‘Survivor’ and other reality shows will feature more diverse casts, CBS says

Starting in the 2021-22 season, at least half the cast members of its unscripted programs will be people of color, the network said.

A scene from the CBS series SURVIVOR.
A scene from the CBS series "Survivor". –Robert Voets/CBS

CBS reality shows, including “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “Love Island,” will feature more diverse casts next season, under an initiative that will also target development budgets and writing rooms, the network announced Monday.

Starting in the 2021-22 season, at least half the cast members of its unscripted programs will be people of color, the network said in a statement. It said it would also allocate at least one-quarter of its annual development budget for unscripted shows to those created or co-created by people of color, including Black and Indigenous people.

George Cheeks, president and chief executive for the CBS Entertainment Group, described the commitments as “important first steps” in bringing in new voices.

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“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” Cheeks said in the statement.

The network will also work to expand diversity in the creative and production teams, it said.

Cheeks moved to his current role at CBS as it made a significant change in its leadership in January, months after the network merged with Viacom.

The announcement Monday was the latest development in a series of steps the network has taken regarding diversity in its casting, staffing and storytelling. The network did not immediately reply to a request for more details about the initiative.

In July, CBS Television Studios and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced a production deal for NAACP-produced content, saying that 25% of the network’s programs would come from creators who are people of color. CBS also pledged that, by the 2022-23 season, 50% of the writers on its shows would be people of color.

The initiatives for its reality shows built on those commitments, CBS said in the statement Monday.

The network has faced criticism in recent years for a prime-time lineup that lacked diversity, including complaints from staff writers over how race and gender were handled at “All Rise,” a drama with a Black woman as its protagonist.

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Those complaints came to light this year as widespread protests swept the United States after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, leading some entertainment companies, news organizations and other businesses to question long-standing industry practices.

Online, the effort by CBS was welcomed by J’Tia Hart, a nuclear engineer who was a “Survivor” contestant as J’Tia Taylor. In June, after the death of Floyd the previous month, Hart and other former contestants formed a group called the Soul Survivors Organization to shift how Black people are represented in entertainment.

The organization says more than 80 African American people have competed on the show, and some have publicly complained of racist behavior or language.

Hart created a petition this year to gather signatures from “Survivor” and ViacomCBS executives to commit to featuring people of color “in their full breadth and depth,” while reflecting the racial diversity of the United States. The petition had garnered nearly 8,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

Hart said Wednesday that the group had asked for at least 30% of the cast to be people of color and for opportunities to work in marketing and promotional events. The group also expressed concerns about the use of stereotypes and racist tropes.

“They really listened to us,” she said. “They acknowledged and they are working to make changes.”

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