I've been thinking about life and its challenges and have come to the realization that CBS's hit show Survivor is a metaphor for life as I've observed it so far.
One of the first things that happens in the TV reality show is that the contestants, usually 16 or 18 of them in the beginning, are divided into two "tribes." Each tribe is given a different colored "buff" (a multi-use, tubular band of cloth) for each member to wear to distinguish themselves from the members of the other tribe. Now, these people don't know each other ahead of time, they all have different personalities, and nobody knows right off the bat which other contestants they'll like or dislike. It's just all of a sudden, "Poof! Your tribe has the green buffs, so these are the people you're supposed to hang out with, rely on, etc. Don't trust the guys and gals with the orange buffs."
In life we're born "in the buff" with different colors of skin, and skin color seems to categorize us into groups for the rest of our lives, at least in some peoples' minds. We're often taught by example that it doesn't matter if an individual has values, goals, tastes and thought processes exactly like someone of a different skin color; it's that color that matters in determining who can be trusted and who can't.
Isn't that silly? I'm glad most of us manage to dispel that myth for ourselves.
On Survivor, as in life, the ability to interact with others is of supreme importance. Some people fit in and get along; others don't. Fitting in can help contestants to advance in the TV game and in the game of life. I'm not suggesting that individuality isn't to be respected, because it is, but it can put a target on one's back unless that individual can interact successfully with others who'll form a support system. If we don't make at least minimal effort to fit in, we get voted out early.
The contestants on Survivor face challenges each week -- elaborate games or contests to win rewards or immunity from banishment. If they meet those challenges, they have a better chance of staying in the game. And what does staying in the game mean for them? Until the payoff at the very end, all it means is that they get to stay and face more challenges.
Isn't that just like life? You encounter a difficult situation, and you get through it somehow, even if you weren't sure you would. You have a brief respite, a little time to rest and reflect, and then along comes some real lulu of a problem that takes all your focus and strength to resolve. Fortunately, with each obstacle you surmount, you become stronger and more confident in your ability to handle the next problem life tosses in your lap.
In between the challenges, and depending on the outcome of them, some Survivor contestants live better than others. Some have more food and more adequate shelter, which might make them better equipped to handle the challenges -- or might make them think they can rest on their laurels. At the whim of the producers, all that can flip; the "haves" can become the "have-nots."
Life is whimsical, too. A tsunami or a hurricane, an accident or an illness, a death or a divorce -- any of those events can turn life upside down in the blink of an eye. Some people have a better chance of surviving than others, but resting on one's laurels is a sure step towards disaster.
In addition to the two major challenges featured on each episode of Survivor, there are dozens of smaller ones: loneliness, tropical heat, lack of creature comforts and hygiene products, bug bites, annoying neighbors. Those are the constants, the equivalent of real-life "daily-grind" issues. The contestants who fare best on the show don't focus much attention on every little thing that's wrong. Instead, they fix their minds on the big picture and watch for opportunities that will get them a few steps closer to their common goal: to survive until the very end of the game.
I've thought a lot about what it takes to survive in life, and, just like on TV, it appears that being the best or the brightest doesn't hold any guarantees. There seems to be one single trait that determines who will survive and who won't: fortitude. We have to "keep on keepin' on."
Of course, a lucky break every now and then is helpful, too.