In honor of International Women’s Day and a thread in our comment section, I organized a roundtable with some of our notable women commenters so we can discuss Survivor from a female perspective, instead of just me desperately shouting over the voices of older men. (Okay so the men of Purple Rock are actually rather feminist and progressive. But let me have this, dammit!)
Commenters Barbara Anderson, KemperBoyd, Violina23, and Ms. Woozah joined me for a chat. They will be designated as Barbara, Kemper, Violina, and Chelsey, respectively. They’re all awesome, so feel free to follow them on Twitter.
Sexism in Survivor
Emma: We know sexism is definitely an issue in Survivor. The answer is probably both, but do you feel it’s MORE a problem within the show, or a problem because the show is reflecting society? Either way, what can the show (i.e. producers) do to combat that?
Kemper: I think it is reflective of society 15 years ago and Survivor hasn’t adapted. It comes back to something Kass said: There aren’t women in the production staff; the view that producers and editors come from is male. So is it a surprise the way the show skews is male? They need more women within the staff.
Barbara: I keep going back to this quote from Jeff in 2012. “There just aren’t as many colorful women characters in Survivor history, and we’ve used up the ones we can. For whatever reason we’re loaded with interesting guys”. That right there points to an issue in casting.
Chelsey: I feel like Survivor is five years behind society. Being gay used to be such a big deal on the show, for instance, until a few years ago when it hasn’t been such a big thing. Survivor has gotten a little better in regards to women, but not by much. We get a season where a women dominates toward the end (San Juan del Sur) followed by one of the most misogynistic seasons we’ve ever had. And for some reason, almost every new female contestant feels like they have to say they’re the new Parvati. Because they think that’s the only way for a women to win Survivor, even though we’ve seen time and again that’s not true.
Barbara: I think someone (maybe Corinne) has said that Production often encourages you to say someone that they want you to say. Hence why a lot of recruits will bring up Parvati, Boston Rob, or Russell if they bring up anybody at all.
Chelsey: That’s annoying, Production. Stop that.
Barbara: Although Michele had the best reason for picking her this season that I have ever heard.
Emma: Yeah, I was high on Michele preseason because she seemed to actually understand why Parvati won. Which is another issue with the show: one of the strongest female winners the show has had is frequently reduced to a flirting sex kitten, even though that’s not at all how she won Micronesia.
Kemper: I fully agree. The Black Widow alliance is one of the best alliances in the game and it’s always reduced to a gaggle of women who sexed their way to the top and it’s not really true.
Barbara: It honestly doesn’t help by the fact that Parvati and Amanda were perceived to have/actually having island flings on the show.
Violina: But to add to what Kemper said… It’s like the recent #OscarsSoWhite thing. It’s not that the Oscars are inherently racist, but reflective of a lack of diverse voices. Jeff and his team always come from a place where it’s all about the alpha all-American man, and that’s always what they are going to think is the ideal picturesque winner. And if it isn’t that, it’s a sex kitten.
Kemper: Violina nailed it.
Ms. Woozah: Do we know how many women are part of production?
Barbara: I mean Lynne Spillman is the head of casting, right? That’s one.
Violina: I’ll also add that Natalie Anderson definitely didn’t flirt her way to get victory, and she got no attention until the last few episodes. It was like they couldn’t figure out how to tell her story.
Barbara: Until Jeremy was voted out.
Barbara: Then it became her story of getting revenge on everybody else for voting out Jeremy. Hell, the whole “girl power” element of her story didn’t really come to light until the SJDS finale. That really should have been a bigger deal, especially since the women were outnumbered by men, 8-10.
Violina: She was very calm and cool and in control, which didn’t fit the female narrative.
Barbara: I haven’t watched One World, but how did they handle someone who seems to be in the middle of the Parvati/Natalie A. spectrum in Kim Spradlin?
Chelsey: Kim’s season was different to begin with since it started out divided by gender.
Barbara: Oh yeah, good call.
Chelsey: Just thinking of other female winners – Tina didn’t so much to win as much as Colby “lost”. Same with Natalie and Russell. Everyone hated that Amber won…
Violina: I can’t remember Kim’s edit very well; I have a bad Survivor memory. But I remember she was masterful, and everyone always seemed to fall in line and believe what she said.
Kemper: Yeah seasons divided by gender allow women to be alpha in a way that other seasons don’t allow.
Violina: Natalie seemed to have a similar quality, but she was able to stay under the radar longer.
Chelsey: Sandra I think is an interesting case. Both her seasons were dominated by men’s edits.
Barbara: Sophie won because Coach lost, Denise won because Malcolm lost, Danni won because Rafe lost…the list goes on and on.
Chelsey: I haven’t seen Marquesas so I can’t speak to Vecepia’s win.
Barbara: I believe Vecepia won because Kathy lost.
Violina: Certainly Natalie W. won because Russell lost.
Barbara: Jenna won because Rob lost.
Emma: I’m not sure if Denise is someone who was seen as having won because Malcolm lost, but that might be because AV Clubbers were largely in love with the two of them pretty equally.
Barbara: I mean hers is the widest stretch in that particular conversation, but had Malcolm won that FIC, she would have have been in fourth place.
Kemper: I loved Denise but I imagine the casuals weren’t as keen. Often the story is of a man’s downfall not a woman’s victory. It’s rare that women get to be the hero.
Violina: I think this goes into a woman’s path to victory. How women can’t “Tony V” their way to victory or they look crazy and unhinged. Often the legitimate path to victory is to let the men implode into piles of testosterone on the floor.
Chelsey: It’s either seduce the men or ride the coattails of the men or hope all the men screw up their own games or hope you get cast in a gender-divided season (not that this is what actually happens but how it is portrayed).
Barbara: From what I hear, that is what happened during One World.
Chelsey: Pretty much. Especially in the beginning, and once the remaining guys got it together it was too late.
Violina: Does anyone remember the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where the women manipulate the father into doing what they want, while thinking it was his idea… The wife says, “The man might be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Chelsey: Yeah which is a funny quote but also – why can’t the women be the head for once?
Violina: Women on Survivor often don’t get the credit, but they are playing the same game with the same rules. I think it’s because they are still playing against men. It’s threatening to be a strong woman. Not that it’d ever happen, but imagine an all female cast: I think we’d see more aggressive play from women.
Kemper: It’s so funny that Kim, who benefited from a gender-divided season, said how she never wanted to work in an all women’s alliance.
Barbara: I think the whole thing is that the casuals and society in general don’t want to see women not act like women should act. That’s why mothers who are more cunning are frequently getting cut down at FTC for not acting like nurturing mothers.
Chelsey: Yeah, I hate that stereotype/expectation of mothers on the show. Like everyone got SO mad at Dawn because she betrayed them and a good mother would never do that.
Barbara: So, I actually decided to Google women stereotypes and some of the prominent ones actually work well in this conversation.
- Women are not as strong as men
- The best women are stay at home moms
- Women are not politicians
- Women are quieter than men and not meant to speak out
- Women are supposed to be submissive and do as they are told
- Women are meant to be the damsel in distress; never the hero
- Women are supposed to look pretty and be looked at
- Women are flirts
- Women are never in charge
Barbara: I hope that the uniqueness of the women this season starts a positive trend in casting. Yes, it is okay to cast “bikini babes” but there has to be some substance there.
Barbara: Kemper, can you go into more detail about how Alexis and Jefra fulfilled these negative stereotypes of female casting? Also, thank you for allowing me to like the alliance name! 🙂
Kemper: Jefra was a follower.
Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines
Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin