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`Survivor' showing its true colors?

September 23, 2006|Jon Caramanica | Special to The Times

True to its mission, this season's "Survivor" is indeed exposing the biases of its participants ... against heavyset musicians inclined toward midday naps in the South Pacific sun.

Last week, jazzbo Sekou Bunch was purged from the African American tribe after he fumbled an attempt at starting a fire and then sprawled out on some bamboo. This week, the Latino tribe threw the immunity challenge -- only the second of the season -- to rid itself of Billy Garcia, who plodded around in a black-and-red skull T-shirt. Like most heavy-metal fans, he was keenly aware -- and sometimes proud -- of his outsider status. "I don't relate the same way," Billy told one of his more sympathetic teammates. "Even though I'm Hispanic, I don't feel Hispanic. Metal is my culture."

Of course, Billy hadn't done much to help his case during his six days on the island. Prone to loud snoring and to skulking off when work had to be done, he even tried to beg off participating in the immunity challenge. "Too bad there wasn't a heavy-metal tribe," he said in his exit interview. "I think I would have fit in better there."

Still, that he's gone only reinforces that even within these contrived racial enclaves, the tendency is to gravitate toward the mean. Next to fragment, most likely, will be the Asian American tribe, which has a burgeoning nationalism problem -- Yul Kwon and Rebekah "Becky" Lee, the two Korean Americans, have formed a sub-alliance -- and a clear generation gap, with hippie Anh-Tuan "Cao Boi" Bui getting under the skin of his four young, aspiring tribe mates with his social eccentricities, garrulousness and attempts at lighthearted racial humor.

Engineering diversity is, naturally, a fool's game. Apart from Cao Boi, the Asian American team members are all young, tan, beautiful, seemingly very Americanized and homogenous. That frustrates Cao Boi, a graying, shaggy 42-year-old Vietnamese refugee. "I want them to understand that to represent your people is not about avoiding the joke," he said with a sigh.

Even so, maybe he would have skipped his Hindu jokes had the Asian American tribe actually been diverse enough to include anyone from the Indian subcontinent. More likely, though, he'll be clipped at first chance, a victim of his own living, breathing diversity. Said his tribe mate Brad Virata, breaking down the fourth wall: "We get it, but a lot of people won't get it."

Ironically, after one week stranded, the most diverse tribe in terms of backgrounds, opinions and internal politics -- the one most resisting easy alliance -- may be the white team. Maybe it's coincidental. Maybe it's the byproduct of a casting process with unspoken bias written into it. Or maybe it's shrewd propaganda. Popular culture, after all, can be a startlingly efficient preserver of the status quo.

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