When the latest installment of the reality show “Survivor” debuts tonight, it’ll be hard to believe it’s the 21st installment. I certainly don’t remember details of all 21, though I’ve watched parts of most of them. I’ll be watching this installment with interest, mainly because I’ve worked with one of the contestants, and I’m curious to see how she manages.

The best thing about the show is usually the scenery, as the series typically takes place on some gorgeous tropical islands, and the photography is often stunning. This year’s version was filmed in Nicaragua, evidently along the coast or on some coastal islands.

The worst thing about the show is that you just about have to be a disloyal backstabber to win it. Although teamwork and cooperation are often important, team spirit rarely lasts long. Friends are developed as allies, but discarded just as quickly if it advances another’s chances. Trust is carefully cultivated, then abused. Cheating, lying, and betrayal are common, and often rationalized by contestants as “how you play the game.” Contestants often begin by stating their intention to always tell the truth and be loyal to their word, but they tend to either get voted off rather quickly, or compromise their commitments.

It’s a poor example, of course, but unfortunately all-too-representative of the way many people approach life: as a game in which other people are to be manipulated and used for one’s own interests.

That, of course, is diametrically opposed to the prophet Micah’s insistence that God expects us to do justice, love kindness, and live humbly before God. It runs counter to Jesus’ call for us to love others unselfishly and put their needs before our own.

Our ultimate survival, I suppose, may depend on which game we’re playing.

[Public relations image from CBS.com]

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