In the early-to mid-2000s, at the height of network competitive reality programming, online communities formed to play simulated versions of shows like Survivor, Big Brother, The Mole, etc. These simulations were called Online Reality Games (ORGs) and would span a matter of days, weeks, or months to complete. Members of the community would host games, which entailed casting, scheduling, planning/building challenges, running the day-to-day operations of the game, and eventually even writing episodes for the ORG community at large. This offered hosts the opportunity to be Jeff Probst or Julie Chen and craft versions of, say, Survivor that fulfilled their own wishes for the show, be it through twists, locations, or themes. Players, for their part, could “put themselves in the contestant’s shoes,” and get a taste for the intricacies of strategy or the difficulties of challenges. Those who played many games, or hosted frequently, often took on celebrity status within the ORG community, which offered its own unique interpersonal dynamics within the context of a single game.
I read this level of fan engagement as its own form of textual poaching, because it builds on the individual’s personal viewing experience in order to craft an idealized iteration of the show. For example, each Survivor ORG was located in some exotic locale, chosen at the host’s fancy. Often this would be somewhere the shot had not been previously. Sometimes it would be a fictional location that was established within popular consciousness, such as Valhalla or Atlantis. Sometimes the hosts would have the contestants adopt aliases as previous contestants from the show, which turned the game into a fake “all-stars” version of the real show. It also gave players the opportunity to win in honor of their favorite contestant.
The other, perhaps unintentional, consequence is it made the ORG community “savvier” viewers, because they now had the closest thing a viewer could get to actual experience without stepping foot on the island. Members of the ORG community could bring that savviness to message boards exclusively dedicated to show discussion and analysis. This post is somewhat a precursor to my presentation on Wednesday, where I’ll talk more specifically about the fan discourse that surrounds narrative/strategic analysis in Survivor.
In the meantime, for those interested, one still-active ORG community can be found here.
SOURCE: My childhood.
SOURCE: My childhood.