In the year 2000, a CBS show about castaways stranded on an island premiered that would forever change the way reality TV was produced. That very same year, a 6 year old me sat in her kindergarten classroom with no idea just how much this show would compare to her life 16 years later in Nashville, TN.
I’m not saying that Music City, USA is all palm trees and sunburns, however, the structure of the sabotage filled game that is Survivor can be eerily similar to that of life as a songwriter in the South. Take for instance:
In the recent episodes of Survivor, castaways have opted to ditch their alliances in favor of “voting blocks” that shift after every tribal council. The point of this is to ensure that no one person completely controls the game, but rather the group as a whole creates a strategy to blindside strong competitors. The same can be seen here on Music Row. Instead of voting blocks, musicians participate in co-writes. These co-writes (sometimes including upwards of half a dozen people) are the same sort of social strategy that ensures that recognition is evenly divided, and that a larger group of people get to the “top”. Whether intentional or not, these collaborations mean the illusion of larger group success, even at the risk of diminished personal achievement.
In the game of Survivor, reward challenges are crucial to the attitude and health of a tribe. These challenges consist of hard physical and mental tasks that end in food, rest, and relaxation for the winners. In Nashville, the challenge is getting out and socializing, and the rewards are more or less the same. Networking is a vital step in a songwriting career, and often the motions can be frustrating. However, when you finally get that email back asking if you want to meet up for a drink, the feeling of success is strikingly similar to the satisfaction you get after a good meal in the midst of starving on an island.
Over the years we have seen many victors fall from the exhaustion of trying to survive. Who can forget Joe’s major tumble, or even this season’s Caleb suffering from heat stroke? While the sense of urgency of the songwriter’s exhaustion may not be as dramatic, it is still very real, and very common. Nashville’s market is so saturated with musicians that, in order to even be heard, one must constantly be hitting the pavement and working. Endurance is key in both Survivor and Music City, and often, the exhaustion can be enough to make you want to quit.
Social (Immunity) Idols
While the game of Survivor has hidden immunity idols, Nashville is home to social media idols creating false illusions of our hipster filled town. These people can be seen hanging out on 12 South, and then tweeting about the killer “hit” they wrote three months ago with their top of the line producer/best friend. These social stars have earned thousands upon thousands of followers to their name, and with each new “like” they are gaining further advantages in the game. If you want to be successful in Nashville, you have to make yourself be heard, and these idols are screaming from the rooftop of Acme Feed and Seed about their latest EP.
Everyone’s favorite seasons of Survivor are the years that old castaways come back to play. Heroes vs. Villians made for some of the best TV viewing my couch has seen in a decade. Similar to that, everyone in Nashville loves when old friends come back around. Sure, the new people can be good, but nothing can quite compare to Dolly playing the Ryman or Vince Gill sitting in with The Time Jumpers. The evolution of the game is necessary and enjoyable, but the return of a classic is what makes for quality entertainment.
Nashville may have more signature drinks from Frothy Monkey than white rice, but that is about the only difference between this town and the game of Survivor. People can be viscous and idols may come to stab you in the back, but the rewards are always sweet and half the fun is just in playing the game.
Now if only I could win a million dollars here in 39 days…