Thursday, September 21, 2006

Live-Blogging Survivor: Cook Islands, ep. 2

Welcome to the second installment of Jenn-subjects-herself-to-a-travesty-of-television, wherein I will be live-blogging the second episode of Survivor: Race Wars. If you happen to be in my timezone, feel free to turn on the show and keep refreshing this page to watch my comments come in. 7:01 The episode re-cap is on, reminding of what happened last week. Major themes? Some of the castaways are uncomfortable with the Race Wars theme, a girl named Flicka (who I am assuming, given that name, must be part-pony) let a chicken the White tribe stole from the Asians escape into the wilderness, and the Black tribe voted out Seku, their self-proclaimed leader who was, until that point, doing his best to "shatter" stereotypes by saturating us with the lazy Black man stereotype. I am now watching the opening credits for the first time, and am surprised that Burnett didn't take the blogosphere's lead in introducing the tribes as the blogosphere has taken to doing: by the associated race rather than with these silly names. "Puka Puka"? Is that supposed to be reminscent of vomit or Pokemon? As we wait for the commercials to go finish, I'm going to let you guys know that this time I actually have the CBS Survivor website open in another window. Hopefully, this will help in identifying the castmates this time, such that I can stop calling them "that Asian guy" and "that older Asian guy". 7:06 We return from commercial break to watch the Hiki tribe (that'd be the African American tribe -- incidentally, I got several search terms pulling up this site looking for the colour of the Hiki tribe: that would be yellow, guys) attempt to use their new flint to start a fire. They couldn't seem to get their fire started, despite having the flint -- suggesting that maybe they really needed to win that fire-starter kit from before. Nate (the lone man, albeit somewhat effiminate) tries for a long time to get the fire going, and finally gives up, only to have Rebecca try it for a few minutes and get it going (editor's note: it might have helped Nate to actually have some kindling under his flint as he tried to light it). It was a blow to sexism, apparently, that a woman -- a woman -- started the fire. Then the African American tribe -- which Rebecca described as under more pressure because they were the African American tribe -- danced around their fire. 7:10 Aitu (the Latino tribe) describes themselves as doing well -- and certainly they are probably among a minority (no pun intended) in actually being able to catch fish without needing the fishing line and hook. They say they caught nine fish and some clams for food. After Cristina explains how she is a cop who was shot earlier in her career, the Aitu tribe get together and build a chicken trap, catching one of the wild roosters running around the island. There seems to be a hint of tension between Ozzy and Cristina, although exactly what the concern is is unclear. 7:12 Puka, the Asian American tribe, outdoes the Aitu tribe's chicken trap in designing a smaller, more compact and efficient trap involving a box and a stick. Yul and Becky seem to be bonding over their "Korean-ness". Becky says that Yul is like her, "op-pah" (sp?) or older brother -- and I'm sure Probst was watching that piece of film and still raising an eyebrow over the existence of different Asian ethnicities at all. Probst must have been thinking, "They have their own different languages?!? This has got to make the social experiment even cooler! Maybe we can mate Yul and Becky and see what their little Korean children are like!!" 7:15 After Chicken Thief returns from exile, the Raro tribe is already falling to pieces, four days into the experience. They did get a fire going, but they apparently spent a second night partying rather than building a shelter. Perhaps they were thinking hot sweaty sorority-girl/frat-boy sex on the muddy jungle floor was going to keep them warm for 30 days. 7:19 Back at the Latino tribe, the tribe continues to impress by catching fish without the line. Billy, the rather husky guy on the tribe, regales us with his philosophy on camp etiquette, which can be summarized by the following: don't do shit and try to feed off your tribemates' work. Billy says that he feels inexperienced in catching fish and so doesn't want to do anything to help. Some of the women take Billy aside and tell him that they want him to fit in, and Billy responds that he's never felt part of the "Hispanic culture", and that "metal is his culture". That sounds an awful lot like self-denial; no matter what room Billy walks into, I'm sure his peers will see him first as brown before rocker. 