'Survivor' Premiere: The Amazing Race War

"Survivor" contestants wrestle with a challenge: finding the hidden race cards. (By Monty Brinton -- Cbs)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm working up a pretty good outrage watching the first episode of CBS's "Survivor: Race Wars" when they cut to an ad in which Audrey Hepburn has been exhumed to sell skinny black pants, which I'm guessing are made in some Third World country, for the Gap.

Audrey Hepburn is the patron saint of waspy white chicks. I am a waspy white chick. I am really angry. Oh, that's probably how this show is supposed to work. Sure, CBS has taken one of the whitest shows on TV (which is hard to find in a reality series) and made it ethnically diverse, not because it's the right thing to do, but so they can play the race card -- dividing contestants into the African American tribe, the Hispanic tribe, the Asian American tribe and the white guys -- in hopes the media attention will goose the show's sagging ratings.

Sure, they went and gave the "tribes" marble-mouthy island names, like Aitutaki and Rarotonga and Manihiki and Pukapuka, so Jeff Probst and CBS won't be calling them the "white tribe," the "black tribe," the "Asian tribe" and the "Hispanic tribe," but they know everyone else will.

Sure, the producers made sure all the racially insensitive comments were made by members of ethnic minorities in this first episode, which allowed them to back-door plenty of provocative comments without seeming racist themselves. Hey, if the old guy from Vietnam says he can't believe that a bunch of Asians who are so little weigh down a raft so much, or that nobody will "suspect little people with slanted eyes," what's a producer to do, right?

And, if members of the black team talk about how they "don't just run track," and how "black people don't like to be told what to do" and about how black people are not supposed to be able to swim, how can the producers help it? Which means the white tribe got virtually no air time and then only to talk about who was the jock, who was the cheerleader, who was hot and which two were hooking up.

And sure, the episode is being hosted by Jeff Probst, who recently acknowledged that, as a "white guy from Wichita," when he'd looked at a map of the world -- or rather, when a map of the world flings itself into his field of vision -- he had not grasped that the funny little shapes with all those pretty colors were actually different countries. It appears, as my colleague Gene Robinson observed, that in all the years Probst has done this show from various far-flung places, he thought he was in darkest west Wichita all along.

Sure, it's unfortunate that the black tribe couldn't start a fire, that the black tribe lost the show's first challenge because they couldn't figure out how to put together their "puzzle boat" until the other teams had put theirs together, rowed it out to a flame and rowed back. Sure, when Probst told the black team they got to send one member of another team to Exile Island for a few days, the two black men stepped forward and did the picking, while their women stayed behind. And it's nobody's fault they picked a white guy who was not a particular asset to his team, because, relying on a form of street justice, the guy had taken a chicken from the Asian team.

But the contestants on "Survivor: Race Wars" were dumb enough to let themselves be used by CBS to whip up the race.

Audrey Hepburn, on the other hand, is dead; the patron saint of waspy white chicks did not get to choose. And it's a crime and a sin what the Gap has done to her. I am a waspy white chick, and this is my tribe.

* * *

Poor Tucker Carlson.

Finally he manages to get a big audience -- more than 20 million viewers -- and then he goes and gets sacked after just one broadcast. Not to belabor this tribe thing, but: He looked like a white guy who can't dance. Oh, right, he is.

Carlson was the very first to get jettisoned by viewers from the debut of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" after his Tuesday cha-cha left them cold. And he got the lowest score from the judges; yes, even lower than Jerry Springer.

On the other bright side, the 20 million who saw Carlson on his first -- and last -- performance on the show are the biggest grab of the season and the biggest audience for any entertainment program since the season finale of "American Idol" in May.

And more than 16 million tuned in the next night to see Carlson get whacked, which is the largest "results show" audience ever for the dance competition.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company