'Survivor' Host's Geoethnic Studies, From Soup to Mutts

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 8, 2006

Until "Survivor" host Jeff Probst sat in on casting sessions for the CBS reality series's new edition, in which competitors were picked and put into "tribes" based on their ethnic background, he had not realized that "Asian" includes Japanese, Koreans and Chinese and that they do not necessarily like each other as a matter of ethnic solidarity.

Whites, on the other hand, are "mutts" and "don't have any ethnicity to hang on to," he told reporters on a phone conference call Wednesday.

"When you start talking to a person from Asia, you realize -- Wow! They have all different backgrounds!" gushed Probst, who described himself repeatedly as a 44-year-old white guy from Wichita.

Thrilled with the outrage generated by Probst's appearance two weeks ago on CBS's "The Early Show" to announce "Survivor: Race Wars," the network served him up again, this time for his traditional one-week-to-debut conference call with the Reporters Who Cover Television.

Grievously, Probst couldn't answer their really big questions, such as "why has this show, which has been so white for so long, suddenly had an attack of acute social consciousness?" and "why have all the sponsors and several advertisers on the show pulled out this edition?" except to say, "I don't run a network."

So we'll just be left speculating that what with the show losing about a quarter of its largely white audience in two seasons, someone higher up the food chain than Probst decided that maybe they should try a little ethnic diversity and see if they couldn't snag a few more of those Hispanic, Asian and African American viewers.

Probst did tell reporters that about 85 percent of the show's prospective contestants are white, which he called a "self-fulfilling prophecy" because most of the viewers are white.

Last season, "Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island" ranked No. 8 among white viewers, but 58th among African American viewers. Among Hispanic viewers "Survivor: Guatemala" was last season's most popular edition but ranked 64th. Stats on Asian American viewing were not available.

Meanwhile, Fox's reality hit "American Idol," with its ethnically diverse competitors, ranked No. 1 among whites, African Americans and Hispanics.

Probst could say, however, that working on this edition of "Survivor" has changed his life.

The other day, he told the reporters, he went to his dentist, who is white, and the dentist brought in another dentist, who is Asian. "And I found myself saying to the Asian doctor, 'Where in Asia is your family from?' " The dentist said he was Korean. "The only reason I had the courage to even ask that question or the knowledge to ask that question was I'd just spent 39 days with people from Korea," Probst said.

Yes, he really did.

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