Sexism In Survivor–A Debate


Monday feature time and one that certainly will get a lot of people talking as Ozlets Lancey Morris and Noah Groves take a look at both sides of the ‘sexism’ debate in the world of Survivor. With certain stereotypes apparent across the years, do some types of character get more of a raw deal than others? And has there ever been a fair and balanced portrayal across the years when it comes to the different types of female contestants? Click below to read both sides and give your thoughts on this highly talked about topic!

Sexism in Survivor – Lancey’s thoughts

Throughout its tenure, Survivor has reinvented itself to keep audiences engaged, and we have seen many versions of the famous Outwit, Outplay, Outlast catchphrase played out. Unfortunately, we often see the cast fall into the same stereotypical characters, particularly when they are women. This was especially evident in the most recent season; Cagayan, where Kass McQuillen noted the double standard she experienced in response to the way she played.

I unfortunately feel the need to preface my article by stating this is not about ‘man-hating’. In fact, sexism impacts men negatively too, putting expectations on them to behave in certain ways and feel certain things, which do not necessarily reflect reality. This article is instead about the roles women often play in Survivor, and how they are judged differently to the men who play beside them. Here is my list of the most common female characters presented on Survivor.

1. The Hot Chick


These players are characterised by their (entirely subjective) ‘good’ looks. They usually have long, flowing hair and a glistening smile, at least until the effects of not having a tooth brush become seen. I’m talking about the Heidi Strobels, the Natalie Tenerellis, and the Angie Laytons. Their opinions aren’t valued, unless they’re discussing something like their hair, or their appearances, or their most recent beauty pageants, or unless they’re assessing the men around them.

2. The Femme Fatale


Closely linked to the Hot Chick, the Femme Fatale is a beautiful seductress who uses her charm to lure in the clueless men around her. Sex appeal is her best weapon, and others simply cannot help but to be manipulated into following her evil plans. This is most obviously displayed in Parvati Shallow’s game style, but can also be witnessed with characters like Amber Mariano. I think Morgan McLeod tried to use this tactic, but she wasn’t paired with the right men and was far too vocal about how beautiful she thought she was. Parvati proved to be an excellent strategist and a fantastic social player, but her manipulation of men such as Russell and Erik, is what is often remembered.

3. The Nurturing Mother


The Nurturing Mother is a character to which we can all relate, either as a result of our own mothers, or perhaps an aunt or grandmother figure we’ve met throughout our lives. This character is kind, caring, often weeps about missing children (though does not necessarily have to have children of her own), and overcomes a moral dilemma where she must decide if telling a lie is worth compromising everything for which she stands. This is shown in the Dawn Meehan and Lisa Whelchel characters. Dawn was placed under scrutiny for a ‘betrayal’ I can barely recall, and was subsequently punished for her lack of maternality by being pressured into removing her teeth.

4. The Evil Mother Who Has No Soul


This character is essentially the mother who isn’t motherly enough. How can she have kids and be a liar at the same time?! What would her husband and children think if they knew she made something up to win some money in a game where the aim is the win money?! Kass McQuillen found herself in this dilemma, and felt frustration as her actions were much more harshly judged than her male counterparts. While Kass was called a bitch, Tony was praised for his strategic prowess. While Kass was called ugly and old and evil, Spencer was considered the underdog, a fighter and a hero. Spencer was of course, a very adaptable and durable player, but he too lied, double-crossed, and engaged in many of the same behaviours Kass did, and was much nastier in the way he dealt with conflict. Kass unashamedly broke promises, confronted her tribe with her opinions and refused to be bullied, while at the same time Spencer was pouting and rolling his eyes, and Tony was giggling to the camera about everyone around him who was ‘so stoopid.’ The issue isn’t that Kass was disliked, but that she experienced a backlash consistent with the way in which a woman over 40 is treated if she isn’t constantly struggling with what’s right and what’s wrong, in a completely contrived situation.

