by guest contributor Jeff Yang, SFGate.com columnist and blogger
The first taste is always free, right? Then comes the downward spiral of shame and self-destruction. That’s what was running through my mind as I flipped through the recordings on my ever-faithful TiVo toward the second episode of Survivor: Cook Island. I watched the first installment rationalizing that it was for work, every penny goes to my son Hudson’s college fund, yessiree, but episode two? Lurid fascination, no excuses.
It struck me that it felt very much like sneaking a peek at, say, Playboy’s “Girls of the Ivy League” issue. One might reason that you’re just, uh, checking to see if there’s anyone you know in there– HOLY CRAP, THAT’S MY SECOND COUSIN!–but it’s mostly just prurience, isn’t it?
And this season’s Survivor is essentially pornography–the pornography of race. Fetishized situations, featuring idealized, archetypal and stereotypical performers, coupling and decoupling, and, well, people screwing each other. Figuratively. But probably, given the humpity-humpity flashes we’ve seen of the Caucasian Team, literally as well. (Burnett’s got footage, no doubt. One of these days, he’ll unleash an uncensored library, Survivors Gone Wild, and he’ll be rich, beeyotch! Oh wait, he already is. Beeyotch.)
So, anyway. This week is between columns for me over at SFGate, and yet, now that I’ve watched episode two, I figured I might as well froth about it somewhere. Thanks to Carmen and Jen for the temporary digital lodgings on the (presumably, by the time this hits) redesigned site–love what you’ve done with the wallpaper and drapes, guys.
I’m not a hard-liner against this show, as those of you who’ve read the results of my column last week, wherein I and a clutch of friends groupblogged the initial episode. As misguided and exploitative as the show is, I felt it at least had the possibility of forcing the American mainstream to address and debate aspects of race that all too often get swept under the rug. Like racial stereotyping, for example (although its M.O. seems to be framing entire story arcs around the depiction of stereotypes, then giving contestants five-second soundbites to testily repudiate them). Or the patent absence of Asian Americans on network TV, underscored by the recent release of the Asian American Justice Center’s latest annual primetime audit. Survivor: Race War essentially doubles the number of Asian lead roles on network primetime (this, counting Sandra Oh on Grey’s Anatomy, Ming Na on Vanished, and the Puka Puka Tribe’s spiritual godparents, Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim of Lost ).
In short, I think the show is dumb and crude, but potentially useful–if it makes people think-talk, and not just trash talk. And…well…it’s kinda fun. Measured against most of the rest of network TV, Survivor: Cook Island is far from the first show I’d vote off the island.
So what gives for episode two? Continue reading