Survivor: Segregation Islands?

CBS announced the latest Survivor cast today. So far, so good; they’ve done this 12 times already. And then they reveal this edition’s twisteroo: four tribes, divided by…race.
Hmm.

I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of this move. I’ve always stuck up for this show, which, let’s face it, has taken more than its fair share of critical beatings over the past six years. Its strengths (drama, intrigue, revealing bald-faced deceit and prejudice) have generally outweighed its weaknesses (cast homogeneity, simplistic characterizations, bland camp life). True, the franchise is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, as they say, and this move is clearly an attempt to goose its ratings beyond the usual game-related innovation. On top of that, I’m still willing to give Mark Burnett et al the benefit of the doubt. For now.

This could (could, mind) be the kind of in-your-face media experiment we just might need at this moment. If nothing else, it’ll be incredibly refreshing to see a whole lot of brown faces on the show (instead of the usual two or three). Then again, it could simply retreat into the usual kind of racial difference presentation and discussion we’ve had on TV for the past thirty-odd years. I haven’t had time to snoop around the web to see what others are thinking about this thus far, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it for sure.

Damn, and I was going to follow Ugly Betty this fall…

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2 Responses to “Survivor: Segregation Islands?”

  1. Bill Kirkpatrick Says:

    Sadly, Survivor does not deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to race. In particular, black males on the show are inevitably represented as “problematic” in some significant way: drinking all the wine, eating all the beans, feeling up a bunkmate, doing no work around camp, etc. While most Survivor characters are flawed, it is fair to compare the edited constructions of the black males with the edited constructions of the increasingly common “Captain America” types who have dominated the narratives of the past few seasons.

    That said, it will be an interesting experiment. I’m especially curious to see whether such a self-conscious and “public” call to interrogate race will cause Survivor to use some of the same conventions and tropes of racial (mis-)understanding as we’ve seen on other entries in the genre recently, most notably on “Black/White” and “30 Days.”

    –Bill

  2. dkompare Says:

    Great point about the typical way the show has represented black men, Bill. It’s difficult to say how much of that representation is generated by the producers (all the way from casting through editing), how much by the white-majority contestants, and how much by the black male contestants themselves.

    The great thing this year is that whites will be a decided minority for a change. For once, we’ll have an American prime-time reality show where most of the contestants have brown faces. Moreover, as has been pointed out in discussions elsewhere online, the four-team split isn’t likely to last that long in the context of the game; i.e., merger(s) will occur. My gut guess is that Survivor’s usual prejudice, ageism, will still trump the racial divisions when all is said and done.


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