Richard deserved to win

His surprise victory showed age and cunning triumphing over youth and idiocy.

By Joan Walsh
Published August 24, 2000 8:00PM (EDT)

After all the initial whining about age discrimination on "Survivor" -- because the first two rejects, Sonja and B.B., were among the oldest castaways -- there was little comment when it came to pass that of the remaining 14 survivors, the three oldest made it into the final four.

And I was among the millions rooting silently for any of the aged, evil three -- Rudy, Sue, even Richard -- to beat the callow, conniving Kelly.

Rooting silently, because envy and resentment of the young is a fact of life, but it isn't pretty. Babies are cute; we won't kill them when they're colicky. Air-headed twentysomethings have no such protection from nature. Especially when they get covered with bug-infested sores (Colleen), call women dumber than cows (Gervase), or whine about their "beauties," the young daughters inexplicably abandoned for prime-time fame (Jenna).

I had to acknowledge my unconscious ageist bias midway through "Survivor," when members of the ultimately triumphant Tagi, tribe of the evil and aged, kept losing immunity challenges to the youthful, hard-bodied, weak-brained Pagong -- and I found myself rooting for them to come back and win.

When the Tagi prevailed, and the tribes merged, it was clear the Pagong were dead meat. The Tagi camp became the group home -- the mature folks had of course worked harder and fashioned more creature comforts -- and then the Pagong got picked off one by one by the evil Tagi alliance: Rudy, Sue, Richard and Kelly.

Dim-witted and inexperienced, too, the Pagong members first refused to acknowledge the Tagi alliance, and then, when it was undeniable, didn't have the savvy to strike back by forming a voting bloc of their own.

I enjoyed watching their little torches getting snuffed out each week, and I realized I was rooting for Rudy, of all people: the homophobic Navy SEAL who was nonetheless the only person who managed to combine a value like loyalty with a potentially winning game plan -- and the only person, besides maybe Richard, likely to know how to stay alive 39 days if "Survivor" had really been about survival.

When it came down to Richard vs. Kelly, though, age wasn't the main factor prompting me to root for Rich. I just didn't like Kelly, the tongue-studded river guide, with all of her pretension to higher values than Richard had.

The only thing worse than a manipulative prick like Richard is someone pretending to be honest. Don't you remember people like Kelly from the dorms, or your first job? She'd learn your birthday, your little sister's name and your favorite ice cream flavor, then -- sadly, and with real remorse -- steal your boyfriend.

Kelly played the Tagi against the Pagong after the merger, but ultimately returned to the Tagi alliance -- again, with real remorse.

Her vote against Sue, once it got down to the final four, was the triumph of self-interest over her values, and it killed her in the end. Sue's vicious, heartfelt final speech was the dramatic pinnacle of "Survivor," and her rage at Kelly once again revealed the vulnerability the screwed-up Wisconsin truck driver displayed during the show's other emotionally raw moment -- when Sue confessed Kelly was her first real friend since her best friend died 20 years ago.

It was heartwarming, in this exuberant, youth-worshipping dot-com economy, to see age, cunning and even Richard's girth triumph over the carelessness, sanctimony and failed manipulation of youth. Yes, it's a little scary that a corporate trainer won the $1 million. But it's even scarier that it was, in the end, so easy.

Maybe Richard's victory will force people to think more about how easily they're manipulated -- or "ma-nipple-ated," in Sue's memorable phrase -- on the job, at home, or by television. ------

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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