Well, in theory... Pat Ferrucci's S34 recaps

Ep.5: To compare or not to compare


In a way, I’m almost happy for J.T. He needed to get out of this game before he did even more damage to his Survivor reputation.


 Think about it.


Whenever we discuss the best Survivor winners of all time, oh sure, people talk about Parvati, Sandra and Boston Rob, but they are the exception. Many also mention folks like Kim, Yul, Earl, and Brian. What do those four have in common? They only played once and thus far haven’t messed up their reputations.


I mean, think about it: If Kim came back next season, there’s virtually no way she’d leave the game with a reputation better than the one she owns now.


If J.T. never came back for Heroes vs. Villains or this season, we’d probably have him on that list of great players. Heck, speaking of HvV, think about the hit Tom Westman took … and he didn’t even play that badly.


Let’s be real: J.T.’s second and third seasons were awful. You can defend some of his moves here and there, but, overall, he basically looks like someone perfect to play Survivor in the mid and early years, but not so much since the game’s evolved.


But how can we explain this week’s move? I mean, he found an idol because he knew he was at the bottom. Then he goes to tribal so confident he doesn’t even take the idol?


JT and his beloved idol


It almost seems crazy.


Heck, when Mana won the immunity challenge, I got a little excited because I thought it meant an idol was definitely being played at tribal, regardless of what tribe went. Boy was I wrong.


How do we explain J.T.’s seemingly unexplainable actions? Let’s talk about social comparison theory.


Coined by the fifth most-cited psychologist of the 20th century, Leon Festinger, social comparison theory is from the world of social psychology. Festinger, as you can probably tell from the fifth most cited thing, is a legend in social psychology. He trained under Kurt Lewin at Iowa before spending a lot of his career at MIT.


Even though I mostly study mass communication, the Lewin-Festinger connection should give you an idea of how it all goes together. Lewin is credited with inventing gatekeeping theory, which, in the world of journalism scholarship, is one of the more commonly studied things.


Let’s get back to social comparison theory. It is, fundamentally, about the idea that we all want an accurate evaluation of ourselves (except Debbie, of course). And the way with which we gain this accurate evaluation, or self-awareness, is by comparing ourselves to others.


For example, let’s say that I want a good idea of how I am as a professor. Of course, I would want to know this. But the only way I can figure this out is to compare myself to others. How else would I do it? So through those comparisons, I start to understand myself; I start to get an accurate evaluation of myself; I become more self-aware.


Over time, of course, scholars have built on this theory. One such person is Thomas Wills, a professor at Hawaii (please note that I hope to one day wear a lei in a faculty photo). Wills contributed the idea of downward comparison.


This is when we purposefully, though maybe not knowingly, compare ourselves to people or a group we consider worse off just to feel better about themselves. You’ve probably noticed you’ve done this yourself. When trying to rationalize a behavior you know is not good, you say something like, “Well, it’s not as bad as Bob” or whoever. You purposely compare yourself to someone worse instead of someone more ideal.


And that’s what J.T. did here. He wanted to feel better about himself in the game. He knew he messed up with the Malcolm tribal.


JT looking down on Michaela


So what did he do? He tried to gain an accurate self-evaluation by looking downward (at least in his mind) to Michaela. Once he did this, he just focused on what he believed were Michaela’s negative attributes and used them to make an incorrect evaluation of his own place in the tribe. Once he convinced himself he was in a better spot than Michaela, J.T. got confident enough to leave the idol at camp.


Dumb. But explainable when you think about it. Nobody wants to believe they’re in the worst spot. Of course, the problem with J.T.’s line of thinking is that Survivor is not rational. Theories work in rational ways, mostly. They explain. J.T. might have been right that he was a better tribemate than Michaela, but that doesn’t matter because people are playing both a tribal and individual game. 


Anyway, that’s all the theory for this week. Here are my thoughts on the castaways remaining:   





  • Hali — Poor Hali, last week she looked bad at tribal council and got all kinds of crap thrown at her. When Caleb went home, she took a bunch of crap at tribal also. This week, from what we saw, she did well on the balance beam and still took crap. For karma purposes, I hope she ends up in a power position next week.  


  • Brad — There were a lot of negative ways that Brad could have handled the Debbie situation. But, in true Brad Game Changers fashion, I thought he handled it beautifully. I mean, at this point, doesn’t he deserve to be the winner? Who would have ever thunk I would have said that, especially after cheering his failure to get on Second Chance? I was wrong about Brad. Say it with me: We were wrong about Brad.  


