The White Lotus Was Inspired By One Of The Greatest Reality Shows

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

white lotus season 2

HBO’s latest blockbuster The White Lotus, was created by Mike White, a name that might seem familiar from Jack Black’s School of Rock, which he wrote, but White has been on television in front of the camera. A contestant on Survivor: David and Goliath, the show’s 37th season, he also appeared on two seasons of The Amazing Race, the 14th and 18th, alongside his father Mel. During an interview with NPR, the Hollywood writer discussed how his time on reality shows influenced the development of The White Lotus.

The White Lotus Season 1 took place at an exotic resort in Hawaii, similar to the tropical islands of Survivor, though the director says that the influence is even more subtle than that, based off creating tension. White explains that “Survivor is not that dissimilar, which is a lot of times just people kind of kvetching about who’s tending the fire or they’re hangry because they haven’t had anything to eat. But then the music is making it feel like this is going to end up bad for somebody.”

While connecting a comedy-drama such as The White Lotus to reality television may seem odd at first, White goes on to admit that “I have to cop to being influenced by Survivor and these shows where you have a device that makes it feel like it’s a built-in cliffhanger.” Even though his HBO show does not have to worry about keeping viewers hooked through a commercial break, the tension helped engage viewers, making The White Lotus a water-cooler show filled with fan discussion about what’s going to happen next. In retrospect, Mike White wished he had started one of his earlier shows just the way he had his latest, with a dead body.

Mike White Survivor
Jeff Probst with Mike White on Survivor.

The White Lotus showrunner and former Survivor contestant’s first cable show wasn’t a major hit, leading him to say that “When that first season became such a water cooler show [that] people were talking about, I was like, had I only known if I’d put a dead body at the beginning of Enlightened, maybe people would’ve watched Enlightened, you realize these kinds of hooks do actually get viewers.” One of the other major influences on developing his latest hit show goes back to when he was growing up, watching Laverne & Shirley.

The classic sitcom about two working-class female friends can be seen in The White Lotus’ prostitutes, who just happen to also be a pair of underdog, working-class women trying to get into parties that they weren’t invited to. When asked to describe his show, the creator explains that it’s really Laverne & Shirley meets The Love Boat with a little Survivor added to the mix. Mike White downplays being a prestige drama on HBO with his comparisons, instead choosing to believe that what television is watched as a kid greatly influences future creative works.

Season 2 of The White Lotus recently aired, again to rave reviews, ensuring that the upcoming season 3 will continue to be a smash hit for HBO. In related news, Survivor’s 43rd season is currently airing on CBS, following 18 contestants on the islands of Fiji.