Thursday, February 17, 2005

Thoughts For An Afternoon Before Survivor

Do you remember the first person that you had sex with? You probably do, and not just the person but all the sticky, sweaty, frequently inept details. How about the second? You probably remember this one too, although a more of the details may escape you. Now how about the third. The fifth? The ninth? Unless they were spectacularly memorable or recent the details are probably increasingly foggy. That's how I've come to feel about Survivor.

The first time really was the best and most memorable. Back then no one knew how to play the game except Richard Hatch. He was the guy who took a look at the show logo and figured that to "outlast" you didn't necessarily need to "outplay" but you did need to "outwit" and the best way to outwit people was to put together an alliance when none of the other people had one. None of the others worked that one out and it gave him an advantage. Most of them thought the show really was about surviving in the wilderness and were picked off by Richard's group one by one and didn't even know what was happening. The people and events were memorable too. Who can forget pretty but doomed Colleen Haskell, Sue Hawk's "snakes and rats" speech at the final Tribal Council, and of course the opinionated but lovable old Navy Chief Rudy Boesch whose homophobia was overcome by the fact that he got along well with the gay guy. Newspapers ran weekly columns about the show - although that happened more in the second season - and it was water cooler conversation after every episode. There were Survivor themed parties on finale night, which apparently was enough for the network to include a reunion show that meant that Survivorwas featured for an entire night. That's what made the first series of Survivor the big hit that it wasn't supposed to be (if you can believe it Big Brother was supposed to be the big show that summer; instead it ended up dropping the viewer phone-in aspect for picking who got eliminated and adopting the players voting each other out method that survivor had). It got all of the players guest shots on prime time TV shows, and turned Survivor from a summer replacement into a weekly September through May series.

The second Survivor had it's moments. I can't forget Kel Gleason - at the time an Army intelligence officer and the closest thing to a Canadian ever to appear on a major network reality show - being accused of having a non-existent secret stash of beef jerky and being booted because of it. (Just as a follow-up Gleason left the US Army soon after the end of the show and moved back to Canada where his parents live. In 2002 Gleason was stabbed repeatedly with a broken bottle in a Toronto bar for being "that Indian on Survivor." He was badly injured but lived.) There the guy who fell into the fire, Keith Famie, the chef who couldn't cook rice,and Elizabeth Filarski, who parlayed her time on Survivor into a full-time TV career as one of the hosts of The View. The winner was Tina Wesson who won because Colby Donaldson - who dominated the individual competitions, picked the well-liked Wesson for the final Tribal Council over the poorly liked Famie.

The biggest thing that I remember about the second Survivor and the ones that followed it is that now everyone understood how the game was played - or thought they did - and proceeded with varying degrees of ability to lie, backstab and talk behind each others backs. There have been memorable incidents and people, like Rupert Boneham and "Johnny Fairplay" in the Pearl Islands season, or the girls who went topless for chocolate and peanut butter in the Amazon. In the Amazon series we learned that not only didn't you have to be a rocket scientist to be on the show, but being a rocket scientist was actually a detriment. To tell you the truth though, I have a hard time remembering who won the show last season (his name was Chris and he worked on a road crew and I swear that most of the people on the jury would have voted "none of the above" if they had an option). I'll still watch every episode of this season's Survivor and enjoy it but I think that for me and for most people it's going to be entertainment rather than a must see event.

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