7:22 Oh, shit, Mr. Miyagi is at it again. Cao Boi comes in with his "magical powers", as Jenny describes it, to cure her of her sunstroke. He actually massaged her temples to remove the migraine and then marks Jenny with the same mark as he marked the guy from last week. However, later that night, Mr. Miyagi starts making racist, anti-Asian jokes, including one that starts with "What do you call a Vietnamese who has three dogs?". He says "a joke is a joke, right?", but Yul and the rest immediately retaliate (and rightly so) arguing that such jokes only perpetuate stereotypes of Asians to those who don't know about insider politics. It's a valid point, but were I the Puka tribe, I would've just kicked Mr. Miyagi out of the shelter. You think making fun of Asians are "small"? See how small your balls get after you spend a night in the freezing cold. Them healing hands won't be much good then, will they? 7:28 Over at Raro, we see that the White folk actually were busy and built a cute little shelter in the lee of a rock, that looks something like a stable. Well, Flicka will feel right at home. Meanwhile, the castaways learn that this is some sort of bondage-inspired reward+immunity challenge. All I caught was an image of handcuffs and something about the entire team being as one. Orgy? I have a feeling the White team will have the edge; they have, after all, been practicing for five days. Meanwhile, over at Aitu, Billy, like an idiot, is acting more and more like a loner, wandering off as the rest of the tribe reads the treemail and strategizes. At the challenge, Chicken Thief (or one of his male cohorts -- shit, you know them frat boys all look alike) shoots a thrilled look to his tribemates, and I just had to wonder if some yucky slur shot through his head. He just looked a little too happy for that to have all been just a "we got an edge in the game" facial expression. 7:31 The challenge reward are a pile of tarps. Again, the details of this challenge are a little too complex to explain, all I know is it involves a Reading Rainbow portion wherein Probst reads us a bedtime story, followed by a leg-race through an obstacle course in which all four participating tribe-mates are tied together. Importantly, at the end of the race, the tribes must reassemble the Reading Rainbow book from memory. Of note is the fact that Billy of Aitu immediately volunteered himself to sit this challenge out, further indicating that he has some form of snuff-wish on this gameshow. The Asian American tribe takes a lead in the challenge and show some good team unity in crossing the rope bridge. I'm starting to be reminded of the model minority myth, 'cept I'm pretty sure it didn't include rope bridges. Fitting into this "we have photographic memories, but we're not stereotypes, dammit!" thing Puka has going for them, Puka initially is named the winner of this challenge. Raro, the White tribe, immediately become infuriated and protest loudly. "We won!" sputtered Candice (I think). So, of course, Probst sided with the White tribe and declared it a draw (the way it was edited, it certainly seems that when Probst yelled that they had to be on the mats, Puka made it on first). Yeah, 'cuz the Asians don't deserve to win, outright, twice in a row. That's racist! Aitu chooses to exile Yul following their loss at the challenge. I'm not too sure why. Maybe a hot, virile Asian American man was deemed too threatening. All I know is, Yul is certainly the poor woman's Daniel Dae Kim. If I weren't practically married, I'd swoon. 