What I’ve Learned from Watching All 40 Seasons of Survivor

A ham-fisted analogy that I will not give up, but I will painstakingly relate to being a writer, existing in the publishing world, and/or life.

  1. Learn how to make fire

    Not only is fire-making a good life skill, it’s preposterous that the show has been on for 40 seasons and yet, without fail, contestants show up without knowing even the basic principle of how to use magnesium.

    By this, I mean give yourself an advantage. Learn as much about publishing—the industry and the process—as you can before you start sending out query letters and trying to nab an agent. Admittedly, not everyone has the time or resources to do this! But, if you are able, give yourself this gift. In the game of Survivor, that’s generally building a shelter, fishing, eating something gross as a challenge, swimming, but in publishing that might be familiarizing yourself with agents that represent the genre/category you’re writing in, what the generally accepted word count is, how to write a query letter.

    Prepare yourself the best that you are able before you set foot on that island.

  2. Get to know your teammates

    In later seasons of Survivor, something called Exile Island is introduced to the game. It’s exactly what it sounds like, an island that unlucky contestants are banished to. When you’re exiled, you have to do everything yourself: collect firewood, boil water, fish, etc. It’s not a great place to be, because you enter the next challenge weaker physically and you’ve potentially missed some big moves or crucial gossip back at camp.

    I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to join the writing community. Learn who the other players are (agents, editors, etc.). Find a critique group or trusted beta readers. Join local or national or international writing organizations. Become involved. Create your own community.

  3. Build alliances

    Alliances emerge and evolve all the time on Survivor. It’s necessary, as people are voted off, tribes mix, or merges occur. Alliances come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of different dynamics. What’s important is building a relationship with a person or people you can trust.

    The same is true in publishing. Once you’re familiar with your teammates, form your alliance. Find those friends who are at the same spot in your publishing journeys. Build relationships with those who are further along in the journey, so that they can offer advice and feedback. Help those who haven’t made it as far yet, offer a hand up, save them from drowning during a team challenge. What matters is having confidantes you can ask questions, keeping some thoughts offline, and having others to commiserate and/or celebrate with.

  4. Respect island politics

    This is basically just Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: sleep, food, water. Do what you can to help provide, give more than you take, and don’t whine. As annoying as it is, if you find yourself doing all the work while everyone around you refuses to contribute, you cannot make a fuss about it.(Related: make yourself necessary around camp, but not *too* necessary)

    Listen, publishing is full of politics from the literal (e.g. book deals for politicians) to, well, other types of literal (#PublishingPaidMe, for example). Obviously, this lesson doesn’t directly translate, as publishing is still pretty abysmal at hiring, retaining, contracting, or otherwise working with most marginalized folks. Instead, I’ll say that you should be aware of your privilege. Don’t just be aware of it, though; if you are in a position to, use it.

  5. Keep your secret idol a gd secret

    In later seasons of Survivor, a new element is added to the game: personal Immunity Idols. Usually hidden near camp, they can be found by putting together the right clues or, sometimes, luck. These idols are important, because they can completely change the game when deployed correctly. Sometimes, a survivor is caught when they find the idol. Sometimes, it’s revealed when other survivors dig through your personal belongings. And sometimes, the player chooses to share the secret. Some secrets, no matter how exciting, are meant to be kept until the time is right.

    Publishing is full of secrets. Secret projects. Book deals that might take forever to be announced. Branching out into a new age category or genre and writing under a pen name. It can all be very exciting, but there’s a lot of hurry up and wait in publishing and a lot of sitting on secrets until they don’t even feel that new or shiny anymore. Still, sometimes you gotta keep those secrets until the time is right.

  6. Make bold moves

    An underrated aspect of Survivor is how much storytelling is involved. And I don’t just mean how the show has been edited together in post-production, I mean that, when it comes down to it, you need to prove that you deserve to win. Most often, this comes up when finalists are asked what big moves they made in the game. What did they do to prove themselves? What crucial alliances did they form or break? If you’re going to stab someone in the back, sometimes you’ve got to own it.

    Don’t downplay what you want or walk it back. It’s okay to be ambitious. Query your “dream agent.” Enter that contest. Submit that short story. Write in a new category or genre. Experiment with story structure. If you want awards, tell your editor. I think something important here is communicating what you want, and not just expecting things to happen. Manifest your own destiny.

  7. Outwit, outplay, outlast

    At the end of every season, when it’s down to the final two or three, the finalists get the chance to pitch themselves to the jury about why they should be the one to be named Sole Survivor (and also win a million dollars). There are three main categories that are judged, the same ones that are on every Survivor flag: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast. These are the basic tenets of publishing, too. (Kind of.)

    Everyone has different goals for their publishing careers, but it’s important you keep your eyes on the prize, whatever that means to you. In this case, outwit means know what you want. Have an idea of the strategy you’re going to implement. Know how to pitch yourself and your project(s). To outplay, know that you’re going to get knocked down and you’ll have to get back up again. Survivor is an extremely physical game, but in publishing, this means that you’re going to get rejected again and again and again. Know your limits, balance them with what you want, and persevere. Outlast takes that perseverance and kicks it down the field. So much of publishing is a waiting game, and you have to be willing to be patient.

