35 Reasons to Love "Survivor"
September 13, 2017 5:19 PM   Subscribe

...most everyone (including the people that made the show) assumed Survivor would be a fad — something akin to a pet rock or a mood ring — and would burn bright yet burn out quickly. Instead, it launched an entire genre of reality TV and still, 18 years later, remains the most-viewed television show on Wednesday nights. With season 35 —that is not a typo — debuting on Sept. 27 when CBS launches the Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers installment, I thought it time to pay tribute to one of television's biggest mainstays with 35 reasons to love Survivor.
Dalton Ross with 35 Reasons to Love "Survivor" in Honor of the 35th Season
posted by The Gooch (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Survivor" is what taught me that cable news is pretty bullshit. All through high school I used to wake up at some ungodly early hour (because school started at 7AM) and watch the morning news as I ate my cheerios and eggs. It was generally your typical mix of national headliners plus local human interest stories, and it was pretty much fine.

Then came "Survivor." All of a sudden, the talking heads were discussing what happened yesterday on a TV show rather than what happened in real life. I remember thinking, "This is not news, this is some bullshit."

And it has been bullshit ever since.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:26 PM on September 13 [19 favorites]

For those, like me, wondering how the hell Survivor is 35 years old, they've done 2 shows a year since 2001.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:40 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]

I've never seen Survivor, but I did watch Xevvivor and thought it was a hoot. Except for the murders and anal carrot intruders and this dweeb named Stanley who kept bungling up everything.
posted by Beholder at 5:44 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]

Survivor is a whole lotta fun, but can be hit or miss, due to how different people can react when under pressure. I like that they keep trying new themes, though not all of them are good or even successful.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:47 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]

I like "Eye of the Tiger," but I wouldn't say that I love Survivor.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:55 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]

18 years!! It's been on for 18 years and my parents STILL call it "The Survivors."

*calls parents*
"Hi mom! How are - "
"Oh I can't talk now, Elly, The Survivors are on!"
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:59 PM on September 13 [17 favorites]

My reason: That 35+ seasons in, magic and greatness can strike at any moment. I'm thinking, actually, of the finale episode of last season's Australian Survivor (Season 3 technically, but really the first season after a 10 year hiatus), which featured one of the most impressive (and visually stunning) challenge performances ever and perhaps the greatest final tribal council performance ever, from a person who up until that point was a kooky afterthought, a laughingstock, a weakling. Chills. There's a 30-minute cut of that episode on YouTube, although it doesn't quite show just how unlikely this winner was (don't watch the whole season, it's long and bad).

I'll also point to Rob Cesternino and his podcasting empire/family as one of the best things about Survivor.
posted by acidic at 6:10 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]

Instead, it launched an entire genre of reality TV

They say this like it's a good thing.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:33 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]

I watched Big Brother this season for the first time since the first season (and boy did it suck! These HGs are the worst!), and I've enjoyed having a competition show to look forward to each week. I might have to give Survivor another try- I used to watch with my family in high school.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:00 PM on September 13

Instead, it launched an entire genre of reality TV

It was the kind of thing the networks needed - volunteer stars. If you only have to pay the winner, then you avoid the kinds of costs you incur when peple acting on the show demand a proper cut of the money coming in - the stars of Seinfeld (not that they were hard done by, but they wanted a bigger share, so hey) famously demanded a bigger chunk of the financial pie, and IIRC, Kelsey Grammar was commanding a pretty hefty per-episode paycheque for Frasier.

The show probably should have offered some tax advice to Richard Hatch, though.

I heard an interview with Jason Alexander (I think it was on the Nerdist podcast) where he talked about being approached by someone in public when they were demanding a bigger cut and he thought she was going to accost him about being greedy but instead she said "Right on. You show 'em!" or something similar.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:33 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]

I gave up on Survivor in what, season 02? Survivor Outback.

IIRC, they left the tin of rice/food in the bottom of the arroyo, and of course the rain started, and the producer got a great shot of the food floating away...

THEN they gave them an opportunity to Win More Food.

posted by mikelieman at 7:47 PM on September 13

"If you only have to pay the winner, then you avoid the kinds of costs you incur when peple acting on the show demand a proper cut of the money coming in"

Survivor pays on sliding scale, 1M for winner, 100K for second, etc etc. But your overall point stands tall. One of the winners requested more money when asked to return and the producers were like "yeah right, we got people lining up to be on this show."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 PM on September 13

I remember first hearing about this show and thinking it was going to be more like Naked and Afraid. Strangely its the suffering element in the former that I have more problems with. The show seems to have cut down on meager rations and injury-inducing competitions the past few seasons for which I'm thankful.

I've always thought the best ending that show had was one where they pulled a seamless cut between the tribal council and the on-stage reconstruction of the same; like Probst goes around the corner and voila!

