That Richard Hatch prevailed as the million-dollar Survivor is nothing less than a triumph … for ambivalence.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled that Richard was vindicated after weeks of pop-culture-sanctioned homophobia. And let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what it was — from the producers’ decision to frame Rudy’s sneering gibes about ”queers” as cute Navy SEAL guy talk, to all the media outlets that threw around variations on the phrase ”fat gay guy” like the rock-in-a-snowball that it is.
Another positive Richard effect has to do with realistic body image. That this winner maintained his abdominal rubber tire after grueling weeks of eating gruel and fish (those infamous roasted rats came to seem like a one-time publicity stunt, didn’t they?) did more to convince Americans that body fat is genetic, and not to be exercised or starved off, than a thousand editions of Oprah.
But on the other hand, I am, of course, appalled. As a wimpy writerly type, I would have preferred Richard to be a cross between Allen Ginsberg and Robert Bly: a man lover who’d liberated the Iron John within. Instead, Hatch is the sort of guy whose scruples seem formed by readings of Ayn Rand’s greed-is-good novels and business-list best-sellers about moral relativism like Who Moved My Cheese? There are enough smug rich jerks around these days without watching another one rewarded on network TV.
Like a classically constructed play, Survivor hit its climax shortly before its final act. In the 12th episode, the cast was sick of the sticky rice, the buzzing flies, and the sticky buzzing of Jeff Probst. It was then that Richard expressed his desire to get away from ”all of these different people’s personalities that I care very little about.” I thought two things: (1) This guy’s lucky he’s never seen Big Brother; and (2) he’s gonna win (after all, he called it himself in episode 1 when he said, ”I’ve got the million-dollar check written already … I’m the winner”).
In my initial review of Survivor, I said if I were on that island, I’d vote Richard off first, due to his obnoxiousness. But like you, I was taken in by Survivor’s canny editing, which played up Richard as a gimlet-eyed villain. Those first few weeks, it was hard to believe the gang didn’t see through him. But the baking sun, the drenching rain, and his positive-thinking spiels combined to weaken the others’ defenses: They wanted to believe in him, and even when his duplicitousness was made clear, they admired him for it. It was like having sympathy for the guy who tortured you — the Stockholm Syndrome should now be renamed Richard Hatch Syndrome.
Take his victory for the cultural bellwether that it is: He’s off the island — home, where the only shelters he needs to seek are tax shelters. Richard is out of the bush, and free to vote for Bush.
Kelly Wiglesworth was born one month after Star Wars opened in 1977. And in one of her darkest hours on Survivor — that late-series stretch where it seemed like Rich, Sue, and Rudy would swoop down like merciless storm troopers and vote her off — the feisty 22-year-old river guide (who stayed alive with stunning immunity wins) invoked her generation’s mythological touchstone. ”I feel like Luke Skywalker,” she said, conveniently renouncing her alliance with Tagi’s shiftiest members when they were no longer useful. ”I crossed over to the dark side for a moment.” A moment? Honey, when would you say you crossed back?