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Surviving reality TV with your kids

Staff Writer
September 12, 2000

There has never been a more exciting summer on network television.

Monty Brinton/CBS
"Survivor" may deliver great ratings, but can you watch it with your 8-year-old?
CBS's "Survivor" featured 16 people are stranded on a desert island. They had to compete with each other to be the sole remaining survivor to win one million dollars. Along the way there were romps in the mud, backstabbing, rats for dinner, alliances and raw naked challenge.

I thought, at first glance, "Survivor" had interesting appeal and potential lessons for my son. Kids should know that in order to succeed, they need to persevere. The best way to get ahead in life is to have a plan, but always have flexibility in following it, as circumstances change. It's always a good thing to make friends along the way. One should try to avoid making enemies whenever possible.

Creativity and tenacity are necessary values to apply to life in order to succeed. And, my personal favorite, one doesn't necessarily have to be young and beautiful to win.

At second glance, however, there are deeper, more disturbing lessons jumping out into our living rooms that our kids shouldn't be exposed to at all.
In order to survive, one must be cunning and devious. Do whatever it takes to get what you want, no matter how it affects others. Strive to encourage disunity and contention in others so you can promote yourself. Competition, not cooperation, is the way to live your life. Think only of yourself at all times. The biggest bully and liar wins.

Monty Brinton/CBS
Much to my dismay, my son is fascinated with the whole "Survivor" concept. To counter such strongly negative and amoral values spilling into my home, I asked my son to think about how Moshe behaved when faced with difficult circumstances. Doing HaShem's (God's) will and bringing an entire people out of slavery in the African desert was as close a similar reality as that faced for 39 days on a deserted island that I could reference.

Moshe gave up his social position with the Egyptians, losing friends of favor, to advocate for the Jews as a whole. He didn't protect his standing to save only himself.
Moshe didn't just run off out of Egypt when the Jews were released from Pharaoh's bondage. He stuck around to make sure that everyone in the group had made it across the Red Sea safely.

Moshe wandered in the desert with everyone else. He ate bird droppings when there was nothing else to have. My son and I couldn't decide which was better--rat or manna--and are glad that we are neither stuck in a desert or stranded on a desert island.

Moshe dragged himself up to a mountain, not once, but twice, to receive the Torah. He suffered the consequences of the actions of others, and gladly stepped in to do what was right.

God, not greed, motivated Moshe. He was outraged upon the sight of the golden calf, rather than inspired by the hope to own it.

Nonetheless, the thought of watching the ordeal of surviving on a desert island and winning a million dollars is still appealing to my son, and evidently millions of Americans. I can only shake my head and wonder where we as a nation went wrong. And where we as Jews should straighten our paths.

Thank God, this summer is almost over, and our taste of reality TV is about satiated. Maybe, instead of being mesmerized by people stranded on an island and cheering the misfortune of those caught in the barbs of another's selfish cunning, we should be looking to the words of Hillel to inspire our kids.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?"

©, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.

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