September 14, 2006

The racially divided "Survivor."

Did you watch? I haven't watched "Survivor" since the first season, when I hit the wall of boredom at a competition over who could stand on a stump longest. But I was intrigued by the daring decision to divide the contestants into race-based teams. How would that work? In some ways, race is neutralized, because teammates voting against each other have only those of their own race to turn against. On the other hand, the team members had the burden of knowing that millions of people would be watching them and thinking about their entire race.

It was interesting the way the Hispanic team seemed to pull together right away and simply feel advantaged. The black team felt team spirit and actually stopped to do a cheer about how they were all black, but they didn't really pull together. Nathan interviewed that black people don't like to be told what to do, and two of the women got very close quickly, leaving the third woman feeling like an outsider. The Asian team took account of how they really weren't a uniform group. They were from different parts of Asia, and that mattered. The Vietnamese immigrant, Cao Boi, called attention to his outsider status: He really belongs with hippies. In the funniest scene, he cures another guy of a headache by pulling the "bad wind" out of his face and leaving a red mark. Meanwhile, on the white team, they catch two chickens and a woman called Flicka bumbles into letting them escape. And they're all scantily clad and really cold, so they form a "cuddle puddle" to sleep (and get sexual).

The challenge was complicated and way more interesting than standing on a stump, and it was pretty exciting. I liked the strategizing leading up to the council, and I liked the exile island and the way the exilee was chosen. So far, then, I'm hooked.

What do you think?

UPDATE: CBS has made the episode available on line here. So now you can't say you missed it but you have some opinions in general about what they've done, dividing people up by race. Well, you can still say you don't want to watch it, but you still have an opinion. And I'm not going to say you can't say that. CBS would like that too much. And I myself am known for having opinions on movies I haven't seen and books I haven't read. I've been criticized for it, and I've defended myself. Figuring out what not to put your time into is a very important skill, and explaining how you do it is worthwhile. I can totally understand shunning this show on general principle. In fact, I can totally understand shunning all reality shows and (even more) shunning all television. Personally, I watch less and less TV -- as I become more and more absorbed into the internet -- and a primary reason for watching what I do watch is that I enjoy blogging about it. By that standard, I loved watching the entirety of the political conventions in 2004, when they were really nearly unwatchable except in short doses, because it was fabulous raw material for blogging. Of course, that means that the mere fact that I'm blogging about a show can't be read as a recommendation that you ought to watch.

UPDATE: There are two law school grads on the show, both on the Asian team: Yul Kwon and Becky Lee.


chuck b. said...

I'm still thinking I should put the first season of Project Runway in my rental queue.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, definitely. I bought the DVD of Season 1 after I started watching Season 2.

I'm Full of Soup said...

Interesting concept on Survivor. When I first heard it, I was against then the Philly Inquirer ran an editorial supporting the concept in the interest of more dialogue and discussion of race.

Then I thought newspapers could do likewise by having multiple oped (everyday) pages for far right, far left, social conservatives, libertarians, etc and ask the oped writers to self-identify. It would sure reduce the complaints about balance.

Off-topic maybe but that is what I am best at IMHO. And I am still at office and taking a much-needed break.

Maxine Weiss said...

Turn off the TV.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine: When did you become such a bluenose?

altoids1306 said...

Between Food Network and ESPN, most of my available TV hours are taken, but if Survivor gets the Althouse-stamp-of-approval (and I can get home early enough), I'll give it a go.

When I heard of it, I thought it was a desperation move for a dying genre, but, eh, maybe.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

This post reminds me of the TV lounge in the sorority house. I didn't always like what was on the tube, but I liked watching it with people and seeing what they thought about it.

Alpha Alpha House.

Chris Castanes said...

I saw my bookie today and put $25 on the honkies to win. After seeing the show, my only regret is that someone didn't beat the living crap out of Jeff Probst. And why do the tribe names all sound like vaginal infections?

Maxine Weiss said...

I stopped watching TV the day the Jefferson's went off the air.

Peace, Maxine

Eli Blake said...

This really bothers me.

Let me quote from a blog post I wrote on this about three weeks ago when the news first broke. I still feel this way:

A team of white people will compete against a team of black people, a team of Hispanics and a team of Asians. Ironically, I am writing this post while I am sitting on the Hopi reservation, which is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, so it's a good bet that at least 90% of the people within 50 miles from here would be told that they couldn't be on this show at all, because of race.

This is in a word deplorable. It wasn't all that long ago when sports teams, as well as schools, workplaces and housing were segregated. In fact, it may be technically illegal, but in a lot of cases there still is de facto segregation. As recently as the 1970's there were still legally segregated instututions in some places, and there are still country clubs where even Tiger Woods would not be welcome to play golf because they would look only at the color of his skin. Because of segregation, generations of people were lynched, forced out of a job, made to go hungry, or even had their entire communities burned to the ground. Children were forced to walk past a good school near their homes in order to attend a lousy one much farther away.

