CBS announces half of all contestants on future reality shows will be people of color

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The channel, that has been criticized in the past for its lack of minority representation is now committing to diversity

In a move that is sure to please millions of viewers, while potentially alienating others, on Monday, CBS Studios announced that moving forward it will be diversifying its unscripted shows, with an aim to make all future casts at least 50% Black, indigenous and/or people of color (BIPOC).

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According to Deadline, this move comes after a fan petition was launched urging CBS to include greater diversity and inclusivity in their content and also after several contestants on its hugely popular show Survivor spoke out about the lack of diversity in the show’s lineup.  

Entertainment Weekly reports that over the summer, Survivor contestants including Sean Rector (Season 4), and Jolanda Jones (Season 10), formed a group called The Black Survivor Alliance which they say was created with the intention of “bringing light to our collective experience with implicit bias and racism on and off the show.”

Rector, who appeared on Survivor: Marquesas 19 years ago, told Entertainment Weekly that reality TV shows often promoted racial stereotypes and that Survivor largely ignored its Black castmembers and those of color even when they were successful. He cited the example of Marquesas winner Vecepia Towery Robinson and Earl Cole, neither of whom have been called back to the show during subsequent seasons highlighting previous winners.

"Survivor Marquesas" Finals
Survivor winner Vecepia Towery poses after winning the “Survivor Marquesas” $1 million dollar first prize finals May 20, 2002 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Towery Robinson is the only Black female winner of the show. Jeremy Collins and Wendell Holland, both Black men, have won since. (In all fairness there are 18 other contestants over the years who haven’t been invited back for varying reasons, per Cheat Sheet).

“If you recall most of those early reality shows like The Real World, Road Rules and even Survivor and Big Brother, Black contestants, especially Black men, were always made to look stereotypically combative, lazy, ignorant, unaware, aggressive etc….” Rector said.

“These are historically coded and loaded descriptions and depictions that have had deep repercussions on how we are viewed in society. My insights and criticisms are not necessarily collective knocks on my castmates, because I don’t believe anyone was being blatantly racist or prejudiced, but implicit bias and tribalism does exist in society, and especially in a game where you socially bond with people who share similar values and sometimes similar aesthetics.”

The alliance had several meetings with CBS executives and host/executive producer Jeff Probst about making the franchise more inclusive. Since then, the network has agreed to create programming with the NAACP and this new pledge means that future casts of hit shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and Love Island will be visibly more diverse starting with the 2021 – 2022 season.

“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer for the CBS Entertainment Group said in a statement.

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“As we strive to improve all of these creative aspects, the commitments announced today are important first steps in sourcing new voices to create content and further expanding the diversity in our unscripted programming, as well as on our Network.”

The pledge from network executives to be more intentional about diversity will carry on behind the scenes as well, with CBS allocating a minimum of 25% of its annual unscripted development budget to projects created or co-created by BIPOC producers.

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