Numb3rs compares Survivor players to prisoners

A day after Padma’s appearance on 30 Rock, another prime-time scripted series had a guest appearance by a reality show, though only in the form of footage. It was part of Friday’s episode of CBS’ Numbers, which up until Lie to Me and The Mentalist debuted, was my favorite procedural drama, perhaps because it romanticized teaching while elevating the procedural beyond all the CSI clones. It’s probably in its final season right now.

Anyway, one of the metaphorical math lessons–they’re the show’s signature, simplifying complex math that the characters are using to solve a crime-fighting problem–used Survivor as the metaphor for what a character called “longitudinal socializing process.”

Basically, the math professor/FBI consultant/genius character Charlie Eppes compared the game to the way prisoners behave by using Survivor Samoa footage. “Detention facilities are breeding for criminal enterprises, aren’t they? It’s like the TV show Survivor,” he said. After explaining the show’s fundamental principles like alliances, challenges, and votes, he says, “Jails aren’t that much different.” Interestingly, when he mentions “individual skills,” we see Shambo; when he says “If they built their alliances correctly, they survive,” there’s footage of Russell Hantz shaking hands with at least three others.

Of course, this is obviously little more than cross-promotion for one CBS series on another, in the same way that Padma’s appearance on an NBC show helped to promote the signature show on an NBC Universal cable network. While Survivor‘s appearance generated some negative responses, it worked for me because it made perfect sense as a metaphor. And I’d rather watch clips of Survivor than a CG illustration of fireflies or a sprinkler or something.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.