It’s been noted time and time again on this website. Survivor lies to you. Not in a malicious way like a contestant trying to convince you to vote a certain way. Simply in the way it edits its program in order to tell a story that may or may not have been obviously present while the players were actually playing the game. I’m not the only one who has said it and I won’t be the last. Everybody who follows the show somewhat closely understands that the edit is not the reality for everybody.
My dirty little secret is that I like that Survivor lies to us. Give me the choice between sorting through all of their footage and piecing together how the game went or watching a curated version of the season’s events and I’ll choose the edited version every time. While Survivor is certainly a game for the people who go out and play a season, it’s a television show for the audience and a television show should not be revealing its hard wiring.
While I’ve always sort of been curious about the reality of each season in contrast to what we actually see, I’ve recently come to realize that I don’t really want to find out. I reached this realization during the current season of Big Brother. For those who don’t watch the show, it has similarities to Survivor in that it’s an elimination-based reality show. People are sequestered in a house, each week one person nominates two people to be voted out. Based on the season, a bunch of crazy competitions happen between then and the actual vote out but at the end of the week, the rest of the players vote out one of the two (or possibly more) people nominated.
Back in the early days of my Survivor fandom, I watched Big Brother almost, if not even more fervently. The first few seasons, outside of the horrible inaugural season, featured some of the most complicated social gameplay and strategic maneuvering I had ever seen. The two worlds seemed very closely tied together. Rob Cesternino even conjured up some of his strategies going into Survivor: the Amazon after having watched Will Kirby tear up the house in Big Brother 2.
The appeal to Big Brother for a lot of its fans is that the show happens live. Not only is the show being produced as it goes, viewers are allowed to watch live feeds 24/7. The live feeds are basically four production cameras that show the contestants doing every-day stuff, having conversations, and even watching them sleep (or sometimes not sleep, wink wink; nudge nudge). The voyeuristic aspect of the show differed it from any other competition reality program of its kind, including Survivor.
During the current season of Big Brother 19, it has really dawned on me that I hate the live feeds. Not because they are inherently terrible but because they ruin my immersion when watching actual Big Brother episodes. Part of that has been discussion with people who feel that the live feeds are not meant for a television program and simply should not exist. There’s also the fact that knowing what happens in real time ruins any kind of suspense provided by any episode that isn’t live. Any given week, I know who has won power far before they show it to me on their Sunday episode because of the feeds. Mostly though, my biggest gripe with the feeds has been because of the cast of Big Brother 19.
By following the updates as it happens in real time or by watching the feeds myself, I have been able to see these people as more than just characters. We basically live vicariously through them because we see them do everything a normal person would do. It happens every season but the audience has figured out that some people may not be exactly how the edited show portrays them to be. When this happens, the fans turn violently on these players because we see their “real personalities”, or as real as they can be locked in a house for $500,000 and under intense mental turmoil.
The problem with Big Brother 19 is that instead of being a select few that turn out to be different than what the show portrays, it’s basically the entire cast. So far the season has consisted of a returning player headlining a giant alliance. This alliance chooses a new target every week, villainizes them by starting verbal spats and ostracizes them until they can vote that person out. The next week, the process starts over again with the returning vet escaping any sort of scrutiny from his competitors. He is currently cruising to an easy victory and in the process, has revealed a lot of his dark side which has turned off a lot of fans.
I don’t really want to watch eight people yell at another two that they are terrible human beings. Why would I want to know some contestants are trying to get other players to irritate someone so much that it triggers their PTSD? Do I really need to see a bunch of people yelling at someone for eating cereal that was given to them? It makes me hate the characters I am supposed to watch on the actual Big Brother episodes.
That’s my biggest problem with how the show is going and why I like Survivor’s lies. In theory, I should not even be allowed to view the kind of footage live feeds offer us. It’s unedited stuff that editors would usually choose to leave out if it doesn’t fit in with the narrative of a season. I’m sure some of my favorite Survivors of all-time have said some terrible things on camera that just happened to never air. Survivor players, for better or for worse, are always going to play the character production decides they are going to be. If you’re in the Big Brother house, you don’t get that privilege because production can’t hide everything from feed watchers.
The other huge benefit Survivor has in its ability to weave a season together is that producers know their winner going into editing. They can carefully construct a story that makes sense considering how it all went down. It has made for some incredibly compelling story arcs like everything in Palau’s end-game or Denise Stapley’s rise from the ashes in Philippines. Survivor editors may have their faults but when they are on their game, they can edit together footage better than almost any other reality show.
In Big Brother? The others are basically aiming at a target blindfolded. The show is live so they don’t know the outcome. All they can do is read the tea leaves, predict where a season might be going and edit accordingly. Sometimes they get it right but often, the winning contender falls a bit short. It happened in Big Brother 17 and it won’t be the last time the one who really ran the show gets cut right before the end. It makes for editing a winner a lot harder when you don’t know who to focus your attention on.
Before you stop me, yes, I understand that the people going on the show fully comply with the live feeds. They know they are always being filmed and should watch what they say. It doesn’t mean that I like having the ability to see it happen. The live feeds draw a line in the sand between seeing people as characters on TV and seeing them as real people. That’s where everything gets dicey.
It’s because of this realization that I now know why Survivor places so much higher on my list than Big Brother. There’s an easy solution to my problem: stop watching the feeds. At least it should be easy in theory. In practice? It’s been much more difficult knowing that option is available to me. It’s like watching a car wreck but being unable to turn away. The morbid curiosity is always there. I’ve given decided that next season, I will totally avoid the feeds and turn my Big Brother into Survivor in a house, but we’ll see how strong I stand by my stance once the season begins.
You know what they say, sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.