While families worldwide brace for at least one day of togetherness—either around the tree and presents or the pu-pu platter and fried rice—surely thoughts of “survival” come into play. After all, most of us no longer live with our mother/father/siblings or (gasp!) that uncle who gives the wet kisses. Can we hack the constant questions about STILL BEING SINGLE? Or whether we’ve found work (despite having a full-time job as a freelance writer)? Can we stomach another turkey and more Brussels sprouts? Can we make it past security at the airport without losing a shoe/bangle/belt/earring/dignity?
Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year. And yes, we all love our families. But this time of year can also be a real…challenge. Or several.
My family would know. Our tribe got a head start on enduring each other this year as all five of us embarked on a vacation for the first time in about five years. The destination? Sunny Los Angeles. The reason? The LIVE season finale of Survivor, a reality competition show that the entire clan watches religiously. Oh, and to visit my sister, of course. (She’s been living in LA since last September and got us the tickets.)
Despite the Lieberman Tribe being a tight-knit clan in general—one that often sees concerts together (Mumford & Sons! Van Morrison!), eats together (Peter Luger’s! The Nautilus!) and drinks together (Wine! Scotch! Tequila!)—we hadn’t all traveled as a complete Party of Five since our epic trip to Alaska back in 2009. Could we, as they say on Survivor, outwit, outplay and, most of all, outlast a whirlwind, three-day weekend in Cali?
Let’s just say, the family that plays together, stays together.
Not without our fair share of challenges, of course…
Challenge No. 1: Traffic
We arrived in LA at around sunset on a Friday, aka the time when everyone is off work and headed home. The 405, the 101, the 110—no matter the highway you’re on, or even the direction you’re going—at this time of day in LA, you are bound to sit in traffic. (Honestly, any time you drive in LA you’re bound to sit in some sort of traffic, but rush hour is the worst.) My sister, being the hostess with the mostess that she is, wanted to pick us up from the airport. And despite her leaving the office while we were probably still flying over Colorado, we ended up standing curbside for at least 45 minutes. Thankfully, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and when she finally pulled up, we all piled in.
No, really. We actually piled in.
See, after my dad managed to fit all four of our wheelies into the trunk like Tetris pieces, he rode shotgun with my sister—the smallest of the group, mind you—at the wheel. Therefore my brother, mother and I were left to determine who had to suffer sitting in the middle with their knees in their nose and who got the windows. This was no Chevy Suburban, but rather a hybrid VW Tiguan.
And so this became a regular seat shuffle throughout the weekend. A backseat jig, if you will. Sometimes my brother would sit shotgun with my sister. Other times my mom. But me? Always in the back. Size-wise, I agree it made the most sense. And seeing as it’s become an everyday struggle to get my skinny jeans buttoned I took it as a compliment. But I will now forever use this as example of the oldest “golden” child not necessarily getting whatever she wants. So there.
For about another hour, we sat squished and staring at the red brake lights ahead of us while listening to “Wanda from Waze” guide us through the traffic to Santa Monica. We made it back to the hotel with about an hour and a half to shower and get dressed before…getting back in the car to head for dinner at Mastro’s steakhouse in Beverly Hills.
Challenge No. 2: Parking validation
My sister had an A, B, and C agenda for each of our three days there, which she emailed to my mother and I before arriving. Unfortunately, neither one of us understand where things are in LA enough to thoughtfully weigh in, and we certainly couldn’t run them past my father or brother lest they start to shoot lasers at us through their eyes before tuning us out completely. Needless to say, we often backtracked and spent a lot of the time in the car while managing to pack in alternative activities to eating. One such activity? Seeing the National Geographic “Power of Photography” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography…back in Beverly Hills where we were the night prior. (And very close to where we’d go the next day for our hike up Runyon.)
But I digress.
We actually zipped there in no time (by which I mean 20 minutes), moseyed through the exhibit in a little over an hour, and before we knew it we were back in the car headed to Santa Monica.
If only it were that easy. First we had to exit the parking garage.
We pulled up behind another car who seemed to be having trouble with his ticket. After we each moaned and groaned about his taking too long (we’re New Yorkers, patience is not our strong suit), my sister decided to back up and use a different lane. We’ll show him!
She inserted her ticket, followed by her credit card, but the gate in front of the car remained horizontal. She tried it again, this time flipping the ticket. Nothing. Then she tried flipping the card. Still nada. At this point, we all started shouting different suggestions:
Me: “Flip it over again.”
Mom: Try a different card.”
Dad: “Slide it slower.”
Jared: “Slide it faster.”
