Survivor–that is, the tv show–is just so weird to me. I do not watch it unless forced and I was, more or less, forced to watch the season finale Sunday night. Forced might be a bit much–it was my mom’s choice and since I am visiting her and didn’t have another care, we watched it.
Survivor has had 20 seasons and I will confess I never got over my initial disappointment. When it first arrived on the scene, I thought it was going to be an entirely different kind of competition: a competition for survival in the wilderness. I was excited about it because I’ve always had great admiration for Scouts, Marines, Navy Seals and other survival trained persons. (Rule #9 always carry a knife–gratuitous NCIS reference to Gibbs’ rules.) I was raised in a household where the family was considered a team and it was always clear to me that there was no such thing as a Sole Survivor. Ever. Being the last one standing was not the sign of a ‘win’ or success but it was likely the mark of a colossal failure. Survival, or perhaps one could say winning, was what a team did. Groups win and, even with individual competition, no one ever truly stands alone. To win is to win together or not to win at all.
In light of this, I was terribly disappointed when it turned out that one individual was to survive the plotting, machinations and manipulations of other people in this isolated, intense, ‘Lord of the Flies’ environment. Sure, there were physical competitions and elements of actual wilderness survival skills incorporated into the plot and there were pseudo alliances built, but the bulk of each person’s energy went into the understanding and manipulation of group dynamics. There was no team. There was only the individual and his or her ability to out lie, cheat, steal, manipulate or deceive everyone else. That’s how you played this game.
May the worst one win!
I was not impressed nor have I been in the succeeding twenty seasons of Survivor. In a world full of human sin, brokenness and evil, it is no grand accomplishment to simply go along with these influences and tap into the very worst flavors of our natures. In fact, I would call that defeat in the worst way.
So, in watching Sunday’s episode, I was struck with one character’s invoking of the phrase ‘…as a Christian man…’ Wow. I was struck by the irony of that phrase’s use in the context of Survivor and it made me truly ponder what surviving or winning looks like for Christians.
St Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy) and also “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews) both of which are metaphors of competition and winning.
While there is certainly an undeniable element of personal participation in the life of a Christian disciple, it would be difficult to read the scriptures as implying the faith to be an individual sport. Even when Paul is writing about finishing the race well, he is writing to and about a community; a life lived together. Paul also writes frequently about life lived in community and, perhaps the most relevant text to this topic and best known are his writings about whether or not to eat sacrificed meat. (1 Corinthians)The greater question for him was the welfare of the ‘weaker’ brother or sister. Clearly, from this, winning is defined by the success of the community, not the success, failure or even the freedom of the individual. In fact, ‘winning’ might even be defined as loosing out on something one might want at that particular time for the sake of the common good–what is good for everyone.
For the Christian, there is no sole survivor. No one wins alone. To ‘win’ means we all win.