Frequent True Dork Times visitors know that this is the fourth season I’ve been writing these columns mixing traditional commentary and theories often used in mass communication. Well, let me just say, never before has this all been so obvious.
Survivor is blatantly utilizing theory to get desired results this season.
What do I mean? Jeff Probst basically acknowledged during pre-game press that maybe all these castaways weren’t game changers by definition, but by calling them that, he thought there would be some extra action.
That, my friends, is priming theory.
Priming is a theory often used in social psychology. When conducting experiments, oftentimes researchers will utilize a prime to make people think about something. Usually, the prime is implicit. What the hell do I mean? Let me explain.
So, when utilizing priming, you’re basically exposing participants to one stimuli in order to potentially influence their reaction to another different stimulus. Let me give you an example from my recent research.
Prior research shows that, compared to other professions, journalists act more ethically, that practitioners have a higher level of moral development than almost any other occupation. Basically, all research shows the same thing: Journalists are more ethical than most.
But what I wanted to see was are journalists more ethical because the people who become journalists are more ethical or because the profession is ethical. How do I do that? Well, my colleagues and I did something called identity priming.
We conducted an experiment on two different groups of journalists. One group answered a series of innocuous questions like, “How many cups of coffee do you drink per day?” and then, after answering about 10 questions like that, did an ethics test. The other group, we primed. So they answered the same innocuous questions, but instead they were worded like, “As a journalist, how many cups of coffee do you drink per day?” Fundamentally, we are priming that group of journalists with their profession. That makes them take the ethics test with their occupation in mind.
How does this connect with Survivor? Well, we know folks like Tai and Sierra are, well, not even game players much less game changers. But Probst and company took this entire group and labeled them game changers. Probst started the game by reminding castaways they’re game changers (even if they’re not). The buffs say game changers. You see? They’re priming this group with one stimulus (game changer) and hoping it affects how they play the next stimulus (the game). They want these players to think they’re game changers and act accordingly, giving us fans an action-packed season.
So far, it seems to have worked. I mean, Tony’s Tony. He was going to be this way no matter what. But look what happened to Ciera. I mean, besides being a bad player, she started playing hard right away. People recognized she could be a game changer quickly and they booted her.
We’ll have to see how this plan to prime the castaways plays out for the remainder of the season. But, in my opinion, so far so good.
It’s great to be back talking theory. Thanks so much for reading. For those new to this here column, this is where I go through each and every remaining player and give you my current thoughts on them. Here we go:
- Aubry — Oh the burden of recency bias. This cast just saw Kaoh Rong and they know Aubry’s a good player. And with a coterie of players from that season, I’m not feeling good about Aubry. She’s clearly on the outs with her tribe. That’s not a good thing even if her tribe won’t exist for much longer.
- Michaela — Poor Michaela. She basically played Millennials vs. Gen X and then went right back to Fiji. That’s a lot of people’s dream, so why is that bad? Well, she didn’t get a chance to sit back, watch her season and assess her shortcomings. I still think she does well this season, but, man, she’s got to control those emotions.
- Sandra — I simply can’t get behind predetermined catchphrases. When did Sandra become Coach? It’s like she decided on something she thought was cool to say and then said it 7,012 times. With that said, it’s impossible not to love Sandra. And, I will say, I know there are a lot of Survivor fans who underrate Sandra. This episode should make all those folks quiet down. This was a master class in how Sandra enacts the “anyone but me” strategy.
- Hali — Um, Hali is as much a cobra as I’m Tom Brady.
- Malcolm — For once, literally once, my winner pick had a decent first episode. I love Malcolm’s clear meat shield strategy, he didn’t come off as too cocky (outside of confessionals) and unlike FvF2, he seems to be making loads of friends. I’m excited to, maybe, have a winner pick that lasts past episode three. I’m not getting my hopes up just yet, though.
- Caleb — Well, I mean, you can’t really argue that Caleb looked better than you thought this episode, right? We saw minimal strategy, but it sure was more than I expected, at least.
- Troyzan — I had some high hopes for Troyzan this season and, I think, he didn’t disappoint. I have a feeling age seems to have taken some speed of his fastball and he might not be great in challenges, but that could actually help Troy.
- Jeff — Can we just have Jeff Varner on every season? I mean, that was a horrendous showing in the challenge, but when Probst retires, let’s replace him with another Jeff.
- Andrea — I almost picked Andrea as a winner’s pick. While we saw very little at Nuku, I think my Andrea optimism is a good thing. She seems to have calmed down a bit and learned to lay low (like in Redemption Island), but actually be thinking about strategy (unlike in Redemption Island).
- Brad — Brad, like some others, needed to calm the f down on the island … and he did just that. We didn’t get to see him play much, but, I have to say, I’m bullish on him this season after listening to his confessionals. I don’t think he can win, but he might just go far.
- Cirie — Oh Cirie. What an up and down episode. On one hand, the way Cirie masterfully played Tai and quickly understood tribe dynamics illustrated why she’s such a good player. But then she couldn’t put anything past Debbie. Um, not so good.
- Sarah — Sarah learned from the master. While I might cry myself to sleep every night this week mourning the loss of Tony, maybe Sarah will put to good use the weird set of amazing skills Tony showed her. I doubt it, but a boy can dream, right?
- Ozzy — Like it or not, Ozzy is playing for a fourth time. Like it or not, I saw zero growth as a player from him this week. But, and I feel like this is often overlooked about Ozzy, the dude did lose by one measly vote to one of the best players ever in Cook Islands, and then come one challenge away from winning the whole thing in South Pacific. I feel like Ozzy constantly gets underrated, even if his strategic game might, um, less than good. This could be his Boston Rob moment.
- Zeke — Zeke is like Jeff Varner. I would be happy to get Zeke confessionals every single damn season. We’ll see how Zeke fits in with his new tribe, but I still think once people realize he’s a schemer, he’ll be shown the door … to Ponderosa.
- Sierra — If by game changer you mean, “willing to let Dan Foley yell at you for hours on end,” then, yeah, Sierra belongs here. While she had a decent first episode, I just can’t root for her because, frankly, I don’t think she deserves to be here. In all the returnee seasons of Survivor, can anyone think of someone more blah brought back? Seriously, let’s talk in the comments.
- J.T. — Well, with one winner gone, J.T. better be careful. Especially when he’s telling folks he’s going to win again. This episode, though, we saw a bit more of Tocantins J.T. That’s a good start for one my favorites.
- Tai — Eh, I’m kind of sick of Tai’s shtick. We know what we’re going to get with him. He seems like a lovely dude, but he can’t win and, honestly, he can’t really play. Give him the boot soon, please.
- Debbie — Debbie, Debbie, Debbie... how I missed you. This is a shtick I can get behind. She may not win, but, you have to admit, the way she read Cirie was beautiful. Let’s see if she can continue this great start.
And that’s all for this week. Let’s hope this season meets the high bar set by this first episode. We shall see.
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.