Sex gets blamed for stupidity on Survivor: Gender War

After 23 seasons, it’s incredible–and incredibly entertaining–to watch people play Survivor as if this was the first season. Even when non-fan, model-types are recruited, they’re asked to watch past seasons, so they should have some concept about how the game works. But no!

How else to explain Colton alienating not only his tribe, but the other tribe, too? He went over to the women’s camp and cried and begged them to let him live with them, as if he was not aware it’s still a two-tribe game and a long time until the merge. It was forehead-smack baffling, as was the women’s tribe’s inability to work together in any context.

Tribal Council and the final vote wasn’t really a surprise, although at first I was amazed that the women’s tribe, incapable of working together, were sticking to an alliance they made in the first few moments for no discernible reason. But really, what they did was keep the younger, stronger, dumber person (Kat) and got rid of the older, weaker, smarter person (Nina), just like has happened during so many other seasons.

As a fan of reward challenges and a hater of combined challenges, I was thrilled that we got a reward challenge. Alas, it was for a reward that didn’t take the show away from the tribes’ camp, and it also was one that allowed Jeff Probst and the challenge team to take the day off: “a do-it-yourself-reward challenge.” Probst promised we’d have more DIY challenges this season, but based on the first one, I’m not excited about it, though I can vaguely recall at least one in the past that was interesting. The men’s tribe won, of course, because it involved teamwork, untying knots to free a ring. They won a tarp, and that was that.

At camp, Colton wore a hoodie and print trunk underwear while alienating his tribemates, who said things such as, “He’s the worst person for our tribe” and “What is he thinking?” He did, however, share with Troyzan and Jonas that Sabrina gave him the hidden immunity idol, which prompted Jonas to declare, somewhat irrationally, that Colton went from “the first guy voted out to now the ringleader,” adding, “the kid is ridiculously smart.” That seemed like overreaching, at best, because at least from what we saw, Colton didn’t lay out some brilliant plan, he just said he was playing the idol next Tribal–knowledge of which could easily allow his tribe to just delay his exit.

Sabrina was elected, sort of, as her tribe’s leader, sort of, but was reluctant, telling us, “managing the airheads is going to be exhausting.” And while she seemed to value Colton as a potential ally, this week got annoyed with him and basically told him to go home (“you should try bonding,” she said). Colton shuffled off and cried to us that he wanted to live by himself and “just be my own tribe, like the Colton tribe or something.” This reminded me a lot of Dawn’s breakdown last season, when she seemed ready to quit but recovered; the game and the environment are pretty intense, obviously, especially if you’ve done all you can do to make sure no one likes you at all.

Let’s talk about the queen in the room for a moment: It’s easy to see Colton’s flaming gayness as the reason for his alienation from the testosterone tribe, but that really has nothing to do with it, yet that’s what’s easy to blame or focus on–for viewers, the editors, and the other cast members. Survivor doesn’t have to earn any diversity credibility, because it’s given us plenty of different types of people, gay and straight. One of the greatest players and strategists in the show’s history was Todd Herzog, not exactly the most masculine person ever, and I don’t say that in any pejorative way at all (although one gay Survivor did, though he later apologized). Colton is a simply a bad player. That he and the other players have turned him into a horribly bad stereotype is unfortunate but beside the point, as is his sexual orientation.

Also beside the point are the women’s vaginas, though they’re getting blamed for that tribe’s unbelievable dysfunction. During the immunity challenge, which was a repeat of a strong over-the-water balance beam challenge, the women weren’t even close, thanks to their failure to plan and communicate–and Kat just jumping off the balance beam every few seconds just to get some laps in. The men were able to communicate, with some minor failures, and move their tribe members down the beam, past one another, relatively easily–even with Colton getting a little action (“Hold me, hold me.” “Wrap your arm around me!”).

The women lost easily, with one of them blaming their anatomy: “It’s definitely the boobs are hard.” No, sorry, several of the men, including Tarzan, have bigger boobs than the women, but the CBS censors ignore those. Also of note: the CBS bulge censors seemed to have taken a break for the reward challenge, too, because there was quite a bit more than bulge visible there. I guess they wanted us to make sure we knew which tribe has men on it.

After the women did a tiny bit of strategizing, it was time for Tribal Council, and here’s a summary of what Jeff Probst said: You stupid little girls, why can’t you be more like men? You’re pathetic and weak. He literally called them “sixth graders,” which is a new low for Probst, because there have been many other dysfunctional tribes in the past, and while he’s been hard on those tribes, he was significantly more condescending here. At one point, he even said, “There’s no girl power going on right now, no young women going, ‘Go women’s tribe!'”

Hey, Probst: There are no young men doing that either! It’s not about their genitalia! But in his defense, he was just joining the sexism party, which the women contributed to. Earlier, Monica said, “I’m sad for women. This isn’t the way women are.” Nina, referring to Kat, said, “quit being such a dumb broad.” Sabrina gave us a whole sexist lecture at Tribal Council: “This is a prime example of how men and women communicate differently. We’re kind of tiptoeing and tap dancing around and that causes a rift and that causes emotion. A man would have called another man out, and then they would have dealt with it and been done with it, no more beef.”

Again, here’s the problem with all of this: What the contestants, Jeff Probst, and even we as viewers do is focus on these external characteristics and attribute behavior to those. The men aren’t communicating better because they have balls–although there’s some complication here, because these are people who’ve been raised in a society that tells men how they’re expected to communicate (efficiently, directly) and tells women how they’re expected to behave (be catty, emotional). Likewise, The women aren’t having trouble getting their shit together because they have vaginas and breasts, it’s because those individuals cannot communicate with one another. And while Colton is awful, it’s not because he is gay or acts flamboyant. He’s awful because he’s a bad player and a Republican.

If the tribes were mixed sex, our focus would be on how dumb these people are, not how dumb the women are. Even though I usually don’t like pre-merge tribe shake-ups, I’m hoping for one sooner than later so the focus will change and we can just revel in the stupidity–which by itself is pretty damn entertaining.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.