I know what you’re thinking: survival guide, some kind of edible plants guide, maybe The Art of War. If you think those are the books that I will bring me with if I make it onto the hit TV series Survivor, you are very mistaken. I have considered this carefully, and Survivor is never about what you think it’s about. That is why one of the books I’ll be bringing with me is Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. She understands that things can shift suddenly, changing your entire understanding of the thing you had been participating in. JUST LIKE SURVIVOR. You think this is a test of mental and physical limits? Not so fast. Trust Exercise will remind me that reality is a constantly shifting set of expectations met or unmet and that I should be prepared for them to be unmet.
Survivor is also a game about not making friends. Don’t assume anyone is your friend and do not form any genuine attachments. For that reason, I will also be bringing The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. No character will better help me remember the need for independence and self-sufficiency than Ishiguro’s 1950s-era English butler, Stevens. Stevens sacrifices attachments for the sake of his profession right and left. Stevens knows that you don’t take your eyes off the prize. Whether that prize is the $1 million dollars awarded to Survivor winners or membership to the Hayes Society is up to you.
The TV show Survivor is a game of strength, skill, wit, and trying not to consume anything poisonous. In other words, it is the plot of the first half of The Princess Bride. William Goldman’s classic tale is a masterclass in being well-rounded. The best survivors are all of the things Westley must be in order to rescue Buttercup, and being good looking doesn’t hurt either. Forget Mud, Sweat, and Tears; if you’re going to survive in this game, you will need all the cunning of a farm boy.
Here’s another book I would definitely bring: Gone Girl. You will need to lie to survive on Survivor, and Gillian Flynn’s Amy is the maestro. A good unreliable narrator will be a crucial guide to you as you wade into the waters of backstabbing and bullshitting. Plus, Amy had a plan. Amy was thinking (arguably too many) steps ahead. You know who else had a plan? SANDRA, first two-time winner of Survivor. You know who else was an unreliable narrator? SANDRA. Two crucial skills, two $1 million dollar prizes. You do the math.
The last thing you definitely should know if you’re going to be on Survivor: how to catch a fish. It’s well-established that Survivor is mostly a mental game. Except for one thing: catching the freaking fish. You remember how Rupert became the most-beloved survivor of all time and even though he didn’t win he was invited back again and again and inevitably won fan favorite on Survivor: All Stars, a title for which he was given $1 million? If you can’t hack the mental relay race, your next best route to winning the big bucks is to catch and share your fish. Therefore I will also be bringing not only Moby Dick, but also The Old Man and the Sea. With The Old Man and the Sea I will be reminded of the importance of perseverance in catching a fish. With Moby Dick, I’ll always have an unread book on standby, no matter how long I last on the island.
Last book I will be bringing, and this is a controversial choice: Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh. One: it will be nice to have a short story collection so that I can finish something in one sitting during what I imagine will be jam-packed days on Survivor. Two: I do anticipate being homesick for another world. Three: it will be good to be reminded that the shitty people I’m stuck with on Survivor are actually pretty representative of the rest of shitty people in the world.
I know it’s a bold choice to bring a collection of literary fiction with me onto Survivor instead of your basic how-to guides for, well, surviving. But let me ask you this: when pleading your case to the jury before the final vote, would you rather know which plants are best for digestion or understand the intricacies of the human psyche?