Television Tuesdays: Are You The One?

Love competitive dating shows? Are You The One is the cross between The Bachelor and Real World you didn’t know you needed. Honestly, I thought I would hate it. I’m so glad I was wrong. It’s the perfect outlet to set your worries aside because you’ll be way too busy yelling at all the dumb decisions the cast members are making. The new season premieres Wednesday, August 15th at 10pm on MTV.

Every reaction is somehow more dramatic than the last

Overview

10 men and 10 women are put up in a dope house in a beautiful location for 10 weeks to find their perfect match. The twist is, each person in the house has been pre-matched by expert matchmakers before they arrive and, through the course of the show, must figure out who their match is. They can’t have any pens, paper, or electronics that could help them keep track of any potential matches. If, by the end of the 10 weeks, all of them have found their perfect match, they split a million dollars. If they fail, no money and, potentially, no true love.

Each episode sees two or three couples going on a date after everyone competes in a Survivor-like challenge. Sometimes they’re answering trivia questions about their housemates, sometimes they’re completing feats of strength or athleticism, and sometimes they’re just eating something nasty.

While the winning couples go on their dates, everyone left in the house votes on which of the dating pairs will go into the Truth Booth, basically a free opportunity to find out if one of the couples is a perfect match. It’s the only way to guarantee that a pair is a match and, if they are, they leave the house and get to stay for the remaining weeks in a Honeymoon Suite.

At the end of the episode, there’s a Match Ceremony. On alternating weeks either the guys or the girls call out who they think their perfect match is. They lock in until everyone is chosen, like dodgeball, and then the number of correct matches is revealed via beams of light. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s even more dramatic. If there are no correct matches during the match ceremony, they ‘black out’ and lose half their money. If all ten are correct, they immediately win the game.

I’m sure you can imagine what goes on in this house: a lot of drinking and hooking up. Everyone is so blindsided by finding their perfect match and falling in love, sometimes they forget to play the game. Confirmed ‘no matches’ sometimes hook up to the detriment of the house, because then they’re not looking for their perfect match. It’s frustrating to watch because JUST USE SOME STRATEGY. But with nothing to write down their tactics, and everyone constantly drunk, it’s easy to lose the thread.

I never expected to like this show. I’ve never seen The Bachelor and I don’t care for Big Brother or The Real World but somehow it works. I get stupid invested. I yell at the idiots when they refuse to play the game correctly and cheer when a couple with a lot of chemistry is a match.

There are a few drawbacks of the game. It can be hard to get to know some of the cast in just ten episodes. This season while watching the finale I found myself saying “Who?” at a girl I could’ve sworn I ‘d never seen before. And because the teams are divided by gender the show is super straight.

Are You The One is the trashy reality dating show I didn’t know I was missing but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s ridiculous and rowdy and a lot of fun.

Television Tuesdays: The Good Place

The Good Place isn’t trying to be another Parks & Recreation, though both shows share a creator. It’s happy to be a weirder, more surreal cousin. It’s easy to see how the two are related, but they are also fiercely independent. What they have in common: both are beacons of warmth and humor on days when you can’t remember what it feels like to laugh. The Good Place just finished its first season on NBC.


The premise alone – the eternal afterlife in which you exist after your death – might not seem like it’s for you. But the show has so many layers, there’s something in it for you, I promise.

At times the show can seem too surreal, too fantastical, especially in the first few episodes as the it finds its footing. The overly-fake CGI and preposterousness were a little off-putting but are definitely worth enduring. Hold on. Keep watching. Because before you know it you’ll be thinking about existentialism and ethics. What kind of good are you doing in your life? Are you living life to the fullest? What, exactly, would your version of The Good Place look like and how would your perfect house be decorated?

Maybe you don’t want to consider the ethics of your daily life. I know I don’t. But the show doesn’t force introspection, it’s too busy making you laugh. You feel good because you’re probably a better person than Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) was when she was on Earth. Or you think, “If Tahani made it into The Good Place, I definitely will. At least my altruism isn’t done just so I can brag”.

Despite making it into The Good Place, the main characters that populate it are all beautifully flawed in such relatable ways. Chidi can’t make a decision to save his after-life. Tahani’s kindness is a performance. Eleanor is the voice in the back of your brain that speaks before you can censor yourself. And Jianyu, well, he’s something else entirely.

It’s a weird show, but it’s meaningful and it’s good. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling the show and the way that the season unfolds is worth watching on your own.  The character growth is gradual and the relationships built between the characters feel organic. It carefully balances on the line between providing an escape from the real world and forcing yourself to confront your own reality.

I could go on. I can’t stop thinking about the depth and layers of friendship between Eleanor and Chidi. I could, and someday might, write a thousand words on how The Good Place is one of the most brilliant takes on a dystopia I’ve ever seen. It will take a very long time before I stop picturing Adam Scott as his character, a representative from The Bad Place. The Good Place wasn’t brilliant right out of the gate, but it had a brilliant first season. It’s definitely worth giving a chance because it’s one of those rare shows that’s delightful to watch.