Survivor: Why I Started Watching It, Why I Love It, and What I Learned From Creating a Survivor Fantasy League On Facebook

In the year 2000, I existed in an odd office environment. They had “gamified” the culture in the mold of the new CBS reality TV show, Survivor. I was almost 100% non-TV oriented, and was unaware that the essence of what they were aping would eventually morph into such an pleasurable part of my leisure time.

Co-workers would receive an “immunity idol” during our weekly meetings. I never was the recipient of this cheesy award. In retrospect, given the ambiguity of the actual professional workflow (this was, after all, a “management consulting” company), this probably meant that you were literally safe from getting your ass fired.

After my humiliating and baffling “layoff,” I figured maybe there was something to be learned. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my dismissal of such pop culture tomfoolery. So I started watching Survivor during season 2, the Australian Outback. I have faithfully watched ever since.

During the next several seasons, I became fascinated by how the show evolved. In contrast to sports such as (American) football–which was pretty much static in terms of roles, positions, formations, and strategies–Survivor’s pillars of “outwit, outplay, outlast” fostered an evolutionary gameplay. While the first season (which I eventually watched amusedly on DVD) featured players who lamented having to vote their “friends” out, subsequent seasons featured more and more audience members who had plotted out strategies season after season from their living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. Gameplay became more cut-throat, less predictable, and more exciting.

One year (2006 or 2007), I braved a several-hour-long line for an open casting call in Atlantic City, NJ. Once I got up front, I had to fill out a form with my contact info, and was given a pink piece of paper with a number and was corralled into a short line of about 5 people. Each member of the queue walked about 10 yards over to a TV-grade camera, held up their numbers, and gave a 30-second pitch about why they should be on the show.

I had rehearsed my (admittedly unremarkable) story during the prior several drinkless, foodless hours, observing the thousands of participants. Some donned buffs; some were muscleheads; some were model-hot. There was really no way to manufacture any kind of cohesive nor logical characterization of such a mass. Except, they all clearly loved Survivor.

The cameras were far enough away that you could not hear what the others were saying. The woman before me, around 10 seconds into her pitch, grabbed the top of her head and ripped off a blonde wig and appeared to deliver a pro-wrestling-grade monologue. After briefly considering ripping off my scalp to one-up her, I decided to just say what I was going to say. Single dad, wanting to sing songs at Ponderosa, masking my contempt for others, etc. Again, unremarkable (and needless to say, I never got “the callback”).

My Survivor Casting Call Number circa 2006

My Survivor Casting Call Number circa 2006

During that same timeframe, Sears held an online video submission contest that I also entered. I delivered my video monologue in a baby voice while sitting on a couch. (If you ever want to receive online Hate, do this.) The other video entries featured people shoveling snow in their underwear and lifting 8 billion pound free weights and things that were much more eye-catching. I came away from that contest with an online membership to the CBS website, where I could gain worthless points for performing various tasks while beta testing their fledgling and relatively uninteresting attempt at online community building.

… to be continued.  I’m still processing this experience; the season just ended. Spoiler: I won the game that I invented…

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