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I Want Off The Island

by The Cranky Media Guy

Okay, I finally gave in.  I resisted it for many weeks, but I lost my nerve and actually watched the final episode of Survivor.

I didn't watch the earlier episodes because they were on opposite wrestling.  Nowadays, everything is on opposite wrestling.  I saw about five minutes of the first Survivor show and I figured I got the basic idea, so I didn't feel I needed to see the rest of the endless "drama".

As for the final episode, for me the most interesting part was to see how the producers managed to stuff five whole minutes of "action" into a two hour time slot.  A lot of the padding was stock footage of Pacific island scenery.  The movies Krakatoa, East of Java and South Pacific combined had fewer shots of palm trees swaying in the breeze.  The whole show moved slower than a square dance in a nursing home.

They call this "reality" programming.  Wanna explain to me what's "real" about wrenching a bunch of extroverts out of their natural environments and sticking them on an island-- not to mention that the "deserted" island has a modern resort on the other side where the TV crew stays. 

You want real?  I've got real for you.  Try this--Survivor, The South Bronx.  We take some whiter-than-white people, dress them in a Klan muumuus, give them a fistful of fifties and drop them off at 149th Street and 3rd Avenue in the Bronx.  The host is waiting for them outside Yankee Stadium at 161st Street and River Avenue.  If you makes it in one piece, you win.  Simple and elegant.  I don't know about you, but I like my reality real with real tension.

Watching Survivor last night, I did notice one thing.  The host, Jeff Probst, was obviously instructed to be sadistic to the contestants, a kind of low-rent Torquemada.  About four years ago, I worked at the FX network, where Jeff was the host of a show.  I had a few conversations with him while we were both there and I can tell you that he didn't seem like that at all.  Of course neither of us was on an island at the time.  Wait, actually we were--Manhattan island, but I don't think that counts.  I'm sure his Survivor persona was intended to heighten the tension on the show.  Just thought I'd mention that.

I guess what I'm really saying here is that I don't quite understand why America was so entranced with the travails of a bunch of people stuck in a totally contrived situation.  Is it that people imagine themselves in the same situation and try to figure out what they would do?  Is it that the contestants are selected to represent a cross-section of America and the viewers identify with one or more of them?  Beats me. 

The fact that I can't quite figure out the appeal of Survivor is kind of irrelevant; Stevie Wonder could see that what the immediate future of network television holds is innumerable rip-offs.  You're gonna have "reality" programming night after night, hour after hour until the Weather Channel starts to look like Shakespeare.  Good luck and Godspeed to you all.  You can have your little Lord of the Flies fake reality.  I'll be watching professional wrestling.  Now, that's real!




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