Segregated 'Survivor' Stirs Furor

A group of New York City officials blasted CBS and its hit series "Survivor" on Thursday, a day after the network announced that the teams on the new season of the reality show will be divided by race.

Saying that the setup will promote divisiveness, the officials called on CBS to reconsider its plans.

"The idea of having a battle of the races is preposterous," said City Councilman John Liu. "How could anybody be so desperate for ratings?"

For the first portion of the 13th season of "Survivor," which premieres Sept. 14, the contestants competing for the $1 million prize while stranded on the Cook Islands in the South Pacific will be divided into four teams — blacks, Asians, Latinos and whites.

Liu, who is Asian-American, said he was launching a campaign urging CBS to pull the show because it could encourage racial division and promote negative typecasts. He and a coalition of officials, including the council's black, Latino and Asian caucus, planned to rally at City Hall on Friday.

In a statement, CBS Entertainment, which is part of New York-based CBS Corp., defended the ethnic twist, saying it follows the show's tradition of introducing new creative elements and casting structures that reflect cultural and social issues.

"CBS fully recognizes the controversial nature of this format but has full confidence in the producers and their ability to produce the program in a responsible manner," the statement said. " 'Survivor' is a program that is no stranger to controversy and has always answered its critics on the screen."

Last season, the show divided contestants into groups of older men, younger men, older women and younger women.

The show's host, Jeff Probst, said the network was aware this season's race ploy might offend viewers.

"It's very risky because you're bringing up a topic that is a hot button," he told asap, The Associated Press service for younger readers. "There's a history of segregation you can't ignore. It is part of our history.

"For that, it's much safer to say, 'No, let's just stick with things the way they are. Let's don't be the network to rock the boat. Let's not have 'Survivor' try something new.' But the biases from home can't affect you. This is an equal opportunity game."

Reaction on Web sites, bulletin boards and blogs was swift and passionate. Many comments posted by viewers on CBSNews.com reflected outrage at the decision.

"What a reprehensible idea," commented a viewer with the screen name JFRice. "Considering our history of violence between the so-called races, riots by race, wars with Indians, internment of a people based only on their 'race,' and so on, why would anyone want to re-visit what that feels like?"

Loyal fans of the show countered that segregating by race was just another way to divide up the contestants, pointing out that in previous seasons contestants were divided up by gender or age.

"Come on people.. This is just a show" wrote tesslynn83. "It is entertainment... The contestants are there by choice, It's not something that was forced on them! It is not segregation, it is just a different twist on things."

2Some people weren't so much appalled by the concept of creating racial "tribes" as they were by what they saw as under-representation of some ethnic groups or regions of the United States.

They asked why there were no Native American or South Asian contestants on the show. Several people complained that 13 out of the 20 contestants are from California.

Others, like vidiot3 had their own suggestions for how to divide things up: "Here's a concept for CBS, next time divide the tribes by Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Greens and see who the audience roots for."

Talk show hosts on television and radio had their own unique points of view.

Conan O'Brien, tongue firmly in cheek, told CNN Thursday, "I think that's appropriate in this day and age, with all the tension and violence and conflict, is to have a reality show where people duke it out over race and religious belief. Where are they having it this year? The Gaza Strip?"

Syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh had already begun handicapping teams Wednesday — and pressing buttons.

"The African-American tribe, tough to handicap on this one," he said, "because ... there are many characteristics here that you would think give them the lead and the heads up in terms of skill and athleticism and so forth. The Asians, as I say — the brainiacs of the bunch. The Hispanic tribe — they've probably shown the most survival characteristics."

He added: "We're speculating among ourselves that if the white tribe behaves as it historically has they will bring along vials of diseases; they will end up oppressing the other groups; they will deny them benefits; deny them their property, steal it from them, and you know, put them on some kind of a benefit program."

Luis Jimenez, host of the popular syndicated morning radio show "El Vacilon de la Mañana," told TheShowBuzz.com that the Latino team won't be starving or eating bugs to survive.

"All the other teams will be mad because the Latinos will have food," he joked. "They'll have a pig roasting over a fire and the other teams will be asking 'Where'd you get that?' They'll be, like, 'Oh, my cousin got a boat and brought us over a pig to roast ...' "

"Survivor: Amazon" winner Jenna Morasca, who writes Jenna's TV Journal on TheShowbuzz.com and hosts "Survivor Live" on CBS.com, said that although the grouping of the teams is controversial, it won't hurt the show in the long run.

"I say go for it," she said. "It's risky, it's ballsy, but that's what 'Survivor' is. I feel that it's going to be just like any other 'Survivor' and the race division is really going to play very little into it."

She added: "Jeff Probst stated in an interview that they got rid of all the racist people applying in casting, so this is just a racially diverse group that are separated into tribes this way. I think it will get the 'Survivor' motor running again, but it won't be the only focus of the show."