Singapore newspaper :
FANS of Survivor, here's some bad news.
You may not be able to catch your favourite reality TV series on Channel 5 this season.
MediaCorp, which has shown the programme over the last six years, has decided to take a cautious wait-and-see approach to this season's instalment - Survivor: Cook Islands.
The reason? The show has attracted a firestorm of protest and outrage because of a change in its format.
For the first portion of the programme, the 20 contestants (above) competing for the US$1 million ($1.6m) prize will be divided into four tribes by race - whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
This is the first time the tribes are being separated according to race.
Previously, the groupings were usually random but contestants have been divided according to age and gender.
In the US, everyone from soapbox politicians to community leaders to pop culture pundits have called for a boycott of, as one newspaper wrote, the 'race wars'.
Several New York council members and activists have even demanded that CBS network cancel the show altogether, which is scheduled to start airing in the US on Thursday.
A MediaCorp spokesman told The New Paper in an e-mail statement that viewers here will not be able to catch the upcoming edition because it 'gives prominence to racial issues and racial sensitivities by dividing the contestants along racial lines'.
The New Paper learnt that the decision was made by MediaCorp's internal censors so as to avoid receiving potential complaints from members of the public.
The spokesman added: '(The show) has already drawn strong criticism in the US.
'As Singapore's national broadcaster, we need to treat issues of race, including racial stereotyping, with utmost sensitivity.
'Accordingly, Channel 5 will monitor the series' development (and how it's received in the US) before making a decision on the broadcast of Survivor: Cook Islands.'
Over the past six years, the series' 12 seasons - except for the inaugural instalment - have been telecast direct off satellite over Channel 5.
Naturally, Survivor fans here are disappointed.
Marketing manager Patrick Lim, 32, lamented that just when the 'boring' series is getting a 'refreshing twist', he won't get to watch it.
But he accepts MediaCorp's stance, adding: 'Arts Central faced complaints from people over religious sensitivities when it showed some The Da Vinci Code documentaries, even though most of us didn't think it was a big issue. So it's hard to tell who'll be up in arms over such things.'
Some Survivor fans The New Paper spoke to believe that for sensitivity, MediaCorp should give this season a miss.
Civil servant Charlene Chua, 23, said if it is aired, she probably wouldn't watch it.
'I think the show will only end up perpetuating stereotypes,' she said.
Mr J.D Morgan, a 34-year-old salesman, agreed, saying: 'This race skew is going to just fall back on stereotypes and that is going to be tragic. Right now the whole world is talking about unity and this TV show is dealing with segregation.'
However, Mr Tan PK, a 66-year-old retiree, feels that 'banning' the show is unnecessary.
Local audiences won't take it as seriously as the Americans because 'the races (whites, blacks and Hispanics) hardly exist in Singapore', he added.
He said: 'The topic is touchy but it's under control here.
'Singapore audiences are mature enough now. We shouldn't just focus on the race thing, but keep an open mind. We should treat it as a show, for its entertainment value.'
'SOCIAL EXPERIMENT' Ironically, Survivor has been criticised in the past for not casting enough minorities.
According to host Jeff Probst, this season's 'social experiment' celebrates ethnic pride and is supposed to silence the naysayers.
He also denied that the concept had caused several prominent sponsors, including General Motors, Home Depot, P&G, Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup, to pull out.
He told The Boston Herald: 'A lot of people who have never seen Survivor have absolutely no idea what they're condemning, and are using this as a platform.
'I think if people give it a chance, they are going to be surprised at the results... I think you'll see a freshness.'
But is this freshness merely a front for boosting ratings?
As the market gets flooded with dozens of reality shows and the novelty for them diminishes, ethnicity seems to be the new low that the shows are exploiting to lure viewers.
Reality shows like the Emmy-winning The Amazing Race and America's Next Top Model are also playing up the race factor in their most recent seasons. (See report at right.)
Already, critics have blasted Survivor producers for using the race card to boost ratings for the flagging franchise.
Some Singaporeans like Mr Tan argue that there might be some educational merit behind Survivor: Cook Islands' gimmick.
'It may open our eyes to how different races behave with each other.'
He also insists that when the tribes eventually merge and get mixed up after a couple of episodes, race will not factor in the competition anymore.
Public relations consultant Dora Yip also hopes MediaCorp will reconsider its ruling, as it risks losing audiences to free video-sharing Internet services like YouTube if it is even a couple of episodes behind the US telecast.
Said the 30-year-old: 'I didn't like the concept initially because it seemed exploitative. But it could generate meaningful debate if they don't play up the stereotypes but debunk them instead'.
- Additional reporting by Sheela Narayanan http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/show/story/0,4136,113399,00.html