Survivor: Philippines – an Analysis Using Communication Theory

“SURVIVOR: PHILIPPINES”: An Analysis of the CBS Program Using Three Theories of Communication Sally Annabella Communications 307 Dr. Debbie Way November 2012 No one has died. Some have been medevacked. It’s a rough game. The CBS television series Survivor is one of the first ‘reality tv’ shows and is now in its 12th year. It features eighteen contestants striving to “Outwit, Outplay and Outlast” each other to win one million dollars by the end of the season.
While it is important to be in good physical shape (the challenges are just that, physically challenging) it is imperative to have impeccable communication skills. In watching episodes of the current season, Survivor: Philippines, I have noticed: Communication Privacy Management Theory, Message Design Logics, Uncertainty Reduction Theory, Politeness Theory, and Social Exchange Theory. While this paper only requires three theories to be mentioned, I will show that all five are tied together.
Each season Survivor is filmed over a period of 39 days on a different remote island. The contestants are divided into two or three tribes that start out competing against each other in challenges for a) rewards such as fishing supplies or an elegant feast and b) the coveted Immunity Idol, a token that means they will have the chance to play another three days. The tribe that does not win the idol will have to go to Tribal Council (an event that happens generally every three days) and risk being voted out of the game, hence no chance of winning the million dollar prize.

About half-way through the season, the tribes merge into one, each player now plays for himself, and the remaining challenges are centered around winning Individual Immunity. All of the remaining players now go to Tribal Council and vote out one player. These ousted players now form the Jury, and they will be the ones to ultimately vote at the end of the game (when there are three remaining players) on who will take home the million dollars. Communication Privacy Management Theory, as stated by Dainton and Zelley on page 68, has four main principles. The one most applicable in Survivor involves boundaries.
A boundary linkage is formed when two or more parties share information (Dainton and Zelley p. 71) with each owner of the information being responsible for its privacy. Inevitably, when one player finds a hidden Immunity Idol, they cannot seem to keep the information to themselves. They feel they must entrust someone else with this extremely private information and this almost certainly is their undoing. Dainton and Zelley show on page 72 that Petronio in 2002 states that boundary turbulence occurs when the rules for privacy management are not clear.
This statement implies that boundary turbulence is unintentional. In watching Survivor, I found that boundary turbulence could also be intentional. In one instance, Player A told Player B she would not tell anyone that he (Player B) was in possession of a hidden immunity idol, yet she did tell someone else (Player C. ) Player C then confronted Player B, causing boundary turbulence with Player A. In another instance (and a different set of players), Players A and B together found a clue to a hidden immunity idol. They promised each other not to tell anyone else.
Player A then told Player C. Player C seized an opportunity to plant the clue in Player B’s possessions, making it appear to Player A that Player B had betrayed her, thus creating boundary turbulence. In Message Design Logics Theory, there are three types of communication, expressive (p. 35), conventional and rhetorical (p. 36). Expressive is a sender-focused pattern of communication, concerned primarily with self-expression. Some players do not seem to have a ? lter and allow their thoughts to spew out, whether it be bene? cial to them or not. Conventional operates by rules.
In one episode, others in the group let one player know that he was overstepping the line of acceptable behavior when he was snuggling with another particular contestant. They pointed out to him that it appeared to the rest of the group that he was in a strong alliance with her. He subsequently stopped sleeping next to her to show the group his allegiance was not tied to her. The more successful players of Survivor communicate in the rhetorical fashion. These individuals “view communication as a powerful tool used to create situations and negotiate multiple goals (p. 6). ” They pay close attention to what others are communicating in order to be better able to understand their point of view, and therefore what they might be thinking beyond what they are saying. Those who use this type of communication are seeking a balance between their goals and keeping harmony with the receiver(s), even to the point of protecting another? s feelings (such as by not embarrassing them. ) They want to maintain a good working relationship with the other person in the future. Survivor contestants experience on a daily basis Uncertainty Reduction Theory.
Dainton and Zelley point out on page 43 that, according to Berger and Calabrese (1975), humans regularly experience uncertainty, we do not like the feeling, and we use communication to reduce our uncertainties. In the game of Survivor, the players are in a constant state of uncertainty. They know that, by design of the game, they and their co-competitors all have the same goal. And only one of them is going to reach it. They go into the game knowing they are going to form friendships and they are going to have to lie and accept being lied to.
One player stated that nobody wants to betray anybody else and nobody wants to feel betrayed. Politeness Theory also comes into play. Dainton and Zelley show on page 60 that if someone has more power or prestige than you, you will be more polite to them. This theory also states that if what you have to say may hurt the receiver of the information, you will be more polite. Survivor is all about who has the power. The players all want to be the one with the power, whether they want to let the other players know or not.
To tie it to Message Design Logics, if they are a rhetorical communicator, they will be more polite to the one perceived as having the power. The expressive communicator, however, will not be so aware of the need to be polite. Another theory that needs to be mentioned is Social Exchange Theory. Dainton and Zelley on page 61 show that Thibaut and Kelley in 1959 maintained that humans, by nature, are sel? sh. We determine the relationships we keep or let go by weighing the bene? ts versus the costs of these relationships. In Survivor, the players are continually assessing their relationships with each ther, strategizing which relationships will thrive and which will be detrimental to their ultimate goal of making it all 39 days and to the million dollar prize. The CBS television show Survivor is a wealth of examples of communication theories in action. A contestant cannot possibly make it to the end and win the prize of one million dollars without being an exceptional communicator. This means not only being able to convey one’s own information (expressive Message Design Logics), but also being able to assess how his/her information is being interpreted (rhetorical Message Design Logics. They also need to be able to read the others that are communicating to them, and determine whether the information being portrayed is truthful or not. While contestants have had to be medevacked for physical issues, they have yet to be involuntarily removed from the game for lack of communication skills. References Dainton, M. , & Zelley, E. D. (2011). Applying communication theory for professional life: A practical introduction (2nd ed. ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Website: CBS Survivor. http://www. cbs. com/shows/survivor/

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