Reality television holds a unique position in the television landscape in regards to racial discourse. Beyond the obvious interferences of casting and editing, there is almost no better place in modern media to see people of different races naturally interacting. It can lead to beautiful things, like with Julie on the first season of MTV’s The Real World (yes, I’m old), but it can also be very, very ugly and reveal more about our society than we might care to admit. Tonight’s episode of Survivor definitely leaned more towards the ugly, but thankfully, Jeff Probst was there to help smooth things out in the end. America, what would we do without Jeff Probst?
With a title like “Rice Wars,” you’d think I would have been a bit more prepared for the eventual turn this episode took. What started out as a literal disagreement over rice storage turned into something more, when Phillip took Steve’s words as being racist and brought out the “N word” in response to Steve’s arguments. As the word invariably does, the argument immediately took on a more serious and sinister tone and became something much more.
Steve was flummoxed, but it’s not hard to see how Phillip came to feel he was being racist. Phillip was only one of two people of color in the game along with Francesca, and she was voted out first. Since then, he’s been consistently ostracized by both Zapatera and Ometepe (which, as a viewer, honestly mostly seems to be about his erratic and off-putting personality) and knows he is without a confidante amongst his peers. Toss in some starvation, sleep deprivation, past experience, and Phillip’s own particular brand of logic, and bam! Racism. This is a gross oversimplification, but it’s my way of saying that while my experience leads me to believe Phillip was mistaken, it isn’t inconceivable for him to have the thought.
Things come to a head at Tribal Council, when Phillip accuses new rival Steve of stealing his shorts (which Julie actually stole and buried, and THANKS A LOT, JULIE, NOW WE HAVE TO STARE AT BAGGY RED MANPANTIES FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON) and brings up the race issue from earlier, asserting that Steve calling Phillip “crazy” is racist, because the standard putdown of African-Americans is “N**** is crazy” (using an example from the comedy of Richard Pryor, which isn’t necessarily wrong so much as potentially misguided in this case). Phillip, for his part, might be discounting the fact that he is actually a little bit crazy. For any race. Jeff Probst, who is fairly amazing at his job and earns every penny the show pays him, succinctly gets down to the true issue: Phillip has his own experiences which cause him to think in a certain way, and Steve has his own experiences which could cause him to think differently. There’s no way either one can truly understand what goes on in the other’s head given their limited interactions, and they both could very well be coming from a true place. Therefore, everyone is just going to agree that they are both coming from a place of honesty and move on. Boom! Resolved. And that’s how you do a Tribal Council, folks!
In the end, Julie admits to stealing the shorts and (coincidentally) is voted to Redemption Island, and Phillip and Steve go back to Murlonio to deal with their differences another day. The whole situation was fascinating to witness no matter which way you chose to see the fight, and the most fascinating thing of all might have been Probst’s deft handling of the matter. There’s a reason he’s been doing this for so long.
Beyond racial rice wars, there was also a normal episode of Survivor shoehorned in as well, but that episode was far less interesting. The three-way Redemption Island challenge was sufficiently suspenseful, with David going home. The most compelling storyline to come out of Redemption Island right now, however, has to be the mental deterioration of Matt. Isolation, constant uncertainty and his resounding second defeat by Rob has basically brought him to his knees. Without God, he might have already drowned himself in the nearest shallow puddle. It looks like things continue in this manner next week, and as I enjoy the mental torture aspect of reality TV, I am quite looking forward to it.
- “Rice Wars” needs some verses to go with that killer chorus. Get on that, Rob and Grant.
- The baggy red man panties are even baggier now that Phillip is losing weight. Thank goodness for strategically placed buffs.
- An immunity challenge that’s basically two big puzzles? You’d think the producers would save that one for when Rob really needed it!
- PHILE. (He’s just fucking with us now, right?)
- Are all Redemption Island challenges going to be three-ways now?
- “Phillip’s the rice police.”
- “I never knew strangers could hurt me so deeply.”
- “It’s like watching Divorce Court.”
- “It’s not a chip; it’s a log on his shoulder.”
- “Phillip somehow managed to make a war over white rice racial.”
- “Phillip, you’re saying when Steve calls you crazy, he’s actually calling you the N word?”
- “If this were therapy, I’d say very good session. Let’s come back next Wednesday and do it again.”
- “Guess you’re not going to ever find your shorts.”