Why ‘Survivor’ Is the Quarantine Habit I’ll Keep

Keep your Emmy noms: Five reasons to watch the reality show

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We’re months into quarantine and it’s time to admit I’m out of things to watch. I’ve caught up on TV that’s currently airing, finally watched that much-loved HBO show I’ve always put off, and have resorted to Spanish-language Netflix shows to change it up. And in my hour of need, instead of rewatching old Eagles games or, I don’t know, reading a book, I’ve found 40 seasons’ worth of gold: Survivor.

I’m a ’90s kid and remember that first season for the TV-changing event that it was. My parents and I gathered around the television every Wednesday night in primetime to see if that crazy naked guy would win $1 million, or if the overzealous Jeff Probst would abscond with the money in the end. But I never became a diehard fan. 

When I got to college, I made a friend named Ryan who was Survivor-obsessed. He’d watched every season since the show began, and he still went home on weeknights to watch Survivor live. I obviously loudly made fun of him for it, often something like “That’s show’s still on?!” It definitely is. Forty seasons and $40 million later, Survivor is going strong. 

Since mid-March, I’ve watched 12 seasons from 2000 to 2008, all at Ryan’s recommendation, and have completely changed my tune. I still think Jeff Probst is wildly overzealous — more like an aggressively athletic dad than a TV host — but I love the game. The islands and the challenges are exciting enough to distract me from *gestures broadly at the world* while the alliances and the blindsides are just dramatic enough to keep me hooked. 

Once the stores reopen for good, I go back to work and our routines resume, my Wednesday nights will never be the same. Here are my five reasons for sticking to Survivor:

Contestants know they’re on reality TV

Unlike The Bachelor, for instance, which alleges to be a show about finding love instead of a winner, Survivor contestants absolutely know and acknowledge they want to win. There’s no pretense of friendship or self-growth, and the subsequent drama — secret alliances, backstabbing, betrayals — demonstrates that. And it’s great! (Although I do get inordinately excited when contestants fall in love.)

You learn skills you will need one day as society implodes

How to start a fire with a droplet of water and my glasses? Check. How to survive on coconuts? Check. How to brush my teeth with a stick? Check. How to blindside someone I said could trust me and turn on them at the last minute? Check.

You will want to punch Jeff Probst in the face more than those with whom you’re quarantining

With six seasons under my belt, I thought it might be fun to revisit Survivor’s iconic first iteration, which aired during the summer of 2000. While I could probably write a book about that first season, which clearly did not yet know what it was, most shocking was host Jeff Probst’s appearance and demeanor. Compared to the bougie host who called $100,000 “pocket change” during the Season 16 reunion, Season 1 showed that Jeff is capable of empathy, understanding and group therapy facilitation. 

During the first tribal council, he genuinely seems very sad that someone is going home, as opposed to the general glee with which he now wields power over a couple dozen contestants every season. Jeff embodies the worst characteristics of a conservative TV dad — competitive, judgmental, obsessed with hard work — made much worse for his multi-million dollar net worth. He drives me absolutely up a wall.

There are 40 fucking seasons

Survivor’s 40th season, “Winners at War,” ended in May, because somehow they film two or three seasons every year. (Though the pandemic has halted production on its 41st season.) It is an insane production schedule, and each season has to out-do the previous. The first 32 seasons took contestants around the world to different tropical locations, but now each season is filmed in Fiji, probably because Jeff has a house there or something. Instead of seasons being themed around the setting, the premises have to get more and more unhinged. Recent examples include “Millennials vs. Gen X” and “Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.”

There’s nothing like reality TV drama to distract from the drama of our present reality

What has always seemed as laughable and superfluous to me in Survivor is now a balm. Give me the overly convoluted challenges, blindsides, outrageous misogynist characters and unused hidden immunity idols. I’d rather spend an afternoon consumed with this contrived drama than my own any day.

‘Survivor: Winners at War’ contestants Michele and Wendel previously dated. Or did they? Drama!

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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