Monday, May 16, 2011

Reflections on Survivor - Why I Still Watch After a Decade

I don't watch Survivor as much as I used to. Back during the second season (I didn't see any of the first), Survivor was appointment television, and I joined a group of my friends around the television set every week to watch, and to talk about what we all thought would happen next week.

(Spoiler alert for the final episode of the season follows! You have been warned!)

The twenty-second season ended last night, and although I was pretty deliberate about watching the last half of the season finale, whereby Rob Mariano won the game, and the million dollars, after three previous failed attempts on the show (Well, I say "failed," but he did finish second-place on his second attempt—and then married the winner!), my viewing this whole season has been pretty sporadic. It's been that way for several years now.

I've always found these shows (that is, "reality" shows with non-celebrity players—although it's obvious that players hope to reach celebrity status by coming on, and Rob's certainly not the only player who can legitimately say that they've succeeded in this attempt) to be simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. Fascinating because the ways that human nature is played out in the relationships developed on the show, and disturbing for much the same reason.

That's not because Survivor displays only "secular" people—self-professed Christians have played, too, visibly wearing their faith on their sleeve, for as long as I've watched. I'd be lying if I suggested that wasn't uncomfortable with the faith that such Christians have demonstrated, but more charitably, I can definitely concede that Christians remain human beings, with all the failings that being human implies. And Survivor seems to be designed to draw those failings out into the open.

It has been said that the true test of a person's character is how that person acts when all comforts have been stripped away. Placed in such harsh conditions for nearly a full month, it's worth noting that it's not like all the contestants on Survivor throughout the years have been disagreeable. The fact that the producers were able to put together a season of "Heroes vs. Villains" (season twenty) is testimony enough to the fact that at least a significant number of players have demonstrated positive traits. It is how these traits come out, even in the midst of messy, fallen human beings, that keeps me coming back after more than a decade of this show. I don't think that one can truly find a nice, clear dividing line between "Heroes" and "Villains" (the producer-chosen tribal designations not withstanding). Most of us have aspects of both. I think it's good to remember that, and Survivor is a consistent reminder of just how complex human nature can be. That's why I continue to watch... if admittedly not as frequently as I used to.

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