‘Survivor’s’ new season pits young against old

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By Sondra L. Shapiro

Take it from an aficionado — Sometimes there’s something real about TV reality shows. Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor is pitting youth against maturity during the next installment of his hit reality TV show on CBS.

Twenty individuals will be separated into two teams of 10: The La Flor Tribe, consisting of individuals 30 years of age and younger, will compete against the Espada Tribe, made up of individuals over the age of 40.

Jimmy Johnson, 67, ex-NFL Coach of the Dolphin’s and Cowboys will be joining the oldies tribe. He is joined by Gloucester Mass. native James “Jimmy T” Tarantino.

From my 56-year-old viewpoint, the 40-year-old starting point is a bit of a stretch for the “mature” tribe, nevertheless, kudos go out to Burnett for once again offering up older contestants to viewers — especially since it’s counter-intuitive to the coveted 18-49 viewership.

In past seasons, the show has featured many older contestants. The first season had 72-year-old, retired Navy Seal, Rudy Boesch surviving off the land and competing in strenuous challenges with his younger contestants in the wilds of Borneo. He was a fan favorite, who returned again at age 76 to compete in Survivor All Stars.

Firefighter Tom Westman was 41 and Physics teacher, Bob Crowley was 59, when they walked away with the million during their seasons of the show.

Survivor viewers will never forget how the ultimate “Sole Survivor” Westman speared a shark or the strong but fair leadership he gave his tribe. The powerhouse won five out of seven individual immunity challenges, a feat matched only by a handful of younger players in other seasons.

Crowley, who is the oldest winner of Survivor, won five consecutive challenges. He played a cunning and pragmatic game, and also proved resourceful by creating two realistic-looking fake immunity idols that fooled everyone and gave him a huge edge in the game — not to mention some very entertaining hours for viewers.

It is common knowledge that “geezers” — not my word, but one that was used by someone in a chat room to describe the older cast of Survivor Nicaragua — my age watch lots of TV. But, advertisers don’t like us. So, when a producer of Burnett’s stature populates his shows with older contestants, and still manages to be a ratings bonanza each week —the May finale attracted 13.5 million viewers — age-biased ad folks should take a second look at us.

Besides the obvious entertainment value and drama of mixing age groups and having older people competing in the rough and tumble environment, this show continually demonstrates to a youth-loving culture that age is of little consequence in the social and environmental survival game of outwit, outplay, outlast.

“It is wisdom vs. brawn,” is how host Jeff Probst described the new season during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “Being strong is one thing, but do you have anything upstairs? That is where you usually see the older people excel. They know how to think; they know how to remain calm. They have lived a little.” Probst said.

But, from some of the comments I have been reading from the chat rooms about the upcoming season, the youth viewership needs to have the message hit them over the head a little harder. Here’s a sampling:

“The best survivor players are the 30-somethings though I will root for the old farts, I think it is a big mistake for so many old players on Survivor. The ratings will tank.”

“10 players over age 40 = lots of challenges like shuffleboard, bowling, bocce, cribbage …………..”

“I really think that the theme Old vs. Young is not a good idea, coming off the heels of a very entertaining season and going to this just seems like a nose dive to me. I myself being a younger person don’t really want to see a bunch of old people on Survivor, and the older people that I know that watch the show don’t want to see old people on the show either.”

Tell that to my almost 80-year-old mother-in-law who’s glued to the tube each week. She always cheers on the older folks.

But the online bloggers have still more so say:

“Old people never win most reality shows. This is because they get voted off quickly by younger contestants because they’re old, and unpleasant to look at, and smell alarming.”

“Presumably, the ‘Young’ team will feature lots of people wearing bikinis, and the ‘Old’ team will feature lots of people talking about how Woodstock changed their life.”

As I wax bravado over what we oldsters are capable of, I must also be realistic. We are not all super heroes. In a nod to older competitors’ limitations, there will be some tweaking of the show’s famously rowdy challenges.

“You don’t want to do big, strong physical, knock-down, drag-out challenges when it is old vs. young,” Probst said during the Entertainment Tonight interview. “We built challenges that would be as fair for a 68-year-old guy as they would for an 18-year-old woman.”

The most important takeaway is that Burnett’s social experiment features older contestants as more than window dressing or comic relief. As history has shown, they have a real chance of becoming the “Sole Survivor.”

My hope is that this season will finally help extinguish the torches of those age-phobic ad folks and young cynics. Nothing would be more satisfying than to see them get voted off the island.

Survivor Nicaragua premieres in its new night on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Contact her at sshapiro.fiftyplusadvocate@verizon.net or read more at fiftyplusadvocate.com.