Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Oct 10, 2000

My two tribes.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

There's a presidential election coming up, and the Sydney Olympics are whizzing by, and there are any number of stress-inducing family holidays to cope with on the horizon, but I know most of you are spending most of your waiting hours waiting for Survivor 2 to premiere. Don't despair; it will brighten your tube right after the first of the year, fresh from the Australian outback, and another bunch of sand- and mud-covered American boys and girls will capture your hearts with their wacky beach-blanket antics, performed in next to, and in some cases actually, nothing.

I found Survivor eminently resistible the first time I watched it. At some point in the hour I realized I was not watching a bunch of people trying to survive on a desert island at all. I was watching a bunch of people trying to win the election for student council president. It was high school politics, right down to the rumor mills and "alliances" and personality conflicts, having nothing to do with skill or talent. Outwit, outlast, out-play--and they weren't kidding.

A mean little hour, appealing to the basest and most primitive human emotions. Naturally, it was a runaway hit. Even I warmed up my box for the last night on Pulau or Paducah or Pacoima or wherever the hell they said they were. Much had changed since my first encounter with the telegenic castaways. The cute ones were all gone. Jeff Probst, the host who has dimples deep enough to insert ATM cards into, was the focus of much of my attention. If he'd been a contestant, he'd have been vaporized long ago. Pretty people are objects of desire, and they get in the way of winning the game. So they all got voted off with dispatch. Rudy, the old homophobe Navy SEAL, was still around, but he still professed a grudging respect for the one openly gay person on the island, Richard, mainly because Rich proved himself as clever and manipulative as the best CIA operative, truly the Queen Who Came in From the Cold. Tough girl Susan, the living example of the T-shirt motto REAL WOMEN DRIVE TRUCKS, had also hung in there, but before long she too had bitten the sand. In the end, Rich prevailed, judged the best by a jury of people he had systematically eliminated. Somewhere on some beach near the River Styx, Kafka must have been dancing barefoot.

The next day the spin began. The fact that the winner of this contest that had so mesmerized a nation was openly gay was celebrated, I think, only by me. "Fags rule!" I bellowed as the choice was announced, but even this victory was hollow.

True, faced with Richard's beautiful acceptance of himself and complete lack of shame about his sexuality--which shows more pride than an entire parade--the pundits and talk-show hosts couldn't really nail him. Yet whenever his name came up in gay circles, there was always somebody around to say, "The one thing we win, we win because the guy's a snake. It's like everything they say about us is true." Had a straight person won, we would be saying the same things, but we wouldn't attribute it to their sexuality.

Hey, as a Jew I've been dealing with these things childhood. Every time I hear the phrase "Jew lawyer" or "Jew I recognize the respect and thinly veiled hatred it represents. To a Jew, the whole world is full of Navy SEALs and always has been. Every time a Jewish person commits a public act, good or bad, the cry goes up: "Is it good for the Jews?" We're working overtime right now figuring out the impact of Joe Lieberman, the Orthodox finger-wagging moralist we are all supporting in spite of those tendencies.

Never have I heard so many gay people turn into Jews as on the morning after Rich won Survivor. "Oy, now they'll really hate us!" But they hate us already, those of Them who do. The worst thing we can do is run, hoping they'll leave us alone if we can just become invisible again. Being in their face is our most effective weapon. Hanging tough and dealing with the challenges they place before us is the only way we guarantee ourselves a place on the island.