When “Survivor” debuts Sept. 14, its 20 contestants will use their intellect, endurance and physical strength to compete for the top prize. Oh, and … their race?
“Survivor: Cook Islands,” the 13th installment of the monster-hit for CBS, announced it will separate the island-goers into four categories – African American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian.
“Survivor” host Jeff Probst told the “CBS Early Show” in August, “The idea for this actually came from the criticism that “Survivor” is not ethnically diverse enough. … We said, ‘Let’s turn that criticism into creative for the show, and I think it fits in perfectly with what “Survivor” does. It’s a social experiment, and this adds another layer to the experiment.”
The show has been skewered by television critics, media experts and sociologists alike. New York City Councilman John Liu even said he was launching a campaign against CBS, urging the network to pull the show because “it could encourage racial division and promote negative typecasts.”
Liu has a point. The show could perpetuate racism and stereotypes. But, as with all reality shows, the “reality” that viewers see is never really reality at all. It’s what the producers, editors and story supervisors want viewers to see. Out of the 40 days of footage filmed, only a few hours are ever seen by TV audiences.
Perhaps negative typecasts will be promoted. Perhaps the producers will only show these groups in the most grossly stereotypical roles they can.
But, perhaps not. The show, which will presumably see a spike in ratings because of the controversy, will also find itself being carefully scrutinized than in seasons past. Producers
and editors will have to walk a fine line between “racial Survivor” and “survivor Survivor.”
Instead of immediately dismissing the idea to separate races as racist, why don’t we instead adopt a “wait and see” attitude?
The show could fail miserably and live up to the expectations of those who say that the producers will make the program racially charged.
Or, it could surprise everyone and race could, in fact, play a very small part in the show. Let’s remember, these people are going to be on a desert island, with very little food. They have bigger fish to fry.
CBS was right when it called the show “a social experiment.” It is a social experiment, one that could never occur in real life. Viewers can watch a society try to function by separating itself in the most obnoxious, attention-grabbing way possible.
And we will be watching, reserving judgment, at least for the first hour.
But, if CBS sinks to the lowest levels of hell and promotes racial stereotypes or this grandiose division of race, we, along with the rest of the America, will be tuning out.