Ten years ago one of my bosses asked me if had heard of a new show called Survivor - Outwit, Outlast, Outplay. She went on to describe how contestants willingly allowed themselves to be stranded on an island with a bunch of strangers, limited food and survival supplies. While there, they competed in intensely physical and mental games. Their fellow "tribe mates" would vote periodically to see who they wanted to kick off. When the castaway count got down to 2 or 3, the former tribe mates voted for a winner. The winner earned the title of "Sole Survivor" and a million dollars. It sounded intriguing and Curt and I tuned in for the last 30 minutes of the final episode of Season 1. We've never missed an episode since and last night we watched the finale to Season 19!
Some seasons are fairly predictable. Others more exciting. The one constant is that the contestants fall into one of two categories: heros or villains. Apparently we aren't the only ones who noticed this because the next season will consist of former Survivor players divided into these groups. The Heros are upstanding, likable citizens, kind, moral and full of integrity. They try to play the entire 39 day game without lying, cheating or stepping outside the moral compass with which they live life outside the game. Everyone loves them and they almost NEVER win. The Villains go into the game intent on lying, cheating, stealing, backstabbing or doing whatever it takes to win the game. Because they have no moral compass, they usually manage to deceive the majority of their tribe mates and in the process, win the game. Their end-of-game explanation is, "Well, it's outwit, outlast, outplay and wouldn't you agree I did all that?" Anyone who has ever watched Survivor has seen this play out so I'm constantly surprised when booted castaways bitterly complain about lack of integrity and being deceived. HELLO! Have you never watched the show?
This season, on the first night, a castaway named Russell wreaked havoc on his own camp, intentionally pouring out water bottles and burning socks. From the first second he let everyone know he was planning on winning the game and would do ANYTHING to win. He talked bad about his teammates, degraded women, was so full of pride that I thought his head might explode, and lied to everyone about everything. He was so awful you could hardly believe he was real. But as the show progressed, his cunning and manipulative ways started to pull in viewers. I felt my emotions switch from counting the minutes till he got voted off to actually rooting for him because he was so entertaining. (No doubt CBS was praying he'd keep conniving his way to another episode as well.) He found hidden idols without clues, manipulated his teammates and defied uncounted odds to make it to the final three. The guy was a genius at playing the game and to everyone watching from the comfort of their homes, there was no way he could lose. He thought so too and his boasting was enough to make you want to barf.
At the final tribal council, the booted castaways did their usual complaining about being deceived and for the first time, it appeared Russell really did have a heart. He got teary-eyed as he emphatically declared that the "Real-life Russell" valued honesty, integrity and loyalty above anything else and the "Survivor Russell" was just playing a game. It was a bit hard to swallow and apparently his tribe mates felt the same way. They SHOCKED America and gave the million dollars to a girl from the Hero category, who played with integrity and kindness, but had no recognizable strategy except to do what Russell said for 39 days.
Curt and I couldn't believe it and were stunned and mad that Russell didn't win. Real-life Russell was visibly shaken and fought back angry tears for an entire hour on a live post-season reunion show. He even offered to buy the title of "Sole Survivor" for $10,000 from Natalie, the winner. Her iciness as she declined gave a clear, unspoken message that Russell's "game play" didn't come without leaving scars and I felt myself beginning to understand just a little bit why, in spite of his perfect game, Russell came up empty handed.
So why do you care? I was reading the Christmas story again today and found my mind settling on Herod, the Roman leader in charge of a Jewish territory when Jesus was born. He was power-hungry, prideful, manipulative, and murderously angry. He was so awful you could hardly believe he was real. When the Magi came asking where they could find the new Jewish king, Herod was blown away. He didn't even know a threat to his power existed, which made him feel a bit like an idiot, and the icing on the cake was a bunch of powerful leaders from a distant country, barging into his courts, not to stroke his ego, but to worship a new king! He was FURIOUS! He put his manipulative and deceptive powers into full swing and laid an elaborate trap that involved the Magi doing the leg work of finding the precise location of the Jewish King and then reporting back to Herod where he was. He told the Magi that he too wanted to worship the King, but was in fact plotting to murder him as soon as possible. Fortunately, the Magi were warned in a dream by God to not fall for Herod's scheme. Instead of reporting back to Herod, they gave him a taste of his own medicine by keeping Jesus' location a secret and sneaking out of the country to safety. Matthew 2:16 says, "When Herod realized that he had been OUTWITTED by the Magi, he was FURIOUS."
Given what I saw last night, I couldn't help but think of Russell. He got outwitted at his own game and was so furious that he cried like a baby on national television for an HOUR! I'm so thankful that the Magi outwitted, outlasted and outplayed Herod and as a result of their obedience to God, gave Jesus a chance to grow up and save the world. And I have to shout out to Russell for giving me a visual picture of King Herod. From here on out in my mind, King Herod will be short with a chubby belly, piercing blue angry eyes, and a fedora perched on his round, bald head.