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Deprived of basic comforts, exposed to the
harsh natural elements, your fate at the mercy of strangers…who
would you become?
In early 2000, the first season of Survivor heralded the beginning
of reality-TV. For the first time, “real” people would
be the stars, placed in “real” situations and forced
to cope with the circumstances. Myself, I was a bit of a skeptic.
Reality-TV seemed little more than a trend and Survivor simply the
latest incarnation. I refused to watch the first episode.
And then by accident I was flipping through the channels one early
evening. I was suddenly confronted with an image of a man eating
some particularly juicy looking grubs, an obvious urgency to his
actions. I wondered what was at stake. The man swallowed and raced
into the jungle. It was my first encounter with Survivor: Borneo,
and from then on, I was hooked.
Why is the show so popular? I believe because of its exotic simplicity.
Take a group of strangers out of their familiar environment, strand
them in a remote location, and watch how their fortunes unfold.
Some contestants become obsessed with the money, willing to back-stab
anyone in their path. Others quietly fly “under the radar”
and latch themselves on to stronger, more obvious players, then
strike when the final 2 is in sight. And still others refuse to
compromise their values, even at the expense of being voted off
the island. The truth is laid bare.
These are just regular people – a fact not lost on the millions
of viewers at home. Regular people who put together a video tape
and through luck or past-life karma, somehow impressed the producers
enough to be part of the chosen few. To starve in a remote, sweaty,
bug-infested location for 39 days, if they can outwit, outlast,
and outplay the competition. And yet…not everyone has been
included in the pool of potential candidates.
“As Canadians, we never have to worry about getting voted
off the island. We’re not even allowed on.” Dose, Vancouver.
Five years and 10 seasons later, we are still
waiting for our chance to prove ourselves on the island. Countless
moments have had me shaking my head in disbelief, wondering why
contestants made the same mistakes as their predecessors. From the
challenges, to the alliances, to the harshness of the environment,
I vowed I could do better. Just as every hopeful fans “knows”
they can do better from the comfort of their own home.
There is a moment at the end of every final season show where Jeff
Probst congratulates all the contestants for playing the game, and
he turns to the camera and announces where the next season will
take place. I wait, like the rest of the Northern audience, to hear
those words that ask for Canadians to send in their audition tapes.
But those words never came. It was only until I watched Chris Daugherty
win Survivor: Vanuatu that I decided enough was enough; the rules
declaring all contestants must possess an American passport had
to be changed.
“…rather than be an armchair bellyacher, MacKenzie
has taken his plight to the most effective, democratic forum in
the Western world: the internet.” Westender, Vancouver. 01/13/05
I created the website LetMeOnSurvivor.com to announce
my campaign to the world, constructing my argument based on fact
as well as emotion. What are the facts? Survivor is consistently
the #1 watched show in Canada. All of the subtle American sponsors
sell the same products north of the border. And finally, Canadians
are just as knowledgeable, driven, and competitive as our southern
It appears a large number of Survivor fans agreed with me. Within
one month I had close to 800 signatures on my petition. In six months
I reached 1400. The local and national media began to take notice,
publishing my campaign to a larger audience. Radio interviews, newspapers,
entertainment blogs, Survivor fan sites all began talking about
whether Canadians should be allowed on the show. Perhaps most surprising
were the signatures from numerous American fans who were eager to
meet the challenge. After all, they wrote, we’re all on the
same continent aren’t we?
I soon enlisted the help of past Survivor Alumni to endorse the
cause, receiving enthusiastic responses from Jerry Manthey, Keith
Famie, Ethan Zohn, Jenna Morasca, Mike Skupin, Coby Archa, Lex van
den Berghe, Scout Lee, and Wanda Shirk, “who at the very least
seem to admire his self-promotional shamelessness ,” wrote
Entertainment Weekly. Yet they all agree that a cross-border matchup
is just what the show needs to attract past fans grown tired with
the format, and new fans who want to see this twist on Canada/US
“MacKenzie insists he’s not a fame seeker. He simply
wants Canadians to be given an equal chance to compete.” The
Province, Vancouver. 02/13/05
Some interviewers have asked where I fit into the equation. Am
I in it for the money, or the fame? Neither, I have insisted. I
decided to start this campaign because I believe every contestant
on the show has a fantastic opportunity to challenge themselves
and their own conceptions. As a Communication student in technology
and society, even the concept of reality-TV is a mind bending source
of unending discussion. Combine that with the psychological strain
of being abandoned in a remote location and you have a fascinating
experience that would be hard to match.
And so, on behalf of myself and the 3000 (and
growing) signers of the petition, I humbly present this package
to those with the power to change the rules. I know it is highly
likely you have pondered this decision already, and for whatever
reason, decided against it. But it is now time to dissolve the metaphorical
border between us, just as the nationalities of the contestants
would mean little when they depend on each other for food, support,
“…there's no better time than now to open the show's
doors to Canadians.” Metro, Toronto. 09/22/05
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