It is rare to find Christianity present on mainstream network reality shows and still rarer to find it presented in a positive light. However, CBS in their 22nd season of Survivor chose to include one player’s obvious belief in God. Matt Elrod, a contestant from Nashville, TN, is often shown praying, reading scripture and discussing his Christian beliefs with other contestants. While in past seasons, you might have glimpses of a contestant’s faith, it has never been highlighted in consecutive episodes and with the focus given this year.
Matt has done the unthinkable by winning every challenge on Redemption Island so far to remain in the game. He publically attributes his place in the game to “God’s will,” even after being brought back from Redemption Island to join the merged tribe only to be subsequently voted out to Redemption Island for a second time.
Last Wednesday, a second player publicly relied on his faith to make an important decision in the game. Iraq War Veteran, Mike Chiesl, decided to forgoe a family visit for himself in favor of gifting family visits for the six remaining contestants in the game. When asked by host Jeff Probst how he made his decision, Mike told everyone he was thinking of the Gospels and Jesus’ Greatest Commandment;
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
While I’m not sure Mike made any long lasting friends or garnered any potential jury votes with this move, he later told the camera that the game wasn’t foremost on his mind. Jeff, the host asked Mike’s mom, how she felt that her son gave up the chance to spend time with her to give the opportunity to others. She responded with tears in her eyes that this is who her son is as a man and she couldn’t be more proud.
Across fan sites, some Survivor fans find Matt’s constant prayer and references to God’s Will to be annoying and out of place in this game. Many, if not most fans, will argue that he is inept at playing this game of strategy, evidenced by his naiveté leading to two blindside tribal council votes. Still, others find his and now Mike’s demonstration of faith a refreshing inclusion in a reality game that celebrates and rewards lying, cheating and backstabbing.