To make sport of this on a show called, 'Survivor' is ironic in the extreme, as under segregation, people had to fight every day just to survive.

Racial segregation is not a game. It is not something to make light of. It is not acceptable. It is hard to see how this could be considered anything other than bringing one of the worst ideas of the past (whether you call it Segregation, Apartheid, or whatever, it is still the same thing) to modern TV.

And heck, no, I'm not watching it.

Laura Reynolds said...

Hey I'm now a Tivo and its great for this stuff. This was not so different than recent seasons but for the racial element. The stump/stamina thing will show up later.

ZWH said...

I am in. The greatest part (for me) is I hardly think about their skin color 10x more frequently focusing on the teams lack of cooperation/teamwork.

I like that.


MnMark said...

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was interesting how comfortable the teams seemed to feel with one another right away. The asian and black teams especially seemed to talk about themselves as racial groups a lot. I thought it felt like kind of a relief to watch teams where, within the team, there would be no ethnic tensions and everyone just right away felt like they could be themselves without the race thing hanging over them.

Eli Blake: you're taking it way too seriously. But then that's what white liberals do about this sort of thing. Other ethnic groups are much more relaxed about identifying with their race and feeling good about it. The black group, for example were openly enthusiastic about being black and being together.

It was interesting though how the asians seemed to feel that which asian sub-group they were part of made a difference.

And also interesting how the asian group quickly solved the puzzles to win the challenge, just what the stereotype of the intelligent asian would have suggested.

Also interesting how the two black men immediately stepped away from the black women and took it upon themselves to unilaterally decide who would be going to Exile Island. The black women didn't seem too excited about that.

lucas m. said...

I just have to state that I am one of the three people in the USA that actually doesn't care for 'reality' TV. Unless it's on discovery or history, don't bother me. It's about as real as Micheal Jackson's nose, and the addendum to that statement is that if it was real, it wouldn't be interesting. Reality is boring, and usually just a lot of work.

eric said...

Could you please not mention Survivor for the next little while? We just broke up, so my emotions are a little raw.

Oh - if Survivor asks about me, tell it that I'm looking really good.

Glenn Howes said...

CBS has a "innertube" posting of the entire episode at:

Anonymous said...

Let's have teams based on contestants' religions: Muslim vs. Jew vs. Christian.

Oh, wait, sorry, we already have that....

LoafingOaf said...

It was disgusting how they treated the chickens. :(

Other than that, it was one of the better opening episodes for Survivor. (It usually takes a few weeks for the show to get interesting.) I'm not gonna judge the race idea until I see how it plays out. There's a lot of diversity within each tribe, with strong individuals. But, as has been a problem on some past seasons, the women still wanna ally against the men.

I'm not embarrassed about watching reality shows. It's fun to watch Survivor with some friends in a voice conference on Yahoo. :)

Anyway, I stick with just Survivor, The Apprentice, and Real World/Road Rules. And MTV casting an anorexic with an abusive boyfriend back home on the last season of Real World was perhaps more ethically questionable than Survivor's latest stunt.

Atticus said...

Are Hispanics a "race"?

Jeremy said...

I loved it. I thought it was interesting (though not surprising) that the white team was the most uncomfortable with the team division. While their comments were along the lines of "We've all got an equal chance. No group has an advantage," every other team, at some point, claimed an advantage. The Hispanics said their advantage was having come from tropical locales, etc.

Atticus, it's a good question of whether Hispanics are a "race." Course it can be argued that the concept of "Race" is bogus anyway. Nevertheless, it's certainly a term that these Latinos used for themselves, if that's relevant.

My opinion is that the Asian team and Hispanic team have a clear advantage in that they each have two strong men and at least one strong woman plus 1 or 2 dead weights. Whereas both the White team and Black team have only one strong man and two strong women plus a couple of dead weight. Makes a difference in the early stages.

reader_iam said...

Other ethnic groups are much more relaxed about identifying with their race and feeling good about it. The black group, for example were openly enthusiastic about being black and being together.

I don't care either way about Survivor or most of reality tv (though I do enjoy Ann's blogging about it--thanks for doing the heavy lifting, Ann!). However, excerpted statement from a comment above caught my eye.

Question: Would it even be OK to write, nowadays, that "the white group were openly enthusiastic about being white and being together," much less actually DO that?

I don't know that's the guilt thing anymore; it's just that it's unimaginable for that to occur openly, as such, in any context that could be seen as anything other than negative.

