In the summer of 2000, Mark Burnett’s experimental reality show, Survivor aired on CBS and became a sleeper hit. Phrases such as rat “tasting like chicken,” and the dreaded “the tribe has spoken,” entered the American lexicon. Through watching and rewatching seasons of Survivor the evolution of Survivor over the last decade has shown how society has changed its view on race and other biases as well. Black players are no longer viewed as immediately lazy or angry, (Jeremy and Tasha from season thirty one, and Cydney, from season thirty two. all three of them were respected in the game and the reason they all made to their final episodes of their respective seasons.
However, in the realm of Survivor being white gives a visible enough advantage to the white castaways. Since Survivor is a real game, the decisions made by players in the game is a reflection on the values of players. If the tribe loses the coveted immunity challenge, they head to tribal council and vote someone out, until the tribes merge into one. The least strategic vote is always the first vote.
Normally every three days on the island, there’s a tribal council ceremony. In the very first three days is never enough to truly gauge who is trustworthy enough to take further. It’s almost always based on productivity at camp or challenge strength. Does this benefit a certain demographic? Statistics show out of the thirty two people voted out first, eleven of them are people of color. People of color have a one in three chance at being the first out. All people of color could not be the weakest on their tribe or be the laziest, could they?
On the other side of the coin, out of the thirty two winners, eight of the winners are people of color, meaning if you are white, based on statistics, there is a seventy five percent chance that a white person will be the winner. This is a little bit troubling. Now, the format of a Survivor episode has confessionals where the contestants reveal their feelings and or strategy. This has became a staple in the reality television genre. Contestants become the narrators in their six week Lord of the Flies simulation.
For example, in the nineteenth season, Survivor: Samoa, Liz Kim, in an article admitted “Of all the things she faced during the taping of “Survivor: Samoa” – the bugs, the weather and other ordeals – New Yorker Elizabeth Kim was most surprised by her fellow competitors’ views on race. ” (Huff 2009). In the article, this was before the season had aired on television. Kim could not spoil anything that happened during the thirty nine days yet, this confrontation between Yasmin and Ben in the video below is what she is speaking about. https://www. youtube. com/watch? v=aQUwr_s-Oag
This conversation is after the very physical “Schmergen Brawl” challenge, to explain simply is similar to rugby, as a part of one of the twists, Yasmin was ‘kidnapped and staying at the yellow tribes’ camp. This is where she aggressively challenges Ben for tackling her too hard. Ben, who obviously dislikes Yasmin and makes derogatory comments about how Yasmin is “ghetto trash”, speaks volumes about Ben’s character. The yellow tribe ends up going to tribal council about a day after this fight, Liz survives this tribal council and gives an insightful confessional about the tribe’s psyche. ttps://www. youtube. com/watch? v=7Lq1ZBZqtuw Describing the struggle over needing psychical strength even when they seem to be racist is really fascinating and unfortunate for Betsy. I feel like this example is the reason why being white gives players in Survivor an advantage. Being as inflammatory as Ben was, he still got to stay around for another three days simply because he was a white male who was strong. That is white privilege. Obviously that is fair and how the game is supposed to be played, what was Liz’s tribe to do in response?
They tried to tell him that he was wrong with his prejudices, but it didn’t work and he was voted out next, if you’re worring, Ben thankfully did not win or even make it to the merge. Interestingly during the birth of Survivor, people were already protesting it and condemning reality television as a whole. “Here’s one thing you don’t want to be: a black person on a reality program. Nothing but bad news there. Don’t do it. Don’t apply. You’re either going to get shamed something fierce, or you’re going to get edited poorly. Stay home. Let the white folks make fools of themselves. (Goodman 2001)
This is when they only had two seasons to study. Goodman uses the example of Dr. Ramona “tastes like chicken” Gray. As soon as the very first cast of Survivor hit the beach, Ramona had a caught a cold and it hindered her until she was voted out on day twelve. Goodman seems a bit biased with his accusation of her being construed as lazy, “Never mind that Ramona — research chemist with a master’s degree in science from Howard University and a black belt in karate — would later say that she had been sick and the editing unfairly made her appear to be the lazy one.
The damage was done. The stigma attached. ” That might be what the audience placed on her, but fifteen years later and with the thirty third season about to air, people don’t even remember most early season castaways let alone know that if Ramona from Borneo was lazy or not. It’s very peculiar to me that telling a certain group of people that it’s dangerous for them to sign up for a reality show. Six years later, Survivor Cook Islands was the thirteenth season of the show and CBS had heard of the complaints that Survivor was not diverse enough in it’s casting of castaways.
Survivor then decided to cast five caucasian, five asian, five black, and five hispanic people and base the tribes on race. (The cast is pictured below. ) http://www. survivorfever. net/images13/513_cast/ s13_cast_vlg. jpg Survivor lost plenty of advertisers because of this twist. Despite being in poor taste, Survivor for the thirteenth and fourteenth season had a diverse cast (Fiji was not separated by race, Sylvia Kwan, was deemed the leader of the cast and selected the two tribes on day one. ) Obviously this seems like segregation on CBS’s part and not real diversity.
However, the argument of the white tribe having an upper hand melts away. Mark Burnett, the director of Survivor and Jeff Probst, the host supported this ploy to have more diverse casts on the show. I think having less homogenous people will create more interesting television especially since Survivor is a nonfiction show. Burnett and Probst are the people who sign off on the castaways every year, they didn’t have to make a stand. They are the gatekeepers. “Gatekeepers, who are cultural leaders and institutions that mediate between cultural objects and their audiences. (Kidd p. 16 2014)
The production let this happen because it was a stunt to get people talking about Survivor again. Even if this is maliciously put together, more people of color got to play Survivor not against the super majority of white. Also, in season six, nine, and twelve, the tribes were divided by gender and even more so in season twelve with the younger women tribe, older women tribe, younger men, older men. No one dropped their advertizing, nobody deemed Survivor a sexist show.
Personally, Survivor has always had representation through the people they cast, the first winner was an openly gay nudist, the fourth winner being a very religious African-American woman. It’s a show that tries to take sixteen to now twenty strangers and it tests them. It’s more than just survival skills, it’s people skills, perception is a big part of Survivor, perhaps knowing that people might be racist or homophobic on the island could extremely benefit castaways to move forward in the game, as well as in life off the island