Woman Power on “Survivor: Vanuatu”



The “gender war” storyline has also produced a microcosm of reality that highlights the different ways men and women deal with inequality. Every episode has featured some sort of drama about gender, whether it was the early challenges in which the men fought the women for rewards or immunity, or the more recent episodes post-merge which have focused on the women’s alliance.

At first the men came off as extremely gullible for believing that Julie and Twila, who briefly joined their tribe before the merge, would stick with them instead of the women, whom they had known for much longer. Every vote since the merge has shown Julie and Twila staying true to the women’s alliance, and the men’s gullibility has given way to disbelief that women would play this game based on gender. The men seemed to think it would be inconceivable for the women to choose to ally with other women rather than with them—exposing a mindset that is typical of those in the culturally dominant group (in this case, white men).

This has turned out to be a lot like real life, where women (and other minorities) are forced to deal with gender (and race) on a daily basis, and are much more willing to acknowledge the fact that inequality exists. It is not coincidental that Rory, the sole African American contestant and non-white man, never doubted the strength of the women’s alliance.

Chad’s somewhat baffled characterization of Ami’s influence as “woman power” may not be too far off the mark. It brings to mind the 1970s women liberation movement, with women marching down the street with their fists raised demanding equal rights—and the 1970s was the decade when many women did break away from heterosexual society to begin utopic lesbian separatist communities. Survivor: Vanuatu is far from a feminist utopia, but the quest to finish the game with all women has definite echoes of those goals.

But previews of next week’s episode suggest that the women’s alliance might be fraying, and although nearly every preview dramatizes the “gender war,” this preview also suggests that there is tension between Scout and Ami. Although Scout was a leader of the women’s Yasur tribe, acting as a kind of benevolent, folk-song-singing matriarch, since the merge she has fallen in the shadow of the more charismatic, and physically stronger, Ami.

In Episode 10, Scout began to fear that once all the men were voted off, she might be early on the chopping block, so in order to avoid this outcome she tried to recruit Twila into a new alliance with her, Chad, and Chris. Although in the end both Twila and Scout voted with the women to oust Chad, Scout’s actions suggest that she isn’t willing to let Ami take over completely. Her failure to sway Twila to her side, however, also shows that Ami’s leadership is stronger than Scout’s. As Twila noted, Ami’s arguments for ousting the men first, in order to prevent them from winning immunity challenges, makes a lot of sense.

This leads to the conclusion that Ami’s leadership is based on more than mysterious gay powers. She understands how to play the game, and she clearly knows how to influence the players. Unlike most of the other contestants, Ami has never been misleading or dishonest about her voting plans, and she has consistently stuck to her word to promote the women’s alliance. This could backfire on her later on, as several of the contestants find her straightforwardness a little too blunt.

But also, unlike most of the other contestants, Ami has never been tempted to join the men in any sort of alliance. Her single-minded focus on an all-female final four could indeed have a basis in her experiences as a lesbian in a heterosexual world. It would be silly to ignore the basic fact that lesbians have often been at the forefront of feminist separatist movements because they do not depend on men for sex.

This does not mean that Ami is a man-hater—although there is a danger of her being perceived this way by straight viewers—but that Ami is probably more familiar and comfortable with all-female spaces than are straight women. And while she has never appeared to be anti-men (just anti certain individuals), she has also never been portrayed as particularly interested in developing friendships with them, whereas she has actively pursued friendships with the women.

Given that Survivor is a numbers game, it seems unlikely that Chris will remain on the island for much longer, unless he is able to consistently win the immunity challenges. This means it is highly probable that the women’s alliance will make it to the end of the game.

While we may never know for certain whether Ami and Scout’s sexual orientation had anything to do with the women’s alliance, the fact that theirs was the first women's alliance ever to succeed on Survivor raises some interesting—and telling—questions about gender and sexuality, and how those issues are perceived and related to differently by those in the majority of society, versus those in the minority.

Pages: 1 2

Tags: , ,