It is already in its 24th season in America. When it premiered there in 2000, reality show Survivor was an instant hit. The idea of a bunch of people stuck in the wilderness for weeks on end, living in ‘tribal clans,’ battling the elements, foraging for food and fighting unfamiliar fauna, hit a collective nerve. Sitting on their cosy sofas at home, millions of Americans were hooked to watching ordinary people like themselves struggling to survive in the middle of nowhere.
That it was a manufactured, controlled reality didn’t matter — heck, that was probably a good thing. Who wanted the guilt of watching contestants fall seriously ill or suffer from potentially fatal snakebites? (Indeed, in the course of its many seasons in different parts of the world — from Africa to Australia — contestants have sometimes had to be evacuated because of injuries or infections). For Survivor participants too, the tough journey always had a safety net and the promise of a fat cash prize or at least a good cheeseburger at the end of the road.
Not content with putting their participants in physically challenging environments, the makers of the show created a complex series of voting and elimination rounds (usually carried out in suitably eerie, flame-lit settings, with a few skulls strewn around for good measure) and the inevitable team tasks. The purpose of these elaborate constructions? Unless you’ve never heard the words ‘reality television’ in your life, you'll know the answer. It is to create competition, drama, conflict, anger, tears, confrontations etc. This may seem like a very been-there-done-that trick, but most reality shows we’re familiar with that are guilty of pulling such tricks came after Survivor.
The show has been replicated in many countries around the world and it finally comes to India (on Star Plus, which is promoting it non-stop). At the time of writing this column, the first episode had not been aired, but I did watch the curtain-raiser that introduced us to the 20-odd contestants. They’re an odd bunch, from reality-show regulars like Payal Rohatgi to actors, sportspersons and the by-now-mandatory gay participant. The only thing that struck me was how different they all looked on the show (stripped down to the basics, as it were — the men unshaven and unkempt, the women un-made-up and unkempt). It will be interesting to see how the show works in India.
Meanwhile, MasterChef India 2 wound up in a well-made, well-paced, neat finale. There was no unnecessary fuss and the focus stayed firmly on the finalists and their food (even though Akshay Kumar was the special guest). The find of this season has been chef Vikas Khanna, who has an engaging, likable TV persona.
And finally: Some of the remaining shows on Life OK. There is Tum Dena Saath Mera, about an innocent small-town couple who move to big, bad Mumbai and what happens to them subsequently. The show is okay (like the channel!), but I’m a little tired of seeing these ultra-conservative, sheltered characters — the young wife in this one regards a bottle of beer with the kind of shock and horror most people would reserve for a mountain of cocaine or heroin. Main Lakshmi Tere Aangan Ki is about a vivacious middle-class girl who dreams of a rich husband. Sapnon Ke Bhanwar Mein is — so far — drama beyond just marriage and home. Though the protagonists are two small-town (again!) sisters, the canvas is larger. It seems the most promising of the lot at the moment.