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A Pop of Culture: Surviving Reality TV

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

In today’s world of Bachelors, Big Brothers, Next Top Models, Master Chefs and Ninja Warriors, it’s hard to picture a time when reality competition shows weren’t a staple of American television. Then, in the year 2000, a show made it mark on history with just an island, 75 crew members, 15 castaways and one sole ‘survivor.’ Executive producer Mark Burnett reformatted the Swedish competition show Expedition Robinson to create Survivor: you simply take 16 to 20 people, put them on an island, vote someone out every three days until just one person remains, and this individual is the sole survivor and earns one million dollars. Survivor premiered on May 31, 2000 on CBS, and the first season became the most watched summer series since Sonny and Cher. The show would go on to win seven Emmy awards, despite premiering before reality competition categories were introduced. It’s now 2019, Survivor’s 39th season premiered on Sept. 25 of this year and it’s hard not to see the impact the show has made on popular culture as well as American culture.

In the year after Survivor, both Big Brother and The Amazing Race would premier on the same network, the year after that ABC and Fox would try and cash in on this trend with The Bachelor and American Idol on their respective networks. This would continue in the following years with The Bachelorette, America’s Next Top Model, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance and more. In many ways, we have Survivor to thank for stars like Kelly Clarkson, Winnie Harlow and Christian Siriano. In many ways, the idea that a person could launch a somewhat reputable career off reality TV came from Survivor as well, when Elisabeth Hasselbeck was discovered on its second season.

Of course, it would be irresponsible of me to not mention one other very infamous career to which Survivor more directly contributed. After the tremendous success he experienced with Survivor, executive producer Mark Burnett decided to dip his toe into reality competition again, but this time with less starving-on-an-island and more corporate affair. Burnett would premier this new show in January 2004, and The Apprentice would go on to run for 15 seasons and make a household name out of the host, now-President Donald Trump.

Pop-culture column by Hannah Davis Johns, Staff Writer


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