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Survivor: The Amazon – Overcoming “The Spiral of Silence”by Jeffrey D. Sadow -- 04/08/2003
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After all that moaning and complaining about Matthew during the last episode of Survivor, why did everybody vote Dave off?
The answer is found in what has become a classic in the field of public opinion, first published in West Germany in 1980 but which made its English debut in 1984, entitled The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion – Our Social Skin by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. It argues that public opinion on important and contentious matters, at a certain point becomes articulated with a majority bias. In other words, people with dissenting opinions believe that they will encounter social ostracism should they make these views public, so less dissent than actually exists appears in public accountings of opinion.
The revelation of votes to all certainly makes individual opinions apparent, if not traceable to individuals, making the spiral of silence a real possibility in the Survivor society. This facet of human psychology presents dangers for players' winning chances in two ways. First, it clouds their strategic thinking in terms of the jury. One of Clay's brilliant moves in the previous series came when he threw a vote away from Penny when she got ousted. Ignoring the "spiral of silence" compelling him to vote her way, he cleverly signaled to her that he did not vote for her. In the end, it tipped a final jury vote his way (though it wasn’t quite enough to tip the overall vote). Dave got sent to the jury; who knows whether a vote away from him could have gained somebody a marginal vote in a jury situation?
Second, it can lead to an overestimation of the majority's perception of its own strength. Deena and the gang need to understand their grip may be more tenuous than they think. Certainly the elimination of the males first in the immunity challenge, plus Deena's "I am woman, hear me roar" kick, continues to fuel a male/female split. At four even, she, Jenna, and (apparently now) Heidi can't afford for Alex and Rob to believe they will get sold out on their gender towards the end, compelling them to a Wretched of the Earth coalition that with Butch and Matthew could even take in Christy and become the dominant force. To that end, it might be wise for them to give Christy the boot next time (if she doesn't win immunity) to calm male fears.
Contrary to my perception in the previous column, it does seem that Deena's plan now is to position herself as the singleton with the dyads Jenna and Heidi and Alex and Rob in the 2+1+2 configuration. It is the trickiest position to be in, with the most risk and reward. She seems to have tipped her hand earlier when she noted to Jenna that it would be her, Jenna, and Rob in the final three, meaning when at five remaining she'll jump to one dyad (probably the Naked Hotties) for one vote to knock off a member of the other, then three days later jump back to split the second (probably hoping to convince Jenna to abandon Heidi). By also paying attention to Rob (interesting how a guy who complains that women don't pay attention to him is getting seduced by a woman who he would never go after), she minimizes the chances of a last-minute coalition against her sending her off just short of going to the finals.
Deena continues to play very well, and is on target to enter the Rich/Brian pantheon should she bring this strategy to fruition.
Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport where he teaches, among other things, classes in international politics, international organizations, and diplomatic history. He has published in the area of gaming simulations in international politics.
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