Can the second ‘Survivor’ group top the first?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

I know that some people consider reality television to be trash, but in my opinion, everything has its place.

Wednesday, January 31, 2001

I know that some people consider reality television to be trash, but in my opinion, everything has its place. Trash, put in the proper context, can be art. It can actually reflect society and teach.

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Reluctant but curious, I tuned into the first "Survivor" episode last summer and from the moment that Gretchen and B.B. yelled at Gervase to get off the already supply-laden raft, I was hooked. Conflict! Unscripted (ahem, somewhat), straight-from-the-gut conflict.

At this point in my story some of you may be questioning my mental sanity, but let me assure you that I am a regular watcher of quality television. "Northern Exposure," "Twin Peaks," "The Magnificent Seven," "Moonlighting" and "China Beach" are among my favorites in the long line of excellent shows which have attracted my loyalty.

What made "Survivor" fascinating to me was the human dynamic.

For all of the physical prowess and intelligence present in the Pagong and Tagi tribes, none of that really mattered in the end. Rich was not any more intelligent than Kelly or Gretchen, and certainly nowhere near as physically fit as most of the other 15 people on the island, but he understood people.

Rich knew that Gretchen, Greg and the other members of Pagong would not combine forces to systematically vote off Tagi tribe members, because they each lived in their oneness in a group. Pagong was not filled with insecure people, as Tagi was. Richard knew that and he exploited it.

Pagong was a tribe of individuals who I feel honestly cared for one another. They stuck to their principles in the face of defeat, believing that in the end they could make it through each tribal council because they were special, capable individuals. If you look at which "Survivor" contestants have been interviewed the most post-show, Jenna, Colleen, Gervase and Joel seem to be exponentially far more popular than the final four contestants.

Can you tell that I really liked Pagong? They wanted to get along, genuinely wanted to get along. I mean, they took mud baths together, for goodness sakes! My kind of people. (No comments.)

The reasons Pagong voted their fellow tribe members off were because, in a variety of ways, those people were divisive: B.B. barked at everyone, Joel supported Gervase in sexist comments against the Pagong women and Ramona was never part of the group.

Left in the Pagong tribe, after those three tribal councils, were five strong, autonomous people – Colleen, Greg, Gretchen, Gervase and Jenna – who could still exist in a successful group. They headed to Tagi beach, somewhat unaware of what awaited them – the safety of Pagong was overtaken by the tension and mother-eating-her-young atmosphere at Tagi.

As much as I despised and still shudder at his strategy, Rich mastered manipulating the psyches of everyone on his tribe and ultimately, of everyone present at the final tribal council. He played to Rudy’s men’s club mentality, Kelly’s need to feel needed and Sue’s fear of being lied to – letting each one think that he would let them rise beside him to the $1 million prize.

What Kelly, Sue and Rudy forgot, however, is that "players only love you when they’re playin’." Maybe they should have boned-up on their Stevie Nicks before catching a plane to Borneo.

And when he made his final plea to his Rattana (Ugh – that name) jury, he was able to convince Sean and Greg that he should win because all along he had not hid the fact that he was deceitful and Kelly had. It worked.

I don’t respect what Rich did, but I know why he did it.

He won because he played the game without reservation and played to get paid. He personified the corporate shark – an efficient eating machine who rips and tears into its prey and then moves on, rarely taking time to sleep. Forgive me if anyone reading this is related to him or likes him, but I doubt that his development from a child ever included the construction of a conscience. Unfortunately that million dollars cannot buy him empathy for others, but I’m crossing my fingers that he’ll invest in a few dozen years of therapy. (Bitters, anyone?)

I may be offered wine with my cheesiness, but I’ll take a Pagong way of corporate strategizing any day. For the way they played, despite the fact that they lost the million dollars, I actually respected the people of Pagong. They are the type of people I want to hang out with and work with- coconut phones and all.

Now, with a second season of Survivor starting, I wonder if the psychological chess game of the first season and the emotional agony of watching Pagong being picked off one member at a time can be even remotely approached. Those who copy another’s achievement are simply anemic copies of the original. (Although, the fact that the deceitful Sue-like Deb of the second season was ejected on Sunday’s episode gives me hope.)

I hope that the participants of season two took a greater lesson from the first survivor than what could be called "The Importance of Being Machiavelli."

I’ll be grateful if at least a few of this season’s cast members choose the Pagong way of living, the way we should all live: the person who dies with the most friends – not toys – wins.