Wait, Why Survivor?

Updated: May 15

By now, you have probably gathered that Survivor is a favorite of mine, and something we will spend a great deal of time discussing. I wanted to take a few minutes to explain why Survivor means a lot to me.

Though Rewind Review focuses on looking back at movies and television, Survivor has played a crucial role in the landscape of reality television, which I believe deserves examination. More importantly, this show has been a vital part of my life, so I could not pass up the opportunity to do a rewatch of the series.

I was ten years old when Survivor premiered on CBS. I can still remember watching that first marooning, with Jeff Probst narrating the castaways as they feverishly raided their boat for supplies. The feeling of uncertainty for these individuals still sticks with me. Even though I knew the show wouldn't let anything terrible happen to the cast while living on the abandoned beaches of Borneo, it was also abundantly clear that their lives, for better or worse, would forever be changed. The show had me hooked, and I waited on pins and needles every week to see what would happen to Richard, Rudy, Kelly, Susan, Gervase, and Colleen. Thursday nights in my household were pizza and Probst night. Wednesday nights still are now.

Like America in the early 2000s, I could not get enough of Survivor. I excitedly waited for new seasons to premiere, to meet the cast of characters, and to explore the location the show would visit next. Honestly, it was the characters that kept me coming back for more. I loved watching what people would and wouldn't do in the name of a million dollars. In a lot of ways, Survivor helped define as much of my character as my friends and family.

And this is where the show gets personal for me. Growing up wasn't always the easiest for me. I was routinely bullied for being different, for being a little chunky, for having acne, for being shy, and quite frankly for not being one of the cool kids. I remember a short time when I would pick on other kids who were "losers" like myself because I thought I would fit in better, not realizing I was only relegating myself to a small social group of the kids. I was deemed too uncool for the popular kids yet, somehow, to similar to the popular kids to fit in with the other misfits. On top of all of this, I was living with undiagnosed depression, something I still manage to this day.

This time of my life coincided with the rise of Survivor. As I was searching for my own identity, the show provided an outlet for me. It was the one time a week I was able to connect with something wholeheartedly and believe in something bigger than myself.

I remember looking at Rupert, the lovable pirate, who was unapologetically himself and believed in my ability to take ownership of my own life. Ozzy inspired a lust for adventure, to try new things even if it is scary. Cirie's story showed anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Stephen Fishback (my favorite contestant of all time) made it known that it's cool to be smart, and you can find friendship in the most unexpected places. These stories and characters helped define my journey to self-discovery. The Survivor community became my family.

Flash forward to March 30, 2010. I was a 20-year-old sophomore in college. That was the night I left my dorm room with a simple question: is life worth it anymore? My depression had become so severe, and I was unsure if I could continue. So I drove around the small town of Carbondale, Illinois, looking for a solution to a question I wasn't ready to answer. It was a rainy night, and I can still hear the water splashing off the side of the car whenever I drive almost ten years later, remnants of a night that would forever change my life. I wasn't thinking of Survivor when I was deciding whether or not I would hurt myself, but words that have defined the show kept running through my mind: never give up. So I drove myself to a hospital.

When I stepped out of the car, my foot landed in a puddle of water, filling my shoe and leaving my socks soaking. I should have been frustrated at this, but all I could do was breathe. For the first time that night, I felt something, as silly as it may sound. That soaked sock was a sign I was making the right decision. As I entered the hospital, I just crumpled in the arms of the on-call nurse and began to cry, uttering the words for the first time in my life: "I'm depressed."

My life's path changed that night. I was able to get resources to help manage my depression. I returned to my dorm room around 8:30 that following morning and begun the process of calling my family to let them know what had happened. It was relieving to know how much they cared. When I got off the phone, all I could think about was my heartfelt desire for it to be Wednesday so I could be with my family, eating pizza and watching Survivor. That was the only thing I wanted to do.

Survivor helped me manage my depression. It was a constant in my life, a weekly reset that allowed me to put away anything I was dealing with and enjoy something in its purest fashion. I'm not naive enough to believe the show saved my life, but it has contributed to my growth as a person.

My family and I still watch Survivor together even though I am no longer living at home. This last season, I purchased my dad and me opposing buffs so we could wear them while watching the show. Even as we move into a new season, we still wear them with pride. I relish the time we get to pretend like we are a part of the show, a part of something bigger.

This show is my favorite television show (though Barry is a close second!). I have become more active in the community over the last few years, and have enjoyed the experience. This rewatch blog is my way of giving back to that community. I hope this blog is a reminder of the best of this show and the power it has to heal. More importantly, I hope we have many more seasons, so families everywhere can continue to eat pizza and spend time together every Wednesday.

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