Hein Kaiser
Journalist
3 minute read
18 Jun 2021
2:25 pm

Why we love Survivor so much

Hein Kaiser

Survivor ranks as one of the best reality shows of all time. Psychotherapist Louisa Niehaus explains why we love it so much.

Outwit, outlast, outplay - life's mantra. This is why we love Survivor.

Survivor has been rated second in a list of top reality shows of all time by Esquire Magazine. And it’s easy to see why.

The show is addictive, situations and hustling explosive, and the challenges innovative and fun. South Africa’s Survivor SA: Immunity Island is the eighth local instalment of the franchise and judging by the first two episodes, one hell of a ride lies ahead for viewers.

There is something about the show that few other reality titles seem to get right. The tension, the situational conflict and bringing out the best and worst in the personalities of the castaways. Psychotherapist Louisa Niehaus explains why Survivor is so popular.

What kind of characteristics come out in people when strangers are ‘cast away’ and put together?

The fascinating thing about a group of strangers being “cast away” and then put together allows for people to either exaggerate or change parts of their everyday personality in an unnatural and confined setting where one is competing for resources and power.

Living under such acute and extreme conditions and in a world that for a while is a bubble, means there is freedom to express oneself in an unreserved way. This is because the nature of the show rewards the participants for being calculated, outrageous or scheming.

In our everyday lives, we tend to try to fit societal norms and expectations but in an environment such as this that rewards the individual who behaves most out of the norm, means that there is encouragement to be disinhibited.

As a series of Survivor moves along, people seem to become desperate to create alliances or tribes within tribes – it is part of the show’s success – is this true to human nature?

From a sociological perspective, we tend to identify with others in order to survive, whether it’s for resources or for a sense of community, for protection or for safety. Isolating a group of people and getting them to compete for resources, takes us back to our primal state.

How do we survive? We utilise whatever resources one has, whether this is achieved by being calculating or by accumulating resources or using one’s intellect or influence to gain power and status.

Salesman Mike loses his pitch in Survivor SA

Survivor seems to have outlasted all other reality game shows – is it because it accurately reflects our nature better than say, Real Housewives of Durban?

Survivor is very aptly named as it strips one down to the basics – a competition for resources and in doing so, encourages and rewards outrageous or incredible behaviour to secure a win.

It is a timeless theme; how far will people go to survive? A common theme inherent in boardrooms, office politics and any other environment where there is vying for power, status and resources.

Why are we so addicted to reality shows and reality-based game shows?

We are fundamentally curious about one another. Watching reality shows feeds a voyeuristic curiosity. Watching people behave in unreserved ways is both shocking and reassuring.

We are fascinated by the extremes people will go to as inevitably we find character traits we identify with and those that repel us.

In turn, we get to participate in the show by who we align ourselves with and watch them by proxy acting out the parts of us that we would love to indulge in but do not often get the chance to.

Survivor is broadcast on M-Net every Thursday night at 7.30pm.