16 castaways, 39 days, and a grand prize of one million dollars
This article was posted on July 10, 2000.
Who wants to be a millionaire? That's what the 16 castaways on CBS's runaway 2000 summer hit Survivor were forced to ask themselves before agreeing to be "stranded" on Pulau Tiga in Malaysia for up to 39 days. The reality-TV-meets-game show was a huge hit and took the game show phenomenon, spawned by Regis Philbin's Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to a whole new level.
Two tribes, lots of challenges
For anyone without a clue about pop culture, here's the premise of the show, which was adapted from a similar European TV program. The 16 people are separated into two eight-person tribes and get put on the tropical island in the South China Sea with sparse supplies.
The contestants must hunt and gather most of their food (they are provided with a supply of white rice and fresh water) and every three days they meet with the other tribe for what is called an "immunity challenge." The challenges are some sort of physical race usually involving water or the woods. The tribe that wins the challenge gets "immunity" for the next three days while the losers must go to "tribal council" and vote one of their members off the island.
When the 16 contestants have been whittled down to two people, the previously eliminated castaways gather and vote on who should receive the million-dollar prize. There are smaller cash prizes for each contestant varying from $2500 for the first person voted off to $100,000 for the runner-up.
The show was broadcast on network television, although the actual contest was over and the million-dollar winner had been determined. But CBS made us wait through the 13-week run of the show to find out the winner.
Survivor has been an incredible success for the network and in the second week of its first series became the first show ever to beat out ABC's "Millionaire" in the ratings.
The players displayed an incredible aptitude for lounging on the beach, arguing about goofy stuff (must be the hunger), and conniving behind each other's backs.
Who will get booted next?
The strategies that castaways in Survivor I used in deciding whom to vote off were interesting. It seemed at first that the players were voting off the weak links of their tribes in order to better compete in the physical challenges. Sonja, who fell and might have cost her tribe the first challenge, was the first to go, then B.B. But B.B. was not only 64, he was cranky and a bit too honest for his own good. B.B. was also quick to point out when people were loafing.
Stacey, who schemed with others to vote off Rudy, was next, and Ramona, who was sick much of the time and did little to help the tribe, was voted off fourth. Dirk, who had lost a lot of weight and had irritated others by sharing his religious views, soon followed. Joel, perhaps seen as a bit cocky and sexist by the female contestants, was voted off in the sixth episode—in somewhat of a surprise, considering his leadership abilities and physical talent in the challenges. But perhaps his fellow Pagong-ers knew that once the tribes merged he could be more of a threat than some others. Once the tribes merged, strategies shifted and people that looked most like a threat to win needed to watch their backs a little more closely.
Love and war on a desert island
Greg and Richard were perhaps two of the most inconspicuously devious competitors. It's pretty easy to see that Richard was constantly strategizing.
Along with their capacities to plot against one another, the contestants showed an incredible lack of fishing and spelling skills. Still, the show had an amazing appeal and improved each week as the country waited to find out who would go next. Sometimes, when television is at its worst, it's at its best.