Survivor Contestants, Viewers Call on CBS to Add More Diversity On Screen and Off

Survivor has been on the air for 20 years and 40 seasons of TV, but there's work to be done when it comes to diversity, according to a new petition.
By Chris Harnick Jun 29, 2020 6:39 PMTags
J’Tia Hart, Brice JohnstonCBS via Getty Images

The Bachelor had its reckoning, will Survivor follow suit? A new initiative is underway calling on CBS to improve portrayals of and expand the inclusion of Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) on the long-running reality series.

The petition was created by former Survivor contestants J'Tia Hart and Brice Izyah. Wendell Holland, winner of Survivor: Ghost Island, is also backing the call to action, as are a number of other veterans of the show. The petition calls for a number of steps for Survivor to take, including casting at least 30 percent of contestants on each season to be BIPOC, equitable screen time and promotion events for BIPOC, mental health resource geared to helping BIPOC cast members navigate their experience on the show, hiring more BIPOC in all parts of production and zero tolerance policy toward racism.

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"Survivor has produced 40 successful seasons over 20 years by telling the stories of people who represent a wide array of human experience within the context of a game of social strategy, physical challenges, and survival," the petition reads. "Representation matters. One of the most important ways we can embrace our diversity and evolve is to represent that diversity responsibly, equitably and fully. A commitment to the afore-mentioned actions would have a huge impact and move us toward a more fair, just, and equitable society."

The petition also calls for CBS and producers to "ensure that cultural elements of the experiences of BIPOC are not exploited and their portrayal does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes." The final desire: "Issue a public statement acknowledging systemic racism within the franchise and offer a clear plan for demonstrable anti-racism efforts moving forward."

As of press time, the petition is approaching 5,000 signatures. Request for comment by CBS was not immediately returned.

Survivor has had no shortage of headlines because of behavior of contestants and the edits cast members receive. Season 38 contestant Julia Carter detailed her experience in a post on her own site. 

"There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn't enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat. I remember during the introduction each season when [host and executive producer Jeff Probst] would say, '16-20 individuals from all walks of life.' All walks of life? Where? Because I feel like I watch the same season every season. We get it. We know the White, male story on Survivor and how it plays out. Slapping a different theme on it does nothing," Carter wrote.

"There is a major disservice occurring by not tapping into the millions of minority viewers who would be more interested in Survivor if more castaways who look like them were cast. Yes, I know not nearly as many minorities apply, but that excuse does not cut it anymore. I have yet to see a cast that is reflective of the nation in which we live. If you can put together a cast of 16 or more regular individuals at any given time, then you can give more individuals of color a chance," she continued. "Let us also not forget that there is $1 million dollars up for grabs, and there should be equal opportunity to win this prize. I am happy to see a more diverse cast for season 39, and I hope that progress continues to be made across all shows and networks. Representation matters."

In 2019, the show also waded into the #MeToo moment and producers vowed to make changes

The call for change on Survivor comes after The Bachelor fans started a petition, also supported by cast members, to increase diversity on the show and cast a Black male lead for the first time in the ABC reality show's history. More than 134,000 signed that petition. ABC announced Matt James would be the star of the upcoming The Bachelor season 25 set to premiere in 2021.

"Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare's season. When filming couldn't move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor," Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement when the casting was announced. "We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience. This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."