‘Survivor’s’ 13th season shocks with racial twist

Ryan Haidet

“Survivor: Cook Islands” cast deals with competition and controversy. PHOTO COURTESY OF CBS

Credit: Jason Hall

Thirty-nine days, 20 people, 1 Survivor.

Throughout the 13 seasons of the successful reality show “Survivor,” contestants have been divided up randomly by a schoolyard pick’em, by age and by gender lines, and now, by ethnicity.

When “Survivor: Cook Islands” premieres tonight, viewers will see there are four tribes, each consisting of five contestants who are battling to outwit, outplay and outlast all the others for the $1-million prize. The tribes are separated by Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans.

According to several interviews, Jeff Probst, the host of the show, said that the idea of dividing tribes along ethnic lines came about because of the criticism that “Survivor” lacked ethnic diversity. Now, it’s an even playing field for the contestants.

The 20 new contestants’ journey has already lit a fire of controversy with the press and public before a single minute of the actual program has aired.

“I thought, wow, what a twist,” Jake Billingsley, a contestant from “Survivor: Thailand” said. “I would love to play in that game. They will start separately and end together. The people with the best human-relation skills will have a distinct advantage.”

Coby Archa, a “Survivor: Palau” contestant, thinks the twist is relevant to the show.

“Do I think ‘Survivor’ has been on 13 seasons and needs to keep it fresh to get some attention? Yes,” Archa said. “Do I also believe that at the end of the day ‘Survivor’ is a social experiment and race is a social issue? Yes.”

Clarence Black, a contestant from “Survivor: Africa,” said he hopes this move wasn’t just a publicity stunt.

“My first reaction was that this had to be a joke,” Black said. “I would like to believe that this is not a publicity stunt. I would really like to believe that.”

Black said that he thinks that “Survivor: Cook Islands” has the potential to expose the worst parts of who we are as a society. But he hopes this does not happen.

With a lot of people discussing the newest twist, will viewers be tuning in?

“I can guarantee you that the ratings will be up,” Black said. “When ratings go up, revenue goes up. However, I think that the success of this season will set up future twists.”

“‘Survivor’ is like a marriage in its 10th year,” he said. “If you wanna keep the intimacy fresh, you might have to add some monkey bars and exotic lotions. Same thing here. If this season is successful, then God only knows what we will see next.”

Probst said about 80 percent of the people that apply for the show are white, so he and the producers wanted to bring more ethnic diversity to the competition.

“I think they’re doing to try and come up with something different,” Jeana Schneider, freshman conservation major, said. “I don’t think they’re doing it to be mean or racist. It’s just another way to make it unique and change things up a bit.”

Ty Kelly, senior architecture major, said the race factor doesn’t really matter to her.

“People are people regardless of race,” she said.

How will the 20 new contestants handle the power struggle to win $1 million in the Cook Islands? Audiences will find out tonight.

Contact ALL correspondent Ryan Haidet at [email protected]. Ethnic affairs reporter Tim Magaw contributed to this story.


How “Survivor” has changed their lives, what are they doing today and would they play the game again if given the chance?

Jake Billingsley of “Survivor: Thailand”

Since his season of “Survivor” has ended: “Lots of motivational speaking, wrote a book, did a movie (a horror movie called After Sundown) and 14 commercials.”

Clarence Black of “Survivor: Africa”

“I would play the game again in a minute. No questions asked. I would play again because I enjoyed the experience and I think I could win this time. Last time I played I was 24 and single. Now at 29, I am married to a beautiful woman and have a 7-month-old son.”

Since his season of “Survivor” has ended: “I haven’t been stealing food of course. I have a talk radio show in Detroit on Sportsradio 1130AM WDFN, I am also working in pharmaceutical sales, and working slowly on becoming a TV news anchor. So if anybody out there is looking for a good-looking, arrogant news anchor who used to steal food on national TV, then I am your man.”

Coby Archa of “Survivor: Palau”

“Would I play ‘Survivor’ again? That is easy – yes. Every single person I know that has had the chance to play this game wants to do it again. Even Janu who quit my season said she would love to go back. What have I done since? Raising my daughter, who is three-fourths Mexican-American, so she can’t wait to cheer on her Latino team.”