Review: ‘Survivor: The Official Companion Book’

"Survivor" obsessives, a group to which -- mortifyingly! -- I belong, will want to snap up a copy of the official companion book to the mind-bogglingly successful CBS series. "Survivor" scorners (hiss!) should check it out, too, since those who found the show ridiculous will be given plenty of fresh ammo from the book by Mark Burnett, the series' executive producer. With its symbolic torch-snuffing and faux tribal trappings, "Survivor" did indeed lap at the shores of camp, but the book pitches a tent and settles down there on page one -- and, Gervase-like, doesn't stir for some 200 more. It's insanely, deliriously silly.

“Survivor” obsessives, a group to which — mortifyingly! — I belong, will want to snap up a copy of the official companion book to the mind-bogglingly successful CBS series. “Survivor” scorners (hiss!) should check it out, too, since those who found the show ridiculous will be given plenty of fresh ammo from the book by Mark Burnett, the series’ executive producer. With its symbolic torch-snuffing and faux tribal trappings, “Survivor” did indeed lap at the shores of camp, but the book pitches a tent and settles down there on page one — and, Gervase-like, doesn’t stir for some 200 more. It’s insanely, deliriously silly.

And guess what? It’s almost as addictive as the show, for its sheer silliness. Basically a novelization of the whole series, the book takes us through the immortal saga on Pulau Tiga day by grueling day, tribal council by tribal council. Burnett and his co-author Martin Dugard approach their task with a reverence that induces constant giggles; the Nuremberg trials cannot have been covered with more grave concern for their significance to human history.

There are guffaws, too, on every page, such as this description of how host Jeff Probst came to be involved. “(Probst) was tired of projects lacking emotional depth — gameshows, confrontational talkshows — and had taken a mental vow not to accept anything that didn’t speak to him. In his thirties, casting about for meaning in his life, the deep-thinking on-air personality wanted to do something that mattered.” Like hosting a confrontational game show, perhaps?

Or this tidbit worthy of Danielle Steel, about the night Sean and Jenna spent alone together before the tribes merged: “Someday — probably many somedays — for this was a night like no other, ever — Sean and Jenna would tell friends and children and parents about the perfect wonder of it all. But mostly they would hold the evening close to their hearts forever, count it alongside wedding days and children’s births and the time they lost their virginity as one of their top ten most wonderful experiences. For in all the world, no one was in a more romantic spot.” Well, perhaps not with a host of camera crews leering around them, anyway.

I could go on — and I think I will! “As each inhabitant of Pulau Tiga burrowed into his own heart of darkness for answers and light, the outside world seemed a shallower, flashier place,” the authors write in one of many bits of airy moralizing. “To an individual, the crew was repulsed that the game had reached a new moral low,” we read on the same page. “Inherent in their initial attraction to the project was the chance to see greatness shine in humanity.”

We do get some more inside dirt on the various contenders for shining greatness. Sean and Rich, apparently, were always the most obsessed with fame. On her application, Stacy listed among her hobbies “noting other people’s absurdities and prying into the details of friends’ and co-workers’ lives.” (Not, you’d think, someone you’d snap up if you were looking to see humanity’s greatness shining around the clock.) We learn that Gervase speaks of himself in the third person a lot, and didn’t have a bowel movement until his 14th day on the island.

That’s a little too much information, of course. But for “Survivor” addicts, there may be no such thing as too much information. In fact, it’s time for this reviewer to go — the first rerun is about to begin…

Survivor: The Official Companion Book

TV Books; 237 pgs.; 17.95
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