after a lot of internet speculation, the folks over at cbs have confirmed on the "early show" that season 13 of their once-popular-now-fledgling competitve reality, survivor,
will resusitate their dwindling ratings by creating "tribal affiliations" based on race. no seriously. 20 contestants are split into the following four groups: the "asian american tribe," the "african american tribe," the "hispanic tribe", and the "white tribe." after competiting as race-based groups, the "tribes" will then integrate halfway into the competition and compete as...what...melting pots?
quoting from this chicago tribune article, host jeff probst states, “the idea for this actually came from the criticism that ‘survivor’ was not ethnically diverse enough...i think it fits in perfectly with what ‘survivor’ does - it is a social experiment. and this is adding another layer to that experiment, which is taking the show to a completely different level.”
if i can ignore probst's "social experiment" comment for just a minute (shouldn't that be eugenics experiment, jeff??), i'm much more interested in the seemingly banal statement that this new twist on the old format is "taking the show to a completely different level." what i'm interested in is what motivates producers of a declining show to seek out explicit instances of racial categorization as a way to resusitate its declining ratings. it's not as if survivor
hasn't been working on screwed up understandings of racial difference for all of its previous seasons - i.e. the admittedly less diverse casts of seasons 1-12 "going native" until someone "outwits," "outplays," "outlasts," and notably, "outcolonizes" both the land and the psyches of their competitors.
so if survivor has been doing race for all these seasons, what's the seductive possibility of these supposedly bounded categories?
of course, race, like sex, simply sells.
lastly, just how were these discrete categories determined? just how black is black or white is white for the show's producers? are these categories diasporic? were they determined by sight? self-definition? genetics? how is ethnicity mapped by the different tribes? and what tribal box do those who identify as mixed or multi fall into?