Hey everyone. Welcome to another season of Well, in theory… my little attempt to apply the theories of communication and mass communication to castaway actions in Survivor. If you’re new to this here part of the interwebs, my name’s Pat Ferrucci and I’m a professor at the University of Colorado.
In the past, I’ve been a journalist, but now I mostly study how economics and technology influence the way journalists work. Thing is, though, a lot of what we as academics or me specifically as a media sociologist apply as theory to our work could also be applied to Survivor.
Watching this week, when it seemed absolutely certain Elaine would not be spending very much time on the island, I couldn’t help but think of paradigm repair, a sociological phenomenon (of sorts) often applied to journalism.
So, whenever most new PhD students, in almost any social science field, get to grad school, they’ll almost certainly have to read something from philosopher Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn provided probably the most well-known definition of a paradigm, defining it as a system that fundamentally shapes how people think and act within a field. A paradigm, then, creates boundaries around what is acceptable or unacceptable and what is possible or not possible within a field. Essentially, all jobs and the norms of them are socially constructed … meaning defined by us. So a paradigm is constructed by people within and outside of a field.
This is getting complicated, right? Think about journalism. No one person every defined what journalism is and what’s OK and not OK. There are no real laws making these decisions. Basically, over time, people – both journalists and regular folks – have defined these rules and definitions. Those rules and definitions are the journalism paradigm.
Paradigm repair is what happens when an action goes against the norms of the paradigm and something needs to happen to remind everyone of the rules or explain to folks why something bad happens. What’s this mean? Well, for example, in my field, people have done paradigm repair studies of journalism after the Jayson Blair scandal. For this kind of study, the researcher analyzed how journalists wrote about the scandal … this allows us to see how people within the field not only identified what actions Blair did were wrong, but also explain why they happened. This is a way to communicate to the public about the rules of the profession … the paradigm.
Does this make sense? So the repair is a way for people within the field to point out negative actions and try to restore trust. That’s what Elaine did.
You see, most of her tribe felt Elaine needed to go. And, in most seasons, she would have gone home. But unlike most seasons, this week we saw Elaine talk to multiple tribemates and explain why she should stay … and it worked.
Elaine effectively argued what the Survivor paradigm should look like. Why does a likable person need to go home Week 1? It makes no sense. In a way, Elaine tried to convince the rest of her tribe that the rules they were applying were not accurate. And it worked.
That’s all I got for theory. As we move into the season and get to know more castaways and better understand the social dynamics of the tribes, we’ll be able to effectively apply theory in a more dynamic way. Woo hoo. But until then, let’s talk about the cast.
The 90-minute premiere provided some much-needed time to get to know these castaways. So here are my thoughts based on those first impressions:
- Elizabeth: I have to say, even after ranking her relatively high in my preseason column, Elizabeth did nothing to impress me this week. In fact, she did the opposite. Now, I don’t blame her for not trying to haggle with Boston Rob or anything, but I do blame her for competing in that fire competition. That seemed, well, dumb. And then the way she delivered her lie about Island of the Idols just fell flat for me. None of this bodes well for the future … no matter how fast she can swim.
- Missy: We didn’t get much of Missy this week, but what we did see, seemed positive. I liked how she seemed to fit in nicely with all sides and how she navigated the vote off. I also liked her spelling of “soul” survivor.
- Dean: Did Dean speak? I missed it.
- Tom: To me, Tom, Elaine and Vince did a really good job escaping an early hole to emerge in a decent position. Can’t complain there. But nothing I saw from Tom suggests he can win this thing. It’s early, but we’ll see.
- Aaron: Maybe I’m biased about this type of player, but Aaron was basically as bad as I expected. Oh sure, he seems social and well-liked, but it’s always these big dudes who can’t read the room and think they’re in a much better position than they actually are. Oh, I don’t think Aaron will go home soon since the tribe needs his strength, but this dude has early merge boot written all over him. Maybe he learns from the first vote, though?
- Vince: Like Elaine and Tom, Vince wiggled out of a not-good position, but Vince’s game is not built to last. He sucked at the challenge and didn’t do much in terms of a social game. I think he’s gone this week.
- Karishma: I had high hopes for Karishma and screen time, but we saw so little, I have no idea what to think.
- Chelsea: Now, she may have failed miserably at the puzzle, but Chelsea came out of the gate ready. I loved her this episode. If she can get rid of those challenge woes, she really has a shot to make it far in this game.
- Elaine: Everyone loves Elaine and she made it through a vote, but this attention isn’t going away and she’s not making it too far in this game … I think.
- Lauren: I don’t know how you could watch this week and not love Lauren. Her social game could really take her far. I also think Vokai is going to win every challenge until a tribe swap, so she’s probably in a good position for the next two votes.
- Molly: My Winner Pick™ had a decent week. She dominated the challenge and showed a real understanding of the subtle social dynamics in play during Survivor. How? The way she talked about navigating Dan and his touchiness really seemed smart.
- Janet: We all know Janet is winning this season. Stop denying it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Love it. Enjoy it.
- Kellee: It's amazing how little I remember about Kellee this episode. She handled the Dan situation about as well as anybody could, yet until I was reminded of that, I didn't remember. If that situation is any indication, though, Kellee could be really good socially.
- Jason: Poor Jason. He got caught doing exactly what you’re not supposed to do on Day One. I mean, before he searches for the idol, he even says he shouldn’t. You have to lay back, at first. He just couldn’t help himself and I don’t think that bodes well for his patience … a key attribute for winning the game.
- Jack: Quick question: Did Jack do any CrossFit exercises on the beach? Anyone?
- Jamal: I ranked Jamal really high during the preseason because he seemed like the kind of guy who could get along with anyone. And, man, does that look like an accurate prediction. He could go far.
- Noura: OK, so I mocked Noura for saying “she creates healthy foods” in her bio. I was just being funny and figured that was just an awkward way of saying something like she enjoys eating healthy. But, now, after her reasoning for telling Jason he was a target? Holy poop, guys. I’m thinking she’s going to provide a whole lot of unintentional humor this season. I can’t wait. She might be totally crazy.
- Tommy: Here’s a guy I was pretty down on in the preseason, but I was wrong. I’m confident about that this soon. Tommy looked amazing out there and his social skills might take him really far.
- Dan: You can’t be touching people, dude. Pretty simple.
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.