The Konformist

September 2000

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Survivor of the Fittest

Robert Sterling

That the hit television show Survivor is at least unintentionally propaganda for Social Darwinism can be deduced from its title. (The same can be said for the less popular - and more overtly sinister in title - Big Brother.) The only real mystery is what kind of Eugenics lesson is being spread in the wake of the show's finale.

After 39 days, the winner was declared to be Richard Hatch, the 39-year old korporate trainer with a flabby ass (which he enjoyed parading nude.) To many viewers, this was a stunningly surprising finale, not to mention a major disappointment. Indeed, voting via the CBS website of the final four contestants (there originally was sixteen) showed he was certifiably the least popular remaining survivor among viewers. The reason for widespread disgust of Hatch? He was a pompous, arrogant prick who could barely conceal his back-stabbing, snakelike manipulation of his fellow contestants. Not since Henry Kissinger was in his prime has such a blatantly Machiavellian character been in the public eye. What is most interesting about Hatch's victory is that he won by a popular vote of his former comrades.

How could this have happened? It was part good luck, but for the most part Hatch won due to his own cunning schemes, not the least of which the alliance he formed early on with the other four finalists, which allowed block votes to dump other competitors. He was almost dumped at the start of the Final Four episode, when the quartet had to vote one member out. At first, he and Sue reached two votes apiece, but then Kelly (who had won immunity from being dumped after winning a contest) switched votes and betrayed her former friend, believing Sue to be a more dangerous competitor than Richard.

It was then down to three: Hatch, Kelly and Rudy, the 72-year-old retired Navy Seal who was the overwhelming favorite to win by viewers. They faced off in a battle to remain holding onto a pole the longest while standing on a stump. Early on, Hatch, knowing he lacked the physical skills to match either of the other two, wimped out. His reasoning was actually quite sharp: even if he lost the contest, it was unlikely he would be voted off the island. Both Kelly and Rudy would have certainly preferred to face Richard in any contest - physical or popular - in the final, and the decision would be cast by the final seven bumped from the competition.

His strategy was proven correct: Kelly won in 4 hours 11 minutes (the fifth straight immunity contest she was victorious in), and she chose to bump off the show Rudy, knowing him to be more likable than Hatch.

Unfortunately for Kelly, as detestable as Hatch was, she was no huggable doll herself. She lost in a 4-3 decision. One of the seven, naturally, was Sue, who called her a "rat" in picking Hatch for the million-dollar prize.

Lost in most of the disgust of Hatch: the politically incorrect and inconvenient fact that Hatch was an openly homosexual man. This may be an important milestone in the history of gay rights: the scorn that Hatch has earned seems little to do with his sexual orientation, but due to his ill-regarded personality. Still, the homosexual community, which was eager to embrace Ellen DeGeneres as an icon, has been loathe to celebrate Hatch's win as some sort of social victory. Even among the gay population, he is a generally despised villain. While oilmen were proud to claim J. R. Ewing as their own, Hatch was no fictional character, which made many gays a bit squeamish. In fact, some homosexuals (who long have been a socially persecuted group due to their alternative sexual practices, thus making them more amicable to conspiracy theorizing) saw a diabolical plot behind Hatch's victory. In an August 28, 2000 L.A. Times article, sitcom writer Terry Mahoney Haley stated, "I think the show might have inadvertently been a commercial for homophobia. There is an old, homophobic stereotype that goes: 'If you're gay, you must have something to hide.' The fact that the winner was the most cold and calculating of the players, who happens to be gay, might fit in with that."

This wasn't the first politically incorrect lesson of the show: previously, a rumor became widely circulated via the Internet that the winner of the show would be Gervase, the sole African American in the cast. Gervase had engaged in the Colin Powell strategy, being harmlessly amicable and kissing up to his fellow competitors. Gervase did last longer on the show than William, the Malcolm X fan on Big Brother. William wasn't well received by his fellow housemates, who viewed him as uppity (i.e. he demanded to be treated with respect.) Naturally, Will was the first one thrown out. Gervase lasted awhile, but ultimately his ass was dumped too, proving that sucking up to Whitey can only take you so far.

In any case, the real lessons of Survivor are pretty telling. To survive in a dog-eat-dog world, you don't have to be the strongest, the most talented or the most popular. What you do need is to be a white, fat, middle-aged guy who has long had a practice of serving corporate interests, and always looks out cynically for number one. Obviously, Survivor mimicked reality a lot closer than most would like to believe (hence the bitter taste in many viewers' mouths.) That a near-universally despised individual could end up topping what came down to being a popularity contest perhaps gives an explanatory clue as to why the choice for President is Al Gore and George W. Bush.

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