T Dog’s Think Tank: “Survivor” tackles race and fails








Last week’s episode told what a lot of us already know: Hollywood really doesn’t respect people of color

On Grey’s Anatomy, they had the Ferry Boat accident. For The Simpsons, it was changing the backstory of the series to create a lame plot on how Homer Simpson “discovered” grunge music.

For this show, it was an immunity challenge and a tribal council that resembled a 1988 Geraldo episode.

Yep, we’re jumping the sharks again. This time, it’s last week’s fraudulent episode of Survivor: One World, where rules don’t apply and there is no such thing as common sense.

While yours truly doesn’t have the time or the space to recap Wednesday night’s episode (you can go somewhere else for that crap), let’s get down to it: For the second time in the show’s history, this cycle’s Survivor is broken down into male (Manono) and female (Salani) tribes (wow, what an original idea!), and they have to live in the same spot. The male tribe won the immunity challenge – but when they got back to camp, all hell broke loose – Colton Cumbie, a well-to-do white gay guy from Alabama (yep, you read this right – and he’s Republican) wanted Bill Posley – a black stand-up comic, out because of his “poor” background.

So, guess what – the male tribe gave up the immunity idol – to the female tribe.

The hell?

Back on October 20, 2007, yours truly wrote a Think Tank titled “Hello? You Play To Win The Game” after I was angered about a competing tribe throwing an immunity challenge so they can vote off a player they couldn’t stand. In the piece (which you can read here), I said: “Why even bother showing up for the immunity challenges? You’re playing to win a million freaking dollars, not a lifetime supply of Turtle Wax. No wonder reality TV shows have no credibility or integrity.”

The quote “Hello, You Play To Win The Game” is directly from former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach and current ESPN NFL football analyst Herman Edwards. His speech came in a post-game press conference following yet another Jets loss:

What would Lovie Smith or Mike Ditka say if these men gave up a victory like that? If Ditka was running the Manono tribe, he would bitchslap the entire team. This is like the Chicago Bulls beating the Miami Heat and then deciding to forfeit the game after it was over…man, Derrick Rose would be beating up people in the Bulls’ locker room.  The Manono tribe’s dumb move makes me feel a whole lot better about the Chicago Bears’ often inane decisions in the front office. Jay Mariotti would never run out of negative articles to write if he covered this tribe.

Pulling this idiotic stunt was not only the dumbest move in Survivor history – but also the dumbest move in television history. Not only the Manono tribe wasted their own time after these morons decided to throw away a victory – they wasted the viewers’ time as well. Goddamnit, YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME – not to do so and then throw it away for some bullshit. Geez, the Survivor producers cast dumber and dumber people every year – the only thing the contestants are qualified for is to run for public office in Illinois. No wonder Survivor’s ratings have declined for the last several years – the viewers have had enough.

And you wonder how much hand the producers had in this? Rigged, perhaps? Remember the game show scandals of the 1950’s? I doubt this is the case, because Lord knows CBS doesn’t want the FCC breathing down their necks – especially after Nipplegate a few years back (then again, the FCC – down to three members because a senator is blocking the nomination of two open seats – has their own drama to worry about.)

Now if you think giving up immunity was shocking enough, the reason why the moron tribe gave up was even more galling – Colton wanted Bill vote out simply because he was black.

Yes, I’m saying it – Bill was voted out because he was black. Colton the previous week called him “ghetto trash”, which pretty much told us how he feels about African-Americans.

How did they pull this off? The tribe tricked Bill into believing they were voting out Leif (no, his last name isn’t Garrett), and they somehow all agreed to it.

During tribal council, Colton talked about he doesn’t have a problem with black folks – but we know this is a lie and a half (his housekeeper is black. Yeah, right…) He also made insulting remarks about Leif’s height, and about Helen Keller. Before you know it, tribal council turns into Geraldo with Jeff Probst becoming as manipulative as Mr. Rivera (which is great practice for the poor saps Probst plans to exploit on his daytime show this fall.) Yep, Colton is the white supremacist and Bill is Roy Innis (the only difference is Bill didn’t put Colton into a headlock, as Innis did with John Metgzer.) But still, you’d wish a fight break out and a chair would hit Colton or Jeff Probst in the face.

And so, Bill goes home because Colton wanted it that way – and because he didn’t want black people around (there’s another African-American on the female tribe – she would be an instant target should the tribes merge and if Colton is still around.)

