Survivor Season 35 Promo / CBS / YouTube
What if I told you that Survivor is the only thing getting me through these “unprecedented times”? Yes, that Survivor - the reality competition television show that was huge in the early 2000s, where contestants starve on an island for 39 days, voting each other out week by week. Yes, it’s still going, twenty years and forty seasons later. No, the contestants aren’t sent to hotels to gorge themselves on cheeseburgers and beers in the moments that aren’t shown on TV. Yes, I’ll be here all week to answer your burning questions about Survivor.
Through lockdown, the only way I’ve been able to know what day it is - truly my only marker of time - because calendars have become meaningless to me, has been when a new episode of Survivor comes out. It’s become my lifeblood. My North Star. I wish I was joking.
The serotonin I get out of my weekly date with Jeff Probst isn’t really about the show itself. Although the show is still entertaining, I’m not going to pretend it isn’t worse than it was in 2006. In recent years, production on Survivor has gone into overdrive - each new season is laden with unnecessary additions - a theme that’s meant to make some sort of comment on society (“Millennials vs. Gen X”, “David vs. Goliath”, “Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers”, “Blood vs. Water” - the list goes on and on), an exhausting amount of advantages that disrupt any notion of a fair game, and some sort of twist that’s meant to add drama but just takes away from our time understanding these characters and their relationships with each other (An island with two giant busts of two former Survivor legends, an opportunity to win your way back into the game once you’ve been voted out, and the latest - a Survivor economy of “fire tokens” that can be used to forge bonds and buy advantages...Have I lost you yet?)
The show does still have all the same problems it always did - acting as a microcosm of society, it is simply harder for women, people of colour, people with disabilities, LGBT+ people and other minorities to play and win this game. As time goes on, that might even be getting worse: a woman hasn’t won the million dollar prize for the last six seasons. And, of course, there are still the questionable cultural references.
But for me, it’s not really about the show anymore. It’s about the community that has been created around the show.
For fans, Survivor isn’t just a reality TV show - it’s more like a sport, and we’re all professional analysts. We study the strategy and the gameplay, we talk about the way different players manage their social relationships as if they’re tactical moves in the world’s most complicated game of chess.
It’s not just Twitter threads and outdated forums, either. Former Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino has created a network of podcasts that bring together players and enthusiasts to discuss the game, and I, along with many others, religiously listen to his analysis of every players’ game, like I’m studying for a test I’ll never get to take (only U.S and Canadian citizens are allowed to apply for the U.S version of Survivor - yes, I looked this up when Covid-19 flushed my future down the toilet, don’t judge).
Within my own group of nerdy Survivor enthusiast friends, we do a fantasy draft - each person picks different players to be on our “team” and we earn points based on how much those players feature and where they place in that season. We get together each week on a video call to watch the game together - to eye roll at the players we hate and groan when the players we love go home with an idol in their pocket. Those 42 minute calls have become the most social interaction I get each week.
Survivor has always been promoted as a social experiment - one that forces strangers together and forces them to turn against one another - but the greatest results of this experiment were entirely unexpected. The greatest results aren't shown on TV. They exist within this community that blurs the lines between fans and players, that brings people together to strategise and dissect the game, that gathers together once a week to share their experiences and opinions. Every moment of joy or despair I experience while watching Survivor is only important to me because I get to celebrate or commiserate (or debate) that moment with other Survivor fans.Support Villainesse