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The Reality of Witness

 Survivor is no stranger to people of faith.  This season is no different.  I was extremely excited when I first heard that this season of Survivor would include a seminary student.  It seemed timely after my own post regarding trying out for Big Brother Canada, and some of the concerns that others voiced to me.  I was looking forward to seeing how a seminary student would handle the murky morality of Reality TV.  How would his or her faith be presented in this show?  More specifically, how would someone, presumably in their formative years of life, express their devotion to God and their call to ministry as they schemed, strategized, and battled their way towards one millions dollars?

It took only two episodes.

Enter Roxanne Morris, of Brooklyn New York.  While this seminary student did not get much notice the first episode, beyond painting crosses on her face for a challenge, the second episode had her in prime focus.  From commenting on the appropriateness of two people cuddling during the night, to attacking another player’s lack of ability and game play, to the continual rolling of her eyes at comments displeasing to her, Roxy was clearly being shown as a judgmental and vindictive person.  To watch her interact with her tribe-mates, you would never have known that she was a seminary student except for the caption that ran beneath her name.

I don’t mean to belittle Roxy in any way.  Obviously there was some selective editing going on.  This is what Survivor does.  Each episode focuses on drama of some sort. After all, drama equals ratings.  Episode one featured Russell as the villain to be hated and it seams that for episode 2 it was Roxy’s turn.  No fault to her, this is what the show does.  Yet, shouldn’t she bare some responsibility? After all, she did make certain comments.  She did roll her eyes.

And then there was the scene of her praying on the beach.  Oh dear.

For those who may not have seen it, let me describe:  After hours of perpetual rain finally the rain stops and sun comes out.  All run onto the beach to bask in the sun.  Roxy sits at the waters edge and begins offering prayers and thanksgiving to God. This all happens within ear-shot of the other players.  She closes her eyes and prays audibly “Thank you God, you are good and just”.   Then, still within ear-shot of others, Roxy begins to pray in tongues.

Here is why I don’t like this.  Besides the fact that praying in tongues with no interpretation seems to be a clear violation of Paul’s advice in 1st Corinthians 14, (not to mention Jesus’ comments regarding hypocrisy in Matthew 6), I found this act entirely self-indulgent.  It seemed contrived and completely self publicizing.  It smacked of a ‘look at how spiritual I am’ mentality. The prayer seemed devoid of any and all authenticity.  What came across was not a heart-felt prayer from a deeply devoted person, but a pre-planned gimmick aimed and garnering air time and fame.

The issue for me is not that Roxy prayed, but how she prayed.  There seemed to be no consideration as to how the prayer would be received, either by the other contestants or the watching world.  The prayer seemed more an act of public display rather than one of private devotion. Thus, Roxy’s Christian witness seemed less about caring for others, and more about her own self-advancement. Furthermore, as the episode continued to depict Roxy as aggressively working to turn people against another member of the tribe, Roxy (and by extension all Christians) could not help but be seen as hypocritical and self-serving.

This poses an interesting question: how much are we to concern ourselves with how we are perceived by others?  What is more, should we concern ourselves with how Christian faith is perceived in this world?  And in a show like Survivor – which in some manner purports to be a microcosm of the world – do Christian contestants bare responsibility to the larger representation of Christian faith?  Yet these questions aren’t really just about Survivor are they?  It’s all fine and dandy to critique Roxy’s actions as presented on the show, but the real force of these questions relate to how we portray our faith in a world that watches us.  To be known as seminary students, Christians, or ministers, how does our faith inform and attract others to the truth of the Gospel?  Do we testify to God’s love and care, or do unwittingly push people away?  If I see my life as one great big Reality show, filled with countless people watching to see how I express and live out my faith, do I do justice to the loving grace of Jesus?

It was clear that Roxy was not presented as someone to emulate in her Christian devotion.  Perhaps we will have better luck with the Pastor from Sylvan Lake Alberta, who attempts to find love on The Bachelor, Canada.  But then again, perhaps we are challenged to stop thinking about how others live out their faith, and focus on how we express our relationship with Jesus to a world that is often tuned into us.

What did you think of Roxy’s ‘Christian Witness’ on Survivor last week?


Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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0 Responses to The Reality of Witness

  1. I can honestly say I don’t watch ‘reality’ TV.  I find enough reality just outside the door…
    That being said, it raises a whole bunch of other issues about what we perceive as ‘reality’ these days – would this Roxy have done her prayers and speaking in tongues if the cameras had not been there?  Have her friends back home and at sem witnessed this type of behaviour from her in other times of joy? If not, then why do it for the sake of someone else’s TV ratings and advertising dollars?
    And furthermore – if she’s not perceived to be authentic when the cameras are rolling, then how would a congregation expect her to be authentic in her spiritual leadership? Hmmm…

  2. We certainly don’t need to be seen as picking on Roxy, because if you’ve watched Survivor for very long, there have been numerous examples of those who seemed to use their faith as a mechanism to draw attention.  A couple of seasons back “Coach” and his group of followers prayed that if God helped them win the challenge, they would give all the glory to God.  Which they did when they won the challenge, but there was certainly no intention to give God the million dollars if they happened to get to the prize.  It’s like they can turn on the charm with God and the cameras and then turn their backs to lie, cheat and steal to win the money, and we are all supposed to be okay with that. They also went on to backstab each other with regularity. 

