I’ve been watching and reading about Survivor long enough to know many people view sharing information as a form of building trust. Heck, one of my favorites, Stephen Fishbach, often talks about how revealing information can be a form of bonding, or trust-forming.
And he’s right, but these things are completely situational on Survivor. If someone, like Stephen did in his first season, finds an idol and immediately tells his alliance then, yes, that can bring people together. But Sierra this week? Um, no.
There is a clear argument that Sierra just said too much. You could say that if she told Sarah about the advantage, but not about being able to will it, she would still be around. I don’t agree. Once Brad won immunity, Sierra was a goner.
In social psychology, there is a theory of swift trust. As you can imagine, trust is a commonly studied concept in psychology. The vast majority of the research on the subject, especially early on, identified time as a driver of trust. This is common sense, right? The longer we know someone and can see their behavior and judge it “trustworthy,” the more we trust them. It’s almost impossible to simply trust someone we’ve never met.
In our daily lives, we probably are all in some ways wary of new people. We only trust them after a certain amount of time. But in some situations, this isn’t possible. For example, when we start a new job, we almost have to trust the people we meet. Over time, we might lose trust in some coworkers and gain immense trust in others, but we simply need to trust at first.
And that’s where swift trust theory comes in. Researchers needed a way to understand how members of an organization or a team gain trust with each other quickly. You can see where I’m going here, right?
In Survivor, castaways are forced to trust others even though those others, in most cases, have done nothing to earn that trust. Or sometimes, they’ve actually done things to actively make you distrust them.
In swift trust theory, the idea is that swift trust is formed both normatively and cognitively. The cognitive parts of the theory basically presuppose that we base early relationships on social categorization. We’ve talked about this before with social identity theory. Fundamentally, when we’re forced to trust people without the benefit of time, we gravitate more toward people who are like us. Sierra sees the other alliance and, for a variety of reasons, probably thinks Sarah is the most like her. This categorization began at the beginning of the season.
The normative portion of the theory basically argues that if people follow social norms, trust will continue. But when they violate those norms or when they give others a reason not to trust, well, then, they won’t.
Here’s my feeling on this particular interaction between Sarah and Sierra: Sarah wanted to trust Sierra because they’re similar (the cognitive thing). Sierra even did something that should make Sarah trust her more (the normative thing, i.e., telling secrets). Yet because the two did not have any long-term, earned trust but relied instead on what we’d call swift trust, Sarah is looking for any reason to break that bond.
The bond – the swift trust – is broken between the two for a variety of reasons. First, Sierra tells Sarah she found the advantage early in the game. Sierra also tells Sarah about how she has to will the advantage after her exit. Again, Sarah wants to trust Sierra, but the willing thing gives Sarah a reason to rationalize breaking the trust. And that she does.
Trust is often talked about in Survivor. Oftentimes, we hear castaways talking about how they can’t trust someone. That’s because they’re forming swift trust and without the benefit of time, any violation or perceived violation gives someone a big reason to rationalize not trusting. That’s why we so often see people get voted out just for talking to someone else. That’s why Andrea calls out Zeke for talking football with Brad. It’s super easy to break swift trust.
That’s why Sierra’s home now, partly. And as we head into the penultimate episode, here’s what I think is happening:
Well, OK, only two episodes left. Does that mean we’re getting a double elimination this week? I would think so. My prediction? I’m thinking we’re going to lose Andrea and Brad this week. That will leave us heading into the finale with Sarah, Cirie, Tai, Troy, Aubry and Michaela. Besides Cirie, that’s not what I would have hoped for at the beginning of the season, but it could make for a good last episode. Let’s just hope I’m wrong about the two going home this upcoming episode, though.
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.