CBS' "Survivor" is doing whatever any aging reality show needs to do sometimes--step into controversy. But this move could lead to financial consequences that could leave the show somewhat stranded.
For the new season, "Survivor: Cook Islands," teams, known as "tribes," will be divided along ethnic lines: Hispanics, blacks, Asian-Americans, whites. Mark Burnett told The New York Times this had nothing to do with boosting ratings, and everything to do with the way people congregate in the world--primarily.
"In America today," Burnett said, "I really don't believe there are many people who hate each other because of their race. But even though people may work together, they do tend in their private lives to divide along social and ethnic lines."
The problem is that in the heat of competition, ugly stuff can rise to the surface. And that's where the problem lies, especially for sponsorship: how many advertisers are going to want to deal with the show if things get out of hand?
CBS and Burnett realize all this is controversial. Still, "Survivor" is a reality show, which means producers have the final say when it comes to editing --- storylines can be well managed. The show has always been criticized for a lack of ethnic diversity in its participants, so Burnett thought to address some of this stuff head-on.
"Survivor" has lost some ratings, for sure. But it is a top-ten show, getting 16 million to 18 million viewers.
Burnett calls this "an interesting social experiment." Ah, yes. But what if the experiment fails? Will CBS or Burnett tell us honorably that it did indeed fail-- and why?
Peace and love and good will toward men, women, and children-- maybe everyone can indeed work together on catching fish or building a hut. Burnett said anyone can be an asshole or an angel. "Survivor," he said, is one of the few places where you can have a competition among racial lines--you can't do it in the real world.
If it works, we'll have Jews versus Christians versus Muslims versus Protestants in the next edition of "Survivor: JerusalemIslands." That'll be another social experiment via reality show. We already have the real deal in the Middle East and other parts of the world.