Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Soul of Survivor

The king of reality television is Survivor. It was one of the first and it remains one of the most popular. One could argue that it created the genre. For nine years American audiences have watched players outwit, outlast, and outplay one another in a game in which people are “voted off the island.” Double-crosses, alliances, tricks and strategies are standard in getting rid of others so that the winner is the last person left. The Sole Survivor takes home a prize of $1,000,000.

I struggle to succinctly state what it is about Survivor that bugs me. I believe that Survivor taps into the “Survival of the Fittest, Dog-Eat-Dog” mentality that embodies the worst values in our culture. It’s not just a game. Long before Survivor, unrestrained competition with others has been a problem. We fear the stranger. We fear those who can harm us. We fight over what we regard as limited resources. Outwit, outlast, and outplay is more than a catchphrase for a game show. It is a marketing of our basest impulses.

I don't like the end of Survivor. The final outcome is all wrong. After all the alliances and backbiting, the game comes down to two people. A jury decides who will get the $1,000,000. This is revealed on a built-up final episode in New York where the winner celebrates and all the losers usually act like good sports accepting their 15 minutes of fame as a consolation prize. If Survivor is going to be true to its creed (Outwit, Outplay, Outlast) then I think the sole survivor should be left alone on the island with the $1,000,000. After all, if the point is to get rid of everyone else, then really do it. Vote the runner-up off the island, then leave the winner with the a briefcase of cash and a note that says, “Congratulations. You got rid of everyone else. You outlasted them all. Here’s the cash. Now use it to get off the island.”

That would be a more fitting conclusion I think.

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