7:42 So, thus far -- the African American tribe and the Latino tribe both lost because they were too stupid and too physically weak (i.e. lazy). Stereotypes? Bashing? Not a chance. Yul wades over to Exile Island where he considers seeking the immunity idol. Incredibly, he manages to actually make sense of the two clues and finds the immunity idol. Let me just say: holy shit! Model minority jokes aside, that was an incredible feat considering the serious lack of clues he got. Yul is a frickin' superhero. He is a Super Survivor, in the mould of Tom from a couople seasons ago. He shall have to be henceforth named (S.A.M.) Super Asian Man. If Mr. Miyagi is the one-dimensional, "Chop-Chop" shame of Asian Americana, S.A.M. is our Stepford Husband. The question now is whether S.A.M. will tell his tribe. He shouldn't. He really shouldn't. But I bet he'll tell Becky. 'Cuz, y'know, they've got a Korean unity going on over there (not to mention sexual tension). 7:47 Alright, so the Latino tribe is flipping out trying to figure out who will get voted out next. Burnett is trying desperately to create some supense, but if Billy survives this Tribal Council, I will eat my keyboard. It comes to light that J.P., a sort of teutonic-looking frat-boy type, actually threw the challenge in order to try and have Billy eliminated. Moron -- Billy is a lazy bastard, but manpower is important this early on. Then Billy drops a very odd bombshell, suggesting that he has stalker/sociopathic tendancies. He tells Probst and his tribe that he "fell in love with Candice" (of the White tribe) and that they mouthed the words "I love you" to each other at the challenge. What. The. Hell?!? Considering that most castaways have to introduce themselves following the merge, suggesting that they don't get a chance to meet each other before hand, this is just truly bizarre. I'm not sure I follow the story, but it's certainly interesting that Bizarre Billy falls for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed White girl from the other tribe (who we saw earlier cozying up to one of the frat boys on her team). The ostracized man of colour starts chasing after the first woman he sees who fits the traditional Westernized beauty image? Typical. Bottom line: Bizarre Billy's story is creepy. Not cute. Not romantic -- creepy. 7:54 Well, Bizarre Billy gets voted out in a decidedly unsuspensful vote. Did he actually have a thing for Candice? Inquiring minds must know! Following Bizarre Billy's departure, Probst actually lectures the Latino tribe on work ethic (I would be offended if my offended threshold hadn't already been reached at the opening credits) and Bizarre Billy is ever-more characterized as "the lazy one". Some thoughts on this episode: first, it's clear that Burnett was well aware of the controversy that would surround Survivor: Race Wars. Burnett clearly edited the preview for this episode to up-play the racial tension that surrounded Mr. Miyagi and his Asian dog-eating jokes, but that segment was actually surprisingly low-key with no follow-up after the tribe tells Miyagi to shut up. Second, it's clear that the Asian American tribes are completely intent on not destroying stereotypes, but in fact perpetuating the model minority one, making them this season's early front-runner. And finally, will we be able to get through a single episode in which the African American tribe doesn't dance? Also noteworthy: Bizarre Billy perpetuates the Burnett agenda by arguing that he didn't belong in the Latino tribe (thereby suggesting that he actually is trying to surrender his identity as a Latino entirely) and would've fit in better in a "heavy metal" tribe. Oh, Billy, don't give Burnett any ideas. Next season, it'll be Top 40 vs. Hip Hop vs. Heavy Metal vs. Country vs. Trance musicians all stranded on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of Thailand, in which they will compete for challenge rewards including an electric guitar with no amplifier and a dual drum-set fire-kit stuffed full of live hamsters. Next week: The tribes octopus-wrassle, Parvati is a 'ho (will they finally deal with the fact that Parvati has an Asian Indian name but is on the White tribe?), and Miyagi tries to win coon-of-the-year.


Anonymous Mac said...

Jenn, I don't know what your major is, but it really should be Journalism. LOL!
Excellent re-cap.

9/22/2006 01:06:00 AM  
Anonymous tzeming said...

Despite being unable to actually watch this show from my country, i'm already shamefully addicted to it via Youtube snippets and livebloggers such as yourself.

Sigh. I'm as right-on overeducated ironic postcolonial race-theorised as any diaspora Asian has the ability to be; but as a non-North American, I find the hating on Cao Boi seriously symptomatic of Asian-American fixation on stereotype-wrangling, rather than on the implications of multiple and autonomised identity.

So the guy makes Asian jokes - which any decently overeducated ironic postcolonial race-theorised Asian American does in their spare time with an *insider* audience (I mean check Jeff Yang's last Asianpop column!), so if he can be accused of something, it's misjudging context.

It also seems contradictory that he gets hated on for being a 'self-hating Asian'; when he's obviously skilled in his indigenous Vietnamese medical traditions, undoubtly speaks his mother tongue fluently, and is proud of his identity as a refugee. Weren't you ever the unconventional, outspoken Canadian-Chinese girl who was hated on by conservative elements of your community for being embarrassing? How many of us radical left wing anti-racist darkie-lovin' activists within conservative east-Asian communities ever thought we 'fitted in' with 'the Asian community' whose rights and dignities we were actually fighting for? So I don't find it 'self-hating' for the guy to say 'I never fitted in with the Asian community' or 'I don't fit the stereotype' - rather, he seems like a refreshing and useful person to have around to moderate the cleancut model-minorityness, which you're actually luuurving in the form of S.A.M, ironically enough. Hey, I don't think there's anything wrong with appreciating... ahem ...*competence* either.

Of course, I can't watch the full episodes, so perhaps Cao Boi is an asshole after all, but i just can't tell. And of course, much of the complaint is about the intent behind the editing, which is easy to grant.

Other notes on your entry from a non-North American ethnicity and race theory perspective:

- why is all of the American-born Asian world groaning about Cao Boi's facility with traditional Vietnamese medicine? I should get my traditional Chinese and western-trained doctor relatives to whip yo' asses for disrepecting the 10,000 year history of East Asian medicine like you're all some Western positivist-imperialist running dog 'stereotype-sensitive' assimilationists who don't know qi from q-tips. Perhaps people find it embarrassing that 'Asians' are 'portrayed' as knowing how to cure people with their 'magical powers'? Surely they're only 'magical powers' if you don't understand them - to that end, Jenny was the one orientalising Cao Boi out of ignorance. Don't forget; the real Mr Miyagi was following an orientalist script; Cao Boi is just practising his cultural skills as he lives them. And look, they're actually *useful* as a part of lived experience.

- Given that Billy is a bearded man-mountain wrapped in heavy metal regalia, rather than someone three quarters of the way down the Brazilian racial-classification scale and wearing a green and yellow Ronaldo World Cup sweater, I have no doubt that if he walked into a room full of rockers, that they would immediately identify him as a rocker before noticing he was 'brown'. I mean, he's not really that 'brown'. I know America operates on different racial codes to New Zealand, but by New Zealand standards, a lot of the Latinos on the Latino team are pretty white looking. That doesn't negate their political and ethnic identity as Latino or as 'brown', but in the world of 'passing', to the initial glance, Billy just looks like a typical metal guy. So while you may find it sad that he subsumes his ethnic identity to the identity of the music community he actually spends most of his time with, it's fundamentalist and a touch patronising to say that he's in 'self-denial'.

- I'm surprised that you would mock the word 'pukapuka' and associate it with vomit or Pokemon, just because you don't understand Cook Island Maori (aren't Asians and Pacific Islanders meant to have some kind of solidarity thing going on America??). It's the name of an island dude. I'd think you would have your Chinese name mocked enough times for you to be quite over that kind of reaction. Coincidentally, it means 'book' - Asians love hanging out in libraries after all. ('racist' Asian joke for *insider* audience. As it happens, I do love hanging out in libraries)

All that aside - love the hilariously sarcastic liveblogging, and keep it up.

9/22/2006 02:25:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Mac: Thanks! I'm not a journalism major, so it's very sweet of you to say that! I'm glad you enjoyed!

Tzeming: These are good points that you make. I will try to address them as exhaustively as I can...

On Cao Boi, I consider him to be a moderately self-hating Asian American man who almost uses his Vietnamese culture more as a tool to distinguish himself amongst his White peers. Certainly, it is important that we are exposed to non-stereotypical Asian Americans, and that Cao Boi seems to be the antithesis of the model minority myth bodes well for offering a diversity of intraracial identities in what is fast becoming the "ubermensch" Model Minority tribe. For that, I am certainly not giving Bui his due.

