Pretty much without exception, I have hated reality TV or anything that looks like it. And as each television station releases their new lineup of shows each season, I am always saddened to see more reality tv on the list, and the topics and titles of the shows seem to have been conceived by middle schoolers.
I originally wrote off the show I Survived on the Biography channel, thinking this to be the latest reality showdown-type program. What it is instead is a documentary feature program and is totally worth the watch. The basic premise is 2 or 3 stories are covered during each show, each about someone who survived an experience, escaping death only by a whisper.
The filming is done with one simple camera angle on each person with a black background. There is no glitz or hamming up of anything. Whoever (wisely) produces and directs this show realized that the stories and the emotion-filled voices of these survivors provides all the drama and intensity a viewer needs. I have been moved to tears more than once, and inspired by every story.
The one in particular that has stuck with me (and that is not posted on the website yet) featured a woman who was on a plane that had been hijacked. (this was pre 9/11 and was an international flight). The hijackers took over the plane and immediately shot a few passengers and/or crew members, then threw their bodies down the stairwell on the tarmac. The whole plane was terrified of course, and the hijackers would randomly pick three people at certain intervals, place them in the same empty seats, and if their demands weren't met, would kill one of them every 15 minutes. Then, this woman (the survivor) and her seatmate, whom she didn't know, were "chosen" and put in these seats along with one other passenger. The other two were shot as the 15 minutes passed. This woman knew she only had 15 minutes to live. She told of praying and of closing her eyes and "placing" everyone in front of her to say goodbye--her family, loved ones, and her new husband. And, because she hadn't had the chance to have children, she put this "anonymous" child in front of her and said goodbye to that child.
15 minutes passed, then another, then hours. But, the negotiations did fail. She was dragged to the front of the plane and a gun put to her head. She said she had a brief moment where she felt she would be alright. She was shot and tossed down onto the tarmac.
She laid there for hours until the hijackers allowed airport employees to remove the bodies. She had somehow survived. She was rushed to a hospital and taken care of.
Most of the people on the plane perished, as the plane was rushed by police and security, the hijackers set off hand grenades down the aisles.
I cannot express to you the grace in this woman's voice, her appreciation of the beauty of life, her kind remembrance of her seatmate even after all these years. I was riveted.
You may think--that is so sad, so horrifying-- why would I want to watch something like that? I will tell you why. Because within every one of these stories are heroes, people who do amazing, otherworldly things to help others, to help them survive and tell these stories. And that matters.
For more information on the show and showtimes, and to watch some of the previous shows online, click here.