Traditionally, Survivor hasn’t handled the issue of race well at all – remember back in 2006 when the show split the tribes among races and the controversy it caused, even before the season premiered? Producer Mark Burnett made a rather inane comment at the time stating that he believes racism isn’t a problem in the United States (“Tarzan” must’ve channeled Mark Burnett when said something similar during tribal council.) The move was made “so we can increase diversity”. The split was abandoned after only two episodes.

Certainly, Burnett has never lived in a segregated city like Chicago, where racial issues are a fact of life. And his comment is not surprising when you think about it: there is little diversity – in front of and behind the camera in the television business and in Hollywood in general.

Last month, the Los Angeles Times found that the percentage of voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are 94 percent Caucasian (white) and 77 percent male. Dog Day Afternoon writer Frank Pierson, a voting member of the Academy who serves on the board of governors, told the Times: “I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for. We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”

Quite disheartening words for any female or minority who wants to break into the business. And the same can be said in local television, in radio, in journalism, all the way to the network suites. The only African-American general manager Chicago’s ever had at a local TV station was Jonathan Rodgers, who served in the post at CBS-owned WBBM-TV from 1986 to 1991 (Editor’s Note: Lyle Banks was the second African-American to run a local station in Chicago, helming WMAQ-TV from 1996-98, ousted due to the Jerry Springer controversy.)  And his hiring came after the Rev. Jesse Jackson protested the station for firing reporter Harry Porterfield in 1985, thus hurting the station’s image among black viewers – which WBBM never fully recovered from. While Porterfield has since returned to WBBM as a midday news co-anchor, old habits die hard: last August, the station aired a maliciously edited video in which a 4-year old black kid said he wanted a gun to run with gangbangers, which wasn’t the case. The incident – which the station never did apologize for – further strained WBBM-TV’s relations with the black community.

When shows like Survivor cast minorities – it isn’t usually in the best light. The last few years brought us stereotypical black contestants like NaOnka and Phillip – the only reason they were cast were to become villains – they had no realistic shot at winning (NaOnka actually quit.) Before them, there was Omorosa on The Apprentice, which brought us the “angry black woman”, which can be found on any cable reality show such as Real Housewives of Atlanta. The “angry black woman” character was also found on a Ugly Betty story arc during the 2007-08 season, which Gabrielle Union played a girlfriend of Michael, who became demented and crazy. Then there’s Tyler Perry’s movies and sitcoms, which are full of them.

And let’s not forget those reality shows who barely cast minorities at all – i.e. The Bachelor/Bachelorette, which has come under fire for not casting a minority as a lead (oddly enough, the Rev. Michael Pflager has ripped the show for a completely different reason. You’d think of all the people who was criticize the show on this particular subject, he would be the one. )

Let’s face it: Colton is pretty much a symbol of what’s wrong with the media business – unfortunately, his attitudes are quite prevalent in the industry, which really hasn’t changed much since the 1960’s when it comes to diversity.

As for Survivor, you have to ask yourself – why would viewers want to watch someone like Colton week after week after week? Because he’s an entertainer. What he does is no different from what Rush Limbaugh or Mancow Mueller is doing. He’s a reality contestant of the “shock jock” variety. A disgusting human being he is, but people watch. And people like me hate him. You wonder if Colton’s antics would be enough to attract the attention of people like Randy Michaels, who’s an expert in creating controversy, especially when it comes to himself. If the Court Jester still ran the Tribune Co., and Kevin “Pig Virus” Metheny still ran WGN Radio, do you think they would go after Colton? Of course they would. After all, how you’d think convicted felon Jim Laski got on the air?

The problem yours truly and others have with Survivor is the constant focus of one contestant during the course season – and the contestant is usually the most annoying prick on the entire show, like this season with Colton – making the program unbearable in the process. But when was the last time people like Mark Burnett – and others in the industry – cared about the audience? It seems all producers want to do is piss them off. And if you piss them off too much, they won’t come back. You’re not dealing with loyal Chicago Cubs or Toronto Maple Leafs fans here.

Yours truly hasn’t made a decision whether or not he would continue watching Survivor, though the series has pissed me off the last few years, and Colton may be been the last straw. But it seems to yours truly that as a loyal viewer, I’m being dissed. Television shows are about as disposable as diapers. If Mark Burnett and company are adamant on ramping up the Jerry Springer-like elements of the show, maybe its time to take Survivor’s poop-filled diaper and throw it onto that garbage dump paralleling the Bishop Ford Expressway.

It’s where Colton belongs.