But Cao Bui challenges the Model Minority Myth like Harold and Kumar shattered stereotypes; his characterizing himself as not "like Asians" essentially perpetuates the Model Minority Myth by rendering it true, i.e. Asians actually are, by and large, perfect, fastidious, clean-cut, intelligent, spirit-less automatons and Bui is reasonably (by this line of thinking) unable to fit in because he is not like them -- he is not Asian. The fact that he also describes himself as hanging out in a predominantly White circle of peers further compounds the message that he is "not-Asian", except by an accident of outward appearance. If Bui were actually presenting a true diversity of intra-Asian American identities, then he would be who he is and he would be experiencing an existing acceptance by the Asian American community in his non-Survivor life.

Then we get to Bui's emphasis of his Asian heritage. Despite his seeming feelings of ostracization and alienation from Asian Americana, Bui takes pains to either learn or mimic Vietnamese healing arts, and to make crass "insider" Asian American jokes. Tzeming, you argue that Bui is merely being caught on camera making the jokes we all make -- I would argue that a) I don't ever make such jokes, as I find them racially offensive no matter who tells them, and b) the response of the rest of the Model Minority Tribe responded similarly -- though they knew they had a camera on them, Yul's response was that such jokes were offensive in their punchlines, Jenny pleaded for Bui to stop and Brad looked like his baseball cap was all that was keeping his head from exploding. At no point, was anyone saying, "Yeah, that would be funny, but not here, with this camera guy watching us sleep." And certainly, the point of reality TV is that by a week in, the camera becomes so invisible that most people on these shows begin to forget that their actions are being taped, rendering the Puka camp as close to an insider community as outsiders will be able to see on television. Assuming this law of reality TV (as described by countless participants over the years) holds more or less sound, if Bui's jokes were truly insider language, we should have heard insider responses.

Also, regarding his jokes -- insider or outsider, we mustn't forget the fact that this is insider dialogue being aired out for outsiders to hear. Yul's point is valid: sure, Bui may be just trying to entertain (who? the Puka tribe? or the camera?), but the consequence is that outsiders get their racialized stereotypes that are based upon such humour validated by someone who is superficially Asian American. One commenter on the EW TV Watch column said the following:

"omg cao boi is mad funny

lets talk hindu!

oh holy cow!

and he does that hting with the headache so can u vote out a vietnamese refuge...seriously people!"

I know this is one person, and he's not exactly eloquent, but this is the kind of sentiment that we should hope to avoid in attempting to diversify television with more Asian Americans -- we don't want people just perpetuating their own bigoted stereotypes that will only serve to hurt you and I in real life.

With his healing arts and these jokes, and Bui's previous characterization of himself as hanging around with a predominantly White crowd, you certainly have to wonder where this authentic tie to Vietnamese heritage is coming from. Is he perhaps used to playing up his Asian-ness in his all-White crowd, when convenient, in order to appear different? After all, his biography says that Bui immigrated to the U.S. somewhere between 11 and 20, and has worked in all manner of positions including the army. For me, it's not that Bui is familiar with Vietnamese healing, but that he brings it up so often, as if to call attention to how he's "more Asian" (despite secluding himself from Asian culture). (But hey, I could be wrong on why Bui doesn't consider himself fitting in with Asian Americans, despite his insistence on spreading the Asian love -- we'll see more of his character next week, and perhaps this will shed some light).

I personally have a hard time "fitting in" with some other Asian Americans (particularly those who tend to congregate in monoethnic, monoracial cultural groups) but I certainly don't project that to all Asians, as Bui does. Therein lies the difference, I think.

(more later... I must go now...)

9/22/2006 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Gar said...

Funny commentary, but I think Yul hit the issue with Cao Boi right on the head in the first episode: there's a generational gap between the young folks in the Asian American tribe and Cao Boi.

On a sidenote, it was kickass to see Yul figure out the clue and find the idol. Go Stanford man with huge muscles.

9/22/2006 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

like tzeming, i don't get to watch either (i have a late class on thursdays), and yet am totally addicted via blogs.

i enjoyed this post and tzeming's comment so much! you both are frickin' hilarious (and yet informative).

oh and i enjoy making/hearing racist jokes in the right company also. it's not just about the race of the people in the group; they also hve to have a certain undertanding that none of us really thinks this. i need to think about this more, why it's funny... maybe the forbiddenness... i think it's like when my husband and i joke about stereotypical husband/wife roles. it has to be really far from your real beliefs in order to be funny.

