Surviving 'Survivor'

Another Survivor installment ended last night, and the reality dinosaur show remains engrossing as ever. But one gripe I’ve had all season became crystallized during the jury interrogation last night. As Ozzy and Yul sat for their grilling, Ozzy was asked to name one thing about himself that no one else knew. Shockingly, the laconic Ozzy went on to describe how his birth father had walked out on him, how he didn’t really know the guy, and how much it bothered him, before the tears overcame him. (Sure, a cynic might wonder if he was pushing the jury’s emotional buttons.)

It was the first bit of personal info shared by a contestant all season. Amidst the workaday chores like boiling water and gathering firewood, there has to be tons of boring down-time on the island. Surely the Survivors pass the time in ways both humdrum and peculiar: Singing the Gilligan’s Island theme in rounds, telling stories of drunken exploits, or simply talk about how much they miss their loved ones, such as Bostonian doofus Shane last season.

But the way the show is edited, the only way you learn about a contestant’s character is through the prism of the game: how they react to winning and losing challenges, how they deal with shifting alliances, how they respond to being banished to Exile Island. They never, ever sit around and share personal info: their families (which would certainly make the see-a-loved-one reward challenge more compelling), their jobs (with a writer, a musician, a roller girl and a female boxer, this could’ve been mined for intriguing TV), their most embarrassing moments. Or if they do, the proof of it’s on the editing room floor. Everything we learn about them, we learn from the way the play the game.

It’s a million lost opportunities.

By Michael Malone