by Noni Mausa
The Opposite of Survivor
I hated the very idea of “Survivor” from the beginning, and happily
avoided seeing any more than a cumulative 30 minutes over the years of
Survivor shows worldwide.
Dropping people on desert islands isn’t the problem. It’s one of the
oldest folk and literary stories around, full of danger and learning
and suffering and occasionally success. In actuality, surviving is a
story repeated thousands of times in human history, as we left Africa
and learned to live everywhere else. We sought new fields, or ran
away from each other, or simply got lost, but whatever the motivation
we left our old ways and learned new ones and became scattered tribes
of heroes. I confess I was excited when I first heard the “Survivor”
idea, it could be wonderful.
Ah, no. They spoiled it, but they spoiled it by stacking the deck.
To win on the show required the very strategies guaranteed to torpedo
a real survivor situation. It’s like having parachute competitions
where the goal is to fall the fastest. You can contrive such a
situation, but your safety nets better be damn good.
Since 1992, the hugely popular Survivor franchise set before us a
falsehood, demonstrating and rewarding behaviour that is the
antithesis of real survival. And we are now living out the results of
that anti-story in our economy.
Seeing our predator enemies as powerful leaders, seeing our fellow
citizens as competitors to be scorned or scuttled, seeing long term
planning as fairytale thinking while praising short term looting — by
almost any measure, the “Survivor” economy is guaranteed to make us
poorer, weaker, and less safe.
Only one Survivor-type show that I know of tried to do the real thing.
The Canadian broadcaster CBC did a show about homesteading in 1850s
Manitoba, a prairie province just north of North Dakota. You’ve never
seen the show, nor have the rest of the Survivor fans, I bet. It had
real worry, real privation, real hard work. One of the two families
had to bail out due to illness. That was the only safety net the show
provided. 150 years ago that family might have died instead. They
surely would have died if they had hit upon a strategy of eliminating
their neighbours one by one in order to be the only survivor. If the
untreated illness hadn’t killed such players, the surviving neighbours
surely would have.
We need to remember that if something is fictional, that doesn’t mean
people don’t learn from it. Stories map out our patterns of thought,
as individuals and as societies. If those stories are warped to
become their opposites, flavoured with gossip, excitement and
competition, packaged and then force-fed to happy consumers for a
couple of decades, is it reasonable to expect nothing would come of