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Jewish World Review August 28, 2000/ 27 Menachem-Av, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving -- MY OLDEST DAUGHTER watched the CBS television series, Survivor, for extra credit in her small group communications class. Ah, the rigors of higher ed!

Scholarship is a tough sell for the sibling elementary kids when the college kids have TV for homework.

Joining in on the homework, my Survivor voyeurism went from mouth agape to fascination. If we wanted one thing to place inside a time capsule as a reflection of our times, these 13 shows would do nicely. The finale saw an audience larger than the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? crowd, near Super Bowl proportions.

For those of you with discernment or no television homework, Survivor is a game show/soap opera in which 16 people were placed on an island in the South China Sea and told to survive heat, snakes and voting whims. The comrades could oust one of their own every three days. CBS chose 16 clowns from a pool of 6,000 applicants who had the impressive credentials of being willing to leave family, friends and jobs for 40 days to eat rice, grubs and rats and be eaten by sand fleas and unidentifiable bugs the size of Chihuahuas. Their goal: $1,000,000 for the last one standing and $100,000 for the runner-up, who, as we shall see, was not exactly Ms. Congeniality.

Survivor, the sixteen, their lives and their antics are what we have come to in this era of fame for any reason, money at any cost and morals be damned. CBS gave them unlimited supplies of suntan lotion (SPF 50), bug repellant and condoms. Tattoos were a litmus test for island gaming with the exception of Sean, the neurologist (now with an agent and a role in a soap opera), who had his nipple pierced and sported a tasteful loop earring. He was Kato with dark hair and a Hippocratic oath.

CBS also dredged up: Richard Hatch, a former corporate trainer and the winner, 6'4 inches of pompous gay male who paraded about naked (any company that used this man for training might want to debrief); Jenna, now mulling over a Playboy offer and unwed mother of two small girls; Gervase, lots of earrings and two children out-of-wedlock, one born while he was off pretty much doing nothing on the island; Kelly, who attempted to bite off the nose of a paramour and is wanted for credit card fraud; Sue, the feminist truck driver; Rudy, the Navy Seal; and other ne'er-do-wells who now appear in milk ads, on David Letterman, and as 15-minute-of-famers who most of America, while unable to name the father of our country on Leno, can readily identify.

The profoundly shallow of the 16 soon rid the island of the comparatively substantive folks in this lucrative CBS experiment. Sonja, a woman who brought along a ukulele and sang, went first. No quibble here.

Those who inflict folk singing on captive audiences should be maimed. B.B., a real estate developer, was second to go after pleading to be voted off because he couldn't take the Gen Xers. Give him the million.

The nice guys lost. Colleen, honest in her attitudes and sweet in her demeanor, was bounced. Those with physical abilities who won the competitions were also sacked because, well, they were indeed competition.

The game came down to money and it was survival of the not-so-fit, but conniving. Much has been made of the "brilliant" alliance formed among a foul-mouthed trucker, a candid curmudgeon, a fraudulent Kelly and a naked gay guy. They were simply the Machiavellians who cared only about themselves.

These four obnoxious souls remained in the race and came to resent each other's ruthlessness: a gay man who never gave a straight answer, as it were; a former Navy Seal who said he would bring a Bible on the island only if it could be used for toilet paper; a violent credit card holder with a tattoo the size and look of a Harley-Davidson symbol on her lower back; and a truck driver who said she would let the Harley tattoo woman die and be vulture food before she would give her a drink of water. Some road rage will surface when Sue returns to her Wisconsin/Chicago run, don't you know.

These four exemplified the notion that when it comes to money, it's every man, woman and in-between to himself. Worse, they justified their actions with the trite populist motto of moral relativism, "It was nothing personal."

Voting people out of your lives because they cramp your monetary style is very personal.

Therein may be the key to Survivor's popularity --- the sheer thrill of ridding ourselves of those who are demanding, needy, irritating, better, or in the way. Egocentrics with little purpose or commitment won. Kelly, the second place finisher, will carry Sue's speech and the burden of pettiness born of greed. Richard, the grand prize winner, was charged with child abuse after his return from the island, for making his overweight son run six miles at 4:30 AM and then forcing his forehead onto the ground. He's a bum with a million bucks. He will see the cash dribble away in the legal system as he alleges violations of his civil rights for abuse charges.

The mighty final two, who spent 39 days stabbing each other in the back and wishing failure or worse upon each other, now face the real world challenge of emotional turmoil born of ill-gotten gain. Outwit. Outlast. Outplay.

And now, outcast.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
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02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
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01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
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09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings