Magazine article Variety

Pols Face Reality

Magazine article Variety

Pols Face Reality

Article excerpt

TUNING IN

America will soon crown the winner of "Survivor: Washington," and learn whether Mitt Romney managed to outwit, outlast and outplay the previous champ, President Obama.

The political season has produced the inevitable deluge of sports metaphors and analogies. We've had come-frombehind victories, underdogs, a horserace and, of course, the tension-filled arena of the debates.

Yet this is also the fourth election waged during what might be called the "Survivor" era, which has subtly altered virtually everything in society, including politics.

The ultimate mantra of "Survivor" is to win, and do or say what's necessary in order to do so.

On a parallel track, reality television has also made everything a "journey," a trip of self-discovery, albeit with a mass audience voyeuristically along for the ride. The related pressure to personalize candidates - to "get to know the guy," as PBS analyst Mark Shields told the New York Times - has continued to snowball, well beyond when Bill Clinton played saxophone on Arsenio Hall's show and fielded a "boxers or briefs" question on MTV.

Perhaps foremost, anyone paying attention to the campaign, which thanks to cable news never really ends anymore, becomes privy to the game of politics, dissected at an unimaginable level of real-time minutia. And once it's acknowledged that the spectacle exists as entertainment, the tactical aspects - all one big chess match - become as significant as ideas or policy.

If it sounds unseemly that we've begun treating candidates like contestants on "American Idol," why should we expect more from them? The nature of the game might be silly at times, even humiliating, but if you truly covet the prize, the occasional dip into the mud (metaphorically, anyway) is what you signed up for - another obstacle on the path to glory.

As TV has seen in the countless competitions that have followed "Survivor" and "Big Brother," which also launched in the U.S. in 2000, reality participants now show up spouting strategy, contemplating how to play the game, even harboring preconceptions about whether they'll be perceived as heroes or villains - although in this context, the latter designation simply means a big personality the audience loves to hate.

" 'Survivor' is a morality play, and the morality is (that) how you treat others will result in how you fare," series mastermind Mark Burnett surmised during an interview for the Archive of American Television. …

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