After two successful seasons, the Godfather of reality TV, CBS’s “Survivor,” is back on the air with “Survivor III, Africa.” The show premiered last Thursday in a television market already stuffed with failing reality programming such as FOX’s ridiculous “Love Cruise: The Maiden Voyage” and NBC’s boring real-life race “Lost.”
However, “Survivor III” ducked the trend to breathe life back into the failing genre by pulling in some 23.8 million viewers for its first episode.
“Survivor’s” success is based on its simple principle of providing television audiences with an eclectic mix of contestants faced with real challenges in a very harsh environment while systematically forcing them to eliminate one of their own. For those few of you not familiar with the premise, the show takes 16 strangers, divides them into two competing teams (called tribes) and strands them in a remote location where they must survive the harsh elements.
The two teams meet every few days to compete against each other for either a prize or for the coveted immunity idol. The losing tribe in the immunity idol competition must proceed to a “tribal council,” where the tribe must vote one of its own members off the show. The last person from either tribe wins $1 million, while the rest of the contestants must be contented with hosting shows on VHI or E!.
This season, the cast is stranded in the savannah of Kenya, complete with lions and roving packs of hyenas. The conditions are even harsher than in the last two episodes, especially because there is a very limited water supply. In “Survivor Africa,” the contestants must get their water from a putrid, bug-filled marsh and have none of the luxuries provided by a river or ocean like in the last two seasons.
The cast is as mixed and interesting as the last two shows, providing contestants that appeal to a wide, general audience. Some of the more interesting contestants are Tom, a Virginian goat farmer, and Jessie, a young and attractive female police officer.
The first episode began with each tribe gathering supplies, and then proceeding on a four-hour march through the 120-degree weather to their pathetic campsites. The camps are surrounded by a thorn barrier to keep the very real threat of wild animals at bay. The first major struggle that the tribes had to face was the difficult task of building a fire. Without fire, the contestants are unable to get almost anything done, including have drinking water, because all water needs to be boiled before it can be consumed.
After spending one night without fire, the Samburu tribe managed to start a fire using the lens of a telescope. Unfortunately for the Boran tribe, they were unsuccessful at starting a fire through the second day, and their only chance to gain fire was to win the immunity challenge.
Boran, already exhausted from dehydration, could not win the grueling challenge and had to not only spend the next day without water, but also had to face the difficult task of voting one of its members off. Predictably, Diane Ogden, a mail carrier from Lincoln, Nebraska, became the first contestant voted off after her collapse due to dehydration during the immunity challenge.
The most interesting component to the show is the politics between the contestants. Relationships between contestants have led to some of the most interesting moments in the last two seasons and have kept the American audience coming back for more.
Although most reality TV spin-offs emphasize politics, the Survivor series is more interesting because of the extreme conditions contestants must endure — not to mention the large cash prize. Already after the first episode, “Survivor III” promises to live up to expectations as Clarence, a young basketball coach from Detroit, has turned his tribe, the Boran, against him for taking food without the permission. Clarence managed to survive due to the fact that Diane had collapsed during the last challenge, but it will be interesting to see if he will be able to survive future episodes.
While the rest of the reality TV may be suffering, “Survivor” is here to stay. It is the first show of its type and has the best overall formula with the most loyal audience of the network television reality programming. While this season does not really promise anything very different from the last two, it is still network television at its best: pure entertainment. For any of you that missed the first episode, CBS will be re-airing it tonight at 9 p.m. followed by a new episode at its regular time on Thursday at 7 p.m.