Over the past month, I have been repeatedly reprimanded for my harsh condemnation of “Reality-based TV” and, in particular, the hit show “Survivor.” Friends and family members who I’ve always considered to be reasonably intelligent (until now) were criticizing me for my unfair assessment of what they believed to be a riveting, thought provoking, and highly entertaining program. (These same folks are undoubtedly now thrilled about the debut of the XFL.) Truth be told, I’d never seen Survivor, The Mole, Temptation Island, Big Brother, or any of the latest popular genre in television, so I really was not in any position to negatively address something I knew absolutely nothing about. (Not that that’s ever stopped me before in these newsletters.)
Therefore, I decided to watch (and learn) what the Survivor buzz was all about. I thought I understood the basic premise of the show: strand some people on a deserted island or the Australian Outback and have them utilize their natural survival instincts to “live off the land” as they encountered the hardships of finding food and shelter, battled the elements, and risked their lives while competing against each other for fabulous prizes (million dollars). In other words, Gilligan’s Island meets Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Since I actually liked both of those shows, perhaps I would become a closet Survivor groupie after all.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
I assumed the contestants would be rugged outdoorsy types given the harsh terrain and unforeseen elements they would be subject to. I was expecting to see some Grizzly Adams looking folks (though, hopefully, not the women), ready, willing, and able to tackle all the obstacles that nature could throw in their paths. They would be independent, self-sufficient, confident, and willing to take charge and help the other weaker competitors. They would be strong and fearless, and possess a certain death defying attitude that allowed them to laugh in the face of danger as they put their very lives on the line over and over again. (In other words, I expected to see people who greatly resembled myself.) Instead, these “pretty people” looked more like aspiring actors fresh off the set of an infomercial for the Abslide or some other necessary product (no offense, TJ). They appeared to be neither strong nor fearless. The only danger they seemed equipped to face would be memorizing their lines for the next scene or risk facing the wrath of an intolerant director.
One girl immediately got airsick on the flight over to Australia. (That makes for riveting television.) One older man revealed that he was petrified of heights and did not even know how to swim. (Was there no screening process?) Another girl would have difficulty living off the land since she was a vegetarian (or kept Kosher) and couldn’t eat mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, or anything else one would typically find in the Outback. There was an army intelligence officer trained in survival skills that would enable him to defend our country at a moments notice. Yet, he couldn’t catch a fish in a freshly stocked pond to save his life. There was the master chef who was selected for his ability to turn the feeble resources available into something edible for his team. Yet, he had difficulty making rice and reluctantly yielded his cooking duties to the real aspiring actress who could whip up some pretty tasty tortillas from scratch. (If all else fails in Australia, Tostitos should be calling her for a screen test.)
The competitions seemed neither death defying nor life threatening. Sure, they had to eat some disgusting food like cow brains, tripe, and worms, but the harshest scene of all to watch occurred when an older woman contestant took out her teeth to eat a bug. (The act of bug eating was not nearly as disturbing as the appearance of her smiling in victory without a bicuspid in sight.) All in all, these people were not good at living off the land or surviving the rugged terrain. (I actually think I saw a Starbucks in the background.) However, they were terrific at badmouthing, backstabbing, criticizing, grandstanding, making false accusations, and generally doing every devious thing in their power to make sure they were the one left standing at the end. (Maybe I should apply?) Anyone deemed a viable challenger was voted off immediately. (“Viable?” I repeat, maybe I should apply?) Who needs an army intelligence officer when an aspiring actress could simply play that part? If this had been Gilligan’s Island, the professor likely would have been kicked off first (and Ginger would have been left to repair the radio each episode).
SAD BUT TRUE???
Two weeks of Survivor was about all I could stomach. (That toothless woman was still on the show, though I heard “Mad Dog” has since departed.) I did not find it entertaining in the least. In fact, I thought it was quite boring and, in general, a troublesome commentary on our society. The show was about conniving self-centered individuals who would stop at nothing to win a prize. The host even prodded them along, asking questions that required them to be hurtful toward each other. Even during the team competitions, the contestants did not work together to rely on each other’s strengths and overcome their weaknesses. Instead, they took credit for what they individually accomplished, while blaming everyone but themselves for their failures. One seemed more obnoxious than the next; there was not a single appealing contestant (except maybe, Kimmi).
And yet, Survivor became the highest rated show on television (at least, until the XFL started). So what exactly does that mean? Has society become entirely greed oriented and self centered? Do we all take greater delight in pointing out the misfortunes of others as opposed to praising their successes? Have we all become so cutthroat in our offices that we care only about our personal gain and nothing about the long-term goals of the company as a whole? Are our politicians so “passionate” about their issues that they must become mean-spirited and nasty against all who disagree? Have we all forgotten about the concepts of teamwork, compromise, and support? If so, then Survivor is so popular because it truly represents “Reality-based TV” at its finest.
I, for one, still believe that the show Survivor is NOT a true microcosm for society as a whole. (At least, I hope not.) I think people watch because it’s new and different and makes for interesting water cooler conversation the next day. While there are undoubtedly many self-serving individuals only looking out for number one, the vast majority still seek to achieve successes by working together, offering positive reinforcement, and even achieving political bipartisanship. (Well, maybe that’s stretching it.) No, I don’t think Survivor is nearly as representative of reality as six friends (who happen to be roommates, fiancés, ex-boy/girlfriends, brothers/sisters) sitting around a coffee house all day and night (or for 40 minutes a week), without a care in the world solving the problems of dating, working, and generally living in the Anytown USA in the year 2001. To me, that still is “Reality-based TV” at its finest and I’ll continue to watch that show instead.