On May 31, 2000 a new reality show was launched by CBS simply called Survivor. I don't remember what it was that attracted me to watch that first episode but once I did I was a fan. It was a departure from typical summer fare, but it worked. Thirteen weeks after the premiere, 51.7 million viewers watched the 3-hour finale, while Nielsen reported that 125 million tuned in to see the part where the first winner was announced.
That initial season was renamed Survivor: Borneo to distinguish it from other roll-outs of the show that now number 39. I have been there for them all. It's okay, let the eye rolling begin.
Despite various methods of dividing people into tribes, and the twists and turns the producers introduce to each new season, much of the original premise for the show remains in place. A group of strangers are marooned on an island. They have to work together to survive, but compete against each other to win. So what's at stake? One million dollars.
The show is not without its detractors, critics and controversies, including where it found itself recently. Concerns over unwanted physical contact by a male player towards some of the female players quickly became a story about some of the women exaggerating their concerns to get ahead in the game. It sparked tremendous comment and debate, along with the issuance of apologies by some of those involved. It's not the first time the show has dealt with polarizing issues, and likely won't be the last, because remember, there's a lot of money at stake and it's interesting to see what people will do for a shot at big dollars.
The initial success of Survivor led to a frenzy of other reality shows as networks jumped on the bandwagon of a genre that seemed to capture viewer attention. While many dropped by the wayside, Survivor maintains its place in reality TV as well as in larger social conversations outside of the game, especially when determining where personal character ends and gamesmanship begins.
Psychologists continually study and rank the top 20 areas of life that cause people the most worry. Typically sitting at #2 is financial anxiety, bested only by worry for the future as it relates to aging. Analysts say there is overlap here because when it comes to money, not having enough for the future is a major cause of worry. So if an opportunity comes along to pocket some financial security, should anyone be faulted for the tactics used to get them to the top?
Ethical behavior in business, politics and entertainment continues to decline. The more lucrative things are, the easier it becomes to justify behavior that is at best shady, but quickly becomes deceptive, deceitful and even corrupt. It entered into a charity I used to support that worked in several countries around the world. Allegations of financial wrong-doing at the top put them in a defensive position, and it is questionable what the long-term consequence might be. At the heart of the matter were the steps taken to cover their tracks, and the seeming lack of contrition or humility expressed by anyone in leadership. Regrettably, what happened to this unethical charity affects others since it sows seeds of disillusionment and cynicism.
Money seems to be such a powerful lure that some are willing to step outside of what they know to be right and justify most any type of behavior. It matters little who might be hurt in the process. But it isn't just the money at issue. It's trust. Credibility. Even optimism for the future.
Survivor is a game. When the players return to the world outside of it, many seem to get a pass on their behavior. But life isn't a game. We need to be able to function together knowing that our interactions will be honest, above board and ethical. Integrity and trust need to matter.
At stake for the competitors on a reality show is money. At stake for each of us is something far different. Reputation. Honor. Dignity. Those are worth so much more. That's my outlook.