The Most Jaw-Dropping Tribal Council in "Survivor" History Just Explained Racism in a Nutshell
"Survivor" and "Real Housewives of Atlanta" Face Accusations of Racism
Two shocking accusations of racism rocked the reality TV universe this week, thrusting two longtime popular franchises—Survivor and The Real Housewives of Atlanta—under the pop culture microscope for closer inspection of its diversity credentials. Even though the allegations weren’t the same type for each show, they both address common complaints of systemic racism that are invisible to many White people, even well-meaning ones. There are few details concerning former Real Housewife NeNe Leakes’ complaints against Bravo and Andy Cohen, so I won’t comment on that until more is known.
However, there is a lot to say about Survivor. One of the most powerful and honest moments in Survivor’s 42 seasons—or in any reality show ever for that matter—took place at last week’s tribal council when Drea Wheeler and Maryanne Oketch, two Black women, opened up about what the game meant to them and why they were so shaken by what was happening.
It started innocently enough when Drea and Maryanne’s tribe arrived at tribal council with the knowledge that one of the tribes would be voted off. The gist of the discussions led us to believe that it would be Drea going, but you never know. Maryanne and Drea both had immunity idols and everything depended on the others convincing Drea that she was safe so she wouldn’t use her idol. Standard backstabbing strategy.
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However, when the tribe arrived at the council and Drea saw that Rocksroy Bailey, a Black man, had been voted out by his tribe, joining Channelle Howell, a Black woman voted out the previous week, it rocked Drea to her core. The first two members of the jury were Black and now she faced being the third member of the jury. Something inside her broke and the facade that Survivor was just a good-natured game with a diverse cast of men, women, young, old, LGBTQ+, Asians, Latinx, Muslims, and Blacks took a more realistic and dark turn. Because, as much as we want our shows to reflect how we want the world to be, they can’t avoid people’s innate cultural biases, even ones they aren’t aware of.
Drea reacted by telling host Jeff Probst, “I was so proud because we have four Black contestants in Survivor. And then it always happens where at one point the Black contestants get booted out — Boom! Boom! Boom! — and then that's exactly what this is right now. So yeah, I'm pissed.”
It was a rare moment of actual reality on a “reality” show. It was touching, it was raw, it was sincere.