Australian Survivor – a study in group dynamics

There’s a lot we can learn from this show about our own inter-relationships out there


I’ve been watching the Survivor series for the first time ever, the Australian Survivor series actually. I’ve never been interested in the show, but recently heard someone explain why they found it so fascinating, and it whet my appetite to check it out. I haven’t been disappointed.

The reason it got my attention is because it’s all about strategies, group dynamics and how people act in the social constructs they find themselves in. If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, a group of people are dropped into a remote location and broken up into teams that battle it out through competitions. The losing team from each competition has to vote one person off, and it doesn’t take long for people to form alliances with different team members, or try to, in an effort to shore up their own position to avoid getting voted off and to get through to the end, where the sole survivor walks away with a cash prize. As the numbers of people left slowly dwindle, the teams eventually merge into one, and now it’s no longer team against team, but individual against individual.

In the meantime they are living day to day in a tough environment where food is not plentiful and creature comforts are non existent.

Pretty primitive huh? Well that’s what I thought, and why I had stayed away from ever watching it. But in our own real world people form alliances all the time. Cliques and groups form within groups, and things like work promotion, or social status, or influence, are all vied for. And I found that the microcosm of Survivor threw up exactly the same kind of situations as really occur in daily life, the only difference being the circumstances specific to the competition. So I thought it would be an education to watch, and it has been.

Of course, there are a few disclaimers here. The show is produced for maximum effect, and we don’t really see everything that happens and what really goes on – but we get enough of an idea. And of course there’s the relentless dramatic music and constantly repetitive shots of the island scenery etc. But I found I was able to overlook that because the real life drama of relationships and grappling for power was so fascinating.

If you intend to watch Australian Survivor and haven’t done so already, perhaps you should stop here. It hasn’t finished yet, still has a few weeks to go, but I want to unpack some of things that I believe are interesting life lessons.

The ultimate winners in a show like this are those who can get along with everyone, show sufficient prowess to be too valuable to the group to dispose of, and yet manipulate relationships to get what they want. And sure enough, early in the show two of the girls (or ladies if you wish), Flick and Brooke, both attractive, confident and with good social skills, manage to build a loyal group around them, and they really end up calling the shots about who is going and who stays. Whilst there are one or two variations, it is remarkable that they achieve exactly what they want nearly all the time.

Those who are on the outside of this power group are afraid to take them on, because they fear they will be voted out next. They must  surely know that if they do nothing, they absolutely will sooner or later be voted out anyway, but maybe not yet, and that’s what they short-sightedly hold on to. So you see them constantly siding with the girls against someone else for fear of being targeted themselves.

Now, being a viewer, I get to see and hear conversations that the participants don’t, so I’m given the inside scoop on what’s really going on. The girls are so good at deception that their ultimate intentions are not even clear to their own group. There are a couple of guys, Lee and Sam, who are pretty high up in the hierarchy that has formed, but they are oblivious to the fact that the two girls plus one other have a strong alliance of their own, and they fully intend to turn on the two guys once the others have been picked off.

Sounds pretty slimy doesn’t it? Well yes it does. Except that if you think about it, we see this kind of thing all the time, perhaps in a less sharply defined way. We see successful people, charismatic people, group together and look down their noses, perhaps without realising it, at others who are not on the ‘inside’ with them. And we see people on the outside wanting to be let in, but who circle endlessly on the outer and stay there, because it is to the victor (ie the ‘in’ group) goes the spoils.

What has amazed me, in listening to this small core group, is that when anyone wakes up to what is happening and tries to take some kind of control for themselves, those at the top (the two girls) actually get angry and see them as acting unfairly, when they themselves have been doing the same and worse. In just this latest episode, one of the outsiders, Jennah Louise, has finally decided to take them on and not just succumb to the inevitable of being voted out. She tries to enlist the help of some of those in the alliance, knowing full well it could backfire and someone will tell the girls, which in fact happens. When Brooke finds out, she angrily claims to her buddies that Jenna should be grateful that they had let her last this long, that they hadn’t kicked her out yet. What? Say that again?

That’s right – grateful. It doesn’t matter that they intend to get rid of her in the next day or so. Somehow she is supposed to be grateful that they haven’t targeted her up till now. From Jennah Louise’s point of view she has nothing to be grateful for – she has dodged their scheming long enough, and she now is taking her chance, just like they did earlier. 

So think about that. Is this a sense of entitlement or what? Brooke and Flick are so used to being in control that they see themselves as being the arbiters of others’ destiny, that they have the right and the power to choose when their opponents (figuratively speaking) die, so much so that they get angry when someone dares to foil their plans. 

In real life, I think this kind of behaviour can be true of those who are accustomed to being at the top. They might begin to think they somehow have a right to be there, and how could anyone else (particularly those from lower down in the pecking order) dare to take them on, even if those people use the very same things that they did to rise to the top. Remember, power corrupts, and I’d like to add that it probably deceives as well.

You can probably tell from this blog that I have never been on top, but I have seldom been on the bottom either – mostly somewhere in between. (My few experiences of being on the bottom have been unpleasant, to say the least).

Anyway, refreshingly tonight, Jennah Louise may not have won (hard to tell yet) but has at least succeeded in deciding for herself how she will play the game, how she will act. She won’t be dictated to by the power of the alliance, and I love seeing her do that. She may well go down in flames, but if she does she has done it her way, and not by succumbing to the inevitable, like a lamb to the slaughter. In turn her actions have energised some of her fellow underdogs to stand and rattle the cage and not go without a fight.

Even though I don’t like them, I am impressed by Flick and Brooke. Their ability to control conversations (to lie basically) is pretty impressive. They are quick on their feet in providing responses to steer the conversation away from where they don’t want it to go. I am particularly impressed with Brooke, who, as I have said, is not only attractive, smart and socially skilled, but also has excellent physical stamina and has shown superb mental toughness. I just wouldn’t want to be married to her – I wouldn’t be able to trust a word she says.

I look forward to seeing how it unfolds. A cat has been set among the pigeons, and I would love to see the power brokers fall.

Author: Terry Lewis

I'm a guy in his 50's who thought it might be fun to write about day to day issues - the stuff that life is made of. It's helped me think and develop some deeper perspectives. I enjoyed it so much I thought I might start posting it in a blog, and here we are! I intend to mix it up as much as I can. I am a thinking kind of guy so the majority of my posts will probably have some kernel of truth or (hopefully) wisdom nestled in there somewhere. But I also hope to have some light hearted posts as well. Too much thinking can make life pretty dull! Anyway, hope you like it.

3 thoughts on “Australian Survivor – a study in group dynamics”

  1. I’ve never watched Survivor, but you provide a pretty vivid description…not entirely sure if it’s relevant, but as I was reading this post on Brooke & Flick, I couldn’t help but think of psychopathy? In terms of their being attractive, charismatic, manipulative, socially keen…having the ability to maneuver people around like chess pieces, the power plays, etc….slimy stuff. Psychopaths are oft drawn to power, too, to being at the top (CEO’s are the #1 profession for psychopaths) It’s quite interesting, but also a bit terrifying.

  2. I, too, never watch these reality shows but it was very interesting to read your post about them. I have neither respect nor admiration for people like Brooke & Flick but do respect Jennah for living her values. Agree with Lu re B & F’s personality types.

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