In terms of ratings success and importance to the reality genre, it could be said not American shows are more important than the CBS series Survivor and Fox’s American Idol. While the two shows don’t compete against each other during the week, it could be argued they compete for the title of “top American reality series.”
Amazing Race’s Emmys not withstanding. How do we settle the question: bring it tribal counsel or have fans phone in their votes? Maybe instead we’ll just examine how both shows stack up in certain categories.
Longevity points. Yes, American Idol, as of 2005, has crowned four champs (quick, name them all, and the runners-up…). And it’s ratings have been through the roof each year. But Survivor, as of Fall 2005, has had eleven – eleven- incarnations of the show. It’s globe-trotted it’s jungle-bound casts everywhere from Africa to the Amazon to the Australian Outback. In it’s eleventh round, the show still easily makes the top 10 for CBS. Longevity points go to Survivor- because it’s proven to be one.
Class Factor. Maybe the nastiest show on primetime in the last five years as has been NBC’s Fear Factor, a show that’s famously had people eat bugs (among nastier things…) and do weird stunts in revealing outfits, including the practically pre-requisite bikini. In effect, Fear Factor is an hour of Survivor immunity challenges. Survivor , as we know, can be a little gritty, let’s say, as it maintains a nature-eating element. It’s cameras do quite a bit of bikini-babe watching; supplying us with a voyeurism fix is a key component to the show.
Though in the famous case of Richard Hatch, we came to regret seeing as much as we did… More to the point, people watch Survivor, in part, to watch people be mean to each other, lie, backstab, and gang-up, get revenge. That’s the draw. And no only is that why we watch, but it’s what the show rewards. If you can best manipulate, “play the game” – then you’re a millionaire! It’s fun to watch and surely a mirror of the real world. And it’s just a game after all. But for all the capitalizing on bugs, butts, and bad behavior, Survivor must lose some class points.
American Idol on the other hand, may have a certain British judge who tells young, impressionable people they suck and should lose weight, usually in nastier terms. And yes, the show may also spend it’s first month helping us laugh at people who are horribly untalented. But when it gets down to the competition, American Idol is about cheering on people who do well, who have a talent for something positive – singing, performing. It’s about rewarding merit, even if you’re the size of Reuben or as boring as Carrie. (You can’t imagine she’d work an island alliance very well…). They didn’t need to eat gross things or hurt anybody, they just need to sing their enormous and enormously dull butts off…respectively. Class points go to the Idols.
World Peace Points. It’s well-known that both Survivor and Idol were created abroad and imported by the US. “Our” Survivor is based on a Swedish show. “Our” Idol is based on Simon Fuller’s UK series. Both shows have spread all over the globe, but only one show has capitalized on its globe reach in a world-embracing show. Yes, in 2005, Idol s of the world united with nothing to lose but their nation’s honor. In 2004, a world Idol was picked. The winner was from Norway and was described by one Norwegian as “hobbit-like.” America’s competitor was Kelly Clarkson. Other contestants came from the UK, Holland, The Middle East, and Germany. The ratings weren’t great, but at least they tried.
Survivor on the other hand, had an All-Star season comprised only of American winners. Maybe CBS knew we’d rather have our own past favorites on the show instead of watching a bunch of people from all over the world trying to communicate “Sorry I lied, but I had to take care of me,” in their multitude of tongues. Points to American Idol for thinking globally.
Importance to Network Points. In a time when CBS dominates the ratings with several different CSI’s and the first show every to hold its own against ER (Without A Trace), it may be hard to remember the days when CBS was very much the second banana to NBC. (It’s hard to remember when anyone was second banana to NBC). Survivor has importance to CBS for being the first show in its lineup to crack the Nielsen Top 3 in a long time back when it first aired. That was big and it lead to bigger things. Another Survivor effect was getting the younger audience to tune into traditionally old-skewing CBS. CBS with a water-cooler show? That was a big deal. Currently, Survivor isn’t the juggernaut it once was, nor is it the linchpin of the network (Jerry Bruckheimer, anyone?) But it does hold its own on Thursday nights and did so even against Friends. It’s an important part of CBS’s flagship night.
On the other hand, it’s not going too far to say that without American Idol, Fox is really at a loss. Yeah, it’s had some recent success with Family Guy and House. But those aren’t top ten shows. Truthfully, the one-two, two-night punch of American Idol is enough in itself to take a lackluster season September to January and turn it around so Fox has the highest ratings of the season for any network. That’s how big this show is, and how important it is to Fox. It’s the Jerry Bruckheimer of the network. Points to American Idol in this category.
Importance to Reality TV in America. People have been running talent competitions for years. From local Community Auditions to Ed McMahon on Star Search. The singing competition is nothing new. No one does it as big as American Idol. It’s definitely sets the standard against which other shows must compete. Those who try (remember CBS’s attempt at relaunching Star Search?) often fail. But despite the size of its success, American Idol didn’t really break new ground or get the reality craze going.
That honor – dubious as it may be – belongs to Survivor. Until there was Survivor, the reality game show didn’t exist. We had MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules which had some competitive element. And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire encouraged networks to try new programming ideas. But really, Survivor America’s version, was America’s first taste of the primetime reality competition show which remains a staple.
Beyond starting the snowballing of the genre in general, look what else it gave us: the eat-bugs-for-money craze; the “voting off” gimmick employed by so many imitators, the put people in an odd situation and let them fight it out craze. Points here have to go to Survivor.
So, total it up and the score is Survivor 2, American Idol, 3. Does this mean Idol is really the better show? The ratings bear out that more people like it. However, maybe the true “reality” is that comparing these shows is comparing apples and bananas. The apple makes a better pie, but whoever heard of an apple split? And the other reality is, it doesn’t’ matter which of these is better as long as each is doing its job in its slot. Does that mean we can use our votes or immunity idol to knock off another reality show? I hear the Bachelor is still on. Is there an 800-number I can call to stop that. Ryan Seacrest, hook a viewer up.