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Best Game Show Ever

It had been a few months since the media geniuses who like to warn of the impending collapse of Western civilization had a good, solid dead horse to beat on. Who was most recently on the chopping block? I believe it was Rick and Darva... or was it Regis?

No matter. This summer the cultural-critic "Kick Me" sign has been taped to the shirt tail of CBS' Survivor, a silly little cross between The Real World and Battle of the Network Stars.

Everybody who cries about the ascent of "reality" shows like Survivor likes to snidely point out that these shows are nothing like reality. They like to point out the irony of a whole nation of television viewers deciding to escape reality by watching someone else's reality.

You can like it or hate it -- that's your right. But Survivor is undoubtedly not a "reality" show, at least not any more than The Price is Right or Jeopardy! is a reality show. Survivor is a game show. A weeks-long, cutthroat battle to be the one who wins a million bucks.

And it's brilliant.

Survivor has captured the nation's attention because it's a fascinating exercise in watching different people joust and connive. Because usually, all that happens behind the scenes at work and you don't get to see it first-hand. Here, it's all out in front of us. The plotting. The alliances. The ones who don't see that they're about to get their hats handed to them.

This summer, everyone has come down hard on Richard Hatch, the corporate trainer who has become the villain of Survivor -- a plotter, a manipulator, the human snake in the jungles of Palau Tiga, Survivor's tropical island.

But, you see, that's just why I love Survivor and I think Richard is fantastic. He's playing the game, and he's playing it to win. He's lying, misleading, pitting his fellow castaways against one another -- all because he's got a gameplaying strategy and he's going to execute it. He's going to go all out to try and win that million bucks, because that's the reason all of them are there.

Besides the plotting, the show's games within the game are fun of a Superstars and Battle of the Network Stars sort. Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy seeing the Survivor competitors outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting one another in various oddball games. And by rewarding immunity (from being voted off the island) to the winner of one of each episode's challenges, the show throws another wrinkle into the game's strategy.

On top of that, everyone loves a mystery. And Survivor's 16 Little Indians premise guarantees that, because it's now the day of the show's last episode and we still don't know who won.

So let's give Survivor its due. It has made this summer of television far more interesting than any previous summer, including 1999's Summer of Regis. It has captured the American television viewing audience in a way that some thought would never, ever happen again.

And, in reality, it's probably a one-trick pony. Because this January, when Survivor 2 premieres, it'll be populated with 16 Richards. No more innocents who have no clear agenda and just want to have a good time. No Seans -- the daffy doc who decided to vote people off in alphabetical order. No, it'll be ugly. They'll all be lying to one another, cheating one another, forming nasty shifting alliances in order to ensure that they won't be voted off the island.

Wait a second. That sounds even better. Count me in.


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