tags: popular culture, Donald Trump, 2020 Election, television
Over the course of 40 seasons, the American reality show Survivor has been filmed at many different locations and in a variety of formats. Still, the basic rules have remained the same. Contestants are divided into different “tribes” that must survive in adverse conditions and face extraordinary challenges. A series of votes in Tribal Councils then determine who can stay on the island. Sometimes, tribes or individuals win temporary immunity from expulsion. As the numbers dwindle, the tribes merge and individuals begin to compete more directly against one another. A Final Tribal Council determines the winner among the two or three remaining contestants.
What makes Survivor different from typical game shows -- and arguably explains its enduring success -- is that contestants don’t win simply by besting their adversaries in head-to-head battles as in Jeopardy or American Idol. Instead, they have to avoid getting voted off the island by fellow contestants. You win, in other words, through persuasion, negotiation, and manipulation.
The first season’s victor, Richard Hatch, “was not the most physically able of the contestants,” psychologist Vivian Zayas once explained. “In fact, out of the twelve individual Challenges, he only won one. Richard was also not the most liked. He was perceived as arrogant and overly confident, and even picked by some to be one of the first to get voted off the island.” Ultimately, what made Hatch successful was his ability to form alliances.
To put it in Trumpian terms, you win Survivor by being best at the art of the deal. At times, this requires ruthlessness, wheedling, and outright lies. It makes perfect sense that Trump would revive his stagnant career by translating Survivor into the business world in his show, The Apprentice. Less predictable perhaps was his application of this strategy to electoral politics.
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