David vs Goliath/Survivor

Now Playing out in Figi

Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 9/20/2018, midnight
Professional researchers spend millions (billions?) of dollars assembling focus groups, market..
Cover Photo courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

Professional researchers spend millions (billions?) of dollars assembling focus groups, market research, and other forms of evaluation methods to determine how to capture the attention (and discretionary income) of the American consumer. In spite of all the academic disciplines applied in these endeavors, the final answer in determining what really sells remains an elusive quantity. For want of any other concrete conclusion, it may safely be said that an overriding motivation is economics.

Even in high-revenue industries such film and television, the issue of finance and production expenses remains a real and compelling issue.

Thusly, periodically segments of the process who feel not adequately compensated rattle the cage for a bigger slice of the pie. Examples of this include the 1988 writer’s strike, which led to the cancellation of several popular prime time shows and shrank audiences as a whole, and the prospect of another strike at the millennium, which led studio bigwigs to seek out alternative viewing fare. This may be a contributing factor in the rise of reality shows, notable “Survivor,” one of the most popular in broadcast history.

For network producers, the appeal of these shows is elementary. Ever conscious of overhead and extraneous expenses that swell the bottom line, the prospect of a prime time entry without all the hassles of high priced (and temperamental) theatrical stars and writing staff is especially compelling for entertainment executives desperate for an edge in the pressure cooker ratings war.

Inspiration from abroad

Curiously, “Survivor” did not originate in America. It was derived from the British “Castaway,” (conceived in 1994 and launched in 2000) which became a hit for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). This initial success was replicated in Sweden with the 1997 “Expedition Robinson (an allusion to the literary classics “Robinson Crusoe” and “Swiss Family Robinson,” two tales of European natives surviving in tropical climates), which pre-dated its 2000 debut in the United States. What we see on primetime has been refurbished with all the production values and bells and whistles of American sensationalism, while keeping the core ingredients that likely keep viewers tuned in for every weekly update: a grouping of individuals who might otherwise not interact in everyday society, and the spectacle of seeing them react under pressure.

The premise of the show is simple enough: divide groups of competitors into two separate “tribes,” place them on an isolated locale, usually a remote island, wherein they must fend for themselves in seeking food and shelter in order to subsist. Periodically these “tribes” are brought together for specific challenges or competitions on the path of determining who is the fittest of the fit. Along the way, this makeshift narrative is enhanced by the participants ability to cooperate, engage, and outwit their compatriots/rivals on the way to a one million dollar cash award as the final “Survivor.”

As one might expect, the assembly of various individuals in a hostile environ leads to internal conflict, manifested in the infamous tribal council ceremonies, in which contestants must account for individual behaviors and indiscretions, with the offending parties being “voted off.”