I watched Survivor last week.  I don’t usually.  But that episode has made me think.

Apparently, it’s been raining, a lot.  (Which is something that happens in places like Samoa.)  And Russell, who is the captain of the winning tribe, spent a lot of the first several minutes of the show trying to keep the fire going.  While his teammates comment on this fact and how hard he works and if it’s really a good idea in this case.  Then Russell comes into the leaky shelter and comments that he needs to raise his body temperature.  All of this is what happens when it’s raining stuff until Russell collapses twice at the inter-tribe competition.

The on-site medics come over and assess Russell.  The competition is declared over and more information will come at the tribal council.  Of course, one of the camera crews stays with Russell and the medics.  And we see Russell being cognitively out of it, hear about some blood pressure and heart rate concerns, and see him collapse yet again before Jeff Probst announces that they are pulling Russell out of the show for medical issues.  (Russell tries to protest and, during the closing credits, talks about how hard it is to have to leave because his body couldn’t handle it.)

Elsewhere there has been some recent discussion about how disabilities are, or rather aren’t, represented on TV shows.  Russell’s exit from Survivor isn’t about that.  But it is about how part of ableism is the assumption that your body should be able to do what you want it to. I know better.  I know that other people do too.  I’ve been ruminating on this episode (oddly titled “This is the Man Test”) as a sign of our cultures obsession with doing it all and insistence on health as a default–even to the point of being unhealthy.  I’ve been thinking about how out of touch these emphases actually place us with our bodies.

And I’m wondering what everyone else is saying about Russell leaving.  Because I don’t think his body failed him.  I think he failed his body.  I think his game strategy interfered with his ability to make responsible choices about his health.  I think he failed to take care of himself and this resulted in his leaving.  It was bad strategy of the kind they don’t feature on the show.

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