5. Other

It would be incorrect to suggest that the above stereotypes are the only types of women we see on Survivor, particularly when we’ve had the pleasure of watching Kim Spradlin and Denise Stapley play near perfect games, or revelled in the victories of our Queen, Sandra Diaz-Twine (who was not really considered an ‘evil mother’). The point is that we so often see the same characters, and the men of Survivor are seen as much more diverse, much more fairly judged and do not have to deal with the same stigmas around maternal instincts. The expectation is that a woman of a certain age will represent certain things, and when characters like Kass digress from this, they are forced to deal with unfair critique.

Sexism in Survivor – Noah’s thoughts

The notion that Survivor is a sexist television series or that males are the superior gender is an argument that has existed for much of Survivor’s run. Extending from both the production side and the stance of the fans. The topic was recently re sparked by Kass McQuillan on Survivor: Cagayan where she claimed, after making a huge and collectively agreeable bad move, that older women are viewed as the “bitch” while males who play like her are treated as mastermind players. Kass was an entertaining player who after flipping on her entire alliance lost respect from almost every Survivor fan. Her stance, or perhaps more of an excuse couldn’t be more wrong and the idea of a sexist world of Survivor is a falsity.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am aware that statistically males receive more air time and are often viewed as the bigger characters and players. However this is no sexist act and comes down to the casting or the women just simply not supplying what the producers deem worthy of being shown on screen. Despite this, Survivor does supply plenty of “boring” males or big characters who make moves that the audience identify as bad gameplay. The comment Kass edged on to the public about the fans labelling women bad players and “bitches” for something that we would view an alpha male as a good play is blatantly offensive to myself and I am sure the collective Survivor fan. Are we, the fans, really that subjective towards different genders and not intelligent enough to distinguish what makes good play? To answer this question, there is one obvious case study that I am sure you are thinking of.

That’s right, John Cochran.

There are many parallels between the move Cochran made in Survivor: South Pacific and Kass. Cochran was a part of an alliance and at the merge, flipped on the entirety of said alliance to the other side and alienating six people in the game. In all fairness to Cochran though, it could have come down to drawing the dreaded purple rock…beside the point, how was the public’s reaction to Cochran’s “move?” While he may not have been directly called, quote “bitch,” he did receive much of the same critical hatred from the fans as Kass did. He was labelled as one of the worst players of all time and received less than flattering nicknames, some too vulgar to even display here. Yes it is true that Cochran managed to maintain a fan base, but this comes down to his ‘lovable idiot, underdog’ status. Kass has a naturally abrasive attitude and a dry sense of humour. If someone such as T-Bird Cooper or Tina Wesson made a similar move, they would be sure to receive the same ‘hatred’ but could perhaps maintain some sort of a fan base due to being naturally friendly and likeable. The whole story of Cochran is the perfect argument against Kass’ comments regarding the way women are viewed in Survivor. The last time I checked, Cochran was a male. Does that mean we should be referring to him as Joan now? Or removing the ‘Coch’ from his name? Maybe Kass was right, Joan Ran is a bit of a bitch…


‘John Cochran is a male contestant!’

On the topic of females being cast purely for their looks and receiving minimal edits. This also occurs with the men. Think Jay Byars who barely spoke and was the male model of the season, just one example of multiple cast members who fit this mould. Or what about the comment that females who are big characters are perceived as bad players or disliked by the audience. Phillip Shepherd is an over the top character who is generally disliked by a large percentage of the fan base. Ultimately the point I am intending to make is that it all comes down to the individual and any perceived trend or accusation is just false.

Let’s look at the similar age and gender demographic of Kass and what some people claim to be a pattern or evidence towards the original tweet and the allegation Kass made about older women who don’t stick to the ‘motherly’ role.

-Dawn Meehan:

It is an absolute correct statement that Dawn didn’t have a large fan base during her aggressive gameplay in Caramoan. I mean after all, she did have to deactivate her twitter account. But does this not have anything to do with her constant crying; bi-polarness and the betrayal of fan favourite Brenda. Did Dawn really lose fans because she was an older woman who didn’t stick to a caring role? I think not.

-Monica Culpepper:

Monica is another player who fits the similar role and failed to gain a large fan base. Almost every contestant from Blood vs Water have said in interviews that she was simply annoying and fake. If the actual players can see this do you not think that the fans could also see this and is a part of the reason why we didn’t overly enjoy watching her. Did any fan look at her as a woman playing aggressive and not blending in the background as the reason for not liking her?

