Despite being one of the grand-daddies of today’s reality tv explosion, Survivor has suffered in recent years from lacklustre ratings and general consumer disinterest. Gone are the days when your overweight friends held Thursday night Survivor parties with each attendent sporting their brand-new, freshly-ordered off the CBS website Survivor buffs, and “voted off the island” has long past its hey-day as pop-culture jargon. So, what did Mark Burnett do this season in order to remind us that his cash cow was still kicking? He did what all reality television shows inevitably do: he turned to race.
This season, Survivor features 20 new cast-members trying to survive in harsh, untamed nature (completely authentic despite the well-fed six-man camera crew following sticking the camera in your face as you attempt to light kindling with two pieces of rock and a machete). Of note is the fact that this season marks the most diverseSurvivor cast we’ve ever seen, with a whopping fifteen people of colour. Of course, rather than try to deflect accusations of tokenism in casting, Burnett went to the opposite extreme: unabashed racism! In the 30-second video promo, host Jeff Probst excitedly informs us that Survivorhas become a social experiment; the twenty castmembers will be divided into four tribes… by “ethnicity”! (Burnett must think we’re stupid if we think that “White”, “African American”, and “Asian American” are ethnicities. They’re races; Burnett is just afraid of sounding politically incorrect, describing what he has nonetheless done).
People divided by race and told to survive in the wild. What could be wrong with this picture, you ask? How about the unabashed racism of just looking at skin colour and separating people into different tribes? How about the fact that the only reason one would pit the tribes separated by race against one another is to play off of the kinds of racial superiority contests best left to the Bell Curve? How about the fact that Burnett is hawking this development not only as a daring “social experiment” but is implying through the commercial that separating people by race will automatically create such delightful racial strife that we will just have to watch (i.e., that racism is human nature)? And how about the fact that despite all this focus on race, the video still emphasizes images of White people?
I am disgusted — absolutely disgusted — by this new season of Survivor. Sure, there’s a rockin’ three Asian American men on the show (although what does it mean that no Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans or Asian Indians are included in this season?), but nothing excuses using people of colour as props to increase your own flaccid ratings, by including us in some sort of desperate affirmative action ploy and re-vamping your show’s rules to only incorporate people of colour when it’s about race. Screw you, Mark Burnett. They should throw you into that Tribal Council fire.