9/23/2006 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really enjoy your blog. You're fierce, smart, and wickedly funny. I think non-North Americans don't understand how race works here.

I'm not sure if C.B. is self-hating as much as insecure or ignorant.

As for Mark Burnett, he and the CBS executives who okay'd this show are despicable. Survivor, as with all reality TV, is edited to create drama, tension, and a storyline. The writers and editors play up racial stereotypes directly to achieve a goal or simply reflect their own biases.

I've chosen not to watch Survivor because I've always found the show boring and, secondly, why should I give support to evil?

Robyn, racist jokes are never really funny since they hinge on denigrating a group of people. You may think it's funny, but it really just perpetuates hateful ignorance. When you're joking, how do you know that everyone is just "kidding" and some aren't really serious? None of my friends or family make racist jokes. Frankly, I can't think that many intelligent 8 year olds would do so either.

9/24/2006 01:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Tze Ming said...

It is certainly likely that I don't 'understand how race works' in America in as personal a way as an American, but I must point out that:
- the rest of the Western world is completely saturated with 'how race works' in America through every possible medium, from the most demotic to the most hieretic; leaving race/ethnicity-students immersed in Angela Davis, bell hooks, King, X, Spike Lee on King & X, the Jeff Chang's analysis of the post LA riots history of hip-hop via Korean rooftop self-defense squadrons, Katrina, why all TV Chiefs of Police are black, why Omarosa was embarrassing for everyone concerned, the myth of the Huxtables, well, I could go on.
- given the above, I probably have a better idea of how race works in America than Brad Pitt up there in the latest post. Not saying much, I realise.

In any case, the reason I made the points I did was not because I don't understand the American minority approach to 'race', but to highlight aspects of race/ethnicity theory that are *not* dominant in American race discourse, but which have more credence elsewhere.

From my perspective, at the most basic level, the clash between US discourse and, say, that of New Zealand or many other places, is between 'race' discourse and 'ethnicity' discourse. Under an ethnicity discourse, people are less likely to hate on someone for manifesting elements of ethnic difference - such as an 'accent' or 'traditional ethnic' knowledge - in a public forum such as crappy reality TV. Those elements are seen as positive and meaningfully diverse. Under a race discourse, people are more likely to hate on the same person for manifesting that difference because it 'reinforces stereotypes'. Personally, I think US race-discourse is valuable because much of the time it cuts through the 'cultural/ethnic diversity' fluff (by ignoring it) and goes straight to the nexus between colour, class and conflict. At the same time, I think it also represses opportunities for meaningful diversification of cultural and national identity in public spaces.

A particular point of difference for example, between US Asian-American advocacy and New Zealand-Asian advocacy, is that Asian-Americans on blogs and in articles often seem sensitive to being portrayed or 'stereotyped' as immigrants with accents, because that implies they are foreign and not American. The Asian-American demographic is weighted towards the American-born. In New Zealand, we are fighting for the right to be portrayed accurately with 'Asian' accents and *as* immigrants, because the majority of Asian New Zealanders are migrants - and people are sick of local-born Asians being showponied as the 'acceptable' faces and voices. In terms of humour, it's often those who are the 'real' immigrants who have license and the will to make jokes about their ethnic group for insider audiences, or within the framing of an insider audience - because the Western-borns are less confident about, or familiar with, their ethnic identity, and often feel the need to overcompensate.

Anyway, it's very complex and multifaceted 'conflict' always prone to oversimplification... it would be interesting to see Jen's views... as a Canadian. It's pretty obvious that Jen's views are US-educated race-discourse views though - so I'd like to see her pick a corner!

9/26/2006 12:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God I love you Tzeming!

9/27/2006 10:29:00 AM  

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