Nothing these days makes me feel as “Get off my lawn” old as Survivor has this season. I love Survivor, and historically, part of the reason that I have is because it’s a reality competition where the players want to win. The series has covered a number of social issues over the years, but they have usually come up organically over the course of the game. There have also been a number of outsized personalities on the show, but those personalities have typically been a part of the gameplay. The players make the game interesting, but it’s still about the game.
The vetting this season, however, has been abysmal because several players seem to be less interested in winning and more interested in being on television, at least until they’ve exhausted even that novelty. Early on, a guy named Brandon blacked out trying to climb a rope ladder, fell briefly into a fetal position trying to climb a wall, and loudly complained that the first night on the island was the worst of his life because he had heartburn. Why was he on Survivor? How did he not know this about himself? There have been 45 seasons of the series; the players ought to have some idea of what to expect: They will sleep on the ground, there will be very little food, there will be bugs, and the weather will not often cooperate.
Brandon couldn’t deal with his heartburn. I don’t think this guy had ever been to the grocery store by himself.
He should’ve gone home first (instead of second), but he was spared that by Hannah Rose, a 32-year-old therapist who couldn’t make it through the first tribal council before quitting. She quit! She was too tired. It was too hard. She was too hungry! (Also, she may have wanted a cigarette). She had no resilience. She gave up. Who would hire this woman to be their therapist?
(Ironically, the person I loathed the most in that first episode — Emily, aka “Survivor Karen” — is now one of my favorite players, in part because she’s playing the game and playing it well. She may have also received a cruel edit in that premiere.)
Cut to this week on Survivor. The original Lulu tribe was down to three members, each of whom was separated in a tribe reshuffle. Inevitably, one Lulu member ends up on the losing tribe. Sean, a school principal, is that unlucky original Lulu tribe member. Nevertheless, in the lead-up to the Tribal Council, he fights valiantly to keep his place in the game. By the time he’d reached the Tribal Council, it appears as though he will survive because the other members of his Reba tribe are ready to vote out Sifu for wrongheaded reasons.
Sean defends his position well during the Tribal Council, too. He fights to stay. He provides the reasons why he should. Had they ended Tribal 20 minutes earlier, Sifu would’ve been voted out.
But then Sean just … quits.
I have watched that Tribal Council twice now, once not knowing what would happen and again with the knowledge of what would come, and it’s no less surprising the second time. Sean did not have a slow realization that he should quit. He just … quit. He realized that he wanted to go home and be with his husband, even though he would not be going home anytime soon (after being voted out, the players are sequestered on another island until the end of gameplay). He may have professed a lot of romantic reasons for quitting, but none of them hold water. He wanted to hold the camera’s attention for an uninterrupted 10 minutes and then go eat a burger and sleep in a bed.
Sean said that he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, that he got what he wanted out of the experience, which is a load of horse shit. At no point did Sean detail what he wanted to get out of the show until he decided to justify his reason for quitting. He quit for the same reason that Hannah Rose quit: He lacked resilience. He quit for the same reason that so many in the younger generation wear velcro sneakers: Because tying their shoes is inconvenient.
Survivor needs to vet their contestants better because two people quitting in one season is two too many. There are people who have wanted to play this game all their lives, and these people quit because they need a cigarette, because they have heartburn, or because they miss their husbands. Suck it up! Get your shit together, keep your head in the game, and stop embarrassing your generation. And before anyone agrees to be on this Survivor again, try at least camping in your backyard for a weekend. If you can’t hack that, maybe Survivor is not for you.