Conclave 2013 Should Take a Page From 'Survivor' to Choose the Next Pope


Conclave 2013 will consist of 117 Cardinals, mostly septuagenarians, who will elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor through secret ballot and a two-thirds majority. Only five voters within this ecclesiastical Electoral College look forward to a 60th birthday. Regrettably, the new but old leader of the Catholic Church may soon again wither under the crush and pace bedeviling a papal jet-setter.

Every cassock casting lots within the conclave has accepted ordination from Benedict XVI, or his predecessor, John Paul II. The next Bishop of Rome will certainly cling to the conventional Catholic wisdom which paved his steps to clerical acclaim. Sheep and laity beseeching reform for reproductive rights, the LGBT community, or female priesthood haven’t got a prayer.

Still, a fresh legate with stale ideas may corral the wandering among a flock of 1.2 billion by achieving office through contemporary rituals that lionize charisma and vitality. Broadcast brush fires already obsess over every microscopic manifestation of the papal picking process. Sparkling spin on dull pomp would champion a dynamic and beloved Catholic chief. Conclave 2013 should institute Survivor-style methods that successfully select and promote a popular, enduring pope.

Survivor Pope Island: Let God sort ‘em out

Modern papacy demands stamina, world-class personality and diplomatic finesse. The competition to enthrone hallowed virtues begins at a small monastery on Vatican grounds. Pope Island tests each cardinal’s wisdom to form and sever alliances (holy covenants) while closing in on the finale. Reward challenges uncover each winner’s capacity to mete out charity, while calculating compassion as a means for securing faith and future favors.

Elimination challenges quickly cast out cardinals who don’t pack the pontifex maximus to exact dominion over obstacle courses, puzzles or scripture chases. Unlike reality TV, popefuls in their 50’s outlive early elimination votes, earning constant reward and immunity as low-mileage rivals who command winning streaks and regular heartbeats.

Competitions mercifully include a Communion wafer-eating match up to measure mortal capacity for consecration, while also leavening starvation. Meanwhile a baby-blessing challenge separates Vaticans from Vaticants when anxious clerics captain Fiats through prayer and peril, navigating bumpy byways of Rome to perform multiple christenings. 

As momentum races to crowning glory, agnostic and zealot crowd water coolers, taking bets on the dwindling court of anointed fave raves with a shot at winning the translation showdown. Potential potentates must choose a song from Billboard’s top 10 Christian hits.

Performers then croak milk-and-honey melody with Latin lyrics before adoring audiences, drawing authority and buzz from dead language and star-power stagecraft. Although originally considered, songs by Pink, Lady Gaga, and Madonna fail scrutiny under strict moral standards. 

During global simulcasts, digital devotees cast Catholic ballots on Twitter, inspiring contenders through social media bliss for cardinal powers that magnetize masses. Pick-a-pope phone apps offer personalized participation with front-runners by uniting worshipers in the cloud to fret over medical updates, polls, standings and life expectancy.

Despite global groundswell at the big reveal for a vital and charismatic pope, followers understand that the Holy Ghost ultimately chooses the champ, and may not side with the popular vote. Anyone still waiting to see Mark McGwire or Pete Rose elected to the MLB Hall of Fame knows exactly how that feels.