Decemberween ’23 — Survivor Histories

Last year I spoke about how I had taken to leaving a channel of ‘horror movie summarised’ videos up on a second screen while I watched. It was effectively, asking a nerd with some very shallow media analysis skills to advertise horror movies at me and while I found it meaningfully engaging for just long enough to get my brain around the problems I was facing at the time, it was remarkable the ease with which I completely dropped the entire idea this year. I think I wrote that article and immediately forgot even the name of the channel, which is why I haven’t gone and looked it up since, even though as you read this and as I write it, I should be linking it. It’s a blog, it should be cross referenced.

But nah.

Anyway, I think it’s important to recognise the junk food you eat. This year, I spent a month or so learning everything I ever wanted to know about Survivor, and then forgetting it just as quickly.

The logo for the youtube channel Once Upon An Island

Survivor is a long running TV series. It’s probably ‘always’ been on TV as much as you remember and if you’re like me you might cast your mind back thinking ‘hang on, wasn’t that on in the 90s?’ Not quite but close enough that your feeling isn’t wrong. The first season of Survivor screened in May 2000, and Season 45 of Survivor just finished screening three weeks ago. That is a rate of about two seasons a year, more or less, with each season composed of about thirteenish episodes. Some were longer, some were shorter, and the show is in general a piece of media that seems to keep getting made because of its remarkably even quality and production values. For a show that involves a lot of sets and going somewhere hard to access, it seems that there’s been enough fuel in the tank to produce forty six seasons of reality TV which has now got its own internal mythology and lore.

And that means there’s space for Youtube channels that want to explain things.

The Scary Cult Alliance of Survivor: South Pacific

Now, these episodes feel like they’re made by an elaborate scripting language, I’m going to be honest to you. The presenter has a consistent delivery and tone that feels like someone who’s had a retail job working a tannoy. I don’t remember much of anything this video series gave me except that there have been times when incidents have transpired, and those incidents have led to occurrences.

It may sound like I’m dunking on this channel for being boring but it’s the opposite. Survivor is the absolutely median piece of millennial media culture, the most mediocre thing that somehow has sustained itself across multiple distribution networks and the steady elevation of its host. It, like Chopped is something you can put on while you’re doing other things and care about exactly enough while it’s playing, and that’s how I feel about these videos.

Oh, one incident I remember is that someone on the show outed a trans person as part of a strategy, that sucks, and I hope that person got punished for it by the rest of the islanders. I don’t imagine they did.

Okay okay okay so why am I preaching this vast well of mediocre media analysis of mediocre media? Because mediocre is enough. Because not everything is going to elevate you, not everything can demand an equal amount of your attention. And this is a show that has produced forty-six seasons. This is a show that has produced more seasons than The Simpsons. This is a show which mixes some incredibly basic beach games alongside camping and then holds the entire experience together with a set of social deduction/negotiation games. These games are however, not being played by elaborate game theorists, or people who can map out sequences of information, and they are tainted further by the possibility that they’re contending on the regular with irrational actors. It’s a great example of how ‘gaming things out’ needs to account for people making mistakes accidentally or on purpose. It might not surprise you but a lot of ‘characters’ on Survivor are just, like… people, and those people are often going to make decisions based not on a top-down ‘best strategy’ position and focus more on their emotional needs.

What is the Survivor Purple Edit? (And How To Spot It)

Basically, people can be silly and people can be assholes and sometimes they can be silly assholes.

What’s more, if you’re planning on predicting rational actors, your plans get harder and harder to affirm if people are being again, silly assholes.

What’s more, sometimes people just do things that don’t make obvious sense. Some folk decide they’re not happy with the situation they’re in so they try to throw their weight around by destroying food or throwing challenges, figuring that they can reposition and they’re not necessarily going to get bounced from the tribe for it.

Eugh. Tribe.

And it’s not just like watching a game of Werewolf play out slow and stupid, it’s also got that extra dash of being a show that’s twenty years old, and when you get to remind yourself that in your lifetime, gay marriage went from a thing we don’t mention to a thing that’s brought up as a plot point to a thing that’s old news and boring. And on the other hand you’ll hear some words that, historically, are slurs, back in the early conversations.

Survivor is an interesting series. It’s designed to hold interest. Getting my attention and holding it is its job. But what’s remarkable about it in hindsight, after I watched all these videos explaining the history and the context and the greater linked precedence of how much you can hurt yourself in a Survivor Challenge, it all slid out of my memory like it was made out of oil. I had nothing going on in between my ears once I was done with all of this.

Still, it held my attention and it was what I needed when I got it.

Maybe if I was going to make a bunch of buttons…