There Have Been Four Black Winners of 'Survivor' — But the Show Still Faces Criticism for Racism
Big reality franchises like The Bachelor and Big Brother have had to face a reckoning in recent years as viewers are no longer willing to tolerate the white-centric narrative many of them have portrayed. Matt James was the first Black Bachelor in the franchise's history, while the OG Big Brother show just had its first Black winner in 23 seasons.
Survivor has also been facing backlash from its fanbase, as reports of behind-the-scenes racism come to light and the Black contestants on Season 41 begin to form an alliance. As a result, fans are wondering: Has a Black person ever won Survivor?
Has a Black person ever won 'Survivor'?
In the history of Survivor, there have been four Black contestants to win the title of Sole Survivor, with the first being Vecepia Towery-Robinson from Survivor: Marquesas, the fourth season of the long-running series. Vecepia is also the only Black woman in the history of the Survivor franchise to win.
The other Black winners are Earl Cole from Season 14, Jeremy Collins from Season 31, and Wendell Holland from Season 36. In total, about 10 percent of the series' winners have been Black.
Many Black 'Survivor' contestants have called out the show for racism.
While Survivor may have a better track record at crowning Black winners than other reality competition shows, that doesn't mean the show's production is without systemic racism. Over the years, the Black contestants who have competed across the previous 40 seasons have banded together to call out CBS for the racial stereotypes put upon the BIPOC on the show, forming the Black Survivor Alliance and requesting a variety of changes be made behind the scenes to rectify the issues.
Many of the Black contestants have gone on the record to say their portrayal on TV has done little to go beyond the typical on-screen stereotypes BIPOC are subjected to.
Ramona Gray Amaro, who participated in the show's inaugural season, said she felt her airtime reduced her to nothing more than a lazy stereotype.
"I became the lazy person, which is the furthest thing from the truth," she told NPR. "That really upset me and it took me a long time to get over it."
"What they don't do a great job with, is telling positive stories and connecting with the multifacets of being African American," J'Tia Hart, an alum from Survivor: Cagayan, also told the outlet. "I have a degree in nuclear engineering from a top engineering school. I'm a mother. I work in national security. I am very well-rounded. And I just got boiled down to a simple trope of a lazy, unintelligent person."
Brice Johnston, also from J'Tia's season, said he felt he was reduced to a sassy Black gay man during his time on the show.
Many of these contestants have banded together over the years to discuss their shared experiences behind the scenes, noting everything from their on-air stereotypes to having racial slurs thrown at them by both viewers and white cast members.
"It's not just Black Lives Matter when it comes to the police," Brice said. "It's Black Lives Matter [for us] as reality contestants ... our lives, our stories, we matter as well."
In Nov. 2020, the network announced a diversity pledge to cast at least 50 percent Black, indigenous, and people of color in future seasons of their unscripted shows, so Survivor 41 is just the beginning of this next chapter.
Survivor airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.