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Survivor Plays the Race Card -- Finally



Survivorcast I've long argued that race is a significant subtext in many of the reality shows Mark Burnett creates -- especially Survivor, where the relationship between the two minorities who are inevitably cast in each edition becomes a parable on assimilation.

But Burnett has finally decided to put that stuff on the table with his latest edition of Survivor, Core Islands, where the 20 contestants announced today -- none from Florida, thank God! -- will be divided into teams by race, at least initially.

To be sure, this follows a gimmick Burnett has explored in later editions of Survivor, tapping viewer interest in possible social friction by dividing teams along gender lines or education. Race seems the last frontier for a reality TV showman determined to keep his powerhouse claim to television fame alive for another season.

It's also a move that surprised me -- considering that Burnett seemed to almost jump out of his skinPic_burnett  when I asked about the racial ramifications of casting during a press party for the first Survivor series. He has always insisted whatever racial baggage the show enects is brought by the participants themselves; but those of us who have been around reality TV awhile know nothing happens on that screen producers haven't deliberately showcased.

Back in 2000, at the end of a column about Vecepia Towery, the first Survivor winner of color, I suggested Burnett might want to create a Survivor cast where white folks are the minority. Instead --- responding to criticisms that the show isn't ethnically diverse enough -- he's created one where America's four largest ethnic/cultural groups are evenly represented.

Survivorcast2_1 Here's the list, according to CBS News (see a video clip here):

African-American Tribe:

  • Make-up artist, Rebecca Borman, 34, from Laurelton, N.Y.
  • Jazz musician and recording artist Sekou Bunch, 45, of Los Angeles
  • Nursing student Stephannie Favor, 35, of Columbia, S.C.
  • Retail salesman Nathan Gonzalez, 26, of Los Angeles
  • Sundra Oakley, 31, an actress from Los Angeles

    Asian-American Tribe:
  • Nail salon manager Anh-Tuan "Cao Boi" Bui (pronounced Cowboy), 42, from Christianburg, Va.
  • Attorney Becky Lee, 28, of Washington, D.C.
  • Management consultant Yul Kwon, 31, of San Mateo, Calif.
  • Real estate agent Jenny Guzon-Bae, 36, of Lake Forest, Ill.
  • Fashion Director Brad Virata, 29, of Los Angeles

    Hispanic Tribe:
  • Heavy metal guitarist Billy Garcia, 36, of New York
  • Professional volleyball player J.P. Calderon, 30, of Marina Del Rey, Calif.
  • Police officer Cristina Coria, 35, of Los Angeles
  • Waiter Oscar "Ozzy" Lusth, 25, of Venice, Calif.
  • Technology risk consultant Cecilia Mansilla, 29, of Oakland, Calif.

    White Tribe:
  • Copier salesman Adam Gentry, 28, of San Diego, Calif.
  • Writer-producer Jonathan Penner, 44, of Los Angeles
  • Boxer-waitress Parvati Shallow, 23, of Los Angeles
  • Performer-roller girl Jessica Smith, 27, of Chico, Calif.
  • Pre-med student Candice Woodcock, 23, of Fayetteville, N.C.
  • Will this prove once and for all that Survivor is an equal competition, or only highlight our assorted prejudices. i know i'll probably be glued to the screen looking for the answer.

    Pantera Publicist Smacksdown E! Entertainment

    Dimebagdarrell This falls under the category: I'm not totally sure it's true, but I sure hope it is.

    There's an email making the rounds in which a publicist for the band Pantera takes E! Entertainment to task for requesting footage of deceased guitarist Dimebag Darrell for the purposes of re-enacting his horrible death at the hands of a concertgoer who shot him from the crowd for its special, 25 Most Chilling Hollywood Murders.

    Here's an excerpt:  "I ask that you all please take a moment from your busy days and close your eyes. Live out the fantasy of playing your favorite instrument onstage. Your closest friends in the world surround you, either in the band or in your crew. From one side of the stage, a man approaches. Thinking he’s a security guy or a drunk fan who’s just a bit out a line, you continue to perform. Two seconds later, he lifts his arms, aims a rifle at your brother, your best friend, your buddy and blows his brains out, not three feet from where you are. In the nanosecond it takes you to comprehend the magnitude of what just happened, he does it again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again before taking aim and murdering additional members of your extended family as well as fans that have come to see you play. Two of your crew are shot but survive, but of course, will never be the same again."

    And the kicker: "In case none of this appears clear enough and you need a definitive answer to your request…no. The answer if no, and on behalf of everyone that was there that night and everyone that misses him every day, you can take that no and shove it up your collective asses."

    Read the full text here. All I can add to that is, amen my friend. There's a special place in H-E-double-hockey-sticks reserved for those who make their cash by dancing on the graves of murdered artists.

    (photos: CBS publicity and Dean Guitars. Click on thumbnails to enlarge)

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