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Gender Roles on CBS’ Survivor

2009 March 1
by Guinevere

I’ve haven’t been a ‘long time’ Survivor fan, but I have been watching for the past couple years (since TV became my favorite de-stressing activity). The new season just started and I’ve begun noticing many striking differences between the roles taken on by men and women on the tribes. I have always been aware of the physical differences in performance during challenges and when paired up or teamed up against each other, the show’s producers ensure an equal number of men and women on each team.

Since taking this class, however, I’ve seen the more subtle differences in gender roles back at camp and in how the contestants relate to one another. For example, in last week’s episode, one tribe won fishing gear at a reward challenge. Back at camp, a male cattle rancher and his friend, a male corporate consultant, bonded over using their new fishing gear. I immediately realized that I’d rarely or really never seen female contestants using fishing gear on the show.

I’ve been re-watching key episodes to see how tribes react to the introduction of new technology (fire, fishing gear, etc). I’ve seen occasional glimpses of women fishing in the background, but the main story line tends to revolve around men using it. I need to do more research to see who’s using fire and who’s doing the cooking around camp. I’ll have that prepared for the panel on Wednesday.

2 Responses
  1. March 2, 2009

    This is really interesting and would make an excellent paper topic. I’m a Top Chef fan and the Finale for this season, which was last week, was somewhat classic in terms of gender stereotypes. The one remaining woman really had an edge over the guys in terms of skill. In the last couple of episodes, she’d really outcooked them. But in the final episode, she let her sous-chef make some key decisions even when she didn’t feel comfortable with them. She did not want to rock the boat, classic stereotypically feminine behavior. And she lost for it.

    There’s a huge Survivor online fan group. I wonder if you could get a hold of deleted footage that might show that the producers are making choices about what to show women doing or not. In other words, you might try to tease out whether it’s the women gravitating away from using certain tools or producers reinforcing gender stereotypes.

  2. Guinevere permalink
    March 2, 2009

    You bring up a good point about whether the women on the show are using certain tools or whether it’s the producers choosing to not show certain things. That’s definitely something I’ve been trying to explore in my research. It’s tough to discern while watching an episode, but I’ve been peering into the background of different shots and camera angles to see what’s really happening. There’s surprising little written explicitly about gender stereotypes on the show. It’s easy enough to find people commenting online and saying things that are sexist, etc, but finding more ‘academic’ comments or comments that actually discuss the gender differences has proved challenging.

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