Friday Flashback: Survivor Cook Islands

Back in 2006 Survivor producers thought it would be clever to pit race against race...

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2006 Survivor really went there… pitting, “race against race.”

This promo says it all….  “The show that outraged America is now on NBN. African American, Caucasian, Asian, Latino.”

Jeff Probst said at the time, The idea for this actually came from the criticism that Survivor was not ethnically diverse enough,” he said. “Because, for whatever reason, we’ve always had a low number of minority applicants apply to the show. So we set out and said, ‘Let’s turn this criticism into creative for the show. I think it fits in perfectly with what Survivor does — it is a social experiment. And this is adding another layer to that experiment, which is taking the show to a completely different level.”

But there were calls for a boycott and reports some advertisers pulled out.

MADtv even parodied Cook Islands, giving the white challengers significantly easier tasks, such as a swimming challenge which allowed the white challengers to use a canoe, or building a fire with a fire building kit that consisted of gasoline and a DVD on how to build fire, the Hispanic contestants received flint, the Asians received a matchstick, and the African-Americans were given a glass of water.

Spoiler alert: Yul Kwon won.

8 Responses

  1. I remember liking the concept simply because it forced conversations about representation and stereotypes. And anyone who watches Survivor knows that it won’t be a race war for the whole season because there will be tribe swaps and a merge to blur the lines anyways.

  2. Quite strange I don’t remember this one. But I could have sworn that I saw Ozzy and Parvati’s first seasons. I guess I wasn’t as conscious of race issues back then. They weren’t in our faces as much as they are now.

  3. Cook Islands is one of my favourite series of survivor. Great narrative, great cast and great winner in Yul. So many legends came from it in ozzy, Jonathan Penner and of course Parvati.

  4. It gets underreported but the following season (Fiji) was also set to have a similar twist (20 players were set to play with 5 from each group but a white woman dropped out, forcing the show to adopt a “Have/Have Not” twist as the theme of the season.

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