Culture Rant: Issue 11 / Fall 2017

Yes, Survivor is still on and you should be watching it

By Melanie Greaver Cordova


There was a time when I organized my life around the CBS hit show Survivor. I made special trips to the grocery store the night before, stopped going to yoga so I could be home on time. I occasionally paid a housemate $20 to drive me the 1 mile from the bus stop to our house—this price was just as much to avoid walking through my dangerous neighborhood as it was to get me home before the “Previously…On Survivor!” chimed at 8 o’clock.

It was a particularly difficult season in my life. I had just moved 2,000 miles to another new state and a dingy, rented room sight-unseen (0/10 would not recommend). What kept me connected to that feeling of home was this crazy show about 18-or-so extremely good-looking people stranded on an island, forced to do carnival games and search for hidden immunity idols in disintegrating clothes for a chance at a million dollars. Watching the show was something my grandfather and I did together, a weekly, comforting tradition I desperately needed in the fall of 2012.



If you aren’t watching Survivor, odds are you’ve at least heard of it. Its 2000 premiere made a splash, and Richard Hatch’s presence cemented him in pop culture as “the naked guy” who won the show’s first season. And here we are, 16 years later, Jeff Probst still blessing us from on-high Wednesday nights. Season 35 premiered to solid ratings last week — this season’s theme? Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, a blend of nonsense words as good as any to get the season rolling.



Survivor is unscripted drama at its best, with 24-hour footage ripped apart and pieced back together to create delightful narratives of revenge, underdogs, and unlikely alliances in a 45-minute time slot. The narrative power of Survivor is a major contributor to its longevity.

Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers is the latest in a string of silly themes—but such organizing principles usually only last for a few episodes, and after that perhaps just mentally in the mind of a player (ie: you were cast as a hero! shouldn’t you play like one?). Despite its complicated history with race and gender, it’s still a show that consistently goes beyond watching “mactors” starve from the comfort of your living room.



The presence of charming international versions like Australian Survivor and Survivor New Zealand has virtually eliminated the Survivor off-season for super fans who can’t get enough. It’s difficult to come close to the TV gold that is Jeff Probst as a host, but JLP is an Australian treasure and the way Matt Chisholm shuts down haters on his Twitter feed is absolutely delicious.



We’re also in the golden age of podcasts about the show, with former contestant Rob Cesternino leading the charge and producing such compelling content that it occasionally feels like his podcast empire RHAP outstrips the quality of the show itself. The Survivor fan community — and the RHAP base in particular — is an especially fun group.



Reality television doesn’t have the most sterling reputation, but I will always go to bat for Survivor, even if it’s more socially acceptable to obsess over other pop culture items like Star Wars or Harry Potter. It’s a series with more strategic chops than its sisters the Amazing Race and Big Brother—actually, scratch that. This isn’t about justifying or apologizing for what television we enjoy. Watch whatever you want! Live your best life.



So yes, Survivor is still on, and it’s still great. You don’t have to rearrange your entire life to watch it like I did once upon a time, but if you’ve ever thought about giving the show a shot, now is the time. Let Jeff Probst usher you into a whole new world this Wednesday.



Melanie Greaver Cordova is the editor of SFWP Quarterly. She is the former editor-in-chief of Harpur Palate and assistant editor of the Picayune. She has a Ph.D. in English from SUNY Binghamton and works at Cornell University. She can be found on Twitter @mjcwrites.


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