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Reflections on Survivor

Matt McGann

It’s all over.

Richard Hatch, the corporate trainer from Newport, Rhode Island, is The Survivor, simply by choosing a number between 1 and 10 that was closer to 9.

Last night’s final episode was two hours of pure entertainment. I watched it with a large group of people, cheering and jeering at every plot twist. The reactions were over the top to Rich’s waving of his flab at the camera and to Susan’s insult-laced sendaway to Rich and second-place Kelly. Everyone was sad to see Rudy, the former Navy SEAL and resident grouch, leave, but there were very few tears shed as Susan, the truck driver, was the 13th person voted off the island. And as the final vote was revealed, the roar in the room was deafening.

The Pulau Tiga buzz on this campus was slow to start. It quickly built up, though, once techie elements became part of the equation. On July 14, an unknown websurfer discovered that the “images” directory in CBS’s Survivor locker was world-readable. Furthermore, available in that directory were images of fifteen of the sixteen contestants with “X”s over them, leading to the conclusion that Gervase, the only contestant without an X, would be the winner. Word came over one of the Media Lab’s lists that afternoon, and by evening students across campus were poking around CBS’s directories and HTML source. By the time Gervase was actually voted off the island, many students were hooked.

The week before the application deadline for Survivor II: The Australian Outback, several students tossed around the idea of submitting; several did, I’m sure. One group of students, though, decided to cajole Residence Life Dean and Survivor fan Katie O’Dair into applying.

Dean O’Dair is one of the most popular administrators on campus, if not the most popular. When she left her previous position at Tufts, the student newspaper begged her to stay, and they named a Student Activities van after her. On the weekends, she is a triathlete. Who from our community would be better?

Grudgingly, O’Dair agreed to apply for the show. Several students teamed up to fill out the application on her behalf. It eventually included references to her involvement in Charm School, her favorite movie (Chicken Run), and fictional contests to “vote [people] off the Institute.”

More students helped out with the three-minute video (yes, it was done with iMovie). The video featured cameos from student leaders, student life administrators, and even the venerable President of MIT, Charles Marstiller Vest. Despite his reputation around some parts of the administration as being somewhat dry, President Vest actually has quite a good sense of humor. His advice to Dean O’Dair in the video? “If you can survive all this time in the MIT administration, it will be a piece of cake in Australia.”

If O’Dair were selected, she wouldn’t be the first MIT affiliate to be chosen for reality television. In 1997, the sixth season of MTV’s The Real World was filmed in a converted firehouse in the Back Bay. New House resident Jennifer K. Johnson ’98 was one of the finalists to appear on the show, but declined to sign the contract. Among the reasons sited was hosage related to Project Lab and a fear that appearing on the show would hurt her Medical School chances.

Now, with Survivor over, everyone will have to tune into Big Brother for their reality-TV fix. As for me, I think I’ll start my tooling early and wait for Survivor II’s IAP premiere.

If there are any lessons to be learned here, I suppose they are as follows. First, if a television show can bring together communities -- whether it be MIT or all of America -- it can’t really be all that bad. Not since perhaps The Ed Sullivan Show has a show created so much bonding, even between total strangers.

Second, with the scheming Rich’s squeaking 4-3 victory, we see how determination, seeing your goal and going for it, can be greatly rewarded. In the end, the fact that Rich was up front about his goals and how he planned to achieve them reinforced the old adage that honestly is the best policy.

Finally, while Survivor has many lessons and metaphors for our lives, I hope that it is not taken to an extreme. In two days, residence selection will begin. I urge all of our living groups not to see rush as a cutthroat competition where anything goes in pursuit of “winning.” This is a time to build a community. Enjoy the time on this beautiful island that is MIT.