January 11, 2002
The Good People


I wasn't rooting for Kim to win the million dollars last night ... until she didn't.

When Jeff Probst held up the little slip of paper announcing Ethan as the winner of "Survivor: Africa," my first thought was Hurray! One of the Good People won! Out of the final four contestants, I'd gone into the evening thinking I wanted Ethan to take the prize. He'd proven himself to be a gentle, good-hearted person of integrity -- or at least, that's how the producers constructed his character -- and he played the game reasonably well. (Plus he had that whole 1970's-era Cat Stevens thing going on.)

I couldn't stand Farmer Tom: as far as I was concerned, his Lovable-Schlub-With-A-Buttcrack routine couldn't disguise a dark and narrow heart. Plus I couldn't understand a single word the man said, the entire season. It was like listening to somebody talk through a mouthful of styrofoam peanuts.  Lex finessed the game, but he was too much of a loose cannon ... all slippery loyalties and twitchy paranoid energy. And I guess I didn't want Kim to win, mainly -- and unfairly -- because she reminded me so much of Tina Wesson, the previous winner. (A clear-cut case of "Miss America Syndrome." Nobody wants Miss Hawaii -- or Miss Delaware, or Miss New York, or Miss Twin Chin Dimples -- to win the pageant two years running. It's too redundant.)

It wasn't until they awarded the big money to Ethan, though, that I realized Kim was probably the more deserving of the two of them. She played the game well, she overcame enormous obstacles, she performed beautifully in the final round of questioning. Basically she lost the million dollars because she picked the number "3."

Oh well. That's how the game goes.

It took me a while to get into "Survivor: Africa," I must admit. I adored the first two "Survivors" -- I experienced PAINFUL withdrawal after the final Tribal Councils, both times around -- but this third installment took a lot longer to reel me in. It premiered shortly after 911, for one thing, at a time when all television, especially network television, felt shallow and meaningless. For another thing, there was nobody on either one of the African teams that I immediately loathed or loved, in that enjoyably visceral way ... the way I had immediately loathed Susan Hawk (the first season) or immediately loved Rodger and Elisabeth (Survivor Australia). As a matter of fact, for the first few weeks I found this whole group sort of bland and uninspired.  Sort of like a double-decker bread-on-bread sandwich.

It wasn't until the producers began editing the tribes as two distinctly different entities -- The "Good" Team and The "Bad" Team -- that I really began to get interested. You had, on one side, The Good Team: Ethan, Kim, Lex, Tom, Kelly (disguised, at the time, as a Good Person) ... laughing, talking around the campfire, climbing African mountains together, working/living/playing as a unit. And then you had The Bad Team, a fractious mess ruled by a group of loathsome, self-indulgent twentysomethings. (David and I called them "The Teenagers." They slept late, refused to help with chores, disrespected their elder tribe members, ate everything that wasn't nailed down, and strutted around preening for each other a lot.)

I still didn't have anybody to root for, but by god I now had somebody to root against.

Then the producers did something they'd never done before -- they flip-flopped everything around in mid-season, sending half of The Good Team to go live with The Bad Team, and vice versa, which hugely disrupted the dynamics on both sides. It was shocking and unexpected and it totally changed the game, for the players AND for the viewers. The Teenagers lost their tribal foothold and were picked off, one by one. (All except Young Kim, who managed to hang on and redeem herself somewhat, towards the end.)  Old alliances dissolved. New alliances were forged. All of a sudden it was a whole new ballgame.

And all of a sudden I was hooked.

I still wasn't rooting for any one particular contestant, though. I had a short list of people I thought were deserving of the top two or three spots (Old Kim, Young Kim, Theresa, Ethan), and a longer list of people I sort of hoped would get eaten by a rabid elephant right there on primetime TV (Silas, Lindsey, Tom, Kelly, the execrable Brandon). My criteria was simple: I wanted a Good Person to win. I wanted somebody who wasn't an asshole or a bitch or a scheming manipulative liar to walk away with that million bucks. I wanted the winner to be somebody who treated their fellow tribemates with kindness and courtesy. Somebody who represented themselves honestly, even if others didn't return the favor. Somebody who didn't take the game -- or themselves -- so seriously that it came at the expense of personal integrity.

More importantly: I wanted the winner to NOT be one of The Bad People.

In the end, of course, I got my wish. Ethan won, and even though I do believe, in retrospect, that Kim was probably more deserving -- at least in terms of playing the game -- it was still a Good Person who won the big money. I'm happy about that, not only because it gives "Survivor: Africa" a nice, tidy, happily-ever-after ending -- The Good Person finishes first, proving that it does in fact pay to be nice (and to get out of bed before noon), but because the whole issue of Being A Good Person is one that I spend not a little time thinking about these days.

Maybe because *I* aspire to be one myself, someday.

Have a great weekend, everybody!






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