Gosh, what if the white group HAD done that (I'm assuming from all that I'm reading here that it didn't, not specifically as outlined in the referenced comment).

Frankly, I had a real hard time just rewriting that sentence to set up my point, it seemed so foreign and unthinkable.

Interesting experience.

reader_iam said...

Obviously, it's not unthinkable in terms of white supremacist etc. groups, with which most white people don't want to be connected in any way, but that gets back to the negative context point.

reader_iam said...

Yeah, I'm not too jazzed about "Hispanic" being redefined as race--for what should be the most obvious of reasons.

And no, shared language doesn't cut it as the definer.

Jeremy said...

reader_iam: I'm sorry, not to be obtuse, but what are the most obvious reasons? Again, not being facetious, would you prefer "people group", "ethnicity" or "cultural group" or something else?

Kellen said...

"there are still country clubs where even Tiger Woods would not be welcome to play golf"

Which ones?

reader_iam said...

Because there are people who are "hispanic" who are white. Who are black. And what at least used to be called--excuse me if I don't use the most up-to-date terms, no offense intended--mestizo, Amerindian (the "Amer" part referring to the Americas, not the U.S. specifically, or Native Americans we use the term in the U.S.) and so forth.

Even used culturally, I think it blurs, even covers, important cultural (including even the "shared" language) differences. For example, there are wonderful, marvelous differences between Mexican, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans etc. etc. etc., and yet people from those cultural heritages get lumped together.

Then there's the interesting case of the Peruvian-Japanese, but I won't go off on that tangent.

I just find the use sloppy, that's all. (I don't much care in terms of a reality show, though; I'm merely answering your question about my comment in response to someone else's comment.) Perhaps I'm more sensitive to it because back when I was working for a foreign-language, multi-ethnic-programming TV station in the Philly area, the word Hispanic had just come into broader use and was still controversial. Some of the complaints we got over using that word was that...we were stereotyping people "of language" as all "the same." Blurring cultural and ethnic differences. Ignoring the fact that even how the Spanish language is spoken varied widely. Essentially edefining culture and ethnicity as race, as one big "other."

Maybe things have changed since the late '80s. I can see how there might be advantages, but I also think we lose some of the lustrous threads of the beautiful tapestry of cultural diversity.

Aren't you sorry you asked, Jeremy?

Oh, well.

Jeremy said...

reader_iam, no, that's a great answer. I appreciate it.

It'd be significant to you, I imagine, that one of the players on the Asian American team commented about how they're all lumped together as Asian American but in reality, they're Vietnamese, Philipino, Korean and a Philipino/Hawaiian mix.

So would you consider the use of the term "Hispanic" to be as problem-laden as Asian-American, African-American or Caucasion? Or is there something particular about "Hispanic" that is troublesome?

Ann Althouse said...

They're not saying "race" on the show. They are saying "ethnicity."

reader_iam said...

Personally, I guess I'd consider it more problematic, because even more is lumped together under its "non-specificity," if that makes sense.

I've never really thought about it, in the specific way you're posing the question, comparing "Hispanic" to the other designations, but that's my gut reaction. (I don't actually spend a lot of time thinking about this, these days--just when it comes up, as it did here, today.)

Since I've already participated in a digression, I'll plunge forth just a bit more, now that you've got me thinking, a bit.

With Asian-American, I tend to wonder, depending on the context, whom we're talking about--Korean? Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese? Thai? Etc. So, no, I don't really love that category either from an ethnicity/cultural standpoint, but at least it really IS race-based, as is Caucasian.

African-American is a different case, because I think its very common usage really stems from a different issue--or rather, set of issues--than Asian-American. I think we open a whole other can, or series of cans, of worms here if we start talking, just from a "word" standpoint, about how accurate "African-American" is as a synonym for a racial designation.

Race and origin, from purely an "word" standpoint, are not really synonyms. Think about it. Perhaps the problem--again, just speaking from a language standpoint--is that we're trying to conflate two things that aren't nearly as compatible as it appears at first glance.

In my opinion--and that's all it is, my opinion, and even I don't view it as fact--"caucasian," for good or for ill, as typically and generally used, doesn't carry the baggage (negative or positive) of having to denote both race AND origin. I don't think it's expected to carry the weight of ethnicity, or even cultural specificity, as the other terms are. Now, we could obviously discuss at length all of the possible reasons for that, but that starts us on a path to a far field from the one where we started.

(An aside: You know, Ann, I've noticed that I've become incredibly self-conscious, here, if without thinking I start using a metaphor or metaphors. Is she going to hate this one? Is it too distracting? Have I mixed metaphors, inappropriately or otherwise, as in "path" and "field"? Weird feeling. Heh.)

reader_iam said...

... Philipino/Hawaiian mix ...

