I love Survivor. I don’t know why, but I do. I took off for a couple of seasons, but I invariably got sucked back in. I think Jeff Probst is the best reality-show host ever. He’s been out there for 30 goddamn seasons, and he repeats the same phrases over and over again, and yet, he still manages to help make each season compelling to watch. He observes the action the same way we do at home, usually with wide eyes and befuddlement.
It’s been a strange season to get back into Survivor, however, because of all the seasons I’ve watched (which is probably 25 or 26 of the 30), I can’t recall a more unlikable cast. It’s not that it started out that way. When the season began, they’d divided the players up into three tribes: The No-Collar, the Blue Collar, and the White Collar, and on principle alone, I loathed the no-collar tribe, because they were initially represented by a stalker coconut salesman whose piercing eyes seemed to suggest he was only moments away from stripping the skin off of one of the female players and wearing it as a coat.
In fact, I felt a kinship to the blue-collar tribe, because don’t we all really want to be able to align ourselves with good, hardworking working-class folk? Plus, there was a postman from Maine! My mom and step-dad were postman! I live in Maine!
Only it turned out that they’re all terrible goddamn people, especially the Mainer, who is the scourge of the Earth, a moronic simpleton who actually believes that he has a goddamn chance at winning this season of Survivor.
And the thing is: He might. Because as awful as he is, the rest of the remaining players are as terrible as the Mainer. Because after Joe — the king of immunity challenges — left, and after Jenn was voted off last night, there’s no voice of reason remaining on the show. Shirine is the most likable player left, and that is only by virtue of editing, because she was annoying as hell during the first half of the season when she had teamed up with the other Survivor expert and the two of them obliviously geeked out over insane past-season minutia. I only spent 42 minutes a week with her, and I couldn’t plead hard enough for her to shut up. I could not imagine living with her for 39 days.
Then there’s Rodney, who is on his way to proving that you can be a terrible person and still succeed in Survivor. He’s managed to create a strong alliance with three other people who couldn’t possibly like him as a person, because no one could possibly like Rodney as a person. He’s an idiotic, hot-tempered blowhard who would be better suited to a show called Revere Shore (Boston people will understand the reference).
Will, the “YouTube sensation,” is no better, hiding his awfulness behind religion and what was once a good-natured spirit. But he’s been beaten down by the game, and all the remains is a bitter, angry jackass who stopped at nothing to make Shirine feel as awful about herself as possible last night.
Who does that leave? Carolyn? Blech. She’s mean. The blonde woman that’s been such a complete non-factor that I can’t even remember her name? Or maybe Tyler? We still really don’t know much about him, other than the fact that he’s willing to align himself with Rodney, which for me calls into question his character.
And then there’s Mike, the guy who has never finished a goddamn sentence without including a percentage mark. I have despised him for the entire game, and yet, I find myself wanting him to win suddenly, if for no other reason than because he’s the least despicable contender remaining. He very nearly followed through on one of the most reprehensible acts of the series during the auction last night, and yet, I understood why he’d want to deprive others of their letters from home for an advantage. What I don’t understand, however, is why he and Shirine would vote off Jenn, the one person they might be able to align with on the home stretch (as well as the only likable player left in the game). Why couldn’t Mike swing the Mainer and blonde woman last night? Or they so dumb that they don’t understand that they’re the odd men out on the blue-collar tribe?
But that’s what’s so wonderful and unpredictable about Survivor. Human nature makes no sense. No matter how many seasons there are, the players never really wisen up. They continue to do stupid, self-defeating acts. They continue to vote against their own self-interests. They continue to align with terrible people in the hopes that they can go to the end and be seen by others as the less terrible alternative. They continue to remain oblivious to what is going on around them, and their greed is so powerful that they are willing to sell their souls to a man like Rodney for the chance at $1 million.
It’s ridiculous, and yet, I can’t stop watching.