Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Survivor Type

By Belinda Acosta

AUGUST 28, 2000:  By the time you read this, it will be over. One very suntanned, disheveled person, cleaned up and made camera-ready, will be a million dollars richer, his or her anonymity suspended for as long as Hollywood can make use of him or her. The spectacle of opposing wills, luck, stubbornness, and the ability to eat rice every day for 13 weeks without hurling will be over. One survivor will be left standing, and we, the viewing public, will commiserate on what it was we saw and what, if anything, we learned.

Yes, I watched every episode of CBS's Survivor, and I will certainly be there for the two-hour grand finale, followed by the hour-long reunion episode. I hadn't intended to get sucked into Survivor; I thought I would tune in to the first episode just to see what all the noise was about. Then I tuned in to the second episode and the third and then all of a sudden, it's week 13, and here I am, waiting to see who will emerge from the final four as the winner, at which time I can either lay back, satisfied that it was who I predicted (Kelly, the 23-year-old river guide), or scowl at the person I least wanted to win (Richard, the 38-year-old corporate communications consultant). Actually, my favorite has always been Susan, the 38-year-old truck driver from Wisconsin. The other member of the final four is Rudy, a 72-year-old retired Navy Seal, a narrow-minded coot who doesn't care much for homosexuals, talkative women, chubby people, or young people -- in short, anyone who isn't like him, which is pretty much everyone on the island.

Oh, I could come up with excuses about why a fairly intelligent woman like me fell into watching this show every Wednesday night. I could try to dazzle you with my astute observations about what Survivor says about the public, American culture, voyeurism, greed, and celebrity, yada yada yada. All I know is this: Survivor became the show I loved to hate. There's something about hating something so gleefully that brings such satisfaction.

Getting sucked into Survivor reminded me a little of walking into the 7-Eleven. There's all that junk food you vowed would never cross your lips. In spite of yourself, you walk out with a giant Slurpee, a grab-bag-sized Cheetos, a package of Nutter Butters, and some Twizzlers. The satisfaction comes in gathering all these goodies, the tantalizing crinkle of the cellophane, the too-sweet taste of the Slurpee, the salty-sweet crunch of the cheese puffs and cookies, and the pensive chewing of the Twizzlers, allowing you time to think: Why did I eat all that crap? You already know the stuff is bad, will rot your teeth, and make your pants too tight. And after you've slurped the last slurp of your Slurpee, there's a big, fat nothing -- except the vow that it will never happen again. Yeah, right.

What can I say? I loved to hate Survivor. I liked making fun of the hokey "tribal music," Jeff Probst's doofy role as host, and all the stoopid lines he had to utter -- "Fire is life ... The council has spoken ... Here I hold the conch shell of truth, oh mighty Isis." (Okay, I'm exaggerating with that last quote, but you get the idea.) The only thing worse than Probst's lines were the shameless product placements he was responsible for pointing out, oh so indelicately. And don't even get me started on castaway Richard's great white ass.

I'm not the only one who loved to hate Survivor (you know who you are). There are a couple of Web sites that have encouraged this love-hate relationship. The most prominent of these is SurvivorSucks.com. My favorite was the coverage in Salon, which featured episode updates and scathingly funny commentary on what happened from week to week.

Much has been written on the influx of these "reality" shows, and I've spilled some ink on the subject myself. The latest talk I've heard involves the "Darwinian" situation these folks are placed in and how winning depends on the survival of the fittest (with "fittest" having many definitions). This new talk insists that this breed of "reality" game show reflects how the larger culture works. I agree, except I think the culture these pundits talk about is much smaller. If you've spent any time in a job -- a regular j-o-b -- you'll know what I mean.

I've been in many a j-o-b where I had no interest in "working my way to the top." All I wanted was a little security, a place to work that wasn't too mind-numbing, didn't zap my energy, and provided me time to do what I really want to do, which is write. When a j-o-b gets to be a drag, you quit or move on. However, it seems to me that many people, for whatever reasons, invest themselves financially and emotionally in the cardboard politics of their workplace. Observing this can be amusing and distressing.

Think about the cast of Survivor as a crew of co-workers. There are the amiable but faceless cogs like Dirk, Sonja, Stacey, and Joel (remember them?). The ones who take their work way too seriously, feel used and underappreciated, and end up overstepping their bounds because they feel entitled. (Remember B.B. washing his T-shirt in the Pagong tribe's drinking water?) There's the slacker who gets by with charm and good looks and the occasionally butt-kissing when all else fails (Gervase, Sean), and the person who's always calling in sick (Ramona). There are bright and confident workers like Gretchen, Colleen, Kelly, and Greg, and the old-timer just biding his time (Rudy). There's the working mother (Jenna), who, in this case, has a penchant for speaking from both sides of her mouth. Then you get to the smarmy ones, the ones who make a deep commitment to making it to the top (as if the top was theirs to take), stepping on whomever without remorse, forging alliances that inevitably must be betrayed, and overall, making a huge ass of himself. I'm speaking, of course, about Richard, and to a small degree, Susan. Susan is in it for the money. Richard is in it for the money and to be proclaimed super-supreme lord of all big-brained jackasses.

You see, in the real world, people like Richard often win. Big ding-dong that he is, Richard seems to have forgotten that his fellow castaways (i.e., co-workers) will decide his fate. Ah-ha! Justice at last! If only you could vote someone out of your j-o-b in real life.

So, if you're lucky enough not to work in a world in which back-biting, small-mindedness, petty rivalries, and small fish swim like sharks in small ponds, then you won't understand Survivor fever. You won't understand the allure of seeing, for once, someone not being rewarded for being dishonest, sneaky, and smarmy. And I'm sure there must be some viewers out there who have been rooting for Richard. Well, maybe those viewers will be satisfied with the outcome, but maybe I will be. In the end, it really doesn't matter until the next sample of junk food for the brain comes around.

Until then, pass the remote. Twizzlers, anyone?


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