How We Survivor

I love reality TV. There, I said it. And I’m not ashamed. (At least, I’m not right at this moment. Catch me mid-Bravo-TV-marathon and it might be a different story. Or not.) I really love reality competition shows. I’ve written (gushed) about it before and, coming off of a late night watching the 3-hour season finale of Survivor, I’m about to do it again.

NOTE: THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF NOTE IN THIS POST. So, my reality-TV-loving friends, read on even if you haven’t gotten to watch just yet.

First, a little context for those of you who, for some reason, do not watch Survivor. We’ve just wrapped up season 40. 40! To celebrate/commemorate/further entertain, they invited 20 previous winners to play again and titled the season “Winners at War,” which is both unnecessarily dramatic and excusable because (of my love for) alliteration. Basically, it’s the ultimate all-star game.

I was all in this season. There was so much to fan out about! There’s the history and the backstories and the addition of a new game element — fire tokens. (The producers seemed to constantly tout how fire tokens established “a true economy,” which would have been annoying if it wasn’t, in fact, kinda genius.) Folks, there was a spy nest. A spy nest! There was plenty to incessantly text my Survivor-loving parents about before, during, and after each episode.

I didn’t want this season to end, which is probably why I had forgotten that last night’s episode was the final episode of the season, despite the fact that the previous episode was titled “The Penultimate Step of the War” (and 10 points to Gryffindor–er, Survivor Jeremy for using one of my favorite words). I started the recording a little after 9 p.m., shouted, “This is that finale?!” shortly after that, and then Ben said, “Looks like you’re not going to bed until midnight,” before he promptly went to sleep.

I poured a glass of wine, made sure my phone was within reach (for said incessant texting), and settled in.

Here’s where I make a confession: Survivor finales are not my favorite. I always want to like them, but I often don’t because the final tribal council can, and way too often does, bring out the worst in people. It’s an unfortunate tradition that dates back to Survivor Sue’s famous (infamous?) rat and snake speech in season 1. I’m not sure there’s been as brutal a speech made since, but bitterness is still commonplace in finale episodes.

Now, I promised no real spoilers, and for those who can relate to a want/need for a more civil final tribal, I can also promise you this: this season finale has it. It has appreciation, kindness, and a heartfelt standing ovation from the biggest jury to date prior to the final vote.

“We have huge respect for each and every journey that got you here,” one jury member says. The entire jury nods along with admiration.

And this got me thinking…

The difference this season? It’s empathy. Each person on the jury has been there before. They understand and appreciate how difficult the game of Survivor is to play and to win. Empathy enters and bitterness takes a hike. Where? Into the woods? Off to find a hidden immunity idol? I don’t know, but I do know this…

This a lesson that’s bigger than Survivor.

I have a lot of other thoughts, but, for now, I’m going to leave it at that. Because I think we can all learn a little with a little more empathy. And I think we can learn a lot with a lot more empathy. And I think that’s something we should think more about.

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