It's the O.G. reality show that's outwitted, outplayed and outlasted droves of other programs in the last 20 years: Survivor. Premiering on CBS in 2000 to massive ratings, the show—where a group of contestants stranded in a remote location builds a society and competes for the $1,000,000 prize of being sole survivor—kicked off what would be two decades of one of the most popular unscripted series of all time. I mean, c'mon. What show stays on the air for more than 20 years?
And yet, I stopped caring about Survivor pretty early during its reign—as did many of my peers, it seemed. While we still relished reality TV, it was more along the lines of The Real Housewives or The Bachelor.
Then, coronavirus hit. And I needed content. Lots of it. So, when a friend suggested I pass these shelter-in-place days by taking on Survivor, I listened. And it wound up being the best decision I've made while sitting on my couch the last six months. Here's why.
1. There are 40 seasons.
Let's face it: The newest version of FOMO these days is FOFAS, aka fear of finishing a series. The more time we have as inside people, the more worried I am of running out of content. Forty seasons, though? With hour-length episodes? You're good for awhile.
2. It's not a mindless guilty pleasure, but it's also not too serious.
My palate is slightly different than it was pre-Covid days. While before I could stomach the bleak, high-brow stuff (i.e. Handmaid's Tale), my appetite for programming now is still ravenous yet mild. Survivor hits all the marks when it comes to tone. There are parts where you can run to the bathroom, cook dinner or read the news and there also parts where you don't want to blink and miss a thing.
3. It's a time capsule of the last 20 years.
Watching from season one through to the latest is like an archeological dig into American culture. It's amazing how much has changed since 2000—that goes for which aspect ratio they shot in to what passed as acceptable. Watching the show over 20 years illustrates just how much it has evolved to address things like sexism, racism, ageism, ableism and more. Some moments feel like microcosms of what's happening (or was happening) in the country. Survivor is not perfect, and a lot of these moments are not pretty. In fact, there are scenes, people and behavior I was shocked were allowed to be given a platform. Despite problematic moments and homogeneous early casting, the show continues to evolve with each passing year, which is an impressive feat.
4. Jeff Probst is everything.
I regret that I did not give the show's host and now showrunner his due before this moment because, man, is Jeff Probst a fabulous host. He's carried the integrity of the show since season one and I have so much respect for how well-prepared and well-equipped he is to handle impromptu set-backs and surprising moments. All the Emmys, please.
5. The show rewards its fans.
There's no other show that gives its viewers a return on investment quite like Survivor. What you have to understand about Survivor that I missed out on for years, is that the show is its own Marvel cinematic universe, albeit more interesting. There's a history to the show—iconic strategic (or idiotic) moves, dialogue and records—that players refer to or draw from. But since the audience knows the canon too, it creates a dramatic irony like no other show. And then there are the returning players. Seasons with returning players have the best of the best come back with a bone to pick and a will to win like no other, playing the game at an elevated level that makes the show even more compelling.
6. It's so fun to watch with your friends.
Because the series has so many returning characters and compelling strategy angles, it is THE MOST FUN to break down with your friends who are also watching from their sequestered pods. At the moment, I have about ten other friends watching the show and even on the most depressing news day, we have something interesting and not bleak as hell to talk about.
7. It keeps you off the internet.
My rule for watching Survivor is no Googling and no looking any players up on Instagram or other social media. Why? Because so many contestants return that if you dare to Google their names, chances are you'll be hit with spoilers. So, even though 40 seasons of a reality TV show might not seem like the healthiest of activities, at least it's keeping you offline...a bit.