Professor Palencsar’s Appraisal

“In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”           

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Coleridge would be pleased because this is what I do pretty much all of the time. Having lived a reasonable period of time, I have concluded that the only way to get by without going totally insane is to believe everything. I no longer question anyone, all my doubts have disappeared. It turns out Socrates was wrong — an unexamined life is worth living. This all began a little over a decade ago when the “reality show” “Survivor” premiered on network television. Up to that point I struggled with the mundane things of life such as children, mortgages, jobs, health concerns — no more.

Once upon a time, I followed the news, ate regularly, mowed the lawn, put gas in the car — no more. Now I have found the truth in a reality show.

You may dance with the stars, sing on “American Idol,” choose a spouse on “Bachelorette,” hang out with Snooki down on the “Jersey Shore” and travel the world in the Great Race but they pale in comparison to the grandfather of them all — “Survivor!” The best part is I can indulge in my fantasy from my leather recliner drinking Rootbeer and eating pretzels. I don’t even have to go out anymore except to teach and, if you have spent any time in my class, you know that requires a suspension of disbelief.

Without getting into the highly complicated and intricate details of the show, “Survivor” takes place on some far away island or remote part of the world I have never heard of, and the object is to “outwit, out play and outlast” 15 other people and win $1 million. Contestants vie for the prize by subjecting themselves to physical and mental challenges, public humiliation, no privacy, constant gossip and nastiness, lying, cheating and natural disasters ranging from typhoons to excruciating heat.

What could be better than that?

The object every week is to avoid being voted off the island by fellow players. Each player carries a lit torch which, if voted out, is extinguished. Now wouldn’t life be so much better if we went around getting rid of people who we feel no longer deserve to play? There are no complicated “grey” areas here, no qualifiers or maybes or ‘I don’t knows,’ you either gain “immunity” by winning a contest — such as standing on a 6-inch pole longer than everyone else or you connive and get everyone to think you are their friend until you turn around the following week and screw them over. How perfect is that? Starting next semester I am going to hand out mini-torches to all of my students and when someone annoys me or doesn’t do an assignment — I will extinguish their torch — no grading, no discussion, just extinguished torches!

Adding to the show’s excitement we have hidden immunity idols, lots of secret alliances, embarrassing private moments — lots of crying because they “can’t take it anymore,” and the viewer, by now a voyeur, is watching it all. To add to my enjoyment, they all take themselves so seriously. “Survivor” is filled with excessive whining and lots of wonderful melodrama.

So once a week I sit down and forget the papers I need to grade, forget my lecture notes, turn off the cell phone, stop reading and stop talking. Then I put on my “authentic” Survivor hat and imagine how good I would be at the game: starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together, eating half-cooked local animal life, sucking the juice out of plants and plotting my own alliances and maybe I would win $1 million. Then it’s over. Until next week!

Ah Bartleby, Ah Humanity!