Friday, September 01, 2006


Sometimes I watch "Survivor" and sometimes I don't. It has seemed to me over the years that black contestants tend to be eliminated (by the votes of their "tribes"--if you don't know what I'm talking about, good for you) fairly early in the proceedings (although a black woman did win Season 4). So my first thought when I heard that this season's Survivor ("Survivor: Cook Islands") would involve teams divided by race (after "omg what a desperate, irresponsible grab for ratings!") was that minority contestants would last into the later stages of the game instead of being picked off early. And that a requirement that 3/4 of the contestants be "minorities" would push the non-white population way up (how many Asian-Americans have ever been on the show?). So I'm inclined to believe the Probster's (host Jeff Probst's) assertion that a lack of racial and ethnic diversity on the show had prompted this season's configuration (of course, his other suggestion, that Survivor had always been a "social experiment," is hooey).
A lot of folks I respect are very much outraged by this Survivor casting stunt, which some are calling "Survivor: Race Wars," but so are some persons I don't respect or even trust, like The Wall Street Journal. (The WSJ probably regards the move as a sort of affirmative action, which maybe it is.) Frankly, I doubt that the actual program will turn out to be more offensive than any other season of Survivor, for what that is worth. Survivor is filmed in advance and edited together from miles of footage to guide and mislead its audience and it is unlikely that the producers will present it as a season of race-based hostility. I'm willing to bet that the "message" of the season will turn out to be color makes no difference: we are all equally ruthless at heart. Or there will be heartwarmingly loyal inter-racial alliances set off against intra-racial backstabbing. Or some such.

In any event, Survivor is fundamentally racist in pretty much the same way the global economy is racist: a bunch of privileged North Americans (in the US version of the show) barge across the world to exploit (if not destroy) the land and culture of some brown people. Sorting the contestants by their (necessarily self-proclaimed) race does more to diffuse (or maybe confuse) the inherent racism than to intensify it.

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