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Survivor - "Old" Perceptions Die Hardby Melinda Smith -- 01/08/2003
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Ever since I started watching Survivor, I've noticed a subtle but pervasive bias against "older" contestants on CBS's blockbuster among the show's legions of fans. It's not that the fans don't like Rodger, Rudy, Paschal, Jan, and Kim J. It's just that they, you know, don't do well. I noticed this attitude after Survivor 2, when Keith and Tina, both 40, made it to the final three. After Survivor: Marquesas, I expected this perception to change, what with Paschal, 49, and Kathy, 47, making it to the final four. But, now that Survivor: Thailand, with its generationally opposite tribes headed by the two oldest players, Jake, 62, and Jan, 53, has come and gone, I propose that we take a look at just how "older" Survivors have fared in the game.
First, let's look back at the above mentioned Rodger, Rudy, Paschal, Jan, and Kim J. Rodger lasted til almost the very end of Survivor 2. He even learned to swim at the age of 63, just to get on the show! Rudy, at 72, still Survivor's oldest contestant, likewise lasted almost to the very end, finally being voted out by Kelly only because he would have been impossible to beat at the end. Paschal, 57, succumbed to the evil purple rock of doom in Survivor: Marquesas after making it to the final four. Jan, the oldest woman on Survivor: Thailand at 53, made it to the final three. Kim J., 57, physically outlasted two men young enough to be her sons in the final immunity challenge of Survivor: Africa. And, of course, there's Tina Wesson, who actually won Survivor 2.
But, I can detect the chorus already. Mutterings of "yes, but she had a lucky alliance," and "he was too lovable to vote off," keep bobbing up. Sure, some older players struggled to keep up with the rigorous physical challenges, and survived by luck and tenacity. Kim J. stumbled and fell in more than one challenge before making it to the final three. Jan had trouble with the challenges that called for physical speed and strength. Clay, 46, of Survivor: Thailand, was often outmatched by larger, stronger players. And yet all of them made it to the very end of the game.
"But," pipes the chorus, "a lot of old players were voted off early!" Let's look at the mature Survivors, who were, in fact, a liability to their tribes. There was Diane, 42, of Survivor: Africa, who collapsed from the heat and lack of water on day one, and was voted out. Maralyn, 47, of Survivor 2, never could keep up, and was likewise voted out early. But, the stigma of "old and weak" goes back to the original "older player," Sonja of Pulau Tiga. Sonja, 63, who fell in the very first challenge and cost her Tagi tribe the win. Sonja was old. Sonja was weak. Sonja became the personification of every wrinkled, sagging, aging player who struggled to get through the game.
I have three things to say to that argument: Jessie, Ramona, and Tanya. All young. All buff. All very sick and very soon ejected. And they weren't the only ones. Stephanie, 29, of Survivor: Thailand, just managed to recover from the reduced rations and her soggy outdoor habitat, only to be quickly voted out when her tribe started losing challenges. She admitted later that the environment took a huge toll on her physically. Even young male players can crash and burn. Mitchell, 23, of Survivor: Outback, all but begged his tribe to vote him out after being reduced to the diameter of a stick insect.
Two major traits make Survivors vulnerable: physical weakness and an irritating personality. (Read David Bloomberg's article, What Survivors Should Have Learned, for more insight on this subject.) Examining the early ousters from all five Survivors, the biggest liability is - personality. What took down B.B., 64; Debb, 45; Patricia, 49; Peter, 45; and John, 40? Well, OK, they were mature and obnoxious. But no one ever accused them of being lazy or weak, just annoying. And I needn't remind you of the young players from this past season of Survivor: Thailand who were young, fit, and driving their tribe members crazy. Sook Jai threw an early challenge just to get rid of 25-year-old Jed. Stephanie, 29, and Robb, 23, followed right behind.
The truth is that the vast majority of older Survivors have managed just fine in whatever environment Mark Burnett plunked them down in. They dug in. They endured. They ate their boiled tarantula. Some of my very favorite grown-up Survivors played out their time in full possession of their health, sanity (more or less), and sense of humor. Who can forget lovely and gracious Teresa, 42; steadfast Frank, 43; hard-working Carl, 46; high-spirited Linda, 44; sensible Kim J., 57; mischievous Tom, 46; and wonder-women Kathy and Helen, both 47?
And let's not forget the innate good-sense that 53-year-old Jan showed in picking her grown-up Chuay Ghan tribe: Ted, 37; Ghandia, 33; Clay, 46; John, 40; and Brian, 34. Youngest tribe member Tanya, as I mentioned before, was voted off for health reasons. Chuay Ghan prevailed against a tribe half their age, easily winning the later immunity challenges and pagonging the Sook Jais on their way to the final four.
So there's my case. If Survivor: Thailand doesn't convince Survivor fans that older players are every bit as strong and dynamic as the twenty-somethings, I'm throwing in my gold Chuay Jai buff.
Melinda Smith is a technical illustrator and writer with a background in graphic arts. She and her family live in Cincinnati, Ohio. Melinda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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