I’ve never missed an episode of Survivor – although I almost didn’t start watching it.
Reality TV was in its infancy back in 2000 when Survivor came on CBS that spring. I had a heavy teaching and grading load and didn’t watch much TV, so it came and went without a blip on my radar.
Then that summer, my body crashed with pneumonia. My doctor diagnosed me with both bacterial and viral pneumonias. That meant tons of bed rest. I spent the 3 weeks before school started lying in my bed doing…nothing. Literally. The Queen of Type A couldn’t even muster the strength to turn the pages of a book, my favorite summer pastime. As for TV? Well, daytime was an endless wasteland. Nighttime was full of repeats. This was before cable started bringing mini-seasons year-round. Nowadays, I enjoy when installments of White Collar, Royal Pains, or Burn Notice return and spin out fresh episodes during the summer.
Bored to tears, I struggled down the stairs each evening so I could spend a little time with my family sitting on a bed made up on the sofa. I glanced listlessly at TV Guide and saw CBS would run an experiment with a show that aired that spring. They would replay all episodes of Survivor: Borneo night after night until the entire season played out. Hmm. Well, it was something new to watch, so I had us turn it on that first night.
We were spellbound. Like a grand soap opera, Survivor pulled us in for a wild and fun ride.
Survivor is the great equalizer. It brings together all genders, races, and socioeconomic levels. A 24-year old fireman might play with a 55-year old PhD. A truck driver forms an alliance with a middle school counselor. A former professional ball player joins forces with a housewife. That first season, an unlikely bond formed between a 39-year old openly gay corporate trainer and a 72-year old former Navy Seal. The two became allies and eventually friends who formed a mutual respect for one another. In the world outside Survivor, it’s improbable they ever would have met, much less become as close as a father/son. Seeing the raw honesty of friendships created from living 24/7 together, fighting impossible odds, is but one of the beautiful things about Survivor.
And the games begin. Survivor’s motto is outwit, outplay, outlast – and for 39 days, that’s what contestants do. Sure, in a way it’s the same thing each time. Bring together a set number of players. Break them into tribes. Have them play for rewards and immunity in challenges. Let them live at camp together, creating mini-families as the elements wreak havoc with their plans.
But despite the same basic formula, each season brings a different group to the table – and that’s where the fun begins. Survivor isn’t just about physical survival with the bare essentials. It’s about your social game and the mental toughness it takes to hang in there under grueling conditions. Every season with a different group of players, Survivor brings laughter, tears, and drama…this season HEAVY on the drama. A returning player named Brandon experienced the biggest meltdown I’ve ever witnessed on the show this past week. At the end of his rope, he lashed out against one player in particular, but he dumped and ruined the food of his entire tribe – in effect, setting up his tribe, many whom had looked after him as a family member, for failure.
And he delighted in his actions. His manic mood swings made for high drama on TV, showing that the producers never know what they’ll get each time this game is played.
I do have to laugh when fans obsessed by the show come to play, as on this season’s Survivor: Caramoan. They quote chapter and verse of where past players made mistakes and fell by the wayside, but these player fans continually commit the same errors themselves. It’ll be interesting to see if one of them can make it to the end and triumph over a returning player.
I have to give kudos to Jeff Probst. His probing questions at tribal council, not to mention his brutal honesty in calling out players for not pulling their weight in challenges, have led to many interesting moments on the show. I can’t imagine anyone but Probst trying to herd cats (uh, contestants) on Survivor. Hats off to Dalton Ross, as well, who recaps each episode for Entertainment Weekly. His insight and wit makes me enjoy an episode all over as I read his thoughts on what went down.
So, yes – I love the microcosm of Survivor and watching the interaction of individuals and how they act and react under adverse circumstances. It’s a study in humanity that never grows old.
I’ve dedicated 26 seasons to watching Survivor. I hope there’ll be 26 more to come. Being that fly on the wall and looking into the window of Survivor is indescribably delicious.