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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Survival in the Real World

Reality TV is about as close to reality as I am to winning Miss Congeniality in the next Miss America contest.

Survivor IV on CBS is the latest in the Survivor series in which a bunch of "real" people are sent to a remote location, with very little food or equipment, where they attempt to "survive" in their new surroundings while being followed closely by cameramen and sound technicians who are probably trying very hard not to giggle.

At first, the 16 contestants are split into two tribes of four men and four women. Every three days, the tribes compete in an elimination contest. The losing tribe is required to vote one of their members out of the tribe and thereby out of the competition. When the tribes have been scaled back to about half the original size, the two tribes merge and start another round of contests where the winner of each event is immune from being ousted during the next vote.

When it gets down to the last two contestants, the previous seven voted off choose the winner. The lone survivor wins a million dollars, an automobile from one of the sponsors and a spot on the David Letterman Show to be ridiculed before hundreds of TV viewers.

To become a contestant, you must fill out a lengthy questionnaire, include a health certificate signed by a physician and submit a short video of yourself explaining why you should be chosen. Out of several thousand applications, the field is narrowed to a few hundred based on the video presentation. This is where reality ends and something even stranger than reality begins.

The producers of the show tend to favor videos depicting bizarre behavior by the sort of humanoids that cause apes to reject the theory of evolution. If you leap out of a dumpster with a rose between your teeth or fall out of a tree wearing a Zorro outfit, you have a much better chance to be selected than if you were reasonably normal. Apparently being loud and obnoxious helps as well, especially if you are prone to yell "whoopee" and "yahoo" after every action, such as winning a contest or tying your shoes.

Then after a series of interviews, the final 16 "real" people are selected.

Even though the 16 contestants are not exactly a representative slice of the human race, you can still learn a lot about human behavior by observing them in action.

Invariably, within each tribe, a person will immediately take it upon himself/herself to be the leader and begin barking orders. In the first three survivor contests, this was the first person voted out of each tribe. In the current contest, a completely insane jerk was the first to go, followed by two self-appointed leaders who both worked very hard and seemed to know what they were doing. Apparently, the human race doesn't care much for self-appointed leaders no matter how good they are.

Then the tribes tend to split into responsible workers and irresponsible loafers. The workers resent the loafers because the workers must work harder to make up for the time the loafers spend loafing. The loafers resent the workers who make them feel guilty for loafing. This also seems to mirror the human race in the struggle between those who take responsibility by providing for themselves and those who feel entitled to the fruits of the labor of others.

During the course of the contest, as contestants are eliminated one by one, alliances are formed among various schemers seeking to manipulate the voting process. They have more power and control as a group. In the real world, these manipulators would gang up on others by joining unions or political parties.

In the first Survivor contest, the most manipulative person won. In the next two events, the winners were the ones who acted the most honorably throughout the contest. This, too, is evident in everyday life where who you are or how you play the game often has no bearing on winning or losing.

In TV Survivor, the best strategy seems to be to keep a low profile, do your fair share of the work, refrain from criticizing others and accept your fate when the outcome is out of your hands.

That may not be such a bad strategy for survival in the "real" world either.