During the last two years my friend got me interested in watching Survivor, a reality based TV show. I must say the concept of the show is intriguing. Take a group of people, place them on a beautiful deserted island, make some rules to promote the systematic removal of their fellow islanders, provide a large cash reward for the last survivor and let the games begin. In the season opener, the host of the program called it a grand experiment in human behavior. I believe he is correct. After watching this program for nearly two years, I have many mixed feelings about it which I will try to express in the following piece.
My biggest concern: is this type of programming healthy for society? Without getting into the gruesome details, lying, deceit, promoting one’s self, winning regardless of the pain inflicted on your fellow-man are just some of the tools needed to survive. This seems rather divergent from the idea of living in peace. I spend much time pondering why our society is so violent and the one theme that keeps coming back to me is TV or media in general. The old obvious things like murder and sexual encounters are almost pass in today’s world so now we have a more insidious and divisive stab at the human brain, the teaching of a philosophy of gaining power at the expense of your fellow-man! This is the backbone of capitalism; exploit and capitalize on other people who are lured in by the promise of monetary rewards! Survivor has been on the air for nearly 36 seasons and has generational followers. Although the show remains virtually the same throughout that time, the producers have learned to tweak the format to bring out the worst in human behavior. You start out with normal everyday folks and turn them into carnivorous creatures ready to devour their competition. I guess the theme here is that the evil tendencies lurk in all our souls.
The second reality show I want to mention is The Bachelor, which picks one eligible man who is swamped with a group of generally beautiful women and through a maze of dates and other activities he might become engaged to one woman in the end. There is a methodology of removing women as the show goes on as he narrows his field of choices. Now you need to think about this carefully, all these women come onto this show to find a man, that’s why they are there! The show tries to bring out the personalities of the women to allow the man to choose a companion who more closely meets his criteria. I am sure that many of the things that might be said in a normal relationship development are held tightly inside for several reasons; you are on national TV, all you friends and family are watching, you will be eliminated early or some of them might be interpreted as foolish or embarrassing!
In this season’s show the man reduced his choices to two very beautiful and seemly wonderful ladies. He expressed over and over that he had fallen in love with both women. In light of the fact that both women were showing their very best side all the time to help ensure that they be selected, this seemed to me like a train headed for a bridge-less gorge with no brakes. I do feel that he believed he was in love with both women even though they had spent zero time together in a real life situation. The emotional stress that all these people were under was immense and was tearing at the very fiber of their personalities. My friend repeatedly told me that it was just a TV show but I responded that it was a reality show with real people dealing with real situations and I felt empathy for the people involved. Finally he chose one of the women, and the scene where he said goodbye to the woman he did not select was as heart wrenching as anything I have seen on TV! It was obvious that he still held deep feelings for this woman he was leaving behind.
Flash forward to when he is spending more time with the lady he selected in a more reality based situation. Life is not always exciting, not like a TV show where everything is tightly controlled. No more exotic dates to far off lands, just a trip to a local restaurant or a movie, maybe a romantic evening alone watching a movie, making pizza or playing a game. Gradually the image of the other lady begins to creep back into his brain. In his mind all he can remember is the fantastic times they had together. There were no evenings making a meal, cleaning the dishes or hanging out in the living room watching a movie. Every moment with her was fantastic and now he is becoming bored with this REAL-LIFE experience. Maybe he made the wrong choice…buyer’s remorse.
So now he has to tell his first choice that he made a mistake and he wants to see the second place woman. Needless to say, she was not too happy about this. He was deeply upset and unable to fully understand his actions. He spent far too much time trying to get lady number one to understand what he was about to do, but he tried and tried until she told him to leave.
No doubt falling in love is a deeply emotional journey but it also requires sacrifice and work, not just fantastic dates and events. My concern is with people who watch these reality shows and somehow confuse these renditions of life with realities of life. Couple this with manipulation of human emotions for entertainment purposes and you are laying the tracks to failure. Lastly I worry about a society that adopts this capitalist approach to the interactions between a man and a woman. One of the ideas thrown out when people discuss the demise of our society is the fragmentation of marriage followed by the family. How would the concept of family have any chance of surviving with the ideology that these shows promote? Promoters of these shows claim they are just entertainment and not to read too much into them, but I say they are mirrors of society that reflect back to us in their own small ways the direction that our society is going. I will give you one historical example of this, Roseanne Barr’s show which depicted a family in constant chaos, uneducated, undisciplined and struggling to survive in an evolving technological society. The first time I watched this show I saw it as a window into the future of the American family. Even then I was seeing the tug-a-war between the family and a changing society.
So back to the bachelor. In the final episode of the show we see the man asking the second lady if she will take him back, forgive him, give him another chance to win her love and devotion. To my disbelief she took him back! My money is that he will soon grow tired of his second choice. When I learned that he was a racecar driver, it all came clear to me, he is an adrenalin junky. He lives on the edge, that place where all your senses are stimulated to the max. This is exactly where the show keeps their contestants, on the edge with all senses stimulated. Marriage is an endeavor requiring communication and lots of real work. Being married is a commitment to use all your abilities to understand and improve your spouse’s life and hopefully they feel the same way, otherwise the relationship is doomed to fail.