Although I don’t admit this to many people, Survivor is one of my guilty pleasures. When the show first came out, I put on my Intellectual Snob hat and refused to watch it because I thought it was just dumb people doing stupid things and eating insects on some remote island. But that changed with the Pearl Islands season.
It all started innocently enough. I was working a part-time job from 5:00 to 9:00 PM and got home, very tired, around 9:30. I wanted to watch ER at 10 on CBS so I would just put on the TV while I was getting ready for bed. And Survivor was on and Rupert was doing his thing and I got hooked. From following the show, I started going online to watch the Ponderosa videos in the weeks when the jury was being selected. Every Friday, I would get chowder and a salad in the cafeteria, go back to my office, and put on headphones so no one would know I was watching the post-Tribal Council Ponderosa video while I ate lunch. I guess that makes me an official fan.
While the producers have done Fans vs. Favorites (the current season in the Caramoan Islands), Heroes vs. Villains, and other combinations that allow them to bring back some of the more popular contestants, the show is really always Smart vs. Stupid.
Why? There are basically four phases of each season:
- Team Survival: Right off the catamaran, the teams need to get fire, water, shelter, and food, pretty much in that order. The better you are at getting those things, the healthier and stronger the team members will be.
- Team Domination: If the team members are healthy and strong, they will win Reward and Immunity competitions. The first allows teammates to stay strong, think clearly, and beat the other team by winning more competitions. The latter allows you to beat the other team by not losing members at Tribal Council.
- Individual Survival: After the merge, when each competitor is on his/her own, one has to avoid being (a) so strong that you are a threat to the others; (b) so annoying, mean, or nasty that you become a target; and (c) so hapless at the competitions that voting you off the island is just the logical or most satisfying thing to do.
- Individual Domination: In the season’s latter stages, it becomes essential to stay at the top of the heap. Winners such as Tom Westman have done this by just being so strong they ace every Immunity challenge and cannot be voted off. Others have done it by ganging up on the big dogs and then selling out their allies. A few have won by being so inoffensive that the jury votes for him/her by default. But most, such as “Boston Rob” Mariano, have taken the million bucks by just being smarter than anyone else and knowing how to use it.
The current season opened last week with several returning Favorites who do not fit into the Smart category and will spend days and weeks trying to figure out what’s going on. Except for poor Francesca, of course, who became the first contestant ever to be voted off the island first—for the second time. While it’s too early to tell which of the new Fans might fit into this category, I’m sure there are some.
And that’s the guilty pleasure. Sometimes the smart people win. Sometimes the stupid people gang up on them. Sometimes people are smart at one thing and stupid at something else. But it’s always smart vs. stupid on Survivor.