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Our Key to Surviving the Pandemic

Host of CBS's 'Survivor' Jeff Probst
(Image credit: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment)

I know what the Malones are watching tonight, and I know what we’re watching tomorrow. 

Contestants on some tropical island, strategizing over meager portions of rice. Immunity challenges. Tribal Council. Jeff Probst overseeing the whole affair. 


The kids are obsessed with the unscripted staple, similar to how my wife and I were, along with much of America, when Survivor launched in 2000. (Surely you remember Richard Hatch, and maybe Rudy Boesch, and perhaps even Kelly Wiglesworth). 

Like many families, we seek out programming the family can watch together, to prevent the kids from ducking into rooms with no one else in them to watch YouTube. So a few years ago, I suggested the new season of Survivor. The kids went for it, watching Nick win the David vs. Goliath season, No. 37, and loved it right away. They learned of this archaic boomer concept known as appointment viewing. 

CBS announced that Survivor was not airing this fall due to the pandemic, so we crashed through old seasons of the show on Hulu, then CBS All Access, now Paramount Plus. Winners at War. Heroes vs. Villains. Ghost Island. 

Most nights, we watch two episodes. My kids, a boy and a girl, talk about Parvati, Boston Rob, Sandra, Cirie, Coach and slippery Russell Hantz as if they are our neighbors. They talk about Survivor locales--Tocantins, Cook Islands, Micronesia--as though they’ve lived in them. 

It was 21 years ago that my wife, who was not yet my wife, and I watched Survivor every week, and talked about it--Hatch’s conniving ways, Rudy’s cranky old-guy barbs, Susan’s odd way of saying tapioca (TAAApioca)--the rest of the week. 

After a few seasons--Colby and Jerri in season two, Ethan Zohn in season three, Boston Rob in season four--my wife and I lost interest, watching other stuff or going out, doing whatever it is you do as a young person in Manhattan.  

As we no longer do whatever you do as a young person in Manhattan, we are back to Survivor. We watch so much of it that the kids don’t want to watch much of anything else. We snuck in a whole season of Secrets of Sulphur Springs on Disney Channel--we enjoyed that--but pretty much everything else on the TV during prime has been Survivor

The kids say that each episode is unpredictable, and Survivor deftly works in new wrinkles of the game while keeping the framework essentially the same. “It’s a simple concept, but it feels original every time,” my son said. 

A season takes us a week on streaming. The kids note every minute difference season to season, and episode to episode--a truncated intro, Jeff Probst tweaking his usual rote proclamations, whether it’s “If anybody has the hidden immunity idol…” or “I’ll go tally the votes!”

Thanks to my daughter, who follows Probst on Instagram, I learned last week that a new season is finally in the works. “Survivor’s going back into production,” Probst said. “Fiji has invited us back to their beautiful country to shoot season 41. We have all of our COVID protocols in place so that everyone in Fiji will remain safe, all of our crew will be safe and of course our players will be safe.”

At times, it’s too much Survivor in our household. Doesn’t anyone want to try WandaVision? 

Then again, the kids are willing to watch TV with their mother and father, and we all have something to talk about besides the pandemic and school. 

This won’t last forever, so I might as well enjoy it while it does. 

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.