  • Sierra — Last week, in the comments section of my article, a reader named Robb Forsyth made an impassioned argument for why I was underrating Sierra’s play this season. He made some great points. And I have to admit, I’m probably blinded to some of Sierra’s good moves so far because I’m so turned off and incredulous that she was even chosen. So Sierra is playing well. With that said, Robb argued Sierra was getting a Winner’s Edit™. No way. Everything that’s happened in this tribe has been edited to make Brad – not Sierra – look great. Any argument you make about Sierra’s play, all the ones Robb did, could be contradicted or called fan fiction. I’m sticking to that until I’m proven wrong (which I always am).


  • Tai — Finally, a good strategic day for Tai! Instead of getting caught up in Debbie drama, Tai heads out and finds another idol. Let’s hope he uses it well again. Tai could be set up for another deep run because, I’m thinking, nobody will fear him.    


  • Debbie — OK, so here’s some bonus theory time. Debbie clearly suffered from cognitive dissonance this episode (or inflated ego). Why? Well, Debbie thinks she’s the greatest at everything known to man, every single thing. So when it turns out she absolutely sucks at balancing in that challenge, she doesn’t – and can’t – believe it’s her fault. It doesn’t compute in her mind. She then has to make up excuses for what happened so it can make sense to her. Hence, Hali and Brad suck.    





  • Aubry — As a lover of strategy, I completely understand why the rest of Nuku didn’t tell Aubry what was happening at tribal. As a viewer, it upset me because it sure doesn’t look like Aubry’s long for this game. And that, my friends, is the reason why if you did really well in a recent season (that aired already), you probably shouldn’t come back quickly.  


  • Michaela — Call me a traditionalist, but that clearly pre-planned bit with the tea cup rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve never played Survivor so I don’t understand the hell these players go through on a daily basis, but I do know that’s the kind of stuff others will talk about. We haven’t seen much of Michaela this season and, from what we saw, everything looks good. But when you read exit interviews, it sure sounds like others don’t feel so good about her. Probably not a good sign.  


  • Sandra — I don’t think Sandra will actually win this season. And I think that will affect how some think about her. What do I mean? Well, some other player will eventually win the game for a second time, even if it’s in a winners’ season, and because Sandra won’t have a perfect record, people will discount her (Think Joe Montana vs. Tom “God” Brady). But I’m so glad she came back this season because, I think, she’s shutting up her critics. Sandra has played a hell of a game so far.


  • Jeff — I heard some folks criticizing Jeff’s move this week. That’s nonsense. He clearly has the closest relationship and alliance with Sandra. It would have been dumb to go with Aubry and J.T., two people he’s isn’t that close with and two people who will split the first chance they get.  





  • Troyzan — I really loved how Troyzan played that conversation with Sarah. With a swap imminent, it seems, Troyzan could end up on a tribe where he’s not at the bottom and he has an idol. Like Brad, I thought I didn’t ever need to see Troyzan play again, but he’s been a decent addition to this cast so far.   


  • Andrea — Andrea nailed the puzzle this week, but, once again, we didn’t get to see her that much. This is kind of weird because in FvF2, Andrea, if I remember correctly, received tons of airtime for someone who wasn’t going to be too important to the end game. This season, very little. Maybe she wins? (Kidding.)  


  • Cirie — At first, I thought Cirie would go home quickly. I am so happy that’s not the case, even though we’ve seen so little of her. Any game with Cirie is a good game.   


  • Sarah — I got a lot of crap for my Sarah Winner’s EditTM comment last week. I get it. But producers don’t seem to edit winners like they used to. And, to me, Sarah is receiving confessionals for no apparent reason. Why do we need her telling us she’s going to play like a “criminal” for the 1,834th time? We don’t. That’s my reasoning. Please understand I am not saying she’s playing a good game so far. Heck, we have no idea what kind of game she’s playing.


  • Ozzy — I didn’t want to see Ozzy for the fourth time. Now I want to see him for the fifth time. Just not for another 15 years, though. It just amazes me that this dude, even when he might not be in the best shape, still dominates challenges for the most part. Let’s see if he can do it on season 64, Gen X v Millennials v Generation Trump.


  • Zeke — At this point, Zeke must think Survivor is easy. The dude was basically never in trouble last season and not at all this season either. If he can only be a little more careful this time: Everyone shouldn’t know he’s so good come merge time.   


It looks like we’re going to get another tribe swap next week. As usual, that could totally transform the game. You might argue this is too soon for another one, but I’m bored with this only because it might make the current members of Tavua actually have to play the game again.


Pat Ferrucci Survivor 31 recapsPat 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.