Lex van den Berghe: The Skinny
EDITORíS NOTE: Lex is back! After a busy season making appearances for several good causes and stoking the image of Santa Cruz around the world, Lex is back with his commentary on the upcoming season of "Survivor," which begins Thursday on CBS. His column will appear on these pages every other week.
Bush versus Kerry, the conflict in Iraq, public school closures, hurricanes, terrorism ... lately it seems that all idle chat revolves around such heavy subject matter. Itís almost enough to make you skip out on your coffee break and work straight through to the end of the day.
But fear not, because relief is less than a week away. This Thursday night, the granddaddy of all reality shows, "Survivor," begins its new season, and conversations around the olí office water cooler will be a lot more entertaining, though admittedly short on social or global relevance.
And like it or not, or whether you watch the show or not, thereís no denying that "Survivor" has officially hit phenom status. Iíll bet that even reality TVís own cocky P.T. Barnum, Mark Burnett, is shocked at the longevity and success that his unstoppable franchise has enjoyed.
Did you know that there have been 130 "Survivor" castaways to date, and that this marks the ninth season of the show? Even more surprising are the viewership stats: Not only do 20 million Americans watch each week, but at least that many tune in globally as well. "Survivor" airs in markets on every continent except for Antarctica ... but Iíll bet Burnett is working on that.
And from the looks of it, this new season of "Survivor" will prove that Burnettís magic goose is still laying golden eggs.
This time around the game will be played in an idyllic little island nation called Vanuatu, which, for the geographically impaired, is about 500 miles from Fiji.
Of what I know so far, Vanuatu is like a sweet little slice of paradise (with a cherry on top), and a more appropriate title for this season mightíve been "Survivor: Garden of Eden."
These are islands you might deliberately strand yourself on given the opportunity. Food is abundant and the weather is consistently pleasant (unlike the monsoons that pummeled us in Panama). There are no dangerous animals in Vanuatu, and no insect plagues on the beaches.
It seems that the biggest challenge these players will face on the island is finding those little umbrellas for their fancy cocktails.
But as we all know, despite the importance of the location, "Survivor" is really all about the characters that play the game. After all, the reason we tune in to reality TV shows is for the deliciously vacuous drama (tastes great, less filling!), not the playing field.
This season, for the first time ever in a regular season, 18 people will be playing the game, and from what Iíve seen, this may be one of the most interesting casts ever.
This group is also the youngest cast to date. The oldest male is only 40 years old and the average age across the board is 33. Of the 18 cast members, 14 are in their 20s and 30s.
As I looked through their bios online, what struck me immediately was everyoneís intensity. These cats are not just your typical type-A hardcore competitors, but they all seem to be pathological overachievers with skill-sets and resumes that would make your head spin. And all of these skills and qualities will ultimately prove to be the very blessing that take them all the way to the end, or the curse that has them voted out early.
The game of "Survivor Vanuatu" will begin just as "Survivor Amazon" did, boys against the girls. But as appealing as this might seem at first, I just donít think itíll last. Think about it. The sexes are a lot like gasoline and fire ó much more interesting when mixed together.
With so many new players this time around, I thought Iíd make an early pick of this seasonís six standout characters and give you the rundown on each.
On the boysí side
BRADY ó This 33 year-old FBI agent from Southern California is an ex-marine with an impressive list of accomplishments. His chiseled good looks and no-nonsense approach could either propel or kill his game.
LEA ó The elder male at 40, Lea is a drill sergeant from South Carolina and your classic All-American hero (he served both in Kuwait and Iraq). He holds a Masters degree in chemical engineering, and heís a nuclear weapons specialist, an EMT and a master barber. (Where do they find these people?)
CHAD ó This is our local boy, a 35-year-old teacher and family man from the San Francisco Bay Area. A recent cancer survivor, Chad had to have his right leg amputated below the knee just a year and a half ago. He completed a triathlon just nine months after his surgery.
And the girls
DOLLY ó This 25 year-old sheep farmer from Pennsylvania, whoís a dead-ringer for Beverly Hillbilly Ellie Mae, recently took over her grandfatherís 90-acre farm after his death. Donít let her sweet looks and demure demeanor fool you ... sheís a card-carrying NRA member, and avid hunter and self-described Jesus freak.
JULIE ó "Survivorís" first ever Native American, Julie is a 23-year-old youth mentor from Maine who spent time working with the Peace Corps.
SCOUT ó Definitely one of this seasonís more colorful characters, Scout is a 59-year-old Bohemian lesbian rancher from Oklahoma whose career highlights include CEO of a consulting company, university professor, author of 11 books and singer/songwriter. Having survived melanoma cancer, she seems to exude a live-for-today, suck-the-marrow-out-of-life attitude.
So there you have it ... the long wait is over. Set up your TIVOs or VCRs and block off the next dozen or so Thursdays ... itís "Survivor" season, and it looks like this is gonna be one killer ride. Let the games begin!
Contact Lex van den Berghe at firstname.lastname@example.org