CBS’s Survivor 13: Castaways Divided by Race

Is CBS rocking the boat that marooned a group of castaways on the Cook Islands?

Dubbed by show host Jeff Probst as the biggest social experiment to date, the 13th season of the hit reality series Survivor has divided contestants into four teams of five – based on ethnicity.

Rob Cesternino, 27 who made the final three in Survivor: Amazon (season five) and returned for Survivor All-Stars, was dubbed by host Probst as the “best player never to win.” Cesternino has become a reality expert of sorts, covering the genre through his latest endeavor, a website with original video-on-demand programming. Last week, Zabberbox launched “Tribal Counseling,” a biweekly show on Survivor.

“I thought it was a great idea. I had hoped they’d do something like this for a while. I think what’s refreshing is that you have more people of different races. I applaud Survivor for having more racial diversity, as opposed to other seasons,” he said.

Jeff Reichl, 28 of East Stroudsburg, Pa. has been a Survivor faithful since early on-even having a seasonal Survivor pool.

“I think it’s a neat idea. I said years ago that it would be neat if they had 16 people that all spoke a different language and had to learn to communicate and survive,” he said, adding that he is excited to see the season play out.

Cesternino and Reichl both say critics-who are calling the show racist-have the wrong idea.

“I think a lot of people just like to talk about controversy for the sake of being heardâÂ?¦. They like to have airtime, and with a 24-hour a day news footage, they get it. I don’t know how many people were really upset by what a reality show is doing,” said Cesternino.

Contrary to what critics believed, the first show did not contain an inkling of racism (unless you count one Asian making fun of himself), although Cesternino jokes that he wanted some drama.

“I had blood thirst for something like an episode of the Jerry Springer ShowâÂ?¦ but they found some really balanced people on the show,” he said.

In his first edition of Tribal Counseling, Cesternino jokes that although the tribes have official names, no one will refer to them, rather “the white tribe” or the “Asian tribe.” Regardless of the divide, Rebecca of the African American tribe perhaps said it best during the season opener last Thursday: “It all comes down to pure human survival.”

During the opener, many of the castaways were surprised at the divide, but stated they thought it was a good chance to “represent.” However, some mentioned that it could set the stage for stereotyping, as one said: “black people can swim, not just run track.” Cesternino explains that having tribes full of one race can actually eliminate people thinking teammates are racist.

“If a black guy got voted out (in a regular season), if he worked on building shelter, got tired and went to take a nap, others could say this is how the blacks are. Lazy. But with four others blacks (on the same tribe), it’s balanced. It went from one person representing an entire race to five people representing various parts of four races. You can’t play the race card on this Survivor,” he said, adding that in Survivor: Thailand, Shii Ann said she wasn’t accepted because she was an Asian. “That probably because she was annoying.”

But what he’s getting at is that personality types span all races. There are geographic divisions among Latino and Asian tribes, with people from places like Hawaii, Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea and more. And, among all teams, there are still chances of divide based on gender, age, body art, work ethic, geographic location and of course, personalities. All this leads to definite in-fighting among the tribes, which is really no different than any other Survivor.

One example of a clash is Cao Boi (pronounced “cowboy”), an older, long-haired man from Vietnam. In the first episode, he said that he doesn’t belong with other Asians, but with a clan of hippies.

“I love that guy! He has the chance to capture the hearts and minds of Survivor fans across the nation. There’s never been anyone like him before. He looks unique and he is like a medicine man,” he said, referring to Cao Boi healing a tribe mate’s headache with some serious acupressure, leaving a huge red mark on his forehead. “I have a feeling Cao Boi knows more than us mortals.”

So, the racial divide may have brought some attention to the network. But when it comes down to it, personalities are going determine fan support and who ultimately outwits, outplays and outlasts-just like on the previous 12 seasons.

INFO: Want more Survivor information and commentary? Cesternino’s Tribal Counseling is available free, around the clock at, with new recaps posted each Friday. In addition, each week his second show will feature a former Survivor guest.

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