Just picked up on this. The census used to (back when I spent tons of time poring over detailed census data) have a designation for "Asian or Pacific Islander," which is sort of how this team appears to be working.

I'm now remembering, however, that in 2000, however--I think it wasn't until 2000--these two categories were separated out and then the people therein could also check a race.

Hmmm. This get me thinking. Lemme do a quick check o' something.

reader_iam said...

OK, from a quick and superficial search:


Changes in Racial Classification in 2000
In 1990, respondents had to choose from one of five racial designations: white; black; American Indian, Eskimo or Aleut; Asian or Pacific Islander; and Other race. In addition, respondents were asked whether or not they were of Hispanic origin. In our 1990 tabulations, we listed six mutually exclusive race/Hispanic groups: five race categories tabulated only for nonhispanics, and a sixth category for all Hispanics.

In 2000, to acknowledge the increasing number of Americans with more than one race, census respondents were permitted to check more than one race. Asians and Pacific Islanders were each listed separately, and respondents could check one or more of the following six race categories: white; black; American Indian and Alaska native; Asian; Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander; and Some other race. The various race combinations yield a total of 63 race categories. Respondents were also asked if they were of Hispanic origin.

Thus in 2000, there are 64 mutually exclusive race/Hispanic categories available: 63 race categories tabulated only for nonhispanics, and a 64th category for all Hispanics. This poses a dilemma for those attempting to keep 2000 Census tabulations manageable. It also complicates attempts to evaluate change in racial/Hispanic composition of areas in the 1990-2000 period. Given that these data will be used for a variety of purposes, our approach provides both simplicity and flexibility to users. The categories for Table PL-1A show data for seven major mutually exclusive single race/Hispanic groups, plus a separate category for nonhispanic persons of two or more races. To assist persons who wish to recode categories for specific applications, Table PL-2A is presented, with details on the composition of nonhispanics of two or more races.


Interesting implications. And does this help or hurt discussions of race/ethnicity/culture/origin?

And now I'll flee this path to the far field and get back on track for picking up kid from school on time.

(Sorry, Ann--couldn't resist the mix. I am a contrary soul, at heart. Oops!

; ) )

Jeremy said...

Interesting! Uhh, I'd say it helps, even if it just says that our terms are inarticulate and inexact. At least we know that and can extend a little grace.

XWL said...

Negatives about this type of quota system casting, it gives weight to arbitrary categories that should have long ago been discredited and forgotten.

Positives, this Survivor had the fewest white folks ever, usually at least half the cast is white, so by creating these false little boxes, the cast is far more diverse than ever before.

Negatives, to get enough 'minorities' they seemed to cast more heavily from LA and NYC than normal, which means that half the cast are model/actor/singer/musicians of one stripe or another.

Positives, cause of all the model/actor types, a whole bunch of eye candy to please folks of every orientation.

Plus, given that they tape these things months ago and carefully edit each episode's story arc, you know if things got really ugly, they'd find a way to edit around that.

By the end it will be folks singing kumbaya between of every description and creed, you could bet a fair chunk of cash on that.

But Prof. Althouse just so you know, the early episodes tend to be better, then as it gets down to 6 or 5 castmembers it becomes all about the scheming, which gets very boring.

I'd love to see a Survivor that rewards survival skills and competitiveness, but that's not the show that this is.

As far as ethnicity goes, I've described myself (or my parents described me for the first two) differently in each of the four censuses I've been counted.

Daryl Herbert said...

By the end it will be folks singing kumbaya between of every description and creed, you could bet a fair chunk of cash on that.

But a story full of flowers and heroes and tolerant friends is... boring. They're going to make hay of racial tensions during the scheming.

And someone, somewhere (aside from Cao Boi, that's a given) will make some straight-up racist remark and everyone else will be like WTF???

XWL said...

Normally I'd agree that they'd play up the tension for all it's worth, but the line the producer has used to defend this division of teams is that it will help foster understanding, so regardless of what happened, that's the story arc they are going to feature, unless they can highlight one clear villian and show how everyone else grew from that one bad person's counter-example.

Given the hours of footage, they can foreground or bury a great many different and contradictory stories from the same events.

And thank you for figuring out what I meant to say given that I meant to delete the word between as I changed the phrasing, but somehow missed catching the mistake before hitting publish.

Joshua Shen said...

As an Asian American, I'm just so thankful we see 5 asians on the TV simultaneously (and not just Asian women, a la AllyMcbeal / ER / Grey'sAnatomy /Local news). We can also have a forum to talk openly about race. PLEASE.

Just to clarify, the Latinos finished the puzzle first. The Asians mostly caught up during the strength portion of the exercise. Or did some folks' racial blinders ignore that fact?