Seghir Lazri works on the theme of the social vulnerability of athletes. In this column, he sifts a few clichés of sport through the social sciences. How the social explains sport, and vice versa.
Adapted from the concept show Survivor appeared at the end of the 90s on the Swedish channel SVT1, Koh-Lanta is one of the oldest and arguably the longest-lasting reality shows. If according to the audience results, confinement has helped to “boost” this show, its longevity is based on other factors, in particular on what makes the essence of this television show, namely sports performance.
A world of athletes
During confinement and therefore the cessation of sports competitions, the sports magazine SoFoot had fun rating the contestants at the end of each episode, as he usually would for a football game. Even if the approach corresponds to the quirky spirit of the newspaper, it is not trivial and illustrates an interesting aspect of the show, its sporting dimension. Since on closer inspection, Koh-Lanta, it is also a sports show. Hubert Auriol, the first presenter of the show was a former rally driver (winner of the Paris-Dakar), but also a sports journalist, just like of course, the “flagship” presenter, Denis Brogniart, who studied at the within the sports services of many media (Europe 1, Eurosport, and TF1) and does not hesitate to return, on certain competitions, to this role of journalist.
Alongside this television figure, many candidates lead or have led high-level careers, here we think of the winner of last season Naoil Tita, former boxer, or the professional handball player Hadja Cissé and Matthieu Blanchard, the ultramarathoner recently dropped from the show. We can also add to these official athletes, a long list of participants working in the sports sector, such as coaches. In addition, the sporting trajectory of the candidate for the special season (2020), Claude Dartois, record holder of events in the history of the show, and icon on social networks, also reflects the image of the complete and multisport athlete. whose remarkable performances (trails, climbs, etc.) fit into other frameworks than that of institutional sport. Its success and popularity can be explained by the fact that it highlights a social phenomenon at work in recent years, namely “The loss of the monopoly of sports federations on new methods of practice” of sport, as sociologist Patrick Mignon noted.
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Other essential elements of the program illustrating its sporting dimension are the collective and individual events. They must call “To surpass oneself” (as the presenter likes to point out) and respond in every way, through their theatricalization, to what constitutes spectacle sport, since, as the researcher Pascal Duret noted, about this social notion: “What ingredients does the recipe for success consist of when you envision it sitting in the stadium stands?” It undoubtedly requires merit and knowing how to pull out of the game while remaining collective, but it also takes luck, and if necessary a little cunning. “
Heroes more than champions?
Koh-Lanta is in fact, like an adventure, more than a competition. Indeed, the show takes place on a desert island, automatically referring to the archetypal universe of the character of Robinson Crusoe and its variations. It is a question of survival and social connection with the other candidates. Nevertheless, all of this always remains linked to the trials (winning in order to be able to eat, winning so as not to have to be eliminated by others); the notion of effort and sport remains central in this adventure. Since, as evidenced by the thought of sociologist and philosopher Alain Ehrenberg, sport “Constitutes the main vector and the basin of attraction of a diffusion of the culture of heroism”. For the candidate to marry the figure of the hero, he must demonstrate athletic skills, both physical and psychological, in particular by being autonomous and entrepreneur. The adventurer must manage his health (his needs) as well as his involvement in a social group, while knowing how to take risks. In this regard, the moment of advice which closes each episode is there to recall these imperatives, the one who is too weak physically, who does not participate in the cohesion of the group or has not taken a strategic risk by making an alliance by example, can pay for it by elimination.
For all these reasons Koh-Lanta is also a sports show, mainly because the concept of adventure is based on values specific to sport. But through this sportivization of reality TV that this show represents, we can see a mirror of our society, where we ask individuals, despite a rapidly changing labor market and a crisis of the welfare state, to be more autonomous and more responsible for their existence. Has society therefore become a hostile universe?