Surviving my ‘Survivor’ addiction

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As a means of ridding my closet of skeletons in the New Year, I’ve decided to disclose my addiction to the reality show “Survivor.”

I’m not sure how things got to this point, but I haven’t missed a season in 18 years, let alone neglected to pick up a missed episode — and I go to great lengths to avoid missing an episode.

For most of these years (until the advent of smart TV) I arranged my schedule to be home by 7 p.m. every Wednesday, tuned to CBS with remote in hand, eagerly waiting to hear host Jeff Probst announce “Previously on … Survivor.”

It all began on the eve of a family float trip on the Missouri River in May of 2000. The night before our launch my family, along with by brother and sister-in-law who’d driven in from Wisconsin, stayed in the small town of Loma at the confluence of the Marias and Teton rivers. Our put-in the next day would be what was then the closest Bureau of Land Management public access, Bailey Landing. We would take out at Fort Benton.

The family-owned Rose River Inn (still in business) has both cabins and camping. Our kids — 9 and 11 years old at the time — chose to camp riverside with Uncle Steve and Aunt Betty. We also rented a cabin as a base camp for breakfast and showers.

That night the kids were pretty excited to watch some new reality show called “Survivor.” I complained that reality shows were junk TV and refused to engage in any of the new genre.

And then I did.

Maybe it was our own impending adventure into the wilds. Maybe I thought the context, “Outwit. Outplay. Outlast,” had a sporting chance at being entertaining. Maybe the only station we could tune in was CBS. Whatever tipped the scale, I’ve never looked back.

From then on, Wednesday became “Survivor”… and pizza … night for our family. It was the one time we “ate in front of the TV” — a delicious violation of dinner protocol in which both parents and kids became cohorts and relished in the subversive crime.

In my opinion, “Survivor” has evolved for the better through its run.

The early years of highly attractive female contestants sporting obvious augmentations and being willing to sacrifice clothing for immunity, or even peanut butter, are gone.

The food competitions where contestants had to swallow everything from rotted bird eggs to oversized insect larvae have bitten the dust.

The shameless promotion of products by show sponsors has also been ditched.

But what the show is — and always has been — is a social, physical and mental game where contestants must weave a complicated web of precarious alliances teetering on the edges of trust and deception, weakness and willpower — to win the million-dollar reward that goes to the “Soul Survivor.”

For those who’ve never watched, be assured the physical competitions are tough. Team and immunity contests are grueling tests of stamina, puzzle-solving, strategy, balance and brute strength. The players survive on spoonfuls of rice while being exposed to life-threatening natural elements with little to no amenities.

Survivor just finished its 37th season this month. We still get pizza and eat in front of the TV while discussing the fatal flaws and fortunes of the contestants. Although our daughter hasn’t watched for years, she once schemed about becoming a contestant someday. She even attended a live season finale in LA and sent me an authentic “Survivor” buff — a pretty big deal.

One of the best things for fans like me is that the program has two seasons a year. I couldn’t bear it if there were only one.

Thirty-nine days and counting until the 38th season, “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” starts Feb. 20 … Until then, as Probst says to the losers after every challenge, “Got nothing for you. Head back to camp.”

Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or community@dailyinterlake.com.

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