It was the summer of 2000. In the aftermath of the Clinton impeachment, George Bush was running against Al Gore for President. 9/11/2001 was over a year away. Gladiator, X-Men, Mission:Impossible 2, Gone in Sixty Seconds and Bring It On were in movie theaters. American television was on the heels of Regis Philbin asking us all who wanted to be a millionaire and bringing game shows back to American primetime television. Then, CBS started marketing a reality show (something previously reserved for MTV) that was “Lord of the Flies meets Gilligan’s Island meets Who Wants to Be a Millionaire“. Brought to us by the producer of USA Network’s Eco-Challenge and the host of VH1’s Rock-n-Roll Jeopardy.
Sixteen Americans, previously strangers, were abandoned in a tropical location to battle the elements and each other for a million dollars. In that first season, these first sixteen Americans shaped how we would view the game forever. Immunity challenges. Reward challenges. Luxury challenges. Visits from family members. Alliances. A gay, nudist, corporate consultant teaming with a young 20-something, a crotchety conservative Navy SEAL, and a female truck driver. An athlete from the inner-city. An adorable girl-next-door. A virgin farm boy youth minister. A big-city doctor. The classical reality stereotypes were all there (or were created there). The premise was fairly simple, but few reality shows have been as successful or as consistently entertaining and thought-provoking. That first season was groundbreaking. It gave us the Snakes and Rat Speech. AND THEN, the villain won the million dollars, because he had “played the better game,” a phrase whose meaning has given fans thousands of hours of debate over the past 12 years. Read more