There's no secret. And I wouldn't be the first to say. But, to me, the best reality show on television, for nearly two years now, has been the race for president. As far as I'm concerned, they should call it "Survivor: The White House."
Once there were nearly two dozen contenders. Now there are two. Soon to be one.
And when it's all over, I won't know what to do with myself.
I never watched Survivor: Vanuatu or Survivor: Africa, or Borneo. I won't be watching Survivor: Gabon. But if a contest that really matters is what draws you to the remote control, to flip and switch, and click and check around, and see who's up or down, and what's the latest poll. Or gaffe. Or surprise upset. Or stunning historical moment …then Survivor: The White House has been your show. On multiple channels. 24/7. Even if, as a journalist, you aren't covering the race. Merely watching it.
As with any good drama, on Survivor: The White House, there is suspense and uncertainty. Contestants are put through grueling tests. You root for your guy. Groan when he or she stumbles. Take heart when the other contender blunders. But, unlike Survivor, the adventure TV show, the outcome of this one makes a real difference in the real world. Therein lies its power. The fact that first Obama and Hillary were, and now Obama and McCain are, close calls has just added to the fascination.
And, after all this time … time enough for the habit to become, well, a habit … the show will end. At times it seemed it never would. It's been a long ride. Now we, meaning those of us who have formed this addiction, will have to contemplate a world without. Without uncertainty. Knowing that uncertainty is, in itself, exciting. Without the anticipation, expectation, hope that your candidate will win. Without the apprehension, anxiety, trepidation that your choice will lose.
In a few weeks we will have our answer. One will be left standing. One will trudge back to the Senate.
We will be left without the mudslinging, which will be a blessing. We will also have to find something to replace the speculation and the analysis and the red and blue computer maps and the insights from the panelists. Are there answers here? Do these pundits really know what's going to happen? Can they predict how it will all turn out? If most successful reality shows are contests, the competition part of this contestant show will be kaput. Watching the winner govern will be an entirely different undertaking. One which pits the winner not against another gladiator, whose sword thrust could prove fatal, but against the problems of the world, which somehow does not carry the same punch. We've seen that movie before.
I'm not even talking about what the television gods will decide to do to fill the program hole that they have created to keep our habit fed. Nor am I, in this case, talking about what the journalists who've been out on the hustings will do post-election. (Perhaps reintroduce themselves to their regular lives. Gratefully or ungratefully, I'm not sure.)
No. I'm just talking about being a viewer. And I know I'm not alone.
Part of the fun of this "show" has also been the fact that others about whom you care --- your friends and family and colleagues --- care so much about every twist and turn, not to mention the outcome, as well. The way they share it with you. One friend, a well-known writer in Los Angeles, has taken of late to near-daily exhortations to his e-mail list. In his words, as the race stays tight and the end draws near, he tells me in his latest message, in his own inimitable words, "I'll be a freakin' nervous wreck till the election's over!"
Yes. The ending of Survivor: The White House will make some of us happy, and some of us deeply disappointed. We do still have our blowout event on tap. That would be Election Night. And, then, poof. Off the island. For us all.
And, for now, I can't imagine anything on television –- or in life --- to replace it.