Honesty Time

Keeping it real since 2013

I’m Writing About “Survivor” Again and You Can’t Stop Me.


Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the fact that the third (arguably, fourth) episode of this season of Survivor aired last night, and I’ve managed to last this long without mentioning it once?

Now that we got that over with, let’s talk about Survivor: Cagayan.


This season is amazing. It’s the first season since the reprehensible One World (long live Queen Kim) that has no returning players. And by splitting the tribes into what are apparently the three most important characteristics of a Survivor (has anyone ever actually thought that “being pretty” is a legitimate threat?), this season has made my Sociology brain tingle.

With the teaser that the tribes are going to be switched next week, this is the perfect opportunity to discuss what the hell is going on with the tribes this season. I know that this blog ‘s audience might not be the target for this post. But bear with me. My goal here is to make this interesting to someone who has never seen this season, or even the show in general. I’m probably going to fail, but I’m doing it anyway.


LJ of the Beautiful

The season started with the tribes being split by their “defining” characteristics: Brains, Brawn, Beauty. My interest isn’t in how these people were separated. I’m more intrigued by how the separation makes them behave.

Are these really the main characteristics that define them in their real lives? Or are they just forced to focus on these attributes because they are separated that way?


Sarah of the Brawny

As a human being myself (surprise! I’m not a robot!), I like to think that other humans are more well-rounded than that. Like, clearly Garrett is a good-looking and athletic guy, but he was put on the Brains tribe. And LJ of the Beauty tribe? Definitely handsome, but has also proved himself to be an asset to his team both in physical challenges and in puzzles. And Sarah of the Brawns? I would say she’s very attractive and also really smart (other cops being her blind spot, but I’m not here to talk about the Cops ‘R Us disaster). And those are just three examples, one from each tribe.


Garrett of the Brainy

When the Beauty tribe went to Tribal Council last week, they mostly just talked about how their looks define them. Jeff definitely steered them in that direction, but it monopolized the conversation. They eventually started talking about alliances, but it took a while to get there. Jeff asked about the stereotypes of being pretty. Morgan responded with “Yeah. We’ve got beautiful faces.” Brice tried to discuss their inner beauty, but I’m pretty sure that being pretty on the inside is not what got them put on this tribe, whether or not it’s true. This all resulted in Brice being eliminated. Was it because he was so beautiful that the others couldn’t handle it? No. It’s because LJ targeted Brice as the only other person on the tribe that could probably out-strategize him.

Solana aka Beauty

When the Brains tribe went to Tribal Council every other time, they focused on the fact that even though these people are incredibly intelligent in the real world, their tribe is a bit of a disaster (as someone who would probably place myself on the Brains tribe, I find their performance embarrassing, but that’s irrelevant). Not that real world intelligence necessarily translates into good Survivor play (I think social intelligence is the most dangerous – where’s the (B)Charismatic tribe? The B is silent.) It’s not their performance in challenges that I find the most upsetting, but the decisions they choose to make. They kept J’Tia over David and Garrett when J’Tia was clearly a major liability, both in the challenges and at camp (throwing the rice into the fire is a major Survivor faux-pas. No sane person would ever imitate Brandon Hantz). As a fellow super fan, I sympathize with Spencer and Tasha just wanting to play. But this tribe’s general over-eagerness was a detriment to their pre-swap success. You can’t play (or at least vocalize that you are playing. *cough*David*cough*) for the long game. Survivor is a marathon, not a sprint.

Luzon aka Brains

The thing about the Brains tribe that is really most interesting to me is how they, more than the other tribes, really act like they have something to prove. The second that they realized the way the tribes were going to be divided, they had to change whatever strategy they had going in. They couldn’t fly under the radar – in the world of smart people, other smart people are the biggest threat. The way that they practice for each challenge before going in while the other tribes (presumably) just wing it is something that only a group of incredibly intelligent people would do – people who probably tend to overthink things. I don’t think that any of them would have been able to get away with this on a normal tribe.

