Significance: The Impact of Survivor on Television and Society
One of the reasons that it is necessary to study the ways in which Survivor demonstrates racism and sexism is that it serves not only as reflective of society, but also prescriptive. Many point to Survivor as the catalyst of the reality TV era, as it was truly the first and most successful of its genre. Prior to Survivor, the only true major reality TV show was The Real World, but Survivor was the first to make the formula of clashing personalities living together into a competition for a prize. Michael Schneider of Variety Magazine describes 2000-2010 as the “reality TV decade” and argues that it wouldn’t have existed without Survivor. Schneider cites Big Brother, The Apprentice, and even the scripted series Lost as direct responses to Survivor, showing the scope and depth of the show’s influence. Other publications such as the Washington post have agreed that the show “officially ushered in the era of reality television,” and that it “changed the face of television.” Therefore, all impacts of reality TV in general can ultimately be credited to Survivor.
These impacts were demonstrated in a study from Central Michigan University, in which participants watched three different genres of TV; An aggressive reality show such as Jersey Shore, an uplifting docu-series such as Little People, Big World, or a violent crime drama such as CSI. The subjects were then asked to hit a keyboard button as fast as they can, believing that they were competing with someone in another room, and if they won they would get to blast that person with a loud noise. Ultimately, the groups who had watched the reality shows gave longer, louder blasts than even those who had watched the violent drama. This study demonstrates that reality TV has a clear impact on its watchers, and Survivor is not only a participant, but also the architect of the shows that cause these negative effects on society. By studying the machinations of racism and sexism in Survivor, we can examine a model of human behavior in US society.
How the Game Works: An Overview of the Rules and Mechanisms of the Game
In order to understand much of the language and relevance of the data and analysis given in this paper, it is necessary to provide a background into the game of Survivor. CBS describes Survivor as a game in which contestants “compete against each other with the same ultimate goal: to outwit, outplay and outlast each other. Ultimately, one will be crowned the Sole Survivor and win the one million dollar prize.” The concept is simple: Avoid being voted out by your tribe until you make it to the end, while surviving harsh elements and starvation on an isolated location. In the first phase of the game, known as the “pre-merge,” contestants are divided into tribes, which compete against each other in challenges for rewards, such as food or supplies, and immunity. If a tribe loses the immunity challenge, they are sent to Tribal Council where they must vote out a member of their tribe. In the next phase of the game, the “merge,” the tribes are combined into one and it becomes an individual game. While every contestant goes to tribal council every episode after the merge, contestants can win individual immunities in challenges so they cannot be voted for at the subsequent Tribal Council. Lastly, the finalists in the game are comprised of either two or three people, depending on the season. The winner is decided by the “jury” – the group of between 7-10 people (depending on how many contestants started the season), who were voted out immediately before the finalists. The jury votes for whom they want to win, and the person with the most jury votes wins the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor. Because of the jury, while one needs to vote people out, one must also remain in their good graces in order to receive their votes in the end.
Survivor is often broken down into the elements of social – how you get along with your fellow contestants; strategic – how you manipulate the votes and alliances and decide whom to eliminate; and physical – how you perform in the challenges. All of these can be influenced by race and gender categories, because in Survivor, perception is reality. Whether or not one is actually weaker in an element of the game matters very little when weighed against how the tribe perceives one to be. This means that smaller women, despite perhaps being extremely strong, are likely to be eliminated before men, since they are perceived to be weaker in challenges. Similarly, racial bias on a tribe may mean that although a black person may be extremely social and likeable, they will not be perceived that way, and therefore their social game will suffer. My most important finding is that, in fact, while race or gender alone do not have a significant impact on a contestant’s placement, the intersection of race and gender serves as a powerful predictor that women of color, particularly black women, will be voted out earlier.