On the 13th season of 'Survivor...'
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According to BBC News, the cast of the upcoming 13th (!) season of the reality game show "Survivor" will be divided along ethnic lines:
The contestants will be segregated into four "tribes" of blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos when the hit CBS programme returns on 14 September.
Wow. That's a cheap, calculated premise for some dramatic television goodness! On a sneaky, juvenile level, I like the idea of watching the smug white team get their asses kicked. But on another level, it just feels tacky and inflammatory -- not to mention divisive and potentially very messy -- to split the teams according to ethnicity.
I fear that sort of arrangement has the potential to create serious racial friction among viewers at home, as well as among show contestants. (I can't even imagine the dizzying array of would-be 'racialist' comments uttered from the mainstream American peanut gallery when one of the black, Asian or Latino contestants screws up, gets kicked off, or -- gasp, sigh! -- WINS.)
Organisers said they were addressing complaints that previous series had not been sufficiently ethnically diverse. "So we said, 'Let's turn this criticism into creativity,'" host Jeff Probst told CBS's Early Show. "It fits in perfectly with what Survivor does. It is a social experiment."
Yeah, a social experiment gone nuts. But maybe I'm assuming the worst, and this season won't be an invitation for an onslaught of prejudiced media coverage and racist office water-cooler talk...?
Um, maybe. Or not. As James Pritchett (director of the African Studies Center at Boston University) is quoted in the Boston Herald: "Itâ€™s all water cooler talk...What next, a show pitting Jews and Muslims and Christians against each other?"
More from the Herald:
"There is no other purpose in breaking up groups this way other than for the contestant to live up to our expectations and stereotypes," said Leigh Hallisey, an adjunct professor of pop culture and television at Boston University.
"When they divide by gender, audiences want the women to use their sex appeal and get emotional. What will they expect of ["Survivor"], the hot-blooded Latino? The athletic African American? The Asian who can outsmart the competition?"
Hallisey said she hoped contestants would "perform against type" but isnâ€™t optimistic. "Worst case scenario? It will create more racial division and make way for copy cat shows," she said.
Discussing race is a good thing, of course, when it's done in a sensitive, informed and respectful way. But pitting ethnic groups against one another (for the shining beacon of one million bucks) just seems sleazy and sensationalistic. Which isn't all that weird, I suppose; we are talking primetime, here, people. Anyway, should be interesting to see how this plot unfolds, onscreen and off.
UPDATE: The racist water-cooler nonsense has already begun. On his show today, the ever-frightening wingnut Rush Limbaugh made this sharp commentary on the "Survivor" brouhaha: "[Y]ou're saying I'm being racist because I'm saying blacks can't swim â€¦ I mentioned the swimming comment only because it's not going to be fair if there is a lot of water competition in this. It just isn't. It is not a racial or racist comment at all."
Crikeys. Here we go...
Laura Barcella is AlterNet's associate editor.