CBS’s twisted reality show “Survivor” shipwrecks 16 carefully selected stereotypes onto the remote Pulau Tiga island near Borneo in the South China Sea. One half “Real World,” one half “American Gladiators,” each weekly episode features a bizarre physical challenge that first pit two teams — the Tagi and Pagong — against one another, and then every player against everyone else. Every three days, the castaways must oust one person at the weirdly ritualized “Tribal Council.” At the end of the summer season, only one member will remain — and walk out with a $1 million prize.
“Survivor” works not because it’s real, but because it’s so beautifully manipulated. The natural environment provides water snakes and abundant rats — which the contestants have roasted and tell us taste something like chicken, naturally. Both are icky enough to titillate and gross out armchair survivalists. And the characters, surely chosen for conflict potential, are even more transfixing. Two older islanders bit it in the first two rounds. A lawyer from San Francisco got dumped on the third episode, a whining biochemist in the fourth. Tagi’s secret, ad hoc voting alliance took down two victims on the fifth and seventh: the Bible-thumping virgin and an impressive schoolteacher and team-leader. In between, the women of Pagong ditched a mildly sexist beefcake. In the eighth, a silly ivy league student — another threat to the alliance — was tossed by the alliance. The alliance broke in the ninth, but the three who were left managed to take out a single mom. Remaining are a crotchety Navy SEAL, a tough truck driver, a devious gay motivational speaker, a doctor with a pierced nipple, a cute young student and a guy who won’t work and can’t swim.
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“Survivor”: The story so far
An episode-by-episode guide to the Darwinian high jinks of CBS’s island castaways.
By the Salon Arts staff
Survival of the dullest
The future is here, and instead of 15 minutes of fame everyone’s going to get several episodes’ worth. Can anonymity survive “Survivor”?
By Carrina Chocano
“Big Brother,” meet “Survivor”; “Survivor,” meet “The Real World”
What reality TV shows should learn from one another.
By Andy Dehnart
Getting primal on “Survivor”
Who would you vote off the island?
“Survivor”: The merchandise
The castaways went to Pulau Tiga and we didn’t even get a crummy action figure. When are the pop-crap purveyors going to deliver the goods?
By Joyce Millman
A song for the rejected castaway, sung to the tune of “My Sharona.”
By Alanis Smithee
Tiga after television
When the last of the “Survivor” contestants leaves, what happens to the little island the competitive castaways called home?
By Don George
I was willing to spring my gay porn past on my unsuspecting family if it would get me on the TV show “Survivor.” But would it?
By Dylan James
The Wacky World of Television
On American game shows, you answer questions and win money. In the rest of the world, you get naked and bob for false teeth in a bucket of pig eyeballs.
By Gavin McNett
They’ve booted Mrs. Howell!
The debut episode of “Survivor” sees the castaways turning on the aged first — and beats “Millionaire” in the ratings.
By Joyce Millman
How to win at “Survivor”
The Darwinian undercurrents of “Survivor” are plain, but the real winner will be the castaway who understands the show’s endgame.
By Bill Wyman
Song for a “Survivor”
An ode to B.B. Anderson, the second castaway thrown out of CBS’s island paradise.
By Virginia Vitzthum
Staying on the island
I lived my own version of “Survivor” one winter in St. Thomas with a friend and three strangers.
By Virginia Vitzthum
Survival of the vilest
Is CBS’s “Survivor” simply a 13-week TV series or a conceptual island of shame where the moral disgrace lasts forever?
By Cintra Wilson