The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 30, 2000 Issue

Beyond surviving

CBS show presents both winner-take-all mentality and the value of teamwork

Editorial for July 2

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Since late May, millions of Americans have eagerly followed the fortunes of a handful of castaways on a tropical island. Each Wednesday at 7 p.m., the CBS-TV series, Survivor shows what's happening on the island where 16 people were originally sent, but where one person is voted off the island each week. Eventually, the sole survivor will win $1 million.

As is often the case with life, we can draw good and bad from the program. One positive is that each person is forced to get along, both interpersonally and as part of a working unit, or face the likelihood of expulsion. For example, the first person voted off the island had caused her team to lose the waterproof matches needed to build fires. The next two went because their teammates found them difficult to get along with.

The castaways have had to work together to build shelter, to prepare meals and find food, and in fraternity-type competitions. It's meant compromise and forced some of them to consider the good of the whole, rather than just their own good.

On the minus side, there is still a certain selfishness because of the desire to win $1 million. And, there's pettiness that comes out in the personality conflicts that some seem to prize. And the idea of voting off one person each week typifies a lifeboat mentality that prizes objects above people and sees value in humans based only on their productivity. That is precisely what John Huebscher referred to in his Eye on the Capitol column (6/16) when he wrote that William Jennings Bryan's concerns about evolution in the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925 had more to do with the implications of "Social Darwinism," in which the "survival of the fittest" would justify decisions that harm the poor and the weak in the name of "progress."

Still Survivor makes fascinating viewing. It will be interesting in coming weeks to watch the relationships develop and to see how that will affect the hard choices about who goes and who stays. With some luck, Survivor will awaken our collective consciousness and stir a national debate on the survival of our country's fittest, winner-take-all attitude.

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