Survivor: failing its female contestants

If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for TV. Specifically, reality TV. It’s been a long-standing joke that I require “tv-time” each day, which I honestly can’t contest. My obsession of late has been “Survivor,” I was immediately drawn in by the challenges and the strength of living with close to nothing for 39 days. And, like many who watch the show, it only took a few seasons for me to envy the experience and wonder how I would fare in the competition. However, as I’ve continued to watch, I’ve grown to have conflicting feelings over the treatment of women on the show. I am both astounded by the strength and grit demonstrated by the women, yet also taken aback by the attitudes taken and language used towards women on the show.

It’s no secret to anyone playing or watching the show that the first to go when it comes to tribal council are the women. Despite the fact that in various seasons women have strongly competed in the challenges leading up to elimination, many even surpassing the men. Yet, it’s usually a given that a woman will go first due to them being perceived as weaker. This decision is disappointing to see on a show like survivor because it is perpetuating a stereotype on a show that is meant to emphasize the tenacity necessary in ALL of its individuals to compete. And the stereotypes don’t end here. It can be seen throughout the seasons that the contestant’s roles usually follow a very primal concept. The men are the gatherers who fetch the coconuts and wood, meanwhile the women are usually left back at the camp to tend to the fire and prepare the meals. Not only is this promoting unjust gender stereotypes, but it also gives the men an advantage in the game. This advantage is gained through the hidden immunity idols, objects that will protect you from being voted out, that are often found in the wilderness. Meaning the people who gather the wood have much better odds of finding an idol.

Additionally, in my binging of the show I reached season 29 where I was genuinely taken aback by the comments made by men towards the woman. The one that stood out the most was how one of the contestants, Rodney, was talking about how women should hold themselves to a higher standard than men. This is clearly something extremely offensive and misogynistic to say in general, and the fact he felt comfortable sharing this on television goes to show how confident he felt in his statement. This season went on to feature male contestants brushing aside the woman playing the game by talking about how the most effective way to deal with a woman it to just nod your head and apologize. It’s these kinds of behaviors that emphasize the lack of respect male players have for the females in the game and how quickly they dismiss the woman as a true fighter for the million dollars.

What’s the solution for this dilemma? I’m not sure. But I do know that it is important for people to recognize the subtle (and not so subtle) prejudices that we see in such popular television shows. By turning a blind eye to negative actions and comments taken towards women throughout this show, it is teaching watchers and future players that this is acceptable behavior. As the network and players continue to call more attention to this controversy, I hope to see a game more equitably played.

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