-Christine Shields-Markoski:

Christine is yet another older woman who played an aggressive game. The difference this time is that she had a huge cult following and is a respected player. Why? She was a strong underdog who didn’t stand down to anyone. Christine isn’t a man so why don’t people hate her?

To reiterate my point, it all comes down to the individual’s personality and whether or not they made a good move. I could go on to discuss others such as Tina Wesson, Laura Morrett, Sheri Biethman and Holly Hoffman but I believe the point has been made. I am sure there are younger females who follow trends like this as there would be older and younger males. Think players such as Garret or Matt Quinlan who are generally disliked by fans for their aggressiveness or bad moves and to rehash yet another point made multiple times already…I have yet to see them wearing a dress.


‘Being a woman has nothing to do with Kass’ bad gameplay.’


The truth is Survivor doesn’t have a problem with sexism. There is no prejudice towards gender, age, race, state or any other possible grouping. Any argument towards this, in my own opinion, just doesn’t hold enough weight. It may sound like I am being overly unfair to Kass; I actually think she was an entertaining character. Her accusation against fans does seem like somewhat of an insult. Regardless, the comment has re sparked an interesting debate that everyone has their own opinion to add to. Regardless of Jeff Probst, Kass or Lancey’s views, the topic is always up for discussion and will remain a focal point for as long as, if not longer, than Survivor lasts on our television screens.



Do you agree or disagree with Lancey & Noah? Do you feel sexism is a problem in Survivor? Comment below to let us know!

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14 Comments on Sexism In Survivor–A Debate

  1. Survivor has a problem with age/gender/race because society has a problem with age/gender/race. everybody comes in with pre conceived notions because thats how we are as people.

  2. It’s a nice write, but it seems a little silly to say you’re going to address the topic of sexism in Survivor, and then deal primarily with Kass and old ladies. You are providing an argument that Kass is delusional, not that sexism doesn’t exist. I agree with you in the grand scheme of things, but you’ve ignored the entire concept that filler/narration confessionals are primarily given to males. If you’re going to stick with Cagayan, why wasn’t the underdog edit more evenly dispersed between Tasha and Spencer? Tasha is arguably just as charismatic, if not more charismatic than, Spencer- her secret scenes showed that. She went on a great immunity win. Why give every strategic, narration, and filler confessional to Spencer, especially when Tasha was in control of the brains tribe in the beginning? Hell, if you’re a diehard Spencer fan, why did she receive less airtime than someone like LJ?

    You listed females that dispel the stereotypes you’ve suggested, and I agree with those to a degree, but you disregard the main point of the sexism argument and instead enter semantics. The main point being that a woman who is just as entertaining and capable is given less airtime than a male counterpart. Kim had less airtime than most male winners. How do you rationalize that?

    • nicely put. completely agree with this!

    • poser_fincher // August 5, 2014 at 12:55 am // Reply

      How do you rationalize that not everyone are feminists and they shouldn’t be for the sake of humanity? Very easily. Kim was shown enough for people to see why she won, how good of a winner she is, but she wasn’t shown for her sense of humour or insightful and interesting thought process. I’ll be damned if people tuned in to watch a mature adult talk in an environment where nothing is happening most of the time. If she was more of ‘good TV’, you fucking don’t think a person like Probst wouldn’t include that on the show? Now you might say this and this person wasn’t interesting either, well, thats, like, your, opinion, man.

      This is not rocket science.

      • Okay, buddy. I agree with you. I didn’t need to see more Kim Spradlin, but you’ve avoided the point entirely. I did not imply that she was Boston Rob levels of entertaining at all, and I think you’ve just grouped me into a subculture that you clearly have some issues with.

        Let’s look at two people who you feel less passionate about. Fabio and Denise. Why is there such a huge disparity there? Hell, Fabio got loads more airtime than Parvati did.

        In my personal opinion, this same thing can be turned around and we can discuss why Erik got the editing shaft in Caramoan over Eddie, Andrea, or even Sherri.

