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Revisiting Survivor's 2006 "race wars" season

  • Survivor: Cook Islands premiered to controversy in fall 2006 by dividing 20 castaways into four tribes by race and ethnicity: Asian-American, Black, Latino and white. "As compelling as the idea sounded to the production team, it was immediately criticized by the media and loyal viewers," says Leigh Blickley, who spoke to three alums from that season. A group of New York City officials and civil rights groups blasted the 'segregation island' concept, saying it would only promote divisiveness. The show’s network news side even deemed it controversial, with CBS News’ Early Show host Harry Smith questioning (Jeff) Probst about the season. Although the ratings were lower than usual, 17.7 million people still tuned in to watch 'race wars' play out during the season premiere. In the first few moments of Cook Islands, Probst alerted the unknowing group of castaways to the theme and split them into their respective tribes. But, by Episode 3, the four groups integrated into two tribes and the game played out as usual. That was, until halfway through the 39-day journey when two white contestants decided to leave to rejoin their original white allies in the other tribe, leaving four contestants of color ― Yul Kwon, Becky Lee, Oscar 'Ozzy' Lusth and Sundra Oakley ― to battle it out, David vs. Goliath style, until the merge...Nearly 14 years later, one can’t help but imagine what the discourse would be if Cook Islands were to air today. Race relations are once again front and center in the national debate as many people examine unforgivable instances of racial profiling and police brutality against the Black community."

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Yul Kwon, African Americans and TV, Asian Americans and TV, Latinx TV, Reality TV