Like creative nonfiction, Survivor's visual language borrowed from fiction, with its establishing shots of desolate beaches, never mind the witty metaphors and foreshadowing that occurred when editors inserted footage of wildlife amid footage of the game play.
It was and still is awesome television, especially that it's now in high definition.
Survivor gave Hollywood permission to create shows using real people that were as engaging, cinematic, and dramatic as scripted TV.
Survivor wasn't the first reality show—unscripted narrative television's roots twist all the way back to An American Family in 1973, which eventually inspired the creation of MTV's The Real World in 1992, when the network realized a scripted soap opera would be too expensive.
Even the most basic and raw documentary series has to condense hundreds of hours of footage into watchable, comprehensible, engaging chapters, and that is no easy task for the editors and story producers who do that.
So which finalist earned the title of Sole Survivor?
That unscripted programming could take the form of—and even prove to be better than—scripted television was remarkable.
Yet there was the evidence: complex, developed characters; rising action; conflict and climax; heroes and villains.
The genre's name invites easy criticism, but those who now dismiss reality TV as some kind of fad unworthy of attention sound about as ignorant as someone in the 1950s railing against, say, rock music.
From a distance, it may look like it's all the same, but reality television is a wide category with many different sub-genres and sub-sub genres, from documentary series such as Animal Planet's endlessly compelling Whale Wars to crap like VH1's once-satirical, now-stupid quasi-celebrity dating series such as For the Love of Ray J.
Not all reality shows that followed Survivor look like it, of course.