Survivor gets written off a lot simply because of its’ genre. Because it’s often mentioned in the same breath as Big Brother and various other shows in which the prize is seemingly awarded to the most talentless and morally bankrupt contestant, Survivor gets a bad reputation.

Really, though. This show is great.

I’ve been watching Survivor for something like 7 years straight, and each year I’m stunned by just how consistently entertaining the show is. The kicker is that it’s not entertaining in a “look at that guy being crazy” sort of way as much as it’s entertaining in a strategic, “look at that guy making a bonehead play” sort of way. So yeah, in my mind Survivor is kind of a sport.

Christians often have this assumption about Survivor: the best way to play Survivor is to always tell the truth, to be nice, to be faithful and loyal to your friends in the game. It’s a valid position, but it ignores a key conceipt: Survivor is a game, not an experience. After all, if the show were merely an opportunity to hang out on an island with some people then it would have been canceled a long time ago. The ratings are retained because of the strategic element and because the audience is rooting for someone to win.

So what we have is a game, or a sport. It’s a place to bounce up against the rules and test limits and for experiments to take place. What happens if I lie to everyone? What if I make friends with everyone and try to get everyone to like me? What if I make a deal but take it back in the end? What if I keep my word about the deal? What if I choose to make everyone miserable? Will the jury reward me or punish me for playing “well”? Is it possible to be so incredibly good and loyal that the jury votes for me without a second thought, or will they view me as having coasted through without “playing the game”?

So Survivor, like any sport, is a test of the limits of both physical and social boundaries. Moral and ethical boundaries find their way into the game as well, and are tested time and time again. If everyone in the game acknowledges that lying is inevitable and within the rules, is it okay for the Christian to lie? That’s an answer that’s up to the individual, and we see that debate play out every single season. The answer always comes down to another question: are you lying to me?

And there lies the final boundary: yourself. Survivor purports to push its contestants to their physical limits, but more than that it pushes them to the limits of their own expectations and pride. Really, something like Survivor is an opportunity not only to experience new places, but to experience new people and to put yourself on the line.

For the Christian contestant, it’s also an opportunity to figure out what limitations, if any, are so crucial and important that they absolutely must be carried over into the game. More often than not, the Christian contestant draws the line at the one that they worship. Every other season or so, a Christian faces a moment of truth where the contestants are involved in some island ritual or another involving the worship of some false god. It’s at that point that many contestants have refused to participate, only standing and watching. They face a lot of backlash and usually it paints them unfavorably to the group. Ultimately, it almost always harms their game. And I applaud them.

Some view Survivor as a show that trains the viewer to lie, cheat and deceive, but I view Survivor as a case study on the importance of relationships and trust. The political and diplomatic ploys that go on in Survivor, especially the winning ones, always seem to contain a kernel of truth within them, even when they are lies on their face.