Survivor, Big Brother, and other reality shows at CBS will be seeing a major change to their casting process. The network has established a firm edict that 50% of its casts for unscripted/reality shows must be Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). It looks like this decree will be going into effect immediately once the next CBS reality show gets underway.
It is not surprising to hear that CBS is putting this casting mandate in place. Last year, CBS executives came under heavy fire from the press regarding inclusivity and racism issues in shows like Survivor and Big Brother. The network has been putting forth a narrative regarding their commitment to diversity, but they have been repeatedly taken to task for how these issues have been dealt with in their biggest reality shows.
Survivor contestant Julia Carter wrote a 4,600-word essay detailing her experience on Season 38 of the long-running reality game show. In her recounting, she details a moment where a racial slur was used on the very first day of the show. She also claims to have received significant backlash for attempting to discuss inclusion during the first four episodes of the season.
But Survivor is not the only show to have such disturbing allegations attached to it. Big Brother has continued to be a lightning rod for racist behavior, including as recently as the last two seasons of the show. Season 21 contestant Jack Matthews made a number of startling and potentially violent comments directed at fellow contestant Kemi Fakunle. And both prominent shows have faced ceaseless criticism regarding how these issues have been manipulated during the edit of episodes.
And this new diversity mandate might not be enough to fix the issues plaguing shows like Survivor and Big Brother. As Carter wrote in her essay, “There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn’t enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat.”
It is not just Survivor and other reality shows that are experiencing a diversity mandate over at CBS. The network has other edicts in place for their scripted programming as well. The network has been a specific target when it comes to these issues and the press has continued to hold their feet to the fire with these issues. It certainly seems like they are reading the room and trying to do something substantial to change their inclusivity for the future.
However, simply adding more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color contestants to shows like Survivor and Big Brother is only a step in the right direction. How these individuals are represented is going to be even more important in helping to shift audience perception about marginalized groups. Whether or not that becomes as strongly enforced as these diversity quotas will remain to be seen.
Still, it is a good thing that CBS is making this change to its major reality programs. Survivor and Big Brother continue to be big ratings draws for the network. If they can do a better job at showcasing BIPOC members of society, the hope is that the narrative around them can trend more towards positivity and inclusion.