Why Survivor’s returnees always have penises: Probst’s outrageous, sexist answer

Many of Survivor‘s most memorable cast members have been women, from season one’s Sue Hawk and Kelly Wiglesworth all the way to last season’s Kat Edorsson and Christina Cha. But of the nine people the show has brought back in non-all star seasons, eight have been male (Stephenie LaGrossa is the only female). All three people returning this fall are men.

Why is that? EW’s Dalton Ross asked Jeff Probst that great question, but Probst’s answer is beyond absurd. While Jeff allows for the possiblity that there’s an inherent flaw in the casting process (and thus in producers’ judgement, which would presumably include him), his answer may make your head explode:

“There just aren’t as many colorful women characters in Survivor history, and we’ve used up the ones we can–you know, Parvati and Amanda and Cirie. I mean, not saying that they can’t come back, we’d love to have someone like Cirie come back again, but we used them a lot. And for whatever reason, we’re loaded with interesting guys. Now, maybe that says something about our casting process, or maybe it just says something about how men and women behave differently in conflict. Maybe men are a little crazier, and lose their minds a little more, and thus become more interesting, and women are a little more rational, and thus probably better leaders. But for whatever reason, when we look at bringing women back, we are left with saying, if they have to carry the show themselves, are they strong enough?”

Do we even need to discuss the sexism in that “women are like this, men are like that” assumptions? It’s bullshit; even if you want to argue that society encourages many or most people with the same genitals to have similar behavior, there are still plenty of outliers. It’s like saying that men are better athletes and women are better parents; there are so many exceptions that it makes the generalization moronic.

The real objection I have, though, is as someone who loves Survivor, a game that took ordinary people into an extraordinary circumstance. While I totally understand why bigger, type-A personalities are cast–and have been since season one–the game is now reduced to desiring just people who are “crazier” and “lose their minds” (just wait until spring: SPOILER, oops) instead of people who are “rational.” That assumes we don’t want to see rational, smart people on TV–or worse, that it’s impossible to have both. That’s crap.

I’m nearly resigned to the fact that Survivor will have returnees “as often as possible,” but it’s nuts that Probst and the producers can’t find other memorable women among hundreds of past cast members, and worse that they look for returnees to “carry the show themselves.” Just because a few seasons without returnees may not have been as wild doesn’t mean that you need a crazy person every season; instead, do a better job casting and finding new people, people who surprise us, like, say, June Thompson–or the inspirational people Probst has on his talk show. Otherwise, just give up.

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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.