    It seems most everytime that you see faith represented on a reality television show, you see it used as one of the “tools” to win the money.  So, why not this question, “Is it acceptable for a believer to go on a reality show that, by it’s nature, requires players to bend, break and destroy the rules to win a million dollars?”  And then, we can add onto that perspective, that this is really just a representation of our lives and the struggle we have to live them out in the context of our faith. 

    I’ve been more intrigued by Lisa (child star of Facts of Life) who has a very deep faith and who is currently involved in a family oriented ministry (I’ve heard this before and she alluded to it in a discussion with another player week one)  Lisa has not played the faith card and I don’t think she is going to play it.  She has shown herself to be uncomfortable with some of the backbiting that is going on.  While editing of the show makes a big difference, it would appear that she is not going to make a big deal of her fame or her faith and is trying to play a game of honour, which all kinds of people talk about on Survivor, but then almost immediately show themselves as not able to live it out.

    And what of former Major League baseball player Jeff Kent, who whispered to the camera, “I don’t need the money, but I want to win the game.”  So do we think if he wins he’ll split the million between the other players?  Publically give it to charity?  When they go to hand him the cheque, say no thank you?  Why does the cynical me expect he would tuck the money into his jeans and head to see his investment broker.

    I agree completely with Kyle’s assessment of Roxy and her game play.  But Survivor truly is a look into our world today.  Flash some skin to curry favour; tell a lie to gain position; take a short cut when it pleases you; eat more than your share because you are hungry; blame everyone else for your mistakes.  Happens every week on Survivor and it happens every day in our lives.  So, let’s not be too harsh on Roxy, she’s got a lot of company – like me.

    Oh and by the way.  Did you see episode 1 of the Amazing Race.  Couple leading the pack and headed for pitstop.  Another couple comes up and asks for help to find a clue, and couple 1 gives them a hint.  Minutes later, couple 1 (the female has two artificial legs) is struggling to run to the pitstop and couple 2 blows by them to be team one, thus being the only team that can double their money (see that theme rearing it’s head) if they win the whole race.  Their reason for blowing past the team that helped them.  Hey, it’s the game, it’s for two million dollars.  We have no choice.  To their credit, the team giving the help peered into the cameras and said, we’d do it the same way again.  Hmmmmmmm, what does that have to say about life and faith

  3. Kyle Norman

    Thanks Keith

    You very well articulate the dynamics of faith/morality in the context of reality television.  This is why it intrigues me so – for while on one hand we talk about a fabricated universe, on the other hand we are not.  On one hand you have a completely selfish display of faith through various people, on the other hand you have honest displays as well.  On the Redemption Island season, Julie remarked upon her exit that she was going to go home and find a church. She had a complete conversion experience through her interactions with Matt and others.

    I like your comment about how faith is seen as a tool to win the million dollars. Roxy was actually quoted before the show that she felt she would win because “God would not bring me all this way not to win.’  Yet, so often the reverse is seen as well.  Faith is seen as that which austrocizes you.  It makes you non-competitive and submissive.  Will this be how Lisa’s faith is displayed.  While Roxy’s faith was displayed as self-serving and hypocritical, will Lisa’s faith be displayed as week, spineless and detremental?

    For me this highlights a big question: if I don’t want to be seen as A or B – what is the other option that I am called to model?

  4. Kyle Norman

    One more thing – regarding your comments of Amazing Race.  Was Amy & Daniel’s decision to help Abbie and Ryan a faithful decision? That is to say, is it the case that we should see the act of pointing someone toward the clue (even though it is a competition and a race) more of a ‘faithful/christian’ act than keeping the location secret?  Would have Amy and Daniel behaved less faithfully if they remained silent?

    And given the fact that they did help Abbie and Ryan, did Abbie and Ryan therefore have a moral obligation to let Amy and Daniel win the leg?  Even though they did apologize for going past them, did Abbie and Ryan act less faithfully than if they had let the other team win.

    And, just to muddy the waters – would we even be concidering these moral dilemma’s Amy did not have bionic legs?

    See, theologizing popular culture can be so much fun!

  5. Just to show how addicted I am to survivor, amazing race etc – we can go back to the season that Yowman (I can’t remember how to spell it) cut the deal with Dreamz (who professed faith)  Yow allowed Dreamz to win a truck which he very much wanted, if Dreamz would give immunity IF (and it was no sure thing ) at a certain level to Yowman.  Dreamz got the truck and a couple of weeks later won immunity and refused to give it to Yow as promised.  I was very dissappointed in Survivor that they did not show the moral implications of this decision.  should survivor have taken the truck from Dreamz?  Should they have forced Dreamz to give up immunity?  At the very least they should have shown the resulting interaction between the two, which they pretty much sloughed off.

    I often describe Survivor as “what part of me will I give up for a million dollars.”  It really describes the moral dillemnas we live in today.

    The Amazing Race event is a long way from playing out (I’m amazed you have the names down already)  Not saying the couple that passed the team that helped them, shouldn’t have done it; but they should at least have been clear that they “owed” a debt, as simple as help later in the game.  The most interesting moral question – did Amazing Race portray the exchange truthfully ie was there a thanks and a repayment offered.  Or, is it possible to create contraversy and boost ratings, they edited it so it would be left hanging and spark discussion and finger pointing.

    There are many similar scenarios that play out in our everyday life as we deal with the choices that we make

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