Until three years ago I had never watched an episode of CBS’s Survivor. My roommate was a fanatic and asked if I wanted to join a Survivor fantasy pool. I said yes for a couple reasons. First, it was a good excuse to turn my brain off in the middle of the week and have a beer or two and not stare at text books. Second, I figured I’d man up and see what all the fuss was about.
The pool is still a thing. However, after last week’s episode, I think I’m done.
Survivor is in its 32nd Season and is taking place in Koh Rong, Cambodia. The show generally puts out two seasons per calendar year. The 32nd season premiere saw 8.3 million viewers tune in. I was one of them.
In Survivor tribes enter a ‘remote’ island and square off with one another for a chance to win 1 million dollars. This season sees Survivor revert to a tried and tested formula of three tribes; brains, brawn, and beauty. A lovely lesson to teach viewers – you’re either a model, you’re strong, or you’re smart, but good luck being two of these defining features. Let alone three. I suppose it’s more innocent than their ‘Blood v Water’ concept which sees family members wrestle with the idea of betraying loved ones for a shot at money. But not by much.
Tribes compete in reward challenges and immunity challenges. If a tribe wins a reward challenge they are rewarded. Pretty simple. Immunity challenges see teams compete in challenges that generally combine some form of physical challenge and puzzle challenge to win an immunity idol. Immunity idols prevent tribes from having to go to the dreaded tribal council. Each episode one tribe must to go to tribal council. It’s the source of the show’s drama. And at each tribal, one member of the tribe must be voted out. This continues until the tribes dissolve into one tribe and eventually 3 cast members are left.
The premise of Survivor is simple. Win. Above all else.
Have an alliance with someone from day one? Blindside them at tribal and live to see another day. It was only your word. You only shook hands with someone and told them you have their back. What’s that worth? Apparently a million dollars.
This season saw Aleica bust her ass off over the first 3 episodes to try and help the tribe. We’re told she spent hours trying to make a fire while everyone else in her tribe laid around and rested. When she knew she was on the outs, she found an immunity idol clue. She thought she was safe until a former professional athlete and a former member of the U.S. army used their speed and strength to wrestle it from her like a couple of 6 year olds on a playground. Fuckin eh man. The lesson we can derive from that? It’s not how hard you work it’s who you know. Who your friends are.
The examples are endless. Morals are compromised again and again in the name of the game. In the name of money.
Last weeks episode sealed the deal for me. The tribes headed into the reward challenge just 5 minutes into the episode. Huh? That’s pretty early. We usually get plotting and planning for a while. Not today.
The reward challenge consisted of going through a small obstacle course, digging under a log in the sand and crawling under it, and digging up three bags of balls in the sand which would be used in a Survivor bowling game.
Koh Rong gets hot. The highest average monthly temperature was 33 degrees Celsius (that’s 91.4 Fahrenheit for you yanks). That’s hot and it’s only the average. I’ve worked labour jobs before where the day is over if the temperature hits 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit). We weren’t told how hot it was on the day of the challenge, but it was hot. According to the show the tribes spent well over 45 minutes in the sun that day digging for bags. Three of them collapsed due to heat stroke. Which three?
Caleb – 28 year old army vet. Guy is built like a truck. Absolutely shredded.
Debbie – 49 year old Chemist, who according to the episode, weighs about 98 pounds.
Cydney – 23 year old professional body builder.
What do these three have in common? They don’t have a lot of water kicking around inside them. Those three going down to heat stroke/heat exhaustion was completely foreseeable. And it wasn’t so much the fact the show let them go down that was most disturbing (though it certainly was) it’s how they handled it.
The second Debbie’s teammate called the host over for medical the tone of the show flips. The music cuts out. In comes the string section in their ominous beats. And the show begins to reveals itself wholly for what it is. But first, a commercial.
When we come back the host proudly proclaims, with a smile on his face, “We have three different stories happening”. One of those stories is 49 year old Debbie curled up like a ball getting medical attention. The host graciously returns to Debbie and stands over her and asks for the update from the doctor. It’s all sort of eerie and wrong. Debbie is still what she’s always been, a set piece. Like all survivor contestants she’s been manipulated and put through tests and trials designed by TV producers and Network execs hundreds of miles away from the start. But now, her physical state, the helpless skinny middle aged woman who can’t pick her head off the ground, represents it perfectly. She’s helpless. As a viewer you can’t NOT see it. They throw it in your face. And what does the perfectly groomed, well dressed, host do? He doesn’t help her himself, there’s no real concern going on his end. In fact, he’s borderline excited. What great television this will make.
When Caleb goes down it’s a whole new level of heat stroke. The entire crew has scrambled from the bushes now. They’ve come to the aid of their stranded and deserted subjects. The poor guy can’t keep his eyes open, it looks like he’s in and out of consciousness, and no matter what the medical team try they can’t cool him down. They ran a mainline of Saline solution but he had roasted himself completely. There was no coming back. The music is rising and falling like an epic war movie. And then Cydney goes down. It’s a full blown crisis now.
The host jumps back and forth asking for updates on his set pieces. Cydney recovers. Caleb, as I mentioned, isn’t so lucky. He needed some serious attention and was helicoptered off the island, back to civilization. The last thing the host says to Caleb is, “You’re a warrior dude, glad you were out here”. This might be the most real thing said in the history of reality television. Caleb offered a great episode of suspense and chatter. I’m even writing about this shit. Unfortunately for him, it came at his health.
Now, we cut to Caleb’s team reacting to finding out Caleb is out. The string section which spent most of its time on the lower end of the scales ascends to angelic heights. The music is soaring and so is the last contestant to leave Survivor.
It’s just T.V. Salt, why the fuck does it matter?
It matters because Survivor is just one facet of celebrity culture that we obsesses over today. It matters because people in America are willing to compromise themselves, family members, and any shred of morality for a shot at a million dollars. Survivor is a symptom. The sickness is systemic and it has infiltrated almost every facet of North American culture. Survivor plays itself out in the real world almost everyday.
Don’t believe me? Donald Trump is another symptom. He’s just playing Survivor: become president and profit no matter the cost. Sound familiar? Just as many people seem to be tuning in to Trump’s version of Survivor as well.
Maybe the time will come when I get into Trump. For now, fuck Survivor. I’m out.