I have largely resisted the temptation to indulge in reality TV programs, although I do quite enjoy watching people whose dominant hand has frozen into a sort of claw from constantly clutching a can of malt liquor.
I was slightly obsessed with the first season of “Survivor,” which premiered — and this date seems preposterously distant — on May 31, 2000.
The show interested me because it wasn’t like anything else I had ever seen on TV, which is no small feat considering the medium’s eclectic nature.
(And considering my appetite for TV, which, in common with the average American’s, is at times prodigious.)
But “Survivor” quickly grew stale for me. And not only because it eschewed the people-clutching-cans-of-malt-liquor concept that I relish.
I watched, as near as I can remember, most of the second and third seasons, but “Survivor’s” arc was too predictable, its characters’ feuds and intrigues too obvious, to retain my loyalty.
I am in the minority, to be sure.
Had I been asked recently whether “Survivor” was still a going concern I would have answered no, and with a fair degree of confidence that it had long since been shunted aside by the original content offered by streaming services, among much else.
And I would have been wrong.
The show’s 37th season debuted on Sept. 26, 2018, and a 38th season is forthcoming.
This depresses me slightly.
(And not only because marginally attractive people are getting paid to hang around on beaches.)
I can’t help but feel other than aggrieved when I consider that a work of true genius such as “Seinfeld” lasted nine seasons, from 1989-98, while “Survivor” has soldiered on for more than twice as long.
Longevity often has the most tenuous link to quality, of course.
(Example: The Beatles’ recording career lasted eight years. Bon Jovi kept at it, with an occasional hiatus, for more three times as long.)
Frankly I’m surprised “Seinfeld” lasted as long as it did, considering it depended on four talented actors and a group of brilliant writers agreeing to devote much of their time to a single project.
“Survivor,” with its fresh crop of characters each season — none of whom demands (or commands) million-dollar salaries — has no such challenges.
I have on occasion been detained for an hour or two by some other show if the description on the on-screen guide seemed especially outlandish — a home infested by snakes, for instance.
I was briefly entranced by the series “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” in part because there is a great likelihood that the featured homes will be infested by something, although I believe insects are more common than reptiles.
But after watching a handful of episodes I felt as though I had participated in some grim ritual, one not so dissimilar (albeit without the blood, generally) from sitting in the Rome Colosseum, hailing the peanut vendor while lions eviscerate Christians or gladiators eviscerate each other.
There is something unsettling, anyway, about laughing while watching people whose problems seem to stem not from a personality flaw but from a mental disorder.
But I don’t feel guilty while watching the show that recently reintroduced me to the reality TV genre, because it depicts people who violated the law rather than the most basic tenets of home decoration and sanitation.
It’s actually not a single show but a trio of related programs — the only difference is geographic — airing on Animal Planet.
Each show follows a group of game wardens as they patrol for poachers and assorted miscreants.
My favorite of the three, “Northwest Law,” is set in Washington state. I prefer this show mainly because of familiarity — I’ve actually visited the vicinity of some of the places shown on the episodes.
This isn’t the case with either “North Woods Law,” set in Maine and New Hampshire, or “Lone Star Law,” made, as you’ve probably guessed, in Texas.
Each of the shows is compelling, though, and again because I can relate in some way to the subject matter.
I’m not much of a hunter or an angler, to be sure — if we were talking here instead about, say, art, I would be the paint-by-numbers guy who can’t stay inside the lines rather than the one who has a studio.
But I like to get out in the woods, and occasionally with a rifle slung over my shoulder, so it piques my interest more to watch people arrested for poaching an elk or taking crabs out of season than it is to watch, say, people who hold up convenience stores.
Subject matter aside, these shows retain the titillating aspects that are the hallmark of so much reality TV.
Viewers get to watch people who own more dogs than teeth, which makes our own dental deficiencies seem minor by comparison.
People who ostensibly speak English but for whom subtitles are not so much helpful as mandatory.
People for whom the “bleep” feature was invented.
There are occasional foot pursuits captured in that distinctively shaky “Blair Witch”-style, and many wailing sirens and pickup trucks spraying gravel as the warden speeds off to nab a brazen deerslayer.
I find it all quite exciting.
And frequently amusing, because poachers, in common with other types of criminals, sometimes demonstrate a considerable capacity for fiction when they’re caught.
Some of these people ought to write novels, so rapidly do they invent entire casts of characters complete with detailed characteristics and back stories — including, of course, the ownership of firearms that somehow, inexplicably, ended up in the back seat of the utterly innocent.
If this trio of programs had a slogan it would have to be “the gun isn’t mine; I’m not sure how it got there.”
Or possibly this: “I left my tag at home.”
None of these shows is new.
“Northwest Law” premiered in 2015 under a different name — “Rugged Justice” — and “North Woods Law” dates to 2012.
This means there is a considerable backlog of episodes, and although I’m not a binge-watcher I appreciate shows that don’t start repeating after a month or two.
I expect I’ll probably tire of “Northwest Law” before I’ve gotten through the whole slate — as with every other reality TV series I’ve seen there is an inevitable sameness.
But for now I’m still drawn by the prospect of watching a guy wearing tattered flannel, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, insisting that he don’t know nothin about no deer being shot up and anyway it was probably his cousin who borrowed his rifle.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.