Woman Power on “Survivor: Vanuatu”

 
 
The women of Survivor

In Episode 10 of Survivor: Vanuatu after yet another attempt by the remaining men to break up the women’s alliance, 35-year-old Chad Crittendon of Oakland, California was voted off, leaving 33-year-old Chris Daugherty of South Vienna, Ohio as the last man standing in the Alinta tribe. The apparently rock-solid women’s alliance, which is unprecedented in Survivor history, is unique not only for lasting so long, but also because its leaders seem to be two lesbians—59-year-old Scout Cloud Lee from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and 31-year-old Ami Cusack of Lakewood, Colorado.

This begs the question of why a women’s alliance has never before made it to the end of Survivor, and whether it is in fact the presence of two lesbians in the women’s alliance that has made it so strong. Subtle editing of this season has suggested that the show’s producers want viewers to believe that the women’s alliance is being held together by Ami, who is widely perceived to hold an uncanny—and suggestively homosexual—influence over the women. As Chad commented after being voted off the island, “She used the woman power thing.”

Ami’s mysterious influence has been underscored by editing that has kept her closeted for the first ten episodes of the season. This is notable because her official CBS bio states that she has been dating someone named Crissy for three years, and the entertainment press coverage of Ami never fails to state that she is a lesbian. This means that viewers are privy to what is essentially an open secret about Ami, and because she hasn’t come out on the air, it suggests that she is hiding something from the other contestants. This, in turn, suggests that she is a liar, which feeds into an image of her as manipulative and cunning.

In contrast, Scout, who has been positioned as the wise earth mother, came out on Episode 7 when the winners of the reward challenge (the women’s tribe) received letters from home, and photos of Scout and her partner of 26 years, Annie, were shown to the world. Ami talked only about her younger brother who died in a car crash seven years ago, and although it seems likely that she got a letter from Crissy, it was not mentioned.

But despite her lack of on-air disclosure about her sexual orientation, it seems fairly clear that the other Survivor contestants know that she is gay. After the men merged with the women to form the coed Alinta tribe in Episode 8, Rory (voted off later in the same episode) immediately informed the men’s leader, Sarge (voted off in Episode 9), that Ami was the one to be reckoned with—and that she held some kind of sway over the other women that was near unbreakable. Interestingly, nobody thought that Sarge had a mysterious sway over the men, although they also did what he wanted.

After a scene in which Ami is shown lovingly painting flowers over 23-year-old Julie’s flat stomach, Sarge comments a little bemusedly that Ami seems to have some kind of aura that allows her to completely control the women. When he talks with Twila about Ami’s powers, Twila says, a bit uncomfortably, that she doesn’t go that way. The implication—although the scene is quick enough to be missed if you look away—is that Ami is gay and that Twila, who is the most masculine of the women, is not.

But while Twila might have been a bit uncomfortable talking to Sarge about Ami’s supposed powers, she doesn’t really seem to care that Ami and Scout are gay—and neither do the other contestants. The post-merge reunion was full of physical affection between the women (Scout and Twila even greeted one another with kisses) and sisterly bonding. And even though the men are worried about Ami’s influence over the women, they don’t seem to be too concerned about living with two lesbians—their confusion and bafflement is more suggestive of jealousy over Ami’s people skills than homophobia.

The lesbian subtext is not solely dependent on Ami’s mysterious powers, however; it was established by producers from the first episode of Survivor: Vanuatu when the contestants were split into tribes of men versus women, thus producing what many are calling a “gender war.” Internet commentary on Survivor: Vanuatu often refers to the women as an “Amazon” tribe or a “Xena” tribe, both of which are clear suggestions of lesbianism. Given American society’s tendency to assume lesbianism whenever women are grouped together apart from men, from prison to all-girls’ Catholic schools, Survivor: Vanuatu has been set up as a lesbian playground from day one.

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