Then, as if she wasn’t frustrated enough, she dropped one of her credit cards in between the seat and the door causing her to let up on the break a bit, which in turn caused her to slam on it, jerking us all forward rather abruptly. We’re all laughing hysterically, not really knowing what to do next, until my brother unbuckles his seatbelt, opens the back door, and slides himself between the car and the machine to manhandle that thing. (If this isn’t the appropriate use for that word I don’t know what is!) Who knows what he did, but the damn gate lifted and we were finally able to exit the garage.
Challenge No. 3: Hiking
Individually, each member of the Lieberman tribe is active in his or her own way. I’m a yogi, Rach has gotten super into spin, my brother surfs, my mother…plays mahjong and my father poker. Just kidding. Both my parents power walk the neighborhood occasionally and have their own bikes, too. We like the great outdoors, even if upon first thought of that phrase we all think of John Candy and Dan Akroyd rather than our own woodsy adventures. (We’re really more water people.) But hey, when in Los Angeles…hike. And so Rach decided to take us up to Runyon Canyon.
One, because it’s a fairly moderate in exertion and two, because it’s close to the Hollywood sign, which always makes for a fun photo opp.
We all came prepared for this activity, though I don’t think any of us knew it’d be quite as hot as it was. No complaints from this August baby, but I’m pretty sure my father may have regretted wearing sweatpants…
There was one steep section that required a whole lot more hikability than any of us expected, but we all made it to the top without any injuries or much cursing under our breath.
Challenge No. 4: TV debut
The lead up to the weekend’s raison d’etre, the Survivor finale, had been super fun, but the taping itself had us giddy with excitement and anticipation. (Really, it could’ve gone either way. With all those personalities in that wee VW Tiguan?! Thankfully no one was ready to snuff anyone’s buff just yet.)
We arrived around 4p.m., were given white wristbands and eventually shown to our seats.
The set was designed to look like the tribal council area in the Philippines where this season was filmed, and we had a great view of where host Jeff Probst would name the winner in two hours time. But first, we watched the pre-taped finale on big screens, pausing for commercials during which a prep host got the audience psyched by asking questions.
I saw this as my shot to get us on TV. Surely there wasn’t another family of five—an adult one, at that—who flew over 1,800 miles for the sole purpose of attending this live taping! That’s gotta count for something, right? Especially since this season’s theme was “Blood vs. Water,” which saw past contestants competing against their own loved ones.
When he started inquiring about where people came from, I yelled out, “New York! We’re from New York!” I was *this close* to engaging him, but unfortunately there was a little kid sitting in front of us who had made his own immunity necklace and there’s just no competing with that.
If you watch the reunion special back, though, you can sorta see my parents in the background while Jeff is talking to Cochran, last season’s winner. Just squint your eyes a little and look to the left of his glasses.
It’s probably for the best, though. After all, my brother submitted a video to be a contestant and we don’t want to blow up his spot!
Final Tribal Council: To stay or go?
Our flight was for 1:40p.m. the next day, so we all did our own thing in the morning before meeting up for lunch at the hotel’s poolside restaurant. We recapped the weekend over mimosa’s and coffee, but eventually it became a meeting of the Lieberminds. See, just that morning my sister received a phone call that required her to make a major life decision (and us Lieberman’s are not good with decisions). The question was: to move back to New York (for a new, awesome job) or to stay in LA (with her new and awesome lifestyle). We each stated our cases, just as they do on Survivor. There were tears, differences of opinion and it even got heated at times, just as it does on Survivor.
But when Jeff went to count the votes…er, Rach went to make the decision, ultimately [ENTER GIANT ANTICIPATORY PAUSE] the job won. (If only the prize were $1 million! And if only she really made her decision right then and there. Like I said, this is a family of indecisiveness.)
Redemption Island Challenge: Catching a flight
Just when we thought we had exerted enough energy and emotion for the weekend, we were given another challenge: That of making our flight. Seems Tribal Council, aka lunch, went over a bit long and before we knew it it was 12:45p.m. and we had yet to hit the road. It wasn’t rush hour, but it being LA, you just can’t play with…wait for it…tire. So this time, my sister suggested my father drive. Like the rest of us, she knows his driving M.O., and so we held on for dear life as he weaved and bobbed off one highway and onto the next before pulling up at LAX with what seemed like seconds to spare.
We printed our boarding passes, ran through corridors and up escalators, flew through security and were in our seats minutes before the flight attendants began to prep the doors for departure.
And so the winner of “Survivor: Family Weekend” in LA was…
Oh come on. Like you didn’t know it was always going to be the entire tribe.