Media articles - Survivor Cook Islands
Probst expounds on ethnic 'Survivor'
By Lisa de Moraes
WASHINGTON -- Until "Survivor" host Jeff Probst sat in on casting sessions for the CBS reality series' new edition, in which competitors were picked and put into "tribes" based on their ethnic background, he had not realized that "Asian" includes Japanese, Koreans and Chinese and that they do not necessarily like each other as a matter of ethnic solidarity.
Whites, on the other hand, are "mutts" and "don't have any ethnicity to hang on to," he told reporters on a phone conference call last week.
"When you start talking to a person from Asia, you realize -- Wow! They have all different backgrounds!" gushed Probst, who described himself repeatedly as a 44-year-old white guy from Wichita.
"Survivor: Cook Islands" premieres Thursday night on WCPO-TV (Channel 12).
Thrilled with the outrage generated by Probst's appearance two weeks ago on CBS's "Early Show" to announce "Survivor: Race Wars," the network served him up again, this time for his traditional one-week-to-debut conference call with TV reporters.
Grievously, Probst couldn't answer their really big questions, such as "Why has this show, which has been so white for so long, suddenly had an attack of acute social consciousness?" and "Why have all the sponsors and several advertisers on the show pulled out this edition?" except to say, "I don't run a network."
So we'll just be left speculating that what with the show losing about a quarter of its largely white audience in two seasons, someone higher up the food chain than Probst decided that maybe they should try a little ethnic diversity and see if they couldn't snag a few more of those Hispanic, Asian and African-American viewers.
Probst did tell reporters that about 85 percent of the show's prospective contestants are white, which he called a "self-fulfilling prophecy" because most of the viewers are white.
Last season, "Survivor: Panama - Exile Island" ranked No. 8 among white viewers, but 58th among African-American viewers. Among Hispanic viewers "Survivor: Guatemala" was last season's most popular edition but ranked 64th. Stats on Asian-American viewing were not available.
Meanwhile, Fox's reality hit "American Idol," with its ethnically diverse competitors, ranked No. 1 among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics.
Having gone ethnic, "Survivor" will never again be lily white, Probst promised.
"For me, as a white guy from Wichita who hosts the show I love ... the minute everything was a go, I felt in my heart we'll never go backwards. We can't....
"It wouldn't surprise me if a few years from now people looked back and said, 'Remember when "Survivor" did that and all the hoopla and now it's more commonplace?' That wouldn't surprise me at all. It would make me real happy."
He sees the stunt casting as nothing but good.
"This is such a positive idea because you're going to see more ethnicities represented, certainly on our show from this point forward. ... You know, a young Hispanic kid now gets turned on to 'Survivor' because there's somebody he can relate to and it opens up a world to him. Maybe he decides to travel as a result of seeing the show or maybe he sees something ... in this Hispanic (contestant) that he can connect with and he decides to go do what that guy does.
"The possibilities of what could happen from this, to me, are endless, really."
What Was Mark Burnett Thinking?
Tonight's "Survivor" debut is divided by race. What was its creator's rationale?
Our rationale for dividing Survivor tribes by ethnicity was based upon our belief that racial differences were highly unlikely to matter when the modern world was removed.
Survivor takes place on an island where economics, ethnicity and social class count for nothing. What is important is your ability to build a fire and catch fish. On an island, the value system by which we judge others and even choose to associate or align with others is totally different from choices that may be made in the modern world. Add to this, the political nature of Survivor and the questions are “Do I like this person?” and “Can I convince this person to vote for me?”
Survivor is probably one of the greatest leadership and management tests you can witness. It’s almost like firing someone who works as your subordinate, then the next day, asking them to lobby “your boss” to give “you” a promotion. Survivor is the equivalent of this where the very people you play a part in getting rid of, are asked to turn around and reward you for it.
I believe that most people are inherently good and very few people are intentionally bigoted. It’s all about whether you actually get to know people and getting to know them in a totally fresh environment such as on a desert island further reduces any potential for bigotry.
Were we correct?? Time will tell. All I can say is that the series will pull no punches and will at the very least show that it’s impossible to stereotype people once you meet them and (even vicariously) live with them as they struggle to build a world together while still looking out for themselves.
I agree with the NAACP in that there is no escaping the reality that race is a complex and emotional issue in America-one we are still reluctant to confront and address and I am happy that they have reserved judgment until they watch the series. I would encourage anyone to follow this lead and watch at least a few episodes to get a clear picture of how the dynamic will play out.