CBS' decision to turn Survivor into the Amazing Race battle by dividing its teams by ethnicity may or may not be a stroke of programming genius, but it was surely a promotional one.
The announcement of new teams for the show is not generally the principal talk around the water cooler the next day or fodder for heated talk radio debate, but the announcement that the teams would be African American vs. Caucasian vs. Hispanic vs. Asian became big news.
One talk radio team in Washington, for example, was all abuzz Thursday morning, divided over whether it would set race relations back 50 years or explode the stereotypes that are always tiptoed around, unless you are George Allen or Jimmy the Greek or Al Campanis.
While I think stereotypes should be fodder for conversation–how else do we come to see their flaws and explode the myths–my fear is that the move will allow them to be subtly reinforced by the blog/water cooler/talk radiosphere under the guise of just having some fun with the CBS decision.
For example, the radio jocks in question started suggesting that the Asian team would clean up in a math competition, or that there would be no canoing competition because there was no Native American team.
I'm all for being able to talk about the issues that segregating the teams by race raises and am looking forward to checking out the show for the first time in a while. But, if it provides others with an opportunity for subtle, or not-so-subtle reinforcement of the stereotypes that divide and alienate us, it will be a contest with no winner.
By John Eggerton