'Survivor' -- Reality TV as an Escape from Reality

400px-Survivor.borneo.logo Let’s face it: Our lives are messy. We have a lot on our plates and face countless obstacles day in and day out. Every day we deal with our jobs, classes, family dramas, friendship issues, road rage, money problems, home ownership struggles, weight battles, child rearing, bills to pay, meals to cook, extra-curricular activities, doctor appointments… the list goes on and on. The trials and tribulations of the average American can be stressful, and sometimes we need an outlet for that stress. The opportunity to watch someone else’s “reality,” which in most cases is much more dramatic and tense than your own, is a welcome escape for many. The drama and fights are intriguing because it is someone else’s life and the battles are for someone else to overcome. You can be amused by it without becoming emotionally invested in it, and this provides a great and sometimes necessary escape. Watching shows based on competition is fun because you can put yourself in the contestants’ shoes and imagine how you would do things if you were them. It is nice to see every day normal people doing extraordinary things that you wish you could do or are too afraid to attempt. This is our opportunity to live vicariously through someone else while remaining in the comforts of our own homes. Survivor is a show that has mostly fallen off everyone’s radar over the past few years but continues to be my hands-down favorite thing to watch.  To say I’m obsessed would be an understatement. I’ve watched every episode of every season (some several times), I own a legitimate Survivor buff, and I’ve applied to be on the show in the past and would jump at the opportunity should it come my way. survivor-caramoan-final-8 When I mention Survivor to people today, the usual response is: “Is that show still on?” Um, yes. Survivor still has a loyal following (I’m mostly just talking about myself) and will hopefully be on TV for many years to come. It has had some low points over the past few seasons (bringing back former contestants no one knew or cared about, giving tribes too much food, combining reward and immunity challenges, Redemption Island), and at times it has been a little too “gimmicky.” One could argue that the majority of the castmates in recent seasons have been more of the “model” caliber and less of the “old, middle-class cafeteria lady” variety. However, Survivor has found success with individual characters (Russell Hantz, Parvati Shallow, Ozzy Lusth, Rob Mariano), with show themes (Fans vs. Favorites, Heroes vs. Villains, Worlds Apart), and with twists and turns (introduction of hidden immunity idols, Exile Island, a player granted an extra vote at Tribal Council). While I do believe that Survivor needs to go back to its roots and start showing more common, everyday people who are truly fighting to survive, to me it is still the most undeniably real reality TV show out there. RICHARD HATCH For one, I love watching the challenges and physical/mental competitions. Every time I watch, I imagine what it would be like to be out there amongst the players fighting for rewards and immunity. I feel like this is where I personally would have the most success because I am very competitive and fairly athletic. Second, there’s the element of strategy, manipulation, and backstabbing. This would be a tough one for me as I am not a naturally deceitful person, but for $1,000,000 and the title of Sole Survivor, you do what you have to do. Watching the people who are good at this aspect (think Russell Hantz) is a guilty pleasure of mine. Finally, at the core of Survivor, is the element of actually surviving in the wild. This is for real, and if you don’t believe it, check out the weigh-ins at Ponderosa for those contestants who make the jury. People have been known to lose up to 30 pounds on this show! While the most recent seasons have seemed to be a bit easier than in the show’s heyday, the contestants are still struggling out there nonetheless. Survivor takes different aspects of real life and throws them all into a pressure cooker. It gets down to the roots of real struggles people face, whether it's prejudices, self-esteem issues, or overconfidence. Survivor forces contestants to look in the mirror and attempt to overcome the things that hold them back, all while also having to interact with other real people with their own issues. This is how the show remains grounded in reality: real people with real problems have to work together to navigate the game, much like in the world we live in. No person is an island, and it takes many hands to raise one person to success in life. In my opinion, the challenges, the strategy, the camp life -- that’s all just background. The game is about the individual. The world we live in today is scary. There are horrifying things happening every day, from murders to terrorist attacks to planes falling out of the sky. Even on a good day we are under the constant threat of global warming, bullying, poverty, disease, and the privacy invasion that comes with technological advancement. We live in a hyper-sensitized society that seems to include more bad than good at times. We deserve to give ourselves moments of escape, and if it comes in the form of reality TV, so be it. As for me, I’ll be watching Survivor.   Photos courtesy of: CBS  

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