You don’t need to be watching political debates or a cable news channel to know that there is a culture war brewing in our country. And while it’s been stoked in recent weeks by the Republican party’s seeming determination to make sure every woman in this country votes Democrat, it’s become increasingly clear that the culture war is not simply being fought in the political arena, but in some of the most unlikely places imaginable.
Like on SURVIVOR.
Proving that after 24 cycles it is still the most unpredictable reality show on the air, last night found the men heading to tribal council despite having won immunity. And once gathered around the fire, class and race were the unlikely topics as a spoiled, white gay guy (Colton) butted heads with a poor, black tribemate (Bill). “He’s obnoxious, he’s loud… plus, he’s a ‘struggling stand-up comic,’” explained Colton when asked why he didn’t like Bill, putting his rival’s career choice in air quotes and using a tone that made it clear he didn’t approve.
“We come from two totally different backgrounds,” admitted Bill. “I’m not here trying to make it this whole black/white thing or whatever, I’m just talking about the differences in our upbringings.” He added, “Me being poor? That’s just part of my life.”
Asked about his own upbringing, Colton admitted to being from a small town in Alabama. “I live in a town with 3,000 people, and yes, I did go to a private, all-white school,” he said. “But I do have African-American people in my life.”
“My housekeeper,” he admitted.
Colton then went on to suggest his tribemate get a real job as opposed to “living off the kindness of others,” to which a stunned Bill responded, “Are you out of your mind? Bro, you haven’t worked an honest day in your life or actually had to go out and get a job!” As Colton repeatedly rolled his eyes, Bill pointed out emphatically, “Don’t judge me! I don’t judge you, so don’t look down at me, don’t call me names, and for the love of God, I work with people and for no one.”
Colton’s response? An eye roll and a dismissive, “Whatever.”
Asked by host Jeff Probst if there were people in Alabama who judge Colton because of his sexuality, the young man continued espousing his bizarre world view. “I’m sure there are. But the people that I associate with — yes, y’all can say country club people, whatever — I feel like they have more educated, like, thoughts and ideas and they’re more open and accepting to things. The ones who have a problem with it are the ones riding around in their, like, jacked-up trucks with their rebel flags having in the back, and, you know they go home to their trailers at night.”
And there, in a nutshell, was an example of the very debates tearing at the fabric of our society, playing out on the most unlikely of stages. Then again, perhaps SURVIVOR is, in fact, an inevitable arena in which to witness the human condition unfolding. Unlike the table-flipping housewives and shore-residing party animals who occupy so much of the reality-TV landscape, SURVIVOR is at its best when it focuses on the social dynamics that unfold once a group of strangers are forced to reside together under the most strenuous of situations.
But there was yet another viewpoint yet to be heard. Perhaps representing the millions of Americans who have thrown their hands up in frustration as culture wars have raged even as actual, important issues of the day are practically neglected, a third tribemate, Tarzan, spoke of his frustration with the situation. “The whole thing about race irks me. I think it’s time to quit talking about [expletive bleeped] races. I’m fed up with people talking about race! I’m tired of it! I want people to base what they think about somebody on how they behave and what their merits are and nothing else!” he declared angrily.
As the debate faded, Probst said something of Bill and Colton that might easily have been directed toward the various political factions waging war with one another in Washington. “You two may never have met in normal life… but you’re here today, and the only way to get to the end is either with each other or through the other.”
Richard M. Simms is the executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility.