I can remember very clearly the night my television-watching life changed forever.
June 7, 2000. I was ten years old, and probably enjoying my usual after-dinner routine of playing Barbies with my twin sister Erin, when some errand or other brought me to the foot of the stairs. At that moment, from upstairs in my parents’ bedroom, I heard my mom shriek.
“What?” I yelled up to her.
“They’re eating BUGS!” she shouted. “On this show, they’re eating BUGS!”
And so my love affair with “Survivor” was born.
That first season, I’m ashamed now to admit, I wasn’t fully committed. I’d watch bits and pieces of episodes when I didn’t have anything else to do and only loosely followed the plot of the show (sixteen Americans must live together in an exotic, isolated locale, compete in challenges, and vote one person out of the game every two to three days, and when only two are left, a jury of ousted contestants votes on the winner). But when the season finale came, I planted myself on the couch and watched the entire episode.I was riveted. Contestant Sue Hawke’s speech, in which she sneered that she would let the vultures eat finalist Kelly Wigelsworth if Kelly was dying of thirst in the desert, was the stuff of legends. I couldn’t believe no one had written this, that this game was so emotionally and physically intense, so all-encompassing, that it actually made regular people feel so strongly about each other. It was astonishing, and I couldn’t wait for next season.I watched every episode of “Survivor 2: The Australian Outback,” and from then on was completely hooked. There was drama around every turn; one survivor, Michael, passed out into the campfire and burned his hands and became the first contestant to be medically evacuated. In another episode, a huge storm destroyed their camp. And Colby, who was a shoo-in to win, made a $1 million mistake when he took Tina, the only person in the game more popular than him, to the finals – and lost.
This is the beauty of “Survivor.” These people, who agree to leave their jobs and families and live in the wild for up to 39 days on national television, are not actors, and they aren’t experts. They make mistakes, lie, fall down, triumph, trust each other, are betrayed. It is real life, but set in a world of adventure and excitement that up until Survivor began you could only read about or watch in movies. And because each season starts over with a new cast of characters in a new location, the possibilities are literally endless. Each season introduces new people to root for, new alliances and strategies to discuss, new challenges, new ways for Jeff Probst to prove he’s the best reality show host on television, and new reminders of why “Survivor” is still the only reality show that illustrates the human condition with such exhilaration and respect.
“Survivor 25: The Philippines” premieres on September 19, and you can bet I’ll be bouncing up and down with excitement when I hear the Survivor theme song again. They don’t eat bugs in every episode, but I still wouldn’t miss a minute.