Introduction: Back to the Future

Why our immediate future so strongly resembles our distant past

In late May 2000, the reality television game show Survivor debuted in the homes of fifteen million American viewers. The show offered a glimpse into our tribal past with a modern twist—a $1 million prize for the winning contestant. It was launched soon after Memorial Day, at the start of the summer ratings doldrums. However, by the time Survivor reached its first-season finale in late August, its following had grown to more than fifty-one million viewers, second in ratings that year only to the Super Bowl.1

Over the subsequent dozen years or so, Survivor has proven to be one of the most durable ratings franchises for the CBS broadcast network. It ...

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