Written August 25, 2006     

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Should the Survivor teams be based on race?
Couldn't care less

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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I love Survivor.

Even since it’s gotten boring, I still love it.

It’s a pleasant little escape. A chance to watch people at their best some of the time and at their worst most of the time.

If nothing else, it’s enjoyable to make fun of the contestants.

But I don’t like this race thing. The producer of the show went on TV the other day and said that the upcoming season would pit players against one another based on their race.

I’m not kidding you.

They will begin with 20 contestants broken up into four tribes of five players each. One tribe will be black, another will be white, another will be Latino and another will be Asian.

Which means, I guess, we won’t be having any Navajos or Samoans this season.

Nor will we be having any common sense.

Because this is a recipe for division and disaster. It will be bad TV, it will be bad for society, it will be just plain bad. And it introduces an unsettling and uncomfortable element to this program.

The producer said that Survivor has always been about studying society and helping mend its flaws. That, of course, is preposterous. Survivor has always been about making as much money as possible for the CBS television network. Beyond that Survivor has always been about catching people’s attention.

Sometimes they did that with nude fat guys. Sometimes they did that with half-nude slim girls. Often times they did that be exploiting and exacerbating people’s pettiness and idiosyncrasies. And it’s all been fair game.

But I’m not sure enflaming society’s racial divisions is a smart idea.

People will watch the show and root for contestants and teams based on their own race. Black people will root for the black team, white people will root for the white team, Asian people will root for the Asian team and Latino people will root for the Latino team. And what was a detached entertainment competition all of a sudden becomes something with which viewers will far more readily identify. They will become involved.

And so will their pride and ego.

And a reversal for a team or a contestant will become a racial insult, a perceived slight and act of disrespect. Rooting for one team invariably becomes an act of rooting against the other teams, which some may see, again, as an act of disrespect.

And, in case you don’t get the paper, acts of disrespect sometimes lead to puddles of blood.

Race has already sometimes been a problem on Survivor. Some black, Latino and Asian contestants have made their race an overly important and defining trait, tying their successes or failures to it. And the cultural aspects sometimes associated with race have also been factors in the program.

So much so that occasionally contestants have seemed like two-dimensional stereotypes. Sometimes, as a viewer, I’ve wondered if the program is edited to reinforce those stereotypes.

For example, over the show’s years, black men have almost without exception been lazy. The dynamic go-getter character has never been a black man and the black man has typically been shiftless, selfish and spineless. It has sometimes been uncomfortable to watch.

Additionally, black contestants have sometimes presumed to be automatically allied with other black contestants or to have blamed their reversals on race.

The last thing we need is a season in which the operating theme is racial division. The show has already developed too much of an us-versus-them air, to throw race into that mix would be just too ugly.

People should be able to watch their TV at night and have an escape from their problems, not a cause of their problems. And race-based teams on a reality show would cause problems.

And it would spoil an innocent pastime.

Right now, we can all watch Survivor and then go talk about it with co-workers or friends or even strangers. For those who watch the show, it’s kind of like discussing sports. Right now, we can all have our favorites and nobody’s bothered by it.

But personalizing it by making it about race, particularly in a society where some focus so keenly on their race, will take the innocence out of it. It will no longer be something we all have in common, it will be a point of contention.

And I don’t want contention from TV.

I want entertainment. Something we can all enjoy together. I don’t want to be grouped by the color of my skin. I don’t want television pushing us apart.

And most of all, I don’t want some cheesy TV network sowing the seeds of social disorder and disagreement in order to generate publicity and make money. I don’t want some tired reality show to dress itself up in high tones just so it can take the medium to a new low.

This is America. We are all Americans. That is our first loyalty – not the color of our skin. Survivor should remember that, and reinforce it.

Instead of race-baiting in search of lost ratings.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2006

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