After the finale of CBS's hit reality TV series Survivor drew some 51 million viewers last week, a number of conservative commentators felt compelled to wade into the treacherous waters of American popular culture to critique the show. Most drowned. Almost across the board, conservatives treated the show as an excuse to play journalistic softball, not bothering to do the hard work of actually watching the show. And they frequently adopted a tone of condescension towards those Americans -- roughly one fifth of the population -- who so erroneously chose watching Survivor over reading The Book of Virtues last Wednesday night.
Conservatives are united in their hatred of Survivor -- if not in their reasons for loathing. "Mind you, I never watched the show, because the premise struck me as excruciatingly idiotic," wrote the Baltimore Sun's right wing columnist Gregory Kane, in one particularly nuanced evaluation of the most popular show on television. Kane's spin on Survivor was typical of the most prominent conservative approach to the show:
Armchair Criticism -- Minus the Armchair. Few conservatives who went on record discussing Survivor deigned to actually watch the object of their criticism. Before launching into a tirade about Survivor on CNN's Crossfire, conservative commentator Mary Matalin noted, "I hadn't seen this, but our esteemed producer Jennifer made me watch it today." Matalin then went on to expound: "Frankly, the show stinks; and secondly it is -- it just brings out all of the worst of human nature." And what does Mary Matalin prefer when it comes to TV shows? "Why don't we have more shows like Touched by an Angel, which I can watch with my kids, which I can talk about?"
Mary Matalin wasn't the only non-viewing conservative Survivor expert -- not by a long shot. A sub-category of the non-viewers was the following:
Desperately Seeking Silicone. Perhaps the worst written right wing Survivor bashing column was a piece by Tony Kornheiser. Kornheiser began, "I must be the only person in America who hasn't even watched one minute of Survivor." He desperately tried to be funny, but ended up sounding as twisted as his fellow conservadudes think Survivor is. Kornheiser explained why he doesn't like reality TV:
Some suit at CBS insisted, "People are tired of seeing actors who are 35 years old playing 20-year-olds. They're tired of silicone-implanted women."
Speak for yourself, pal. I've got room in my den for all the silicone-implanted women you don't want.
So much for the moral high ground conservatives love to claim. But the most embarrassing of the non-viewing Survivor blabbermouths was The Washington Times, which should be. . .
Next to be Booted from Media Island. The Times really should have bothered to learn the rules to Survivor before commenting on the show. Its editorial page described Survivor's "tense council meeting at the end of every show, in which those chosen to leave the island previously pick the week's loser." Tens of millions of viewers could have told the Times this: That's just the way it worked during the last episode of Survivor; in the previous episodes, people who were still on the show voted someone off.
(Editors note: This is not the first time Rightwatch has caught The Washington Times in a factual error. For a previous flub, see how the Times' Wesley Pruden omitted an expletive while spinning the Hilary Clinton-Jew bastard controversy, here.)
Shedding the responsibility of getting the show's facts right, some conservatives tried to ignore the actual content of Survivor, instead using the show as an excuse to go off about their pet issues:
Even on a Far Off Island, It's All About Taxes. "Covering" Survivor, Fox News's Sean Hannity devoted an entire segment of "Hannity and Colmes" to griping about how much $1-million winner Richard Hatch's earnings will be taxed. "Let's get back to the show itself," Hannity's counterpart Alan Colmes said at one point. But why talk about the strategies average humans turn to in order to outsmart and betray one another -- as so marvelously documented in Survivor -- when you can instead indulge in another "Live Free or Die" rant about the tax code?
The Skin Police. Speaking of New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto, the state's Steve Forbes-endorsing Manchester Union Leader had a particularly puritanical take on Survivor. In an editorial titled "Jenna will 'survive,'" Bernadette Malone Connolly moralized about Survivor castaway Jenna's decision to turn down a big bucks offer from Playboy. "Without the baggage of a Playboy spread weighing her down, her career could go anywhere," noted Connolly.
But conservatives did contemplate one penetrating question in their various analyses of Survivor:
Would Jesus Survive? (WJS) Appearing on Pat Robertson's The 700 Club, the evangelical Survivor contestant Dirk Been commented that he was voted off the island because other castaways were scared by the strength he derived from his Christian convictions. According to Been, his competitors on the island were spooked because they saw that "there's real power in this guy, we don't know what it is, but if we want to win the game, we have to get rid of him."
So, no: Water-walking abilities aside, Jesus would not survive Survivor. And with the Savior gone, the rest of the siliconeless contestants could continue being mean-spirited to the glee of millions. (Not that conservatives would be watching.)