Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

This has nothing to do with Howard County

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I have been thinking about this for a while.  It concerns the format for this season’s television show Survivor and I don’t even watch the show – maybe a rerun here and there but I can’t tell you much about the show except for the regular format.

If you haven’t heard the contestants in this season’s show will be divided into categories based on race and ethnicity.  I understand that their will be a white team, a hispanic team, an asian team, and a black team.  Pretty audacious don’t you think?

When I heard the reports about this format I was very surprised.  I didn’t think it was appropriate and I thought they were pandering to the rating gods – who ever they are.  CBS has a lot of critics.

A group of New York City officials have criticized the new format, saying it promotes divisiveness. They have asked CBS to reconsider its plans.

“How could anybody be so desperate for ratings?” City Councilman John Liu asked last week

I completely understand that reaction.  That was exactly what I thought when I heard the news.  You have 4 ethnic groups pitted against each other and viewers are going to be divided along the same ethnic lines.  Whites cheering for Whites, Asians for the Asians and so on.

Then I thought.  Now I am being a racist.  Why should I assume that just because someone is White that they are going to side with the White team and so on and so forth….  Isn’t it conceivable that I could end up wanting the Black team to win?  If I would want a team other than the White team to win isn’t it possible that other white guys would too and maybe some Asian people will want the White team to win.  Point is – I shouldn’t jump to conclusions and automatically start categorizing the shows viewers.  It isn’t fair to stereotype people. 

In defense of the format the show creator, Mark Burnett said:

“By putting people in tribes, they clearly have to get rid of people of their own ethnicity,” he told The Associated Press during a conference call. “So it’s not racial at all.”

That is a lame answer.  There is something about that statement though that is intriguing.  Will the criteria each group uses to vote someone off their team be different than the other teams or just the same?  I would assume they would be the same – but hey that is my white person mentality speaking.  I don’t know what the criteria is going to be and I should not assume it is going to be based on race or ethnicity either.  But could it be?  They why should we assume that the Irish American is going to think the same way the German American is going to think and make decisions.

My brother-in-law, who is Dominican, pointed out that the Mexican isn’t necessarily going to approach things the same way as the Dominican or the guy/girl from Spain.  They could but he didn’t know for sure either.

We talked about this when we had family and friends over for dinner.  We all initially thought that this was a bad concept for a show.  As we talked about it we started to ask these same questions.  Then we had to ask ourselves “Who do we think we are to assume that the viewers or the contestants will behave in a racist manner at all?”  “What does that say about us?”  Maybe we will find out that everyone has the same thought process, maybe certain stereotypes will be dispelled and others confirmed, and maybe we will learn something real about race.

Now, I am intrigued.  I think that Survivor is going to challenge every conceivable stereotype by the ethnicities and races that will be represented.  Well, at least the stereotypes I harbor.  Maybe that is what CBS is trying to do.  I don’t know.  I don’t think they are altruistic – so no.

Perhaps Burnett means is when he says:

He hopes that “maybe the taboo (of race) could disappear” through the new concept and that the show, as in seasons past, will illuminate social dynamics.

Do you think that CBS CBS be doing this?  

As I think about it I am looking forward to the challenge. I think that I can stomach being confronted with my own biases, watch any biases that develop on the show and note how I react to them, and see how the media tracks it in the news.

Oh yeah, at dinner we also wondered if the entrepreneurs would be coming out with Survivor team sports gear so people can wear their biases on their clothing.  We were half kidding and then someone said, they might buy the X teams baseball cap only to find out that they were completely disappointed in them and then wish I had another teams baseball cap.  Interesting point.  It indicates that some people are going to come down on the side of the team in the beginning based on race.  As the show progresses those allegiances are probably going to change for a lot of people.   I do wonder if we will see team gear going on sale – bootlegged or otherwise.

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2 Responses to “This has nothing to do with Howard County”

  1. John Galt said

    This is an interesting concept, but the sample size is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about the group dynamics of different races. And I have a question: what exactly is a race anyway? How would Tiger Woods be grouped on this show? Maybe what the producers are really after is to study cultural differences. If that is the case, a better idea would be to have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists compete against each other. Maybe Capitalists versus Communists is the way to go. Also, unequal gender ratios may skew the results. Not that any of this really matters. Like every other television program, this is a ploy to get people to watch commercials so they know what they are supposed to want to buy.

  2. hocomd said

    John,

    Of course a sampling of how many contestants 20 or 40 is too small. I am not interested in this as a scientific survey and didn’t mean to convey that to you and other readers.

    I wrote that because the whole concept made me begin to examine my own bias more closely. I knew that the teams were divided by race and my natural instinct was that the viewers would be divided along the same lines because I thought that would be their natural instinct.

    That is when it struck me that I was wrong. I should not make assumption such as those.

    I have a very diverse family. Conservative to liberal, multiracial, multi sexually oriented, and so forth. With a family like that I have been forced to confront my bias and pre-conceived notions often (I am sure many of us have) and it has been a good experience. I often challenge my family’s pre-conceived notions too and sometimes I change an opinion or two or I am squashed like a bug. I see this as another opportunity to examine my bias again and learn something.

    You are correct. In the end it it commercial television.

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