CBS has promised that its chief reality shows — “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” and “Love Island” — will now feature a cast that is 50% non-white.
In an announcement on Monday, George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer for the CBS Entertainment Group, said that minorities are especially underrpresented in reality entertainment, adding that he hopes to switch that.
“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented, and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” said Cheeks. “As we strive to improve all of these creative aspects, the commitments announced today are important first steps in sourcing new voices to create content and further expanding the diversity in our unscripted programming, as well as on our network.”
As noted by Entertainment Weekly, the show “Survivor” has long suffered charges of lacking diversity and racial representation. This past summer, contestants Sean Rector and Jolanda Jones formed The Black Survivor Alliance with the aim of “bringing light to our collective experience with implicit bias and racism on and off the show.” According to Rector, racism and implicit bias kept him from being invited back for an “All-Stars” season.
“If you don’t think racism and implicit bias exists, tell me why [Survivor: Marquesas winner Vecepia Robinson] has been completely ignored and has NEVER received an inquiry call or invite to even play in a season with all previous winners?,” Rector said at the height of the controversy. “(Please miss me with the ‘she was boring or not great TV’ BS). Subsequently, ten seasons later, Earl Cole, a Black man, finally won and like my sis Vecepia and Marquesas, was largely ignored by showrunners … Television, specifically the Survivor franchise, has a responsibility and the power to represent a more just and equitable playing field as a benchmark of real progress for ALL people, and not some concession of perceived power or standing that had to be compromised by one group to another.”
Jolanda Jones said she began to notice racism present on the show during season 14 when the three finalists were black.
“My edit, and that of so many other Black people, caused me to organize the BSA and move to end systematic racism on Survivor,” Jones said during the “Survivor” quarantine questionnaire. “Of the seasons I watched, the one that makes me the saddest, makes me cry and breaks my heart, is season 14, where there were three Black players, Earl Cole, Cassandra Franklin, and Dreamz Herd, as the finalists. The systematic/systemic racism, implicit bias, and microaggressions shown throughout the editing but especially during the final Tribal were so hard to watch. The thickness of the racism could be cut with a knife … ‘diverse’ does not mean the majority of the cast is white with a mixture of other races.”
Julia Carter of “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” said that racism and implicit bias plays a huge role in the show’s ultimate outcome: “Many people do not realize the impacts that [diversity] has on the game. When you truly diversify the cast (and I don’t mean just a sprinkle of each race in every season), you even the playing field and allow every castaway a real opportunity to connect with more individuals, find allies, and win the game. Seasons like Cook Islands and Fiji, in which there was racially equal casting, should be the norm, not the exceptions.”
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