Family Final 4

Family Final 4

I have a really good friend – a lifelong friend, if I start counting from my twenties – and I can say this even though we had almost no contact for over thirty years.

Because Katie is family.

I know this now thanks to the television show Survivor, and the sucksters at SurvivorSucks, a Yuku forum for fans.1 I am not a Survivor fan per se. After seventeen years and thirty-four seasons there is little to hold the attention of serious viewers, as the game elements, gameplay, and cast of characters are predictable and stale. For those of us that like a good puzzle the contest has shifted to one between the editors and we sucksters, even if only in our collective mind.2  The challenge is simple – how quickly and correctly can we read the edit to name the winner before the final reveal.

There are many strategies practiced in the Speculation forum, all with complex and debated internal rules. Some use spoilers, some are spoiler free. Others evaluate editing tropes like story arc and presentation of characters, or rely on comparative analyses with past season edits. Logic – of the game and of the edit – is key to some gamers, as is participants’ real world post-game pre-broadcast behavior. But the strategy important to this story is:  Family Final Four. Family Final Four tracks Survivor characters in their adopted familial roles – father, mother, son, daughter, and eccentric – and predicts a winner based on the roles represented by the last four contestants.

A few years ago Bruce and I came back from a long summer vacation, to mail, email, and voicemail stacked up at home and the office. Bruce’s triage required starting with the most recent and presumed urgent.  So it was almost a month before he got to Katie’s out-of-the-blue message. (She had found him on Facebook through his company’s site). He texted me, did I want her number, or should he let it go?

The news caught me. I was at a low point with friends and neighbors, all of my relationships unsatisfying – tedious, annoying, even angering. Now I felt surprised and enervated; a smile played on my lips. I fidgeted for a long while, hesitant, but then I called. Fifteen seconds in we were laughing like the girls we had been.  “So what have you been doing?” she asked.  “Nothing,” I said. “Nothing”, and the circle closed.

We went to visit for Thanksgiving, and true to her nature Katie had gathered everyone she and I knew when we worked together for the city of Lexington. This is her gift, seeing and maintaining connections among everyone she has contact with. She is an analog Facebook – its precursor, really – a Malcolm Gladwell “connector”.3  Our experience that November with our old friends and colleagues was surreal, counter to what we expected given sixty years of living and thirty years apart. The initial exchanges were perfunctory, catching each other up, and then we were back, in time and in our old roles. We were not awkward, or reserved; we were barely careful. We didn’t have to be, we were home. My revelation will not be a surprise to those of you who come from happy families. It is the gift of family, to always be who you are even as everything changes. But for me, it was a wonder, and I did marvel for quite awhile about the reunion, reflecting on it as I followed the FF4 thread.

It was easy to label us with the archetypal characteristics and roles. At the center was Ken our strong father, and Harold, his rebellious son; Katie, Marilou, and I were daughters, me cast as the youngest, Katie the eldest. Bruce was accepted as my husband, in an auxiliary, non-central way as were all other partners, spouses, and children. Dennis played the eccentric uncle, and poor Carol our weak, ineffective mother. It was a solid, supportive family, despite its workplace origin. We flourished together doing good work, and we flourished afterwards as we all grew into larger roles apart from each other. Our common ancestry, our familial blueprint still shows in the people we are and in the paths we have chosen. We come from the same stock.

FF4 is not a good predictor of Survivor outcomes. But it does offer insight into relationships on and off the show. It fascinates me that even as adults we strive to create family wherever we are – workplace, community, or game show. I am amazed that I did not re-create the unhealthy relationships of my family of origin4, and so grateful that I was lovingly adopted into Katie’s family. It has made all the good that came after possible.


  1. SurvivorSucks has been migrated to Tapatalk … ugh
  2. A reveal here for those who don’t watch reality shows: reality shows are not real.  Reality show editors do what all other storytellers do – they write. What is broadcast is nothing verbatim, but rather a presentation, a staging, a crafted story.  The events and dialogue ultimately shown did happen, but they have been culled from hours and hours and hours of material that the audience never sees. These curated scenes have been snipped and arranged and fit together differently than they occurred in order to tell a story that will keep the casuals watching. Sucksters are hip to the sleight of hand, and it is exactly what we watch for.
  3. from his book “The Tipping Point”
  4. so many people do, sadly, choosing the familiar
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