A Chicken's a Little Bit Smarter
By Jim Van Nest
September 25, 2007
Hello, good people, and welcome to the premiere of Survivor: China. In an unprecedented move, CBS somehow talked the People's Republic of China into letting them film their little TV show there. There have been a couple of changes to this season's show...and they're changes that could have been made a few seasons ago. Exile Island is a thing of the past, which means we'll have about five minutes less dead time per episode and that's always a good thing. Also, they've returned to their roots and only have 16 Survivors. While this doesn't seem like THAT big of a deal, I think it's huge from the standpoint that you get to know the Survivors quicker. And knowing them is the first step to rooting for them. Or against them. With MY formalities out of the way, let's get to Jeff's formalities.
The episode opens with Jeff on the steps of an ancient Buddhist Temple. He tells us about 16 Americans beginning the adventure of a lifetime. He does give us a tidbit about each player. We have a former Miss Montana, a middle school lunch lady, a Christian radio talk show host and a gay Mormon flight attendant. We also have a professional rassler, a University of South Carolina honor student, a chicken farmer from Virginia and a professional poker player. Also, we have a fourth grade school teacher, a Nashville musician, a gravedigger from Louisiana (um...must be northern Louisiana, cause they don't dig graves in the southern part of the state), a jewelry designer from LA and a New York City waitress. We finish up with a surfing instructor, a bartender and former model and a 20-year-old student and athlete, the youngest Survivor ever.
As we watch the journey back in time from thriving metropolis to ancient forest, we see that all the Survivors seem to have luggage. I could be wrong, but how much surviving will they have to do with all their stuff? They all unload from a truck and begin the hike up one the largest sets of stairs I've ever seen. Some have to assist others carrying the heavy bags. Again I ask, what the hell is going on with the suitcases? As they climb, Jeff tells us how tough it will be to battle the elements to be named the Sole Survivor. Are you ready Survivor fans? Cause here it comes: 39 DAYS, 16 PEOPLE, ONE SURVIVOR! Cue the opening theme...
As we come back from the opening, the Survivors are being led in by a tribe of Buddhists. Chicken (the chicken farmer) tells us how much he loved the experience. Peih-Gee tells us how moving it was being Chinese and in the old country. They finally meet up with Jeff Probst and he tells them that they have been invited to attend a welcoming ceremony. He specifically tells them that this is not a worship ceremony, but a ceremony to make them feel welcome. The group enters an amazing Buddhist Temple and they're singing...it's quite incredible. Denise, the mullet-wearing lunch lady, is almost moved to tears. Courtney, the Gwen Stefani wannabe, tells us how she's from New York and she doesn't understand what they're doing. As she's talking, we get some good shots of a monk correcting her hand positions and her rolling her eyes throughout. Afterwards, she complains about having to bow for days. (More on that in a moment.) Everyone else seems to be soaking in the moment, except for Leslie. Leslie is a Christian Radio Host and since she has been taught to not bow to any other idol...she actually walks out of the ceremony in the middle. Afterward, Jeff asks Leslie about it and she says that while she's not a religious person, she has given her life to Christ and that she'll only put her face to the floor for him. Jeff mentions that he even told her it wasn't a worship ceremony, but she said that it felt like worship. As seems to be the case for everything, Courtney is rolling her eyes through the entire exchange.
Okay. I can't believe I'm less than 15 minutes in and already something has annoyed me to the point that I have to set an entire paragraph aside to bitch about it. First off, Courtney, get over yourself. I realize that you're from New York and that in your mind, that somehow makes you better than everyone else, but to roll your eyes during this ceremony and to essentially make fun of it and belittle the people involved...you have some serious growing up to do. Maybe it's just that you don't realize that an American being invited to China is a huge thing. Maybe you don't realize that being invited to the part of China you're in and the Temple in which you just stood is something that simply doesn't happen. To be included in a ceremony like that was something that doesn't just happen to any American who stumbles into China. It's something to be experienced. Something to be humbled by. At the very least, it's something to be respected. The disrespect Courtney showed inside that temple is exactly the type of behavior that is associated with Westerners in general and Americans in specific. And exactly why we don't get invites into China. And then Leslie. She wasn't much better than Courtney. To her credit, she at least didn't totally make fun of the ceremony. Although she did walk out in the middle of it. Now, I've participated in a few debates on this topic and I feel as strongly as ever. It was made quite clear that this was not a worship ceremony. Further, if you know anything about Buddhism (which, I'll concede, she probably doesn't) there are no idols in Buddhism. The Buddha is not a deity. The Buddha is a teacher. He's a regular man like the rest of us, except he has found his way to spiritual enlightenment. Had she known that, she would have known that she was not bowing down to another God, but rather taking part in a welcoming ceremony that, until now, probably no American had ever witnessed in person. Of course, she could have just listened to Probst when he told her that it was only a welcoming ceremony. He even mentioned that specifically because he thought some people might take it the wrong way. Bottom line, walking out of a ceremony like that, regardless of the reason, was a slap in the face to a group of people that most certainly didn't deserve it. Further, it helps continue the stereotype that Americans don't really care about anyone other than themselves and that we have no interest in learning about or understanding any culture other than our own. Again, Leslie's offense wasn't as bad as Courtney's, but they both reeked of disrespect and it really hit me the wrong way. Okay, I'll jump down off my soapbox and get back to the show. Thanks so much for bearing with me there as I let off a little steam.