        The argument that I think everyone should be making is to let us decide for ourselves who we like and who we don’t like. And that’s not to say that everyone should receive equal airtime, but the disparity is too big to really ignore at this point :). I’m fine with the Tony’s and Spencer’s getting a majority of the airtime, but that majority is TOO MUCH. Tone it down a little.

    • Kim is boring & Tarzan, Kat, and Alicia aren’t.

  3. The argument that ‘some women aren’t presented in a negative light and some men are’ is such a simplistic argument and Noah’s argument doesn’t seem to understand the complexity of sexism. I’m going to start by addressing this little nugget of ignorance:

    “I am aware that statistically males receive more air time and are often viewed as the bigger characters and players. However this is no sexist act and comes down to the casting or the women just simply not supplying what the producers deem worthy of being shown on screen.”

    This contradicts itself in the same sentence. If the women on every single season aren’t as interesting as their male counterparts (lets let that sink in for a second – nearly every season men get more air time), then what does that say about the traits women are being cast for? For every beautiful boring hot guy (like Jay Byars as you mentioned) there are infinitely more girls picked for their looks.

    Lancey’s article excellently recognises the tropes that women are cast into, and edited into. It’s how many females are forced to be taken by the audiences. Obviously there are exceptions, but can any really argue that the females aren’t pigeon-holed far more time than their male counter parts? For example, after Nicaragua Brenda was flagged as a sexy seductress who manipulated men… despite that this never featured into her game play. It was how the game wanted her to be presented.

    This doesn’t even touch on the general sexism across the show – the fact that returning players have always been men unless it’s an all stars season (except Stephanie way back when) and the way women are labelled as beauty pageant contestants above all else, or the abhorrent example of Taj constantly being labelled as wife of NFL star Eddie George instead of by her own merits as an author, singer and actress.

    I could go on but I’m at work. Whoops.

    • I think the best example of this was the episode Trish was voted off. In the previously on recap Jeff discussed how the season was a contrast between the underdog Spencer and Tony’s ability to stay in control. Even when it got down to Tasha being voted off it was reported to be the latest blow to Spencer as his last ally was voted out. Tasha wasn’t even mentioned by name!

    • Katherine Adams // August 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm // Reply

      Clapping. Couldn’t have written anything better…

    • Instead of replying to the article, I’ll just say that I second this post.

    • This is worded wonderfully and really highlights my issues with Noah’s ‘argument’

  4. This article doesn’t serve the title justice. Listen to the Kelly Goldsmith interview for a more scholarly approach.

  5. “-Christine Shields-Markoski:

    Christine is yet another older woman who played an aggressive game.”

    Really? The fact that you tried to use Christine as an example already thwarts your argument.

    Kass’ move wasn’t bad at all. It got her into the top three, which is better than what staying with her old alliance would’ve done, since they had no plans to take her that far. Some even wanted to get rid of her as soon as they possibly could. So Kass’ move was in no way bad. Cochran’s was. Look what happened to him after.

    Both examples you provided about Kass and Cochran include them turning on the fan favorites (Kass with Spencer and Cochran with Ozzy), which is why both got hate for their moves. You definitely overdramatized the whole Cochran hate thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure Cochran was a finalist for the fan favorite vote, so did it really affect him that much outside of the game? He got brought back for another season which was arguably organized in his favor. However, more people managed to forgive Cochran when they saw the next episode when his whole old alliance basically berated and bullied him the whole time. Kass also got bullied and treated unfairly by a lot of people (Morgan, Tasha, Spencer) even during that tribal, and still got hate for it. Hell, Spencer’s immediate reaction to her flip at tribal probably fueled the insults and hate she got.

    Cochran still was portrayed as the nerdy male underdog that whole season, so his move was more forgivable among the audience. Kass, since she broke away from the “typical woman’s role of Survivor” who should NEVER unnecessarily lie, cheat or steal because “how dare they!!! They are women!!!!” Got more hate for it because she did something so out of the role people expected her to be in that they didn’t agree with it at all.

  6. Tommy Sovereign // August 10, 2014 at 6:51 am // Reply

    Yep, Noah’s still an idiot.

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