Survive This!

Rejected–twice!–by the people behind the phony "reality-based" TV adventure show, our vengeful writer pays a surprise visit to Survivor's Island shoot to wreak some authentic havoc.

Jul 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
BECAUSE I AM A vindictive and self-indulgent man, I am given to all manner of fits and childish acts. But this deranged vendetta, even for me, was majorly over the top.

In the bow of a rushing, 35-foot fishing dory, wedged against the boat's hardwood ribs to prevent the whitecaps from hurling me into the South China Sea, I was loading one-quart Glad-Lock Zipper Bags with miniature bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin, one bottle per bag, along with a snotty personal note. When each unit was complete I inflated it with a puff of breath, sealed it, and tossed it angrily into the surf building just off our starboard side. It would drift briefly, I figured, before washing up on the surprisingly empty, agonizingly close beaches of Pulau Tiga, a wet, jungly island twice the size of Central Park, seven miles off Borneo's northwestern coast.

When my rivals came upon this alcoholic virus from the sea, their behavior would be altered, fates would waver, the future would warp, and I would have at least a taste of the yummy revenge I'd traveled 10,000 miles to enjoy. Or best-case scenario:My infantile meddling would cause their whole dumb show to not go on at all.

I'm talking about Survivor, a concoction of game show, endurance contest, and soap opera being taped by CBS at that very moment just out of sight on this very island. If you haven't watched one of these episodes yet because you've just emerged from an ashram or a coma, here's the theme: Eight men and eight women are "marooned" on a "deserted" equatorial island; for 39 days they must ferret out food, water, and shelter, plus avoid the lethalities that thrive on equatorial islands. Multiple crews of image workers take turns filming their struggle, aided by hidden surveillance cameras—coconut cams, I suppose, yam cams, whatever. As a booster in the fuel of this narrative engine, the hardy castaways must meet every three days in a "tribal council" and cast secret ballots to banish one of their own from the game, presumably for not playing nice. Sixteen go in, one comes out. When only two remain, a congress of ejectees votes to choose the ultimate survivor. U.S. audiences will witness this historic moment during the show's 13th and final episode this August. The plucky champ wins One Million Dollars!

But let's get back to me. The squall that had blown in just as we left the mainland was now peeling spray off the whitecaps, and I was drenched. I realized that in order to get a real chance of monkeywrenching the show, I'd have to go ashore. However, I'd been warned by august persons administering the East Malaysian state of Sabah that setting foot on their beloved Pulau Tiga at this time would not be allowed, that until filming was completed in two weeks the island belonged to CBS and trespassers would be subject to arrest.

My captain, a sweet-tempered, twentysomething fisherman thrilled to be earning some unexpected touro-bucks, suddenly killed the engine.

"Speedo, wassup?" I yelled sternward toward the cabin. I often called him Speedo, but his real name was Robin Sabribummus.

"Tiga?" he shouted, confused. "This is where you want?"

I wiped the brine from my eyes and stood. The first mate, Saoler Koril, was tying the boat to the piling of a pier running some 50 yards from sea to shore. There was no sign of life on the island, and I wondered, not for the first time, if the whole show was a hoax filmed back in L.A.—a conspiracy theory of mine no doubt inspired by those rumors that the moon landings were staged. How else to explain why we had so easily slipped past the armada of goons in powerboats I'd been warned about?

I had been preparing six months for this moment. I had an agenda (disrupting business as usual for CBS). I had a strategy (get the contestants drunk, burn down the set). I bore the necessary tools of insurrection (more units of booze-with-message, a conch, matches). On the other hand the thought of some Malay prison, where robust, trembling felons would inquire in whispers whether I wanted to be the mama or the papa, lacked appeal.

As Speedo and Mr. Koril stared and waited, I wavered. But only for a moment.


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