In a more than 4,600-word essay, Survivor Edge of Extinction cast member Julia Carter has written about her experience on season 38, from a racial slur being used on the very first day to the backlash she got after discussing her disappointment over being excluded from the first four episodes.
She also goes into detail about game play and strategy, including the votes for Joe and Eric, writing about why she “was against the Joe vote” and “why I ‘jumped ship’ the next vote and split up the Ron and Eric duo.”
Julia agrees with those of us who thought the editing was a complete mess, especially because there “was a severe lack of character development this season.” (With the notable exception of last fall’s Survivor David vs. Goliath, that’s becoming quite a frustrating trend on Survivor.)
She calls “bullshit” on the edit’s—and Jeff Probst’s, and viewers’—suggestion that Joe Anglim was responsible for Kama’s winning streak. “Manu 2.0 was stacked physically, and we still managed to pull out wins. So give ALL of us our respect,” Julia writes.
Julia details the range of reactions she had at the Tribal Council where she was voted out, and explained why she was annoyed:
“While I definitely became a passenger who was swiftly ejected that tribal, I stand by what I said at that time. My demeanor also changed midway through that tribal council, when I was called aggressive. I was probably one of the LEAST aggressive people on that island so it bothered me that aggressive was the go-to adjective. That’s when my tongue became very sharp. Between knowing that it was going to be me heading to the Edge and simply being annoyed, I let my words come out unfiltered. But I reeled it in quickly. If there was one thing that I did NOT have the privilege of, it was knowing that anything that I say or do will be used against me. I could not afford to step out of character, to be the angry Black woman, to be a stereotype. I have a career that I have busted my ass working toward. I would never give them that. By the time the votes were read, I was smiling. Game respects game. I respected the play and understood how my game contributed to my demise. But aggressive, ugh.”
After Tribal Council, Julia went to the Edge of Extinction—she refers to once as a “shitty patch of beach”—where she became both a member of the jury and found a “lifelong friend” in Reem Daly.
She calls Reem “Queen Reem,” and says Reem “helped me work through demons, gave me life advice, and saw me as a person not as a competitor.”
Mostly, though, Edge provided time for her to reflect:
“For me, Edge was therapeutic. I never realized how distracted we are in life. Between school, work, friends and family, and social media, there is always something that we can get lost in to pass the time or intentionally distract ourselves. Edge stripped away all of these distractions. The endless time with nothing to do around individuals you don’t really want to talk to all the time forces you to spend time with yourself. It forced me to look internally and identify flaws and areas for growth, seek closure for open wounds, and find internal peace.”
A Kama tribe member used the n-word on day one
Earlier this spring, Julia discussed her disappointment at the representation of the season’s two black contestants, including, obviously, herself, and in this essay, she talks about the reaction from some fans, but also provides additional context.
Julia first applied in 2016, for Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X, and was called back in April 2018 when casting producers told her they were “going through old footage.” Julia says she read that as “we need more Black people, but hey, I’ll take it. Representation still matters, right?”
During casting, she says that Probst challenged her: “Before I was cast, Jeff questioned whether or not I could handle the physicality of the game. Through tears, I remember saying that I never gave up when everything in my life wanted me to, and I would not start now.”
It wasn’t the physicality of the game that presented the first surprise or challenge, though: it was someone else using a racial slur on day one of Survivor: Edge of Extinction.
Julia writes that someone on her tribe, Kama—she doesn’t name them—used the n-word. They were playing a game in which they quoted from movies, but as she writes, “A social game, and we’re out here dropping racial slurs? Or is it okay because it was woven into a quote in a game? No one says anything, no one brings it up. Even me.”
Imagine how empowered and comfortable that person felt to casually use the n-word. While it wasn’t directed toward someone, it still carries a lot of weight, and that kind of super-casual use by a white person illustrates both their thoughtlessness and privilege.
Julia writes, “I did not think I was going to have to hit the beach and fight against racism and bias. I do that enough in my daily life.” She did find an ally in that fight, however:
“There was one bright light in all of this, and his name is Ron Clark. Ron approached me a day or two later by the fire and asked me how I felt about hearing the word. I told him I was uncomfortable and annoyed, shocked that there would be such a lack of respect and awareness. I held back most of my true emotion, as it was still early on in the game. I didn’t want him to think that I was a race crusader or to see me as potentially bringing problems to the tribe.”
Ron—whose husband is black—directly addressed the use of the racial slur when it was used again. Julia writes:
“Days later, the word is said again. Same context (seems like this is a trend), quoting a South Park episode, where the Wheel of Fortune word is N*GGERS, and Niggers is guessed although the correct answer is naggers. Never saw the episode, and at this point, I have no intention to. Furious is an understatement of how I was feeling in that moment. As I was about to bite whatever bullet was going to come my way and say something, Ron interjects and says, ‘You cannot say that word!’ A villain to you, a hero to me. A weight was lifted off my shoulders as Ron, a White man, led the charge against racism in camp. I chimed in, recalling repeated instances of racial slurs and negative racial references being used at camp. The tribe ended up having a very healthy dialogue about race, each person contributing a different perspective.”
While it’s terrific that the tribe was able to talk about this, that was completely edited out of the episodes, and that is disappointing, because it clearly and obviously affected at least one player’s game.
Julia’s confessionals were left out of the first four episodes, but she did sit down for interviews, including an hour-long one in which she discussed the use of racist language. That was not included in the edit.
Producers apologized for having to deal with racist language at camp, Julia writes, and I have no doubt that was sincere. But the way to really address it is with actions: including the tribe’s discussion in the episode, showing how it affected Julia and allowing her to talk about it, and to just do better with casting.
As to casting Survivor, Julia writes, “There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn’t enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat.”
Julia says she chose to be quiet because she was committed to trying to win the game, and didn’t want to get negative attention. That’s a potent illustration of the decision people of color have to make frequently: whether or not to internalize the pain caused by the very people who just really can’t be bothered to hear about it, or to speak up and have the perpetrators/perpetuators label, blame, and/or punish people of color—the ones who were harmed!—just for speaking up.
These paragraphs, and Julia’s writing, may trigger that same reaction in some readers, who will be mad that she’s discussing race at all, and find ways to blame her for Survivor’s editing of her, or for her reaction to the slurs. I’d hope, though, that they’d be willing to read what Julia has to say and appreciate and understand that she lived through this, so she’s the one who’s most qualified to make judgments about what happened, not those of us who weren’t there.
About the decision she faced, Julia writes:
“Speak up and put a target on my back or bite my tongue in order to maneuver my way through the game without much attention? It hurt me to feel as though I was back in that place in my life where I felt so silenced, that I would choose $1 million dollars over defending myself. In that moment, I chose the game. I stand by that decision, but never again. In or out of game, you should always stand up for yourself. I received an apology from production for having to deal with this and was given praises for how respectfully I handled the situation at camp.”
Read Julia’s full essay: Push Me to the Edge: My Survivor Experience.