Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with a group of college students separated by the pandemic who turned their fandom for the reality-competition show Survivor into their own at-home Survivor competition—complete with immunity challenges and tribal councils held over Zoom. They discuss how the show bonded their friend group in pre-pandemic times, and how their homegrown version added some much-needed fun and structure to their lockdown days.
Claire Bunn, 19, a rising junior at the University of Georgia studying genetics, currently living in Marion, Arkansas
Emma Ellis, 20, a rising junior at UGA studying genetics and Spanish, currently living in Atlanta. Her friends call her “Ellis.”
Will McGonigle, 21, a rising junior at UGA studying environmental health, currently living in Atlanta
Spencer Sumner, 20, a rising junior at UGA studying biology and anthropology, currently living in Gainesville, Georgia
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Julie Beck: My first question is something that upsets me to ask, but were you guys even born when Survivor started airing?
Will McGonigle: It started in 2000. I think we were all just babies, but we were alive.
Beck: So how did you get into the show?
Will: I started watching Season 25; that was seven years ago, I think. It’s a guilty pleasure each week to tune in and see who’s surviving. It’s a good mix of both the physical and also the strategic aspect of the game. And it’s a cool place to be [transported to] when I’m not studying in the library.