home Commentary, Entertainment, TV, Women “Survivor Samoa” episode III: from women to girls

“Survivor Samoa” episode III: from women to girls

This week, “Survivor” opened with Jaison revealing his anger at Ben for his comments toward Yasmine in the previous episode. It was as though a fog had finally been lifted and members of Foa Foa began to question the role that race played in a White man calling a Black woman “ghetto trash.” It was understood to be, at the very least, charged and highly problematic commentary.

Ben stayed true to form and continued to irritate the rest of tribe members at Foa Foa. It is common knowledge that part of the way to earn your keep in this game, is to make the services you bring to your tribe seem essential. This may come in the form of the ability to secure food, or even completing daily tasks like fetching water and starting fire. Ben was oblivious to the ways in which he had offended many members of the tribe and thus when he tried to make it seem as though his skills were essential to maintaining a fire, he was quickly rebuffed. It did not help that while in the process of explaining why he was so necessary, he displayed a lot of sexism. In conversation with Russell and Liz, Ben stated:

“I started the fire this morning, Mick was trying to but he was having a lot of trouble with it. It’s a lot of technique, it’s a lot of strength. Not to be chauvinistic, not to put you girls down but you won’t be able to start the fire with the flint. The way it’s worn down it’s like flat. If you just try you’re just gonna waste it and that you’re hand aren’t big enough. You can’t grip the machete and do it.”

He was not trying to be chauvinistic, but he decided that all of the adult women on the tribe could be referred to as “girls.” I cannot imagine that Ben would have stayed calm had any female member of the tribe decided to call him a “boy,” of course. Ben then proceeded to explain that their weakness meant that the tribe needed a big strong man. Ben makes Fred Flintstone seem like a modern guy.

This was only the beginning of the “girlification” of this episode. To prepare for the team challenge, producers decided to give all of the women bathing suits. It seems women need bikinis to participate in a physical challenge, whereas men are fine competing in the scraggy underwear they have been wearing since the beginning to the competition. Surely this had nothing to do with a ratings grab. Why would women wrestling each other in bikinis be at all desirable? Right?

The winner of the elimination/reward challenge was once again Galu. Russell, their team leader, was given a choice between comfort items likes blankets, and pillows, or a function basket which included a tarp. Russell chose the comfort over the function because he felt it would make the women happy. Upon returning to Galu, he sat down and explained to the tribe why he made the decision that he did.

“To be honest my natural inclination today was to take that camping set, but here’s the deal, I’m the type of man that believes that you are supposed to take care of your women. Alright. I’ve got a wife and a daughter, they’re not here, you guys are. Right now you guys are part of my women so I gotta take care of you. So I wanted you to know that.”

Certainly there is no male privilege or sexism by declaring that women are a possession. All the women are just so fragile that a few more days without pillows and candles would have been the end of them. To affirm this, producers went on to film the male members of Galu complaining that the “girls thought that were in Club Med.” It’s funny how the example of the multi-tasking Shambo can so easily be ignored when it comes to constructing a binary image of gender.

Back at Foa Foa, the other Russell was working hard to keep Ben from being eliminated. He pointed out to Jaison and Mick that if they chose to vote out Ben, that the numbers between the sexes would be even. Russell attempted to claim that if the numbers were even, that Ashley would lead the women in a revolt against the men. From the very first episode, Russell has made it quite clear that he views strong women as a threat. Despite all of Russell’s gender baiting, the tribe began to side with Jaison in the belief that it was time for Ben to go.

At tribal council it became very heated as Jaison called Ben out for his bullying and racism. Proving how obtuse he truly is, Ben actually expected Natalie to defend him after spending the episode pointing out the ways in which women are inferior. Ben continued to dig a hole for himself when he declared that Yasmine was not a lady when questioned about his behaviour towards her.

“She’s not a lady, ladies have manners… This girl right here… has manners” he stated, pointing to Natalie “says yes sir, yes ma’am, please, thank you. So Yasmine’s being a bitch, then she’s not a lady. I mean it’s not that hard. It was nothing racial that I said. It was strictly what I saw.”

It was no surprise that when the votes were tallied, Ben found himself getting the boot. He was clearly the most obnoxious and oblivious member of Foa Foa. Still, the tribe thus far remains blind to the manipulation that Russell is engaging in. He is just as offensive as Ben, he simply hides it better.

As the number of castaways continues to dwindle, the women will continue to remain vulnerable, as it will be assumed that the physical strength of the men will be necessary to proceed in the game. This is why women routinely start off with a disadvantage the moment that they hit the beach. The producers could easily balance out the gender issues in the show if they chose to, but clearly, as in the real world, patriarchy has little interest in equality.

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Renee Martin

Renee Martin lives in Canada and writes the famous Womanist Musings blog. She is as interested in socio-political issues as she is in television.