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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?