The Gospel according to Survivor

I have a secret. I love watching Survivor on TV. I am not one of those die hard fans, by which I mean I have not seen every episode, or for that matter, every season. This year I discovered that I could watch Survivor on my computer the day after it airs. It has been a guilty pleasure for the last month.

Today I watched yesterday’s episode, and I was amazed at several elements I saw on this show. If you are a Survivor neophyte, I will give you a brief synopsis. Survivor pits two groups of people against each other in a competition to see which individual can make it through the game to win $1,000,000. Each team is known as a tribe, and each tribe is given a name. The two teams participate in challenges where the winning team wins either immunity or reward, or both. Rewards can range from the practical, like fish hooks and nets, hammocks and blankets, chickens or other food, to the fun like a movie night or a trip to a remote tourist attraction. The main thing each team wants to win, though, is immunity.The losing team of the immunity challenge has to go to tribal council where they have to vote one player off. Thrown into the mix are these individual immunity idols that players search for that they can use to protect themselves at tribal council. An immunity idol played at tribal council means that all the votes for that person are null and void, and whoever has the next number of votes is the one voted out.

This time around, they are playing something called Redemption Island. In this game, each person voted out goes to a lonely place called Redemption Island. There is one person waiting to duel the new arrival on Redemption Island. Whoever wins the duel then goes back to Redemption Island to await the next challenger. At some point in the game, the tribes merge into one tribe, and each player is then playing solely for himself or herself. The winner of the last duel on Redemption Island also rejoins the game at that point.

Yesterday’s episode was intriguing to me. The two tribes are Savaii and Upolu. On the Upolu tribe are Coach, a man who has been on Survivor before, and Brandon, the nephew of one of Survivor’s biggest villains, Russell Hantz. Both these men claim to be Christians. It is hard to tell if either of these men actually get what it means to be a Christian. Brandon is constantly trying to do the right thing, but he does it in a legalistic and almost rigid fashion. However, it does appear that he really struggles with his sin…and he repents after causing a lot of turmoil over his personal agonizing. Coach seems to be the type for whom Christianity is a name-it-and-claim-it sort of experience. He will pray in Jesus name in one scene and talk about how he will have to be deceptive and vote off Brandon in the next scene. He covered up the fact that he had an immunity idol, even going to great lengths to pretend to search for it (and even pray for success in doing so) when he had it all along. Coach and Brandon are not showing the world what it really means to be a Christian…they are like the characterizations of two extremes that so many unbelievers like to point to and say that “this” is why they won’t be Christians.

The Savaii tribe has one woman whose religion has been discussed, but mostly these tribe members are not sharing their particular brand of faith. Two interesting characters on this tribe are Ozzy, a young man who has played Survivor before and lost, but who is also very strong, and John Cochran (called Cochran) who is the typical nerd, very intellectual, physically weak and inept at physical challenges. Cochran is a self-proclaimed die hard fan: he claims to have studied every season and seems to know every move that has ever been made. So we have Ozzy, the physically dominant player, the one who basically holds his tribe together, and we have Cochran, the inept weakling who has grand illusions about his plans but who is basically surviving in the game at the whim of everyone else. (I think I identify with Cochran on a number of levels, but that is a post for another day.)

Yesterday’s episode had the Savaii tribe losing a challenge because Cochran messed up on his job of keeping the ropes straight. It wasn’t solely his fault, but clearly, his ineptitude was the biggest contributing factor. Everyone in the tribe agreed–even Cochran–that he deserved to be voted out, that he deserved to have to face the consequences of his inability to do what he was supposed to do. And just when we thought this is what would happen, Ozzy said to the host, “The thing about it, Jeff, is that I am putting my life on the line. I am going to Redemption Island.” Now, there is a whole strategy behind this move, but if I could direct your attention to this profound thing that Ozzy has said for just a moment.

You see, that is, in a nutshell, what Jesus said. We have played this game of life and failed miserably because we have not lived up to the commandments God gave. We are guilty of breaking God’s moral law. We deserve the consequences. We deserve Hell. That is what God says lawbreakers deserve, and we–you and me–are lawbreakers. We deserve the punishment, but Jesus stepped in and said, “I am taking this punishment for you.” On the show, Ozzy had the idol–he had the ONE thing that would make him safe. And he gives this up to Cochran. Cochran, who did not find the idol, who did not earn the idol, who did not deserve the idol, is given the one thing that guarantees his safety in this game. And you see, Jesus does that, too. He gives us His Righteousness. He legally transfers his sinless, spotless record to me! And to each believer! And God the Father sees this transfer of righteousness as completely legal. Jesus has paid the fine for our sins and has given us the writ saying that we are completely innocent. But that is not all…

You see, Ozzy, in this game of Survivor is now going to Redemption Island. There he will battle Christine, the one who has reigned for five challenges. It will be a do or die battle, and Ozzy hopes to win this duel and rejoin his tribe. But Jesus did something similar. He went to hell. He literally went to hell and suffered on our behalf. And then he did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible. He rose from the dead and showed the world that He had indeed completely defeated death. And because He did that, those of us who believe have that same assurance. One day we, too, will live forever with God the Father in heaven. Talk about redemption!

I don’t know how Ozzy will make out on Redemption Island. I am kind of rooting for Christine because she is the underdog. But one thing I do know: I already have redemption. His name is Jesus. And I have nothing left to prove.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Gospel according to Survivor

  1. Linda Williams says:

    I have not enjoyed the “witness” of the players… sneaking and lying in the name of Jesus. Good grief. I cringe when they pray for God to help them win challenges. As if God favors one team over the other. Whatever rules they want to play by, it’s fine with me in the context of the game… but when they try to reconcile “game play” with “real life”, that’s when it gets ugly. Especially when they bring God into it. If they want help, why don’t they just pray for strength and endurance?

    I saw the parallel with Ozzy on Redemption Island, too. It is a HUGE risk on his part. The difference is that he’s making an assumption about the future of the game: that the merge will take place and his strategy will work. How awesome that God was NOT taking a risk when He sent His Son, since He already knew what the future held.

    And watching Survivor should not be a guilty pleasure… it’s a brilliant game! 🙂


    • I agree with you, Linda. And it is a huge comfort to me that it wasn’t a risk for God, even though humans couldn’t fathom that what was happening to Jesus was actually the plan all along. Thanks for reading and responding!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s