I am very excited that a new season of the greatest show in the history of Television has returned. No, not Heroes or Lost, it’s Survivor of course!

In  honor of the sacrifice of my Thursday Nights and countless hours otherwise spent on productive enterprises now devoted to contemplating  the fate of strangers eating insects halfway around the globe;  I am giving away my collection of Survivor Tribal color swatches for Adobe Illustrator for free. As a fan/addict of the show I’ve been collecting the colors of the tribes or teams and creating swatch pallets for them. These swatch palettes have the  color of each tribe up through the last season, Survivor: Gabon.  View the swatches in the list view in Illustrator and you will see that each swatch has the name of the season and the name of the tribe that the color once proudly represented.



Swatches for Illustrator / Adobe Creative Suite ASE swatch palettes.

Enjoy the swatches, but let me digress a bit on why I find this program so interesting.
Why do I like this silly, contrived show so much?  I’ve often wondered that myself. Why devote so much mental energy guessing the effect of every conversation, challenge, reward, moon phase, tidal fluctuation or ascending astrological aspect will have on the outcome of the game? Why follow the outcome of a show that I have no stake in? Why do I do it? Addiction to a trivial show? Probably, but I’ll try to rationalize it, if for no other reasons than my amusement and to think about Survivor even more.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Survivor combines several elements that I find irresistible. These irresistible elements that Survivor combines are:

The romantic notion of escape
•    The exotic
•    Voyeurism
•    Cannibalism


In an age of anxiety men seek a refuge. Because of some deep urge, constant throughout history, troubled men traditionally dream of islands, possibly because of the smallness of an island invites the illusion that here the complexities of continental societies can be avoided, or at least controlled. This is a permanent, world-wide dream.”
– James A. Mitchner & A. Grove Day, Rascals in Paradise, Turbulent adventure and bold courage on the South Seas.

Illusion of Paradise

Illusion of Paradise

Survivor is endowed with the romantic ideal of escape. The show is a game, but the mythology of the show is no mere game. It begins with the “exile” of 16-20 western “castaways” or “survivors” to an idyllic tropical island or other exotic locale; and we the audience go along for the ride. If you could draw blood from Survivor and examine its DNA, you would find the works of Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stephenson, Jack London, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad forming the rigid base pairings of the show.

The idea of escaping the world to craft a new civilization in paradise is very inviting. If you think I’m been bit grandiose here, you may be right, comparing as show like this with giants of literature; however the show does coat tail off of many of the ideas and images in the works of those masters. After all, it’s telling that the precursor to Survivor was a Swedish program called Expedition Robinson, ala Robinson Crusoe.

The Exotic

Survivor is typically set on a tropical island in the South Pacific, though sometimes the castaways find themselves marooned in the vast jungles of the Americas, Africa or Asia.  These exotic locales feed into this feeling of escape.

Escaping to a deserted island is one thing, but the exotic isn’t complete without the willing wahine and the noble savage. Indigenous cultures are present in the show, but often in  the limited shorthand of the romance of colonialism. Every season some of the castaways win a challenge and are ferried to a village by the producers and participate in some sort of contrived bacchanal.  The iconography of the native cultures are used not really to illuminate, but to be used as set pieces for the contrived drama for the show.

Idol from Survivor Fiji

Idol from Survivor Fiji

A designer I really love the pop-exotic art direction in the show and the pop culture exotic flair. In fact, I have a 4 foot tiki statue in my back yard! Survivor has always had a wonderfully kitschy tribal council set where the cannibalized members of the show are digested into the jury. The set is full of imagery rife with the exotic idols, fire pits, rattan, wicker, native(ish) art and the ubiquitous bamboo.  The show changes it’s sets and iconography to suit the theme of each show. Be that pirates, African Tribesmen or South Seas cannibals, the decorations fit the theme and highlight the romantic exotic ideal of that environment.

The most vivid “primitive” icon is the “immunity idol,” a totem that keeps the player or team safe from going to tribal council and getting voted off the island. The idol itself is usually a stylized vision of some primitive god and it lives somewhere halfway between the reality of the local culture and the idea of the exotic enchanted land where that particular season is set. A style that has it’s DNA, not  in the native styles of where ever the show is located, but in the Disney’s Adventureland,  Trader  Vic’s  restaurants and glorious midcentury Polynesian- Pop ephemera. The immunity idols themselves are fantastic pieces of art that look as if they should grace the covers of the great Exotica legends Lex Baxter or Martin Denny, or be rendered in glorious two dimensions by SHAG. Hopefully they are being preserved for future Urban or pop culture Archeologist; preserved for a future Sven Kirsten.

The Voyeur and Grub worms or another reason to hate Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Shoots the worm.

Kobe Shoots the worm.

Sure it has an exotic location, but what makes it a fun is the addition of two other elements, first it is a reality show, so there is a strong voyeuristic element to it. It is interesting to see people ostensibly like you or me and putting them in such a strange  and stressful situation and seeing how they react. I first discovered Survivor not because of any foresight but because of Kobe Bryant. I accidently found Survivor half way through the first season in Borneo. I was watching the NBA finals and being disgusted that the Lakers were blowing out my man Reggie Miller’s Pacers, I turned the channel and saw a guy eating a bug. Now this caught my attention!  So you can blame my devotion to Survivor to equal parts Kobe Bryant’s jump shot and the epicurean delight of grub worms. All those Thursdays lost thanks to that jumper and that bug.

Cannibal Contestants

The show is a competition, that is why I think it became so popular. It had escape, exotic locations coupled with the voyeuristic car wreck. But we’d see all that before.  Survivor was the first reality show, as far as I can remember, that turned the contestants into cannibals.

The Lotu, or the Worship, was progressing slowly, and, often, in crablike fashion. Chiefs, who announced themselves Christians and were welcomed into the body of the chapel, had a distressing habit of backsliding in order to partake of the flesh of some favorite enemy. Eat or be eaten had been the law of the land; and eat or be eaten promised to remain the law of the land for a long time to come.”
-Jack London, Whale Tooth

Survivor Todd Chows Down

Soylent Green Burger?

The premise is very interesting. First, the contestants have to work together to create some sort of community and find comfort in the wild. Of course it isn’t a real survival situation, the production company won’t let them actually die, but they do let them get very, very uncomfortable. In a pseudo-survival situation like this how do people react? Do they band together or save themselves at any price. In the real world people most often band together. However, the insidious genus of the show comes into play here,  since only one individual can win. In the real world groups win, but this is a microcosm of the world, so how does an individual impose their will without alienating everyone?
This makes  one survivor Out Wit, Out Last and Out Play and thereby cannibalizing friend and foe alike. To win you have to cannibalize other members, but doing it in such a way that they will still vote for you as members of a jury that pick the winner 2-3 finalists.  Kill and eat your rivals but be nice about it. To win survivor, like chess you have to sacrifice people on your own side. That is a difficult thing to do on many levels. Watching it unfold tells something about the human condition. What I am not totally sure, since the show is on many levels artifice, to answer that I’d have to stop paying attention to all the eating of bugs.

My visions were of shipwreck and famine; of death or captivity among barbarian hordes; of a lifetime dragged out in sorrow and tears, upon some gray and desolate rock, in an ocean unapproachable and unknown. Such visions or desires- for they amounted to desires- are common, I have since been assured, to the whole numerous race of the melancholy among men…”
-Edgar Allen Poe: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon  Pym


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