Before rich single men started handing out roses, before Donald Trump started firing people, and before dwarfs started relay racing against camels, 16 people were sent off to an island, and the adventure of a lifetime — for viewers — began. The initial season of Survivor was not just the first in the new wave of reality TV; it was also the best. The images are indelible: Gervase strolling through parts of a challenge when his tribemates couldn’t see him and sprinting when they could, Sue’s impassioned snake-versus-rat speech at Tribal Council, and, of course, TV’s ultimate villain, Richard Hatch, being awarded one million dollars by the very people he screwed over to get there. It made for fresh and fantastic television. But how does it play in reruns?
The fun of ”Survivor” — all reality shows, in fact — comes from seeing honest reactions to unpredictable actions. There’s no way anyone could have foreseen that a cocky bastard like Hatch would take home the loot. But now that words like alliance, immunity, and Probst have become part of the national consciousness, what was then so outrageously inventive, today seems almost frighteningly commonplace. I guess we’ve all lost our unscripted innocence.
One would hope that the DVD of such a milestone in television history would contain copious extras, but outside of interviews and commentary tracks from Richard, Rudy, and Gervase (who calls Hatch ”evil incarnate” and claims ”it still bothers me to this day” that the fat, naked one won), this island is pretty bare — much like Richard Hatch himself.