Aparri aka Brawn

As for the Brawn tribe, despite their best effort, they haven’t gone to Tribal Council yet, so we haven’t gotten to see too much of their dynamics. It’s no surprise that they haven’t lost a challenge yet. They seem to be the most “normal” of the tribes. The interesting thing there is that if any of these players were on another season, they would probably be protected at the beginning for their athleticism, and then targeted later for the same reason. In this tribe, any one of them could be kicked out, and they would still be extremely competitive.

Basically what I’m trying to get at here in a really round-a-bout way is this – if this was a normal season and the tribes were just separated randomly, would these characteristics really be the main thing they relied on? There is more to this game, and to life, than just being smart, strong, or pretty. Survivor is really pushing those labels this season, and I’m not sure that’s fair to the contestants as actual people. If a person from Brawn wins, you know they are going to talk about them using physicality to get to the end. If a person from Beauty wins, they are going to focus on the failings of the Brains and Brawn tribe at letting a “pretty” person beat them, not on the talent of the winner. And if someone from Brains wins, well, it would be the comeback of the century and they will probably talk about how the winner is the “new Cochran.”

This got really ramble-y and all over the place. I’m sorry about that. I’m also pretty sure that I did not follow-through on my promise to make this accessible to people who don’t watch the show. I’m just really excited about this season and find it more fascinating to discuss than most other recent seasons (last season’s Blood vs. Water being the big exception).

Separating the tribes this way (at least temporarily) brings an entire new aspect to the game that I find really interesting. When you are forced into a position that emphasizes that one characteristic is more important than another, how do you react? Do you lean on the stereotypes of that characteristic, or do you fight against them?


Author: Lori

Lori is a writer living and working in New Jersey. Her greatest literary influences are Dr. Seuss, JK Rowling, and Harriet the Spy.

6 thoughts on “I’m Writing About “Survivor” Again and You Can’t Stop Me.

  1. I’ve literally never watched an episode of survivor (sorry!). But I think that this is a really interesting experiment, I think that these are the kinds of categorical stereotypes that people try to assign to themselves and others anyway, (I’ve always been the — one out of my friends, or similar). I think it’s interesting first that the show automatically assigned people to these categories, like you said, people can’t really be generalized this way, so how is it going to affect the group dynamic if a person is in a group that they don’t self identify with? And on the other side, how will it be for the person who’s used to identifying as the smart one, for example, now that they are interacting primarily with only other “smart” people? I think you get this a lot with television, but more with sitcoms, where characters have such strong personalities that they basically become an unrealistic caricature of their personality type. It’s interesting to see it applied in a reality show and having seen many seasons, I think it will be interesting to compare how the team dynamics of this season compare to previous seasons where the groups are more integrated. So, I don’t watch survivor, but my sociology brain was totally into this too!

    • You got it exactly right. It’s interesting to see which people embrace the stereotype they are placed into and which people try to show that there is more to them than being “pretty,” etc. In this game in particular, people have to immediately judge others based on first impressions to decide if they want to trust them or not. By labeling them, the show is already forcing everyone to see everyone else in a particular way. For instance, the guy Garrett I mentioned was targeted by another one of the Brains because they were suspicious about a guy that looked like that would be on their tribe. So not only do the different tribes judge each other, but they are also judging themselves.

  2. Yes! Sociology brains unite! But I’m also really interested in the HOW. How the casting process went for this show. We don’t see that kind of process, so I wonder what they were asked or what the producers were thinking when they were separated into their tribes. So then we combine the “how” of how they came to be in each tribe with the behaviors, and I’m still wondering how much of it is influence of the label versus what the person is actually like versus were they told to be something specific from the TV puppet masters? Does that happen on this show? I feel like all “reality” TV has some producers yanking the string to make characters come out.

    Also can we just take/teach a sociology of reality TV course? This is fascinating. JReader would totally be in on it.

    • I can actually answer that question. They cast the show as a regular season and then split them up into these tribes. Which is probably why some of them don’t exactly fit their stereotype. So that adds a whole other level.

      And yes, I would be so into that class.

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