‘I’m not here to make friends’: The origin of reality TV’s most cliché catchphrase

In May 2000, the world was introduced to a reality show called “Survivor.” The show was derived from a Swedish series from the ’90s called “Expedition Robinson,” alluding to two famous stories about people stranded by shipwrecks: “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Robinson Crusoe.”

The premise of “Survivor” was similar to that of “Expedition Robinson.” A group of strangers are dumped in an isolated location (typically a tropical climate) and must provide food and shelter for themselves for 39 days. When they’re not suffering from heatstroke or boredom, they compete in mental and physical challenges for rewards (food, water, supplies, soap, family visits) or immunity from elimination.

Host and executive producer Jeff Probst guides the contestants through eliminations where they are voted out by their fellow teammates until only one “Sole Survivor” remains and wins $1 million.

Since 2000, “Survivor” has produced a whopping 40 seasons with the exact same premise. But what “Survivor” has truly contributed to society is the ubiquitous statement, “I’m not here to make friends.”

Reality TV had a huge boom in the late ’90s and early 2000s, thanks in part to “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” MTV released “Laguna Beach,” “The Real World,” “Date My Mom,” “Next” and “Room Raiders”; CBS had “The Amazing Race”; Fox had “The Simple Life” and “Hell’s Kitchen”; NBC aired “Fear Factor” and “The Apprentice”; and VH1 had “Flavor of Love,” “Rock of Love” and three spinoff series starring Tiffany “New York” Pollack.

It was in the summer of 2008 that VH1 culture writer Rich Juzwiak was in the throes of watching and re-capping all of these reality TV shows when he noticed people kept saying the same thing over and over again.

“I’m not here to make friends.”

Juzwiak spent months compiling clips from dozens of TV shows where someone mentioned the phrase. Even today in 2020, contestants on “The Bachelor” and UK’s “Love Island” are saying it when they stomp on someone else’s toes to get to their love interest. “Top Chef” cooks say it when they “throw someone under the bus” (another overused reality TV show phrase).

Credit: Rich Juzwiak

Where did this come from? How did this become engrained in the very fabric and foundation of modern reality TV? It’s so beyond a cliché at this point, it’s almost a necessity for someone to say in order to identify themselves as the season’s villain who may or may not be there “for the right reasons.”

The first recorded mention of “I’m not here to make friends” was bestowed upon the public — unwittingly sparking hundreds of copycats for decades to come — by Kelly Wiglesworth in the first season of “Survivor.”

Starting at the 5:47 mark in this highlight reel, you can witness history.

Wiglesworth says, “How do you stay true to yourself and still maintain integrity while playing this game? You know what, you can’t. And I tell myself, ‘Oh I have enough friends, I didn’t come here to make friends…'”

Twenty-two-year-old Wiglesworth actually did make friends during that season (her second time around, not so much) — and while she ended up finishing in second place, she made a much larger impact by saying those six words into the camera during a confessional.

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