Four nights in a row, starting on Sunday evening, the Greek people are glued on their television. New TV habits emerge. For three hours nothing moves in the house. Everyone is watching the new edition of the reality show Survivor, which came back to our lives courtesy of SKAI TV in Greece. The audience embraced the program. The ratings don’t lie. 70 % is a huge figure, if you think that before Survivor success was considered even the 25% rating.
The success of this show can be explained in terms of timing and social context. The crisis that hit the Greek economy, hit even harder the television industry in Greece. If they haven’t disappeared completely, television products have lost their glamor in recent years, as a significant part of their budget has been severely cut. It is in this context that Survivor came to stir up the public and the stagnating television waters. The impact the show has is based on two main factors. The first concerns the dynamics of the program, as it is a well-established but costly for these harsh economic times production; and the second factor is that there is no other television program at the moment that can compete with this show and survive the competition.
One of the reasons of the success has to do with the way the program resonates with the people. The viewers of the show have almost immediately found themselves identifying with one or more of the players who got the chance to travel for a while to a different world with exotic beaches and beautiful landscapes. The hardships that the contestants have to go through in the Dominican Republic are uniting not only the players themselves but also the Greek public who sympathizes with them from a safe distance. One of Survivor’s big advantage over the other reality shows, is also what basically fixes all viewers on their receivers, the true realness of the challenges. Nothing is scripted when it comes to the different challenges and races. At the track of each game, nothing is fixed, there are twists and turns at every moment, and the suspense goes through the roof. Each challenge is a small derby in itself. And the audience know this and recognize its significance. It’s easier to identify with someone you see really trying hard and giving it all in the race. They earn their bread, and that is an indisputable truth. At a time when falseness and fake content, some people manage to achieve their goals only by fighting.
This identification may also be related to the usual attitude that characterizes the Greek peoples’ personality. I am talking about the desire to belong as a member of a social group, an attitude that is satisfied by endorsing one of the two opposing teams of Survivor. The cast of contestants and the different challenges of the show, challenges that remind us of the good old “Games Without Borders”, complement and enhance its dynamics. Competition is the driving force that makes fans watch and support their favorite team breathtakingly and with great passion.
The success of this game has triggered a storm of a reaction in Greece. Part of its success has undoubtedly also to do with the commotion it created. Young and old people, television connoisseurs or first time viewers, everybody has an opinion about it, a view to cast, a critique to verbalize. Even people who do not watch, have something to say about it. Due to all that we cannot but call it a TV phenomenon. Satirical and other talk shows are repeatedly reporting on what the contestants have said or done. At the same time, in social media, a parallel world has evolved around the show, a world even more harsh and relentless, where people feel free to comment and take it all out, supporting or condemning certain contestants.
What is truly original in this production, that contributes to the unusually high ratings of the show, is that the public votes and decides who wants to stay in the game, not the players themselves, as it was the case in previous Survivor shows. Of course, the audience decides upon the images that survive the editing of post-production. They do not get the whole picture, but just a fragment of it. The image they have for the players can be considered fictitious. In any case, as we have seen so far, the audience is a relentless judge and sends home anyone who is fake, pretentious, know-it-all jack ass, petty, gruesome, devious, or trying to trick them.
I tried to watch an episode of the American Survivor, out of curiosity. It took me only 10 minutes to realize that I couldn’t really enjoy it. I was immediately bored with it. And that’s because I had no empathy for the players, I didn’t know them. I didn’t identify with them. And that is the key to it all.
Comparing with similar productions from other countries, such as the Expedition Robinson of Dutch TV, we see some significant differences in the format of the game. In the Dutch production the players are divided into men and women, whereas in the Greek one the teams are divided in Celebrities and None-celebrities. As for the United States, Survivor is commonly considered the leader of American reality TV because it was the first highly rated and profitable reality show on broadcast television in the U.S., and is considered one of the best shows of the 2000s.
Survivor came to stay in Greece, as SKAI channel has already announced its upcoming second season. Apart from its critics, who comment on it as a television product with no value or educational significance, there is a whole world that warmly supports the project.