What if I told you there was a show on TV that gave you an up-close and personal view into the real essence of the human soul? A show that strips away the trappings of everyday life, the walls and weapons and words we hide behind, and exposes our true strengths, weaknesses and core identities on a primitively human level. Sounds pretty cool, right?
What if I told you this show holds a magnifying glass up to all of our most admirable qualities -- bravery, intelligence, compassion, perseverance -- as well as our most pitiable -- fear, greed, ignorance, stupidity? That this is a show where race, age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, and religion play no part in determining individual success on any level? Where strength refers to your inner spirit and mental toughness, as well as your physical body. Where those with patience, loyalty, forthrightness, insightfulness, and courage are rewarded, and those possessed by selfishness, deceit, arrogance, and intolerance are doomed to fail. Do I have your attention yet?
Okay, now what if I told you that this show will make you privy to man's greatest triumphs -- over his enemies, over the natural world, over his own demons -- as well as his worst defeats -- at the hands of his competitors, his failing body, his multitudinous shortcomings. A show where, as in life, fortune, fate, and karma play their mysterious roles in determined the outcome. A show with heroes and villains, jokers and lovers, bullies and wimps, the jaded and the innocent, the brilliant and the insane.
Oh, and this show has been quietly available to you for over a decade, and you haven't been watching it.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm talking about Survivor, or as I like to call it, one of the greatest shows in the history of television. WHAT?! Surely I can't mean the greatest! Not Survivor! Please. I've heard it all before, and funny enough, there exists a fallacy plaguing millions of Americans that have blinded them to the wonders and treasures of this incomparable program.
I know the story -- you watched the first couple seasons, like everyone else in America, and then stopped. Maybe you made it to season three to see Ethan Zohn win the title of Sole Survivor in Africa, you probably saw Colby lose it all to Tina in the Australian Outback in Season Two, and you definitely saw Richard Hatch slither his way to the million bucks in Borneo in Season One. At the time, to be on Survivor was to become a star. Richard Hatch was a household name. Season One's Colleen Haskell starred in a major motion picture after finishing sixth. Elisabeth Hasselbeck built her entire career out of a fourth place finish on Survivor: Australian Outback. It was an enormous figure in the public consciousness because it was quite literally the first great reality competition show -- before the cooking and the singing and the weight loss competitions and the housewives and the stylists and the E's and the Bravo's and all the rest. Before all of them, there was Survivor.
But then, as we so often do, we forgot and moved on. We quickly tired of the familiar and turned our attention to the new, the glitzy, the shocking, the gimmicky. Our market became oversaturated with reality TV garbage -- every network got in on the action, and as usual happens with an oversaturated market, there was FAR more bad than good. All the Celebrity Moles and Temptation Islands and Joe Millionaires gave Survivor a bad name. But while all these flotsam and jetsam came and went, Survivor continued chugging along, its devoted fans tuning in week after week, year after year.
The second part of the Survivor fallacy is when people assume today's show is the same as that first season back in 2000, when one player, who didn't want to have to vote his pals off, voted for tribemates in alphabetical order. Yeah, people don't do that anymore. Survivor is the most brilliantly produced, most complex, most grueling, most unpredictable, and most consistently excellent game ever invented. And the newest insallment, Survivor: Caramoan-Fan vs. Favorites, the TWENTY-SIXTH SEASON that debuts tonight, will certainly be no exception.
With a field of half-newbies and half-returning players, Caramoan is all but guaranteed to be an unpredictable and intriguing season. The last Fans vs. Favorites (Micronesia, Season 16) gave us some of Survivor's most memorable moments (James voted off with two idols! Erik giving away Immunity and being immediately voted out! Jason playing a fake idol!) and I'm certain this season will be more of the same, especially since all the players are certain to have studied what went down in Micronesia and will try to avoid the same pitfalls as their predecessors.
Indeed, as the body of games played has continued to increase, competitors have become savvier and savvier, requiring constant tinkering on the part of the producers. New wrinkles are introduced then taken away then reintroduced, locations are changed, rules are rewritten. Players must adapt their own individual personalities to the flow of their specific season. They must commit to long-term strategies while remaining open to improvising in the ever-shifting landscape that can crown you king one day and throw you to the wolves the next. Hmm, sounds a lot like, I dunno, LIFE.
Which brings me to my final point: Why do we watch television? When you boil it down, there are really only a few basic reasons. We want diversion from the stress of our lives; we want to be transported to far away places; we want to be introduced to new characters and people we'd never have the opportunity to meet in our own bubbles; we want romance and deception, underdogs and champions, redemption and comeuppance. We want stories. We want to explore and connect to the breadth of human experience. And that is Survivor. There are no actors, no scripts, no predetermined outcome. It is life being lived, at its most basic and unadorned, and we are given a front row seat to watch it unfold.
Does that sound like something you might be interested in?
Follow Jonah Platt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MMMaven