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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

December 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian American Wins Survivor

You might remember several months ago the furor that erupted over CBS’s plan to structure their next Survivor reality TV series based on racial groups. As it turns out, after the dust finally settled, one of the Asian American contestants, Yul Kwon, a management consultant from San Mateo, CA was crowned the million dollar winner:

Kwon, a 31-year-old management consultant who lives in San Mateo, Calif., was the brain with degrees from Stanford University and Yale Law School. He controlled the strategic aspect of the game, particularly after he found a hidden piece of jewelry that guaranteed him one-time immunity from being voted off the island. . . .

For a game that began in racial controversy, it turned into a showcase for the nation’s diversity, according to Kwon. “Survivor” producers were criticized for segregating four, four-person teams along ethnic lines at the game’s start: white, black, Hispanic and Asian American. Despite the racial divides this year, the game seemed less contentious and bitter than in other seasons. Kwon said that the cast was very likeable and filled with “genuinely good-hearted people.”

“I don’t think there was a single person who harbored any racist attitude on the show,” he said. “Obviously tensions run high during the show but everyone was able to put it behind them and coming together at the library reunion, everyone was happy to have the experience.” Kwon said earlier that he wanted to do the show to improve and expand the image of Asian-Americans and he hoped that he achieved his goal

“I don’t think I was the best person to represent my community, but I had this golden opportunity in my lap,” he said. “I wanted to break stereotypes. When I was growing up, I didn’t see many that looked like myself that could be a role model.”

Congratulations to Yul on a job well done. I normally don’t watch Survivor, but this time I did tune in a couple of times just to see how these racial teams would work and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised — as Yul said, there didn’t seem to be any racial hostility among the competitors at all, or at least none that were shown on TV. It appears that CBS’s experiment paid off after all.

Regarding Yul’s role and its effect on the image of Asian Americans, on the one hand, it is great that an Asian American contestant finally won and yes, that is a big accomplishment. At the same time, I can’t help wondering whether his method of winning — by relying on brains and cunning strategy rather than brute strength — may only perpetuate the image of Asian Americans as smart, plotting, and perhaps even a little conniving, rather than physically dominant.

Nonetheless, I would rather have an Asian American win by using his brains than one that has to again settle for second best. Great job, Yul.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Asian American Wins Survivor" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/12/asian-american-wins-survivor/> ().

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