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In Defense of "Survivor"

The Cynic


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My last column, ( We Need New Gun Laws [2/19]), elicited an enormous amount of email. The majority of letters were readers writing to say they were glad I am OK after the robbery (my cockles were warmed), although more than a few ended with the same question:

What are you doing watching Survivor?

This was curious to me. I began to wonder what would have happened if I got shot and killed during that robbery. Would the police be standing over my chalk outlined body saying what a shame it is and then ask aloud, "It's February, what in the world was he thinking wearing beige pants?"

OK, I'm getting off subject here. Yes, I watch Survivor. 

Like many of you, I avoided Survivor at first. It smelled like Fad-TV to me. Anytime a television show gets wildly popular I insist on staying away, as I am positive it's geared toward the mentally challenged masses and will not tickle my intellect in the slightest. My thought process is that if Jerry Springer and the WWF stay on television and they cancel a show like Homicide; Life on the Street, the television executives do not want me as a viewer. I assumed it was just another version of The Real World with everyone trying to figure out who is going to sleep with whom. Why would I waste my time on their newest tripe?

I was wrong about Survivor.

I caught my first episode of Survivor while visiting some relatives. To my surprise, I found it to be good television. Within a half hour or so, I was sucked in. Let me explain to you why...

No Celebrities = Good television

While some of the contestants of the first season have gone on to become world famous Chapstick spokespersons, the show is not designed to be a vehicle for actors to become famous. The contestants may shtick it up for the cameras a bit, but when the red light goes on, they are pretty close to being the same people they were when the red light was off.

You will not see these contestants on interview shows describing the depth of their character or explaining how they desire to explore the character further. I cannot imagine the ornery old coot, Rudy, from the first season being interviewed and asked :'Who is Rudy?' An actor would spit out some sort of namby-pamby drivel like,"Rudy is a complex person. He may be gruff and somewhat homophobic on the outside, but inside he is warm and caring and really looking for the love his father never gave him." Had Rudy been asked this same ridiculous question, I am sure his response would have been along the lines of, "Get away from me, ya queer." This is how real people talk and think. Try and get that type of response out of Demi Moore.

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The Island = Libertarian paradise

While the island may be a primitive setting, it gives us a rough working model for a libertarian society.

You have 16 contestants, and all of them start out with nothing. As they move forward with the contest they all try to gain status within the community. If you enter in with a bad attitude and/or bad social skills you are quickly eliminated. Friendship and loyalty will buy you time, but in the end you are rewarded for what you bring to the table. He who provides the most value, wins the prize.

The winner from the first season, Richard Hatch, survived not because he was charming or deserved pity, he won because he brought the most to the table and worked the system the best. This is how life works. You provide society with food, entertainment or some other value and you will thrive, if you sit around the house watching Springer and eating government cheese sandwiches, you will suffer.

There is no welfare system on Survivor. For the tribe to survive it needs the work of its members, and the members work out of the need for self preservation. Each one wants to out-survive the others. They do that by keeping the others belly's full with food, providing shelter so the beds stay dry or keeping the bonfire burning to keep everyone warm. While each is trying to butter their own bread, the tribe's well being is reliant on this self survival instinct.  The strongest tribe will inevitably be the one who has the most members who understand this concept. This is libertarianism at it's core: I survive by helping you survive.

The Freedom to Hate

Unlike television shows such as Friends or Frasier, you are free to hate a cast member and continue to enjoy the show. You can root for their demise. This season I am rooting for the elimination of Kimmi, the vegetarian bartender (and to a lesser degree the out of work actress, Jerri, because I half expect her to describe herself as a 'character' as illustrated in the Rudy example above). Last week's episode involved the hunting of a pig with nothing but a knife (now that was impressive), and Kimmi started crying and had to go and 'take a walk.'

Much like the way our society should be, Survivor has no room for an emotional cripple. There is no therapy on the island (OK, I know it's not an island this time), or any 12 step programs to help you with your 'emotional well-being.' It's about integrating yourself within the societal structure. Kimmi is failing. She hasn't provided any value to the tribe or particularly charmed anyone and as a result, she will not survive. I don't have anything against vegetarians (I married one), I just don't like people who enter into a situation and act as if everyone should respect her wishes because she is "special." Her wishes mean squat to everyone else, it's put up or shut up. I will root for her elimination this week. She can then return to New York and be treated as "special" as she demands to be by the same people who would respect the wishes of NAMBLA members if given the chance. Good Riddance.

Expect the Unexpected

Unlike the rest of television during sweeps month, Survivor doesn't require any one to become pregnant, discover their own homosexuality, or any other run of the mill storyline to keep you interested. Each and every episode provides you with insights to the scheming and planning going on between the contestants, but not enough that you can accurately predict how it is all going to play out. Every episode keeps you guessing.

I wish there were more shows like Survivor on television. Any programming which allows me to simultaneously watch the screen and have to think through the events as they happen is worth an hour a week. It's a mystery with no predictable ending.

So, yes I watch Survivor. It represents life as I see it. It is without celebrity appeal and without a story line. Events are unscripted and the characters are people I actually believe in. People struggling to survive one more day, with a hope to break through and come out on top. I watch Survivor because I think, on some level, we are all Survivors, each one of us struggling and hoping to come out on top.

That and I want to figure out who is going to sleep with whom.

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