Gotta say though, every time he does it (which is like every time) I get one step closer to being no longer able to stand the Probst-fingers-in-air "so-and-so...wins...WHATEVER" delivery. Only thing other than Jeff's shirt to never change.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 8:32 PM on September 13

One of the luckiest breaks in my life came in not having a TV at the beginning of the 2000s. I never got addicted to reality shows and I 've avoided the genre altogether. From the outside they seem so manipulative and phony.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:43 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]

The only exposure to Survivor I've ever had was these ElfQuest fanfictions that I found many years ago. I can't say much for them in practice, but it's a cute concept and they probably took a lot of work to write.
posted by one for the books at 9:26 PM on September 13

Instead, it launched an entire genre of reality TV

They say this like it's a good thing.

Seconded. All reality TV does is demean the people who participate. It's like the scene in The Magic Christian where businessmen in suits and bowler hats are invited to wade through a pool of slaughterhouse offal for "free money" - and they do.

Reality TV needs to die. Period.
posted by e-man at 9:31 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]

This season of the Australian version of Survivor has been fantastic. The challenges are significantly more dangerous than the one in the United States. To the point that I don't see how someone thought that it was in any way acceptable.

And there is a lot more game-play and massive twists than the US version. And it is on twice a week and each ep is around 70 minutes without commercials. So much better than the version here.
posted by johnpowell at 11:37 PM on September 13

The latest aussie season is much improved from the first one, where they got the dumbest bogans they could, most of whom hadn't even heard of the show (I'm bitter, my wife made final round of auditions and lost to the guy who bailed after a few days).

The challenges are terrific, but I'm not a fan of endless twists; they've significantly altered who has stayed by gifting shifts and swaps at the last minute (eg Tara), and that's not fair, I think. At least not to do it so many times.

I do like that the US producers, after veering into tacky territory for a few years (Brandon hantz, that was not cool) , seem to have now realised that a) fans make the best survivor television and b) returning players get an insane advantage when pitted against new ones.

Is not about big personalities, it's about big games, and they've finally realised. Loved the duel between David and Zeke a couple of seasons ago.
posted by smoke at 11:47 PM on September 13

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: Then came "Survivor." All of a sudden, the talking heads were discussing what happened yesterday on a TV show rather than what happened in real life. I remember thinking, "This is not news, this is some bullshit."

You've also described the sports segment of any news program. They're both about games people are playing, not about real life.

There's a gendered component to it, I think: The audience for most reality shows leans heavily female, while the audience for most major sports leans heavily male, which I think may be part of why there's no dedicated "here's what happened on the reality shows last night" news segment alongside the sports segment. There's a longer history for sports, too, of course, which is another part of the explanation, but we all know about the dismissiveness with which things that mostly women enjoy are greeted.
posted by clawsoon at 5:04 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

35 reasons to love it? I got through his first 6, and they were all reasons to not watch it. The guy has a twisted value system.

...my parents STILL call it "The Survivors."

Unless I missed that a lot of the contestants die, your parents are correct.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:43 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Survivor is good. How do you eliminate everyone else without making them hate you? Oh, also you're on a beautiful beach, but have only the basics for survival. Physical strength is an asset early when it's tribe vs tribe, but a liability later. Winners have to gain trust while constantly lying and betraying. Or you can try to be passive, but you'll never win. How do you deal with the boredom?

It's good stuff.
posted by booooooze at 8:08 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]

Opinions vary. Mine is that it's cheaply-produced, poorly-scripted drama. Yes, I have watched it, because my wife used to like it, so I saw pretty much all of the first 3 or 4 years. I was greatly relieved when she got tired of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:52 AM on September 14

In the grand scheme of things, though Survivor is very scripted, (and was the first very scripted "reality" tv show), I think there are some key differences.

Most current reality TV: (i'm thinking big brother, the bacholor, that geeks and freaks show, etc)
1. "contestants" are paid actors from a casting agency.
2. They are chosen to specifically play a role, IE; be the obnoxious racist.
3. The prize is usually nonexistent/miniscule
4. The drama is so contrived it's unbearable.
5. Eliminations and such seem arbitrary and possibly based on ratings.

I think the original reality TV (I'm thinking survivor and American Idol)
1. Contestants are (strategically selected) regular people trying to win.
2. They are chosen based on key factors but usually represent a variety of body types and walks of life.
3. The prize is pretty good, everyone seems to want to win for the sake of the prize.
4. The drama is pretty contrived, but there is strategy outside of drama - appealing to teammates / earning votes
5. Eliminations and such are strategic and have current and end game in mind.

It seems impossible, but I really think Survivor is a lot less "dumbed down" compared to most current reality TV. There is actually strategy to Survivor, and it's deeper than the extreme surface layer. People that have researched and spent time studying the game have gone on the show and have been successful.

My favorite seasons are when it's the "all-stars" of all very successful previous players. Then you have the best of the best. Winning All-stars felt very meaningful.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:22 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

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