I know I mentioned this a couple weeks back, but I think it’s only fair to say it again: This season of Survivor is, simply, really good. I mean, as we can all agree, I think, most seasons don’t kick in 'til after the merge.
Yes, this episode kept me on the edge of the couch and worked on basically every level, but pretty much every episode this season exceeded expectations. And, honestly, can anybody really predict where we’re going yet? I don’t think so. I’m super excited for a killer endgame. With so many strong players left standing, I can’t imagine we’ll be disappointed.
But let’s start talking about this episode. I went back and forth on what theory to utilize this week. I think this episode was pretty tough because of the many moving parts and confrontations that went into the vote. I settled on a theory, though.
We’re going to talk about framing today.
Framing theory — which some scholars hesitate to call an actually theory since it has no predictive power — is one of the more versatile theories we’ll talk about this season. When I say versatile, I really just mean that it’s used consistently in a whole host of different disciplines. Because of my background with studies of the mass media, we’re going to look at framing from a mass communication and sociological perspective.
Introduced to academia by an English anthropologist named Gregory Bateson, framing really describes how people organize, communicate and, in turn, understand media messages. From my perspective, one of the people most responsible for popularizing the study of how media messages get framed is the great (to me) Todd Gitlin, a sociologist at Columbia’s School of Journalism who studied how the media covered the New Left in the 1960s.
So let’s kind of describe framing a bit better, from a journalism view. Basically, framing describes how journalists make sense of information in a story and therefore how they tell the story. What does this mean? Well, if you’re a journalist covering a story, you’re going to get way more information than you need about a particular subject. You’re going to choose what goes in the story and what order you put that information in. This is the idea of framing. You’re making certain parts of the story more salient than others. Basically, if you’re a good journalist, you’re thinking about what’s the most important part of the story and you’re highlighting that portion the most strongly. You’re making that point more salient or more prominent.
Now, as someone who worked in newsrooms for almost a decade, I can assure you I’ve never heard a journalist talk explicitly about framing. It’s just part of what they do without thinking, all based on a lot of different reasons such as culture, training, organization and a host of other factors. But us media scholars, we study how stories are framed, how journalists frame certain subjects because research shows that the way stories are framed significantly affects how people make sense of information.
What does this have to do with Kass, Savage, Tasha, Ciera, Spencer and everyone else that played a big role in this episode? Well, I would argue the way certain contestants framed information they shared, significantly affected how other contestants perceived the information.
Let’s take it from the top. The tribes merge and almost immediately, we see Kass telling her tribemates, new and old, about how she “saved” Spencer and how now her and Spencer are working together. Was that information accurate? Yes. But she focused on the part about her and Spencer working together, not about how Spencer was leaving if he didn’t work with Kass.
And then we see Ciera telling her tribemates, new and old, how Andrew wanted to get rid of people like Joe and Jeremy. Of course, Savage moaned about “lies.” Were either really lying though? I would argue no. See, after not being voted out at the last tribal and understanding his back was against the wall, Savage told his tribe he wanted to work with them for the rest of the game. Implied in that, of course, is that he would vote out folks such as, um, Joe and Jeremy. Savage, obviously, didn’t explicitly say that and certainly didn’t mean it since he was lying to Ciera, Kass, Spencer and co., so he protested to the merged tribe that Ciera lies.
But, each was framing information in a specific way to make themselves look better or to communicate a specific piece of information. Savage wanted to make sure the rest of his alliance thought he was Bayon strong. Ciera, sensing, possibly, that she could be in the minority, wanted to use Savage’s past comments in a way that could potentially hurt him and help her.
The same thing happened later when Kass and Tasha disagreed over what went down during their first conversation post merge. Both told the truth when they later relayed the conversation to other contestants, but both focused on certain parts of the conversation. Basically, both framed the story in a specific manner hoping to get the intended audience to use the information in a specific way.
This happens all the time in journalism. Think about, say, when the last Republican debate happened a little more than a week ago right on the campus I teach at. After an event like that happens, you can read stories about it from different organizations, say Fox News or MSNBC, and though neither print false information, generally, they frame what went down in a certain way to convey a specific meaning to the audience.
And this happened on Survivor this week. Kass and Tasha and Savage and Ciera all told the truth, generally, but all framed the truth in a different way, hoping to make specific parts of their stories salient. What the audience chose to believe, well, that’s out of the disseminator’s hands. It seems like most everyone believed Savage and Tasha. Why? Probably confirmation bias … but now we’re getting into a different concept.
Because I don’t feel good today, we’ll stop here and jump into our contestant-by-contestant thoughts. But next time you tell a story, think about what information you’re shining a light on in that story and what information you’re not playing up. That’s framing. And you’re affecting how the person listening interprets that message and how that person then creates a reality of sorts.
OK, here we go:
OK, so let’s call it a day now. I’ll see you all next week, hopefully, And, hopefully, I won’t be sick. And, hopefully, we’ll be taking about another stellar episode, hopefully.
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.