because that could tell us quite a bit about how journalism is practiced.
I know, what does this have to do with Survivor? I’m getting there, OK?
We’ve talked about it before, but in sociology there’s a something called the theory of cumulative advantage, a model coined by Robert K. Merton. Sometimes scholars interpret Merton’s theory in a slightly different manner and call it “The Matthew Effect.” And, yes, the Matthew reference comes directly from the Gospel of Matthew.
In the Gospel of Matthew, there is a line that says, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Merton uses that line to explain his theory: That people who already have a lot are more likely to gain more (and vice versa). So people who already succeeded are more likely to succeed. Think about the phrase “the rich get richer.” That’s basically Merton’s theory dumbed down.
So how does this pertain to this week? Well, I would argue we can look at this two-fold.
First, Merton’s theory is kind of obvious, right? You work hard, follow normative ideas in whatever industry you’re in, earn success and then earn more. Any of us who have worked long enough in any industry can see how the people who gain awards or raises tend to keep on gaining awards and raises. That’s cumulative advantage. So we as people are conditioned to believe this is what happens in life. And that’s what happened to Angelina, I think.
I wouldn’t say she’s had much success this season, but she’s been in the middle of a lot of votes and seemingly always gets her way. The theory would argue this would continue to happen. And clearly Angelina thought so too. She ignored clear non-verbal communication from her fellow Goliath tribemates that made it obvious they didn’t like her plan. She didn’t care. She thought she deserved (and would receive) more success.
And this gets to the second point: I don’t believe the theory of cumulative advantage can work without a clear idea of how we define success. For example, I applied the theory in a relatively recent study about journalists and found that, depending on age, journalists defined success very differently. This has clear ramifications ... in journalism ... and this could be extrapolated out to Survivor.
For example, is success short term or long term? What I mean is, does a castaway define success as surviving one particular tribal or as their overall standing? I think Angelina might be defining success as getting her way with booting Lyrsa. Because she did that, she thinks she knows how to succeed in the game. What she doesn’t know is that wasn’t at all her decision ... that boot was decided by Nick and Mike, and Nick and Mike only. She doesn’t know that, so she takes the exact same tack this time.
That’s how someone like Angelina can think she has enough power to force her tribe to vote her way ... and then enough social capital to outwardly complain when she’s outvoted. She believes she knows how to earn success. But, I would argue, her definition of success is misguided and wrong.
But the fun begins next week, though. We get to see if Angelina changes things up. You see, with the Lyrsa vote, Angelina thought she had success; she didn’t know she was saved by Mike and Nick. After this tribal, she knows she’s not successful. She knows surviving tribal didn’t put her in a better position.
So we’ll see if she can redefine success and then apply the theory of cumulative advantage in a different manner.
With that all said and done, let’s take a look at my thoughts on the remaining castaways:
Alec: I need to apologize: Last week I called Alec “strategically mediocre.” Boy, did my man prove me wrong this week. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed such a strategic masterpiece of an episode that didn’t involve an idol, advantage or even a true blindside. But Alec did it. I still don’t think he’s going to win because of all the preseason controversy, but if Alec gets to the end, he deserves to win. Handily.
John: I also can’t remember the last time such a physically imposing (and quasi-famous) castaway stayed so under-the-radar for so long. John’s done it. Not only is he staying out of everyone’s aim, he’s become a sort-of go-to communicator. Need someone to break the news to Angelina that she can’t be a dictator this tribal? Let John go. Need someone to bounce ideas off? Call John. Need someone to at least try to make sense to Natalie? Call John. I give this dude tons of credit even though I think his sheer physicality makes it basically impossible for him to win.
Angelina: Poor, poor Angelina. This episode truly was what I like to call the “death blow.” She ain’t coming back from that strategic sh*tshow. Look, I know folks on the Twitter are asking some pointed questions about the intersection of depiction, gender and strategy. I get it. And I know where they’re coming from, but I just don’t think we’ve got much to talk about with Angelina. She’s been trending this way for more than a month of episodes. She’s simply not very good. You can’t win this game and be dictatorish, while not being self-aware and also a complainer. Any dude would look just as bad. At least to me.
Carl: Well, I’m not sure Carl is long for this game, but at least he outlasted his nemesis Elizabeth and got to get drunk on Survivor. If it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, I don’t mean to be. I would love to get drunk while playing Survivor also. But I don’t think Carl’s made the requisite strong bonds to go much further in this game. I don’t think he’s gone this week (more likely Dan or Angelina), but soon.
Kara: I haven’t been giving Kara much credit, but whatever she’s doing to Dan is quite amazing. The fact that he can’t keep a secret from her for even five seconds says something good about Kara. Good for her. With that said, she’s not included in the new Big Six™ alliance, and since I think this alliance will run the game for a bit, I don’t think Kara wins.
Dan: Again, on the surface, it looks like Dan had another good episode this week. He solidified alliances, did decently in the immunity challenge and saw his target go home. But as we all know, there is more than that to Survivor. Dan consistently looks bad by pouting, sharing too much and getting too emotional. I don’t believe he’s long for this game.
Gabby: I have a feeling Gabby’s not patient or trusting enough to wait for her new alliance to take control. I want to be wrong, but I get a feeling we’ll see her questioning the alliance—for no clear reason—by the middle of next episode. I hope I’m wrong.
Mike: Another good week for Mike. He’s one of a handful players left that have certainly insulated themselves really well. There is no way he goes home in the next couple episodes, which means his clear smarts and social game could take him very, very far.
Davie: I really don’t know what to think about Davie. We barely saw him this week and he’s the only one we don’t have a clear reason to understand why he voted Elizabeth. Hopefully, next week, producers let us in what Davie’s end game is at the moment. I still think he’s a good player, but we need to figure him out still.
Nick: The more and more I watch this season, the more impressed I am by the entire cast. But, with each and every passing episode, I start to think Nick wins this game. He’s my guess now.
Alison: I got some pushback last week when I said I believed Alison is a frontrunner to win this game. Well, I think my case got much stronger this week. She’s in the majority alliance (on both sides), nobody talks negatively about her, editors gave us her comment about Angelina at tribal and, oh yeah, she won immunity ... showing us she could be a player in all endurance challenges coming up (and we know there will be tons). Alison = frontrunner.
Christian: The more I think about it, the more I do think Christian is destined for like fourth place because everyone knows he could easily win at tribal. He’s also pretty much guaranteed a chance to play the game again. But ... I still have high hopes that his sheer likability persuades people to ignore to his winnability. Or something.
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.