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Gold Drives a Man to Dream

Gold Drives a Man to Dream

Another season of Survivor ended recently and next year the show will celebrate 15 years and 30 “seasons” of castaways marooned on a tropical island. Every year Da Queen bitches that they’re never sent to a cold weather environment but every year I remind her that there are no bikinis in cold weather environments nor are their bare-chested men, emaciated as they may be by the end of the season.

This year we watched Tony, the cop from New Jersey, play a skillful game and manipulate nearly every situation to his own advantage. I didn’t particularly like what he was doing but, I kept telling himself, it’s just a game. That is, until he said during the final tribal council whether it was worth disrespecting his father (for breaking an oath Tony took on his father’s grave) for a million dollars. His answer: Yes.

That got me thinking. This is an officer of the law who just admitted on national television that for a million dollars, he would lie. What else would he do for a million dollars? Would he break the law? He had recently saved the life of a man who was having a heart attack (after returning home from the tropics) but what if someone offered him a million dollars not to? Can anyone in his community trust him as a cop again?

My dissatisfaction with the game doesn’t lie with the most recent champion. Survivor is a game in which deceit is rewarded. By any means necessary is not just a phrase in this game; it is a winning formula. Alliances are made and broken; backs are stabbed and friends thrown under the bus. It is, in short, a game in which those without conscience prosper.

The more I thought about it, the more troubled I became. To me, the game has become a microcosm for American culture in the 21st century. The game is the ultimate expression of Darwinism with the fittest surviving however they can, with money being the ultimate reward. When you think about it, isn’t that what our society has become? A greedy, self-centered money-worshipping charnel house in which the good are trampled by the wayside and the strong keep the weak down, using them for their own purposes until they are no longer useful at which time they are cast aside like so much chaff. This is what capitalism has become.

Nobody looks out for the weak in Survivor The moment you are perceived as weak you can rest assured that there is a vote with your name on it. Showing loyalty is weakness. Helping your team out is weakness. Paranoia is your only friend. And this is one of the most popular television shows in history. Is this what we are becoming? Is this what we have already become?

I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch Survivor. I’m not even saying it’s a bad show, or a show that is intrinsically bad. I just wonder if we should admire it the way we do. Often, I watch what people do in the name of going farther in the game and am completely appalled. Would we do those sort of things to get ahead in life? In order to get a promotion at work, would we spread rumors about our competitor for the position that they are thinking of going to another company – another tribe? Would we tell our co-workers that our competitor was talking smack about them behind their backs when they weren’t, just so we become more popular in their eyes?

The producers of Survivor, which include Mark Burnett who has lately been making a number of Biblically inspired programs for cable, aren’t responsible for the way contestants act nor are they responsible for who the jury votes for. All they do is create the situation, set up some challenges here and there, sit back and watch what happens. Host Jeff Probst often refers to the game as a “social experiment” and he’s not far wrong.

That’s why I wonder about our society so much. The show is merely a reflection of what the values of our society are at the moment. In a different era, it is unlikely that people would be quite as ruthless. In previous years, we might have seen more chivalry, more honor. Klingons would be horrified at Survivor. Chances are most of the winners would be killed by the families of the losers within minutes. You don’t mess with a Klingon’s honor.

So what do you think? Do you even watch the show? Do you find it as depressing as I do? Or is it just a game? I admit I could be reading too much into the show – and at the end of the day that’s all it is, an entertainment. The actions that take place on the show are the actions of the individuals who are selected to participate. That surely doesn’t constitute a fair sampling of the population.

Yet it seems that season after season the behavior of the players grows worse and more self-centered than ever. Even on the familial “Blood vs. Water” editions have the same sort of “win at all costs” mentality with family members throwing each other under the bus. So again I’m left to wonder